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5 reasons affiliate marketing needs to be part of your 2023 plan
November 21, 2022
Many brands think affiliate marketing isn’t for them – it’s too hard to integrate, measure, and align with a wider marketing strategy. Or it’s stuck in the old days when the discount coupon was king. Sean Popen, EVP at Matterkind, says times have changed. He outlines five reasons why affiliate needs to be part of your 2023 marketing plan.
It’s that time of year when marketers cast one eye at the year gone by and one at the year ahead, as they plan their strategies for the next 12 months.
It’s easy to focus on the shiny new thing (shout out to all the marketers out there trying to flesh out a metaverse strategy deck) at the expense of the older, tried-and-tested strategies and technologies. But there’s a lot to be said for the marketing classics, especially when they’ve been going through their own quiet evolutions.
A fresh look at affiliate marketing
This year, affiliate marketing falls squarely into that category. It’s not a new approach, so I believe many marketers are overlooking it as they plan for the future. But a lot has changed over the years.
If it’s been a while since you looked at your affiliate opportunity, or if you’re exploring it for the first time, my advice is to consider the affiliate marketing of today and tomorrow – not of yesterday.
Here are five reasons why affiliate needs to be part of your 2023 marketing plan:
1. Affiliate marketing is becoming de-siloed
For some brands, affiliate marketing is the primary go-to-market strategy that secures most or all of their sales. For others, it’s just one channel among many. But whatever the relative size of a brand’s affiliate channel, there’s a good chance it’s been siloed off from their other channels.
That’s because affiliate has historically been difficult to integrate into the wider marketing mix. A strong tactic for bottom-of-funnel conversions (more on that below), it’s been laser-focused on driving sales. In many ways, affiliate is the victim of its own early success, with discount vouchers and promo codes defining the whole model in many marketers’ eyes – for better or worse.
Now though, with better connected martech stacks and the ability to measure affiliate’s duplication in reach and role within the path to conversion and impact on outcomes beyond just sales (which we’ll cover later), marketers are breaking affiliate out of its silo so it can become an integral part of every marketing strategy.
2. Premium content brands are in on it
I’ve mentioned that the early emblem of affiliate marketing was the coupon. And price comparison sites were a major part of the landscape too. Of course, these continue to be hugely effective tools for driving sales, especially in the domain of price-sensitive products and cost-conscious buyers.
But that’s not the end of the story. In recent years, high-end brands have embraced affiliate marketing in a big way, driven largely by the rise of influencer marketing. The examples are everywhere – fashion labels and make-up brands rely on influencer campaigns, from celebrity endorsements to more targeted influencer campaigns. Travel and hospitality is another space where bloggers and review-writers have long been driving ticket sales, and now content creators on social are connecting luxury brands to new audiences. And all kinds of luxury goods brands are testing out influencer marketing to drive high-value affiliate programs.
3. Influencer alignment is easier to achieve
Influencers aren’t only promoting luxury products – they’re everywhere, connecting all kinds of brands to communities of likely buyers, from mainstream scale to the nichest of niches.
As with any exciting new channel, some brands have had huge successes while some have had their fingers burned. For one thing, it’s been hard to ensure the influencer or content creator you’re partnering with is the right fit for your brand. There’s always a risk they won’t uphold your values. Then there’s the seemingly simple question of reach. Is their audience really what they say it is? Are all their followers real people or bots?
Today there are technologies and tools that can help brands do their due diligence here. But even more powerful is the establishment of better partnerships and practices in influencer marketing. Now you can partner with influencers, confident that they’re aligned with your brand and your customer segments. You can ensure they have the right size and type of reach, or you can partner with multiple influencers in a concerted way, to maximize reach. And you can work with a single influencer in different ways, throughout the sales funnel, by tailoring the kinds of content and KPIs you use to collaborate with them.
4. It's moving up the funnel
I’ve talked about the original sales-oriented nature of affiliate marketing that made it a favorite route for bottom-of-the-funnel strategies.
So perhaps the most visible shift since affiliate’s early discount-based days has been its steady rise to the middle and top of the funnel. We’re still talking about performance, but our definition of conversion events is broadening to include not just sales, but also store visits, website or landing page visits, downloads, and content consumption.
5. Affiliate marketing is now measurable
Finally – and inevitably – it all comes down to measurement. The most fundamental shift that underpins affiliate marketing’s reinvention is its new and improved measurability.
In the past, the success of affiliate programs was measured in bottom-of-funnel conversions that could be counted like a pile of coupons. Further up the funnel, measurement was limited to classic metrics like aided and unaided awareness.
Now, affiliate drives measurable results throughout the funnel, in actions like store visits, site visits, leads, and a growing number of valuable digital interactions. A key shift here is that affiliate can now deliver immediate, measurable returns. And if there’s one thing that CFOs like better than returns they can measure, it’s returns they can measure fast.
Don’t overlook affiliate in 2023
As new trends and technologies fight it out for marketers’ attention (and budget) this strategy-planning season, my money’s on affiliate marketing as an element you shouldn’t overlook. One that’s shaking off its old reputation as a sales-based, hard-to-measure tactic, and showing the marketing world its new potential as an integral part of highly measurable, full-funnel strategies – no coupons necessary.