Finding the Goldilocks of Affiliate Marketing Service Management

By Maura Smith, CMO on March 5, 2019

The classic story of a little girl who gets lost in the forest, finds shelter and through a little trial and error, her perfect bowl of porridge, can teach many life lessons. But one application that you likely never considered is finding the perfect affiliate marketing service fit.

Much like the porridge, not every service model is right for everyone. There is no one-size fits all solution. Factors like affiliate strategy, how much time you can dedicate to tending the channel as well as subject matter expertise needed, all come into play. And it’s likely that the best way to finding that perfect bowl of porridge was probably not to get lost in the woods in the first place. So, let’s start there to ensure you don’t get lost in your affiliate marketing service quest. First step: determining your affiliate strategy. 

What is your affiliate strategy? (and spoiler alert: you need one)

It all starts here, right? Whether you’re a 20-year industry vet or brand new to the channel, you can go no further without an affiliate strategy or plan for the long haul. And between the myriad of options across platforms, networks, OPMs and agencies—too many choices can cloud your decision-making ability. If you have a strategy or a means to use the channel against your business objectives, congratulations! It’s all about executing against that plan from here and figuring out who will be handling this execution (more on that in a minute).  

If you don’t have an affiliate strategy or if it’s half-baked, then you’ll need to decide what the strategy is before determining how you’ll service it (makes sense, right?). The good news is if you don’t know how to craft a strategy, you can work with your affiliate provider to develop one that directly aligns to your business objectives. Strategy defines what you need to do to meet your affiliate program goals—whether it’s about driving revenue, managing to a certain ROAS or acquiring a certain % of new customers. In short, if you don’t have a strategy, you need to go out and get one. And if you aren’t planning to build it yourself, then ensure you tap into a provider that listens to your business goals and applies affiliate subject matter expertise to ensure the channel can be utilized to help you achieve those objectives. Strategy is the bowl to your porridge: it holds it all together.

How much time can you allocate to your affiliate marketing efforts?  

Time is a critical factor when determining what the right fit affiliate service model is for your brand. If you’re planning to own and manage the execution, good for you! But consider realities: How much time do you really have to devote to execution? Is it 100%, even 80% of the time? If yes, you need a provider that enables you for success by providing a technology platform to operate with ease. You need a platform that’s intuitive, helps you quickly identify optimization areas, track progress against goals, and generally perform tasks with little effort.                                                               

If you aren’t so sure about dedicated time, or you’re managing several other channels (read: 3 or more), perhaps it’s time to reconsider a more viable plan. You could have the best in-house subject matter expert, but that flies out the window in the absence of dedicated time to devote this expertise. In this case, consider a provider that can lend enough support to supplement your owned execution. You’ll need an intuitive platform so you can make optimizations on the fly—at your discretion—but have a dedicated contact to help you craft strategy and provide support based on what is happening across the channel (i.e. measuring your program against a baseline or benchmark). If you have little to no time to dedicate to the channel, that’s fine too. You’ll just need to ensure channel success by having an expert (or team of experts) handle execution on your behalf.

Who is executing against the affiliate strategy?

Simple enough question. What resources are you allocating in-house to affiliate program strategy creation and execution? But the answer is a bit more complicated and can mean the difference between success and defeat in the channel. You can easily hire an employee to run your affiliate program, but this doesn’t mean they’re near qualified to do so. And while entry-level support may be a decent fit for smaller programs with more limited budgets, it’s certainly not for everyone as there is considerable skill level, or honed set of expertise required to execute flawlessly and consistently. Complex, mature affiliate programs will most certainly require seasoned affiliate marketers to thoughtfully set strategy, optimize partners and evaluate profitability, sometimes down to the SKU level. This all takes time, testing and a healthy dose of finesse to get it just right. Conducting an honest assessment and applying the right level of expertise is essential for short and long-term channel success.

What is your budget?

Budget and budget availability are obviously important considerations in selecting your affiliate service model. But perhaps even more important, is how your affiliate channel budget is acquired in the first place. If your budget is set and does not allow for deviation, then perhaps a service provider with set pricing structures is appropriate to ensure you never exceed your spend cap. On the other hand, if your budget is funded based on affiliate channel performance, then you need a service provider that enables your affiliate efforts to thrive and acquire additional investment to fuel growth. In this instance, performance-based pricing structures make more sense to incent channel growth. In either case, there is no right or wrong way. Understanding budgetary drivers and having pricing flexibility that accommodates those drivers, is an accommodation that today’s modern marketer needs.

Your perfect bowl of porridge awaits; but carefully consider each factor before landing on the one that makes the most sense (without breaking any chairs in the process).

Keep in mind that finding the right porridge took Goldilocks three trials, two errors. We’re hoping our tactics to finding the right-fit affiliate service model helps save you valuable time, so you can focus on what matters most: growing your business. 

Key takeaways for finding the right fit affiliate service model:

  • • Set an affiliate strategy, or get the expertise needed to develop one.
• Ensure the resources executing are the right fit based on experience/expertise needed.
  • • Consider budget and the type of pricing model you need for your affiliate channel to thrive.

To learn more about how to find the right service model for your brand, reach out to us here or explore more on affiliate pricing models here.

Topics:   affiliate strategy planning