— July 2, 2018
While affiliate marketing has been around since the early nineties, we are now seeing more and more companies getting smart about their affiliate program management.
What exactly does this mean?
Brands are taking affiliate marketing seriously as a means of customer acquisition. They are investing more in this strategy; they are spending more time and resources to understand best practices; and most importantly, they are shifting how they manage their campaigns.
So, whether you’re ready to jump into affiliate marketing or scale your existing strategy to even further expand your reach, the first hurdle is figuring out how to manage your affiliates. Should you give up control and join a large network of affiliates and brands or maintaining your relationships and manage the parts and pieces in-house?
To help answer the loaded question, let’s start with the fundamentals. What exactly is the difference between joining an affiliate network and managing an in-house network?
Well, an affiliate network is a platform that hosts a community of brands presenting revenue-generating offers to affiliates. Affiliates promote one or many companies in exchange for a fee. An in-house network is an internally managed group of ambassadors. Your brand curates, vets and establishes working relationships with the best and most relevant people to represent your products and/or services.
Regardless of the path that you choose for your business, both are wrought with pros and cons.
Affiliate Networks vs. In-house Ambassadors: The Pros and Cons
Affiliate networks help you reach a massive audience, but there are many drawbacks. Unless you have a well-recognized brand, such as Pepsi or Nike, affiliate networks won’t help you cut through the clutter. Your company also has to compete financially with others, which can affect your margins.
One of the biggest downfalls of joining an affiliate network is your brand doesn’t get to vet and curate a group of people who truly understand your brand. They aren’t the best for forging relationships that are meaningful to your company’s goals. Affiliate marketers don’t have to believe in or promote your mission. They are focused on their audience or revenue, not yours.
While managing your own in-house network may take more work upfront, the relationships that are created tend to be stronger, better for your business, and more authentic. Developing relationships yourself helps you find ambassadors, affiliates that are aligned with your business objectives, and can communicate your story in a way that personifies your company’s mission and ideals. These ambassadors work with you to recommend your products/services to your target audience, instead of just shouting your brand name to a general audience as they would in an affiliate network.
Overall, affiliate networks are great for affiliates, but they aren’t ideal for your business.
How Important is Relationship Management?
The short answer: Very important.
So if you have to go the affiliate network route, how do you manage those relationships?
Well, you don’t. It’s challenging to keep control of relationships with affiliates because you haven’t vetted them and you don’t know them well. The lack of familiarity with your affiliates makes it difficult to manage them effectively. In addition to this, the nature of affiliate networks anonymizes affiliates, making it a hurdle to establish relationships with them after the fact. Lastly, but most importantly, most affiliates are choosing to join programs with the best revenue opportunities, so your goals are hardly aligned with your army of affiliates. The highest paying brand almost always has the largest affiliate community on most networks.
When you manage your own in-house network, relationships are prioritized over commission fees. Your ambassadors are on the same page regarding your brand and company’s goals. Caring about your business always means having the right people onboard. Managing your in-house network is your best bet for transparency, authenticity, and effectiveness.
Here are some simple tips to help you get started on the right path towards a more relational approach to affiliate marketing:
– Keep open, honest lines of communication with customers.
– Invite feedback.
– Interact and engage with customers and prospects via social channels.
– Monitor what’s being said about your brand online and respond accordingly.
– Go out of your way to show your ambassadors that you value them.
By making the shift from traditional affiliate marketing to relationship marketing, you’ll be well on your way to attracting and retaining customers that don’t just like your brand, but love it.