Five affiliate marketing and program management trends for 2021

By Lee-Ann Johnstone, CEO



The Drum Network article

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December 8, 2020 | 7 min read

As we reach the end of 2020, it is important that we reflect on what we’ve learned in the past year. Things have changed and we’ve all managed to pivot businesses and team practices pretty quickly as Covid demanded. In doing so, the trends for 2021 have opened up new challenges for global affiliate programs and teams around the world, no matter what vertical you’re currently operating in. Here are five of the best affiliate management tips you should include in your strategies for the year ahead:

AffiliateInsider suggests five tips for affiliate management to include in 2021 strategies.

AffiliateInsider suggests five tips for affiliate management to include in your 2021 strategy.

1. Flexible working will lead to more training and development

What this past year has shown is that remote working doesn’t actually impact productivity when you have the right tools and management processes in place to communicate effectively as a team. Many of us have had to adjust to maintaining a more rigid culture of being mindful and keeping a balance between work and self care along with finding new ways to effectively engage and manage a team of affiliate managers remotely. 2021 is simply going to offer us the opportunity to further enhance these skills. Remote management skills, tools and time management strategies will need to be a priority investment for managers leading big teams of affiliate account managers. Team training and personal coaching for Affiliate program managers who want to level up and build better connections online should be invested in. Understanding how to build personal rapport with partners without the engagement of live physical events, will be key especially as affiliate recruitment still comes in mainly from live events or networks with publisher relationships.

2. Marketing automation will improve efficiency

There is a constant stream of new tools and platforms emerging onto the market that can help affiliate managers build rapport, find new niches and keep expanding their program delivery. For 2021, you should focus on finding the ones that can help your team to automate your current sales, program marketing and affiliate recruitment and management services. Much of this is still done by human resource. Networks are realising that they need to develop new tools that simplify the growth process of programs, such as CJ’s Recruit Partners tool which was recently launched along with other industry lead publisher discovery tools such as Breezy (beta) and Publisher Discovery which was first to market. Intelligent data and niche recruitment will serve a big part of program expansion efforts and helping affiliate managers to access this information quickly and accurately can help support program growth.

3. Social selling skills will be mastered

Typical 1:1 email outreach as a selling technique to attract new partners into your affiliate program are now marginally outdated. Affiliate managers will need to get strategic about how they promote and engage new partnerships using social media channels to build rapport and engage interest online. One of the newest methods or content generation that affiliate managers will need to master in 2021 is that of social selling. This means showing up consistently to build a community around your personal brand, that supports your business and program offering promotion. Affiliate managers who invest in a strong social media presence will be able to create meaningful connections with affiliates and solicit new partners strategically doing outbound lead generation and engagement. We are slowly going to be getting more proficient at engaging in online events and forging connections virtually too – as virtual event platforms like Swapcard connect delegates ahead of attending an online event. Understanding exactly how to leverage social selling will help affiliate managers drive these engagements forward to connection and find new business to meet targets more efficiently over time.

4. We’ll focus more on value not volume

Affiliate marketing has always required a strategic focus on the value of the connections we make over the volume of them. Affiliate managers will start to spend account management time more efficiently as they realise which partners are providing the best customer values. The data metrics we can track and support will help to fuel these decisions in a more strategic manner. Programs will improve tracking methodologies, blockchain and smart contracts are already making progress to move affiliate program tracking to a more live environment where earnings for referrals can be credited in real time.

There is likely to be a lot of activity and shifting of budgets to channels that show better ROI as attribution modelling improves marketing spend. This level of business intelligence will give affiliate marketers the perfect chance to sit back and reflect on the strength of the connections within their program and network and re-align their budgets accordingly. The year ahead will provide affiliate marketers with the perfect opportunity to become more selective about the number and type of partners they add to their programs.

5. We’ll finally drop the 80/20 rule of affiliate program management!

The 80/20 rule – where 20% of your partners should deliver 80% of your revenue – will diminish in the future. Marketers will be able to make better informed decisions using intelligent data to build a healthy affiliate program with diversity on traffic sources.

The new 20-60-20 rule will apply.

What this means is that Ideally, affiliate managers would ensure 20% of their time would be spent supporting top publishers and 60% engaging or growing a variable of active traffic sources to the body of their program, and a further 20% being spent on massaging relationships in the long tail. This is a formula which I’ve calculated and have been using in practice with many of the programs we manage. Implementing this formula can help brands ensure affiliate programs are operating at optimal levels whilst mitigating heavy reliance on single traffic sources such as voucher code or SEO sites that could change direction based on a number of external and competitive factors. Overall, this method should help affiliate managers create a more stable affiliate program focus that runs efficiently and can produce better results for the business over the short to long term.

The future looks bright for affiliate marketing in 2021

We’ll see affiliate marketing increase as a channel of choice as more digital marketers start to understand the strategy that underlines performance marketing and they incorporate it as part of the larger brand and customer acquisition mix. We’ll need to watch for pivots as economic factors impact small businesses and consumer behaviours online. Affiliate managers are going to have to be prepared to make the changes necessary to be able to keep up with the demands of their affiliates and that of their customers. Keeping the above five points in mind to focus on should help you think about how you are going to implement these tips into your own programs to meet the challenges ahead.

Lee-Ann Johnstone is chief executive officer at Affiliate Insider.


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We are an award-winning digital & affiliate marketing agency and content hub. Our founder Lee-Ann has been in affiliate marketing for almost two decades and...

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