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Getting a strong return on a marketing investment: It keeps a lot of people up at night. How will the money spent on that PR firm translate into sales dollars? How will that huge advertising campaign that cost a million dollars impact your brand? For most marketing initiatives, determining ROI is an unpredictable waiting game with no guaranteed outcome.
There’s one marketing model that plays by a different set of rules, however — rules based on paying for performance after results have been driven. Affiliate marketing, once viewed as a shot in the dark, is driven today by sophisticated technology, transparency between partners and compensation tied to specific, measurable results.
Related: How This Affiliate Marketer Learned Enough About His Craft to Strike Out on His Own
That said, a successful affiliate program requires the right experience and partners. Whether you’re looking to start an affiliate program or take an existing program to the next level, you need a strong team behind you. Here are the five players you need to ensure you’re driving the affiliate ROI you want:
1. An Agency
Unless your company has the resources and bandwidth to build a team of several people with extensive affiliate marketing knowledge and experience, hiring an agency is the best option. Agency marketers are experienced at handling the multifaceted complexities that come with building and growing a high-performing program.
Make sure you’re clearly looking at the agency’s setup, ensuring it’s based on performance. I once saw a speech by Robert Glazer, the CEO of Acceleration Partners, a global affiliate marketing company. He wrote a book called “Performance Partnerships,” which focused on aligning any affiliate program with performance. It’s easy to fall for the trap of working with a company that says it will bring you sales, but make sure it puts its money where its mouth is. If it doesn’t deliver in the short term, chances are high it might not be able to meet long-term expectations.
2. A Scalable Network or Platform
Whether it’s an affiliate network or SaaS platform, all affiliate marketing programs need a technology platform to run on. Your platform should be able to support your growth plans and offer you the right features and geographical coverage, particularly if yours is a global brand.
Awin is an example of this type of platform. The firm provides technology that helps address industry challenges, such as third-party tracking, data light tracking, attribution and advanced commissioning. These types of data weren’t available years ago, but with new tech advances, you can identify what works, as well as when and why. It’s not just valuable for the affiliate program, but for also learning what works so you can apply that knowledge to different sales channels.
3. Loyalty Partners
If you want to scale your program quickly, you’ll need to partner with players who are focused on establishing loyal customers. Ebates is one of the bigger players in the loyalty sector operating on a performance basis. The brand is actively expanding its markets and its categories beyond retail to include travel, dining and ride-sharing for cash-back rewards.
It’s important to determine whether these types of partners will truly create loyalty or attract the wrong types of customers. If you pick the right type of loyalty partner, it can result in the strong, loyal customer base that’s key to long-term brand survival.
Related: How Loyalty Programs Are Emerging as Effective Marketing Tools
4. Mobile Partners
Customers are increasingly spending time on mobile devices and apps, so it’s imperative to have partners within your affiliate program who dominate the mobile ecosystem.
Ibotta is an example of one of these apps in the U.S., connecting consumers with grocery, retail and lifestyle brands and rewarding them with cash for buying things they need. I used the app pretty easily when I was standing in line with customer service after a purchase. I simply took a picture of the receipt, and the app applied the cash back to my account. With a lot of mobile user growth, it’s good to look at partners who have developed a mobile user experience that makes things easy and accessible for the customer.
5. Tech-Driven Publishers
The affiliate space has grown well beyond coupon and deal partners. To drive incremental revenue on a performance basis within your program, consider partnering with publishers who are advanced in e-commerce technology, including deep website integration and artificial intelligence.
RevLifter is one example: The company helps brands deliver more conversions, incremental sales and customers by personalizing deals for advertisers across marketing channels. Available worldwide on a pay-per-performance model, it uses AI to understand real-time signals from users’ on-site behavior and deliver the right deal to the right customer at the right time.
Related: Partner Programs Turn Competitors Into Collaborators
Whether you’re new to affiliate marketing or simply needing to step up your game, checking off these boxes will help you develop a strong affiliate marketing program. ROI is hard to manage when you’re running a bevy of marketing programs, but the right team can help you take the reins — and get the outcome you want.