Affiliate Marketing for Brands

What if your sales force rolled at least 1,000 deep?

What if they worked the internet morning, noon and night, driving traffic to your website and sealing the deal on sales at every hour? What if their pay was based entirely on performance–driving leads and closing sales.

And what if you only paid a small percentage of the sale price or a previously agreed-upon fixed price? You don’t pay bonuses, benefits or incur any overhead costs associated with employing so many sales professionals.

If you think this sounds too good to be true, you’re obviously unfamiliar with affiliate marketing.

It’s a powerful tool that allows you to connect with a large team of highly motivated marketers that turn prospects into paying customers–and you only pay the marketers when they deliver results.

Still not ringing any bells? Don’t worry about it. Even though this little gem of a marketing strategy really started to take off back in 1996, it’s still a relatively “new” concept for many businesses.

In fact, it might be one of the best-kept secrets in all of marketing.

That’s because it’s not like traditional advertising, public relations or even marketing, which puts you in control of the strategies and tactics. Instead, affiliate marketing lets the motivated masses move your product.

And it works.

If it didn’t, how would you explain the following stats?

  • In 2016, affiliate marketing accounted for 7.5 percent of all digital marketing spending by retailers.
  • By 2020, companies are expected to invest $6.82 billion in affiliate marketing.
  • More than 80 percent of the best-known brands leverage the power of affiliate marketing.

OK, maybe it’s not such a secret.

But just in case you haven’t heard of it, or if you’re aware of it but have yet to unleash it’s product-moving power, here’s an introduction to affiliate marketing.

The definition of affiliate marketing

According to the dictionary, affiliate marketing is defined as:

af·fil·i·ate mar·ket·ing


  1. a marketing arrangement by which an online retailer pays commission to an external website for traffic or sales generated from its referrals.

And while that may be technically accurate, a better definition may be “effective.”

Affiliate marketing is a sales tactic that’s truly one of those marketing industry unicorns: a win-win-win for everyone involved.

It leads to increased sales for merchants with products and services to offer over the internet. It allows “affiliates” to earn money by using their marketing skills to drive prospective customers to your website. And it allows consumers to find products and services that enhance their lives.

Merchants win. Affiliates win. Customers win.

And it’s as simple as one, two, three.

1) You have the product, service or offer and hire “publishers,” who are also known as “affiliates,” to raise awareness about your brand.

2) “Publishers” figure out ways to promote the product to prospective customers.

3) Prospective customers click their way to your website to check out the offer. They make a purchase, and you pay the affiliate a commission.

Simple, right?

It really is a pretty simple way to drive sales. And it’s virtually risk-free, because you only pay the commission when the prospective customer does what you want them to do.

Want to build your brand? Pay affiliates for the people they drive to your sites. Want to increase sales? Pay affiliates when the people they send your way make a purchase. Want to increase leads? All you have to do is pay affiliates each time they drive a person who completes your form.

Oh, and one more important thing to note about affiliate marketing: The start-up costs are relatively low. Sure, you might have to throw some time at it, and you’ll have to spend a little cash on the front end. But it really doesn’t require an expensive ad agency, creative team or development of any new technology.

And the benefits are incredible: better brand awareness, increased SEO, leads and sales.

For small businesses, it’s a great way to grow more quickly. For established businesses, it’s a great way to build your brand.

Affiliate marketing is a monster

Right now you’re probably thinking that the affiliate marketing industry is a little like the Wild West, comprised of a bunch of cowboys roaming the furthest reaches of the internet looking for people to click links.

You’re half right: It’s wildly effective, but it’s reach spans further than just the west. Affiliate marketing can actually make it easy for you to access foreign markets–because you could have people all over the world sending people from all over the world to your website.

And isn’t that why they call it the World Wide Web, anyway?

The affiliate marketing industry is a fast-growing monster. Some estimates say it’s currently worth about $12 billion dollars, and it’s expected to grow by 10 percent over the course of the next few years.

And it’s not just a bunch of internet cowboys, either. The industry is made up of four key players:

  • The Merchants. Sometimes referred to as Brands, this is the company that produces the product or services that need to be sold.Once you decide to leverage the power of affiliate marketing, you’ll be in good company. Amazon, eBay, Adidas, American Apparel, Bloomingdales, Puma and Urban Outfitters have all used affiliate marketing to drive sales.
  • The Affiliate Network. Should you choose to make affiliate marketing part of your sales strategy, affiliate networks can make the process a whole lot easier.These are third parties who manage the entire process for merchants (you). They are a one-stop shop that offer everything you need to monitor and manage the program–technology for tracking affiliate efforts, sales, payment of commissions, reporting and more.
  • The Publishers. Publishers are essentially your sales team. They are the people who earn commissions by driving people to your products and services–and then getting them to make the purchase.And they’re a crafty lot.They use every tool available to them–blogs, videos, online advertising, social media, SMS, push notifications, e-mail marketing … anything. They are creative. They are talented. And they are motivated, because they don’t get paid unless you get paid.
  • The Customers. These fine folks need no introduction. But what you need to know is that publishers know how to find them, connect with them and send them to your website.

People in each of these groups are not cowboys. They are professionals who have a mutual interest in putting people in touch with products and services that can improve their lives.

And money. Everyone involved in the industry has an affinity for making money.

Speaking of money …

At the beginning, middle and end of every day, affiliate marketing is all about the money, the green, the cold, hard cash.

With that in mind, it’s important that you understand how money moves among the many people involved in the industry.

Here’s a quick look at four ways you can pay your publishers:

  • Lead Gen. It’s also often referred to as pay per lead (PPL) or cost per lead (CPL). But as you might have guessed, it stands for “lead generation.” In this payment model, you pay the publishers a commission whenever a verified lead is generated.Verified lead gens could include online forms being filled out, requests for quotes or any other lead that you specify.
  • Acquisition. You might also see this called CPA or PPS. CPA stands for “cost per action.” PPS is an acronym for “pay per sale.” All three mean that you only pay a commission when an actual sale is generated.
  • Percent of Sale. This one is pretty straight-forward, too, although you might sometimes see it called CPS (cost per sale). This involves paying the publisher a percentage of the actual sales cost of the product or service that is sold.

See? It really is all about the money. And regardless of how you decide to pay for the service, you are sure to get your money’s worth.

It’s all about the ROAS

When you invest in advertising, you want to get the biggest bang for your buck. You want a solid ROAS, or return on ad spend.

Sure, you could spend a few million on a Super Bowl ad, and it might surprise and delight people.

But will it sell anything?

One thing you can be sure of is that you’ll get a guaranteed return on your ad spend when you use an affiliate program. That’s because you only pay the publishers a commission when they deliver the desired outcome.

It’s simply not like other forms of advertising. Not newspaper ads. Not search engine optimization. Not billboards, radio, television or blimps. None of these types of advertising can guarantee results.

But affiliate marketing can. And that’s why it is simply the superior tactic–it delivers better ROAS.

So skip the Super Bowl ad, save your money and get yourself connected with an affiliate marketing agency.

How to manage affiliate marketing?

Remember when you started reading this post, when you were asked to think about what it would be like if you had a sales team that rolled 1,000 deep?

Yeah, that probably sounded like a little bit of hyperbole. And if you really sat down to think about it, it would probably seem overwhelming.

You’re probably asking yourself how in the world you would ever be able to monitor and manage something so large. How would you find the publishers, track performance and arrange performance?

It probably just sounds like too much, entirely.

But it doesn’t have to be–thanks to affiliate marketing agencies.

If you’re asking yourself how to use affiliate marketing, here’s your answer: Working with an agency is probably the easiest way to make the most of an affiliate marketing program.

An agency will analyze your marketing strategy and determine the best way to integrate the power of publishers into it. An agency can connect you with the best (and most powerful) publishers to ensure you’re actually going to get results. And an agency can look for ways to go even bigger, which could include networks.

They can also make sure you’re maximizing your investment by focusing on ROAS. They’ll help you get into the “sweet spot,” where you won’t be spending too little or too much–you’ll be investing an amount of money that’s just right.

Like Goldilocks.

It will help you plan your budget, develop more effective strategies. Make sure your collateral material is on point and working hard for you.

In short, your affiliate marketing agency can both find you the sales team that rolls 1,000 deep and manage them for you.

On the other hand, you could go it alone by building an in-house team to manage the entire campaign. It’s not necessarily a bad option, but it’s probably not going to be as easy as having an agency do all the heavy lifting for you.

Nigel Williams

Nigel Williams has been working with affiliate networks and ad technology since 2005. He has driven millions of dollars in sales and leads for many of the worlds most popular brands.

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