Affiliate Marketing : Why strategy isn’t valued and why it should be!

Often I get asked to fix failing affiliate programmes

In fact these requests make up about 50% of the new business leads I get. I literally get the clients who have landed up with poor performing affiliate programmes, broken affiliate relationships, or business models that somehow – aren’t even profitable. (The very nature of an affiliate remuneration model is that it should always be showing profit – as it pays out based on a % of net revenue)

These are the clients that are sitting in “the last chance saloon” section of affiliate marketing lifecycle and who have been burned once, twice and even three times with poor strategy, poor delivery, and poor planning. They are the brands that are ready to throw in the towel on one of the most lucrative acquisition channels known to (wo)man.

These are the clients I love working with and often have delivered the best turn around results for.


Because they have hit rock bottom.

They have realised that strategy is required to make their business and their programme profitable again. It’s also at this point, that they let go of the habitual bad decision making and allow me to step in and do what I do best. What I’ve spent over two decades learning and developing as a skill  – and that I now rent out (at a premium) – for hire.

So what is strategy and why don’t we value it?

The word strategy according to Google has the following definition:





  • a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.
  • the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle.

There are two key things to note here:

  1. Strategy is a long term plan to meet your overall objective – emphasis on the long term which I’ll talk more about a little later
  2. Strategy is the art of planning movements during war or battle

It is a long term game plan.

Too often I get clients who want immediate results and are disappointed when they don’t get them. The fact of the matter is, affiliate marketing is a long term game plan that supports your business organic growth. It is the art of war. Wars are generally played out over time, with the competition winning and losing until they give in, give up or  simply throw in the towel and call it a truce.

It’s like a game of chess.

Each move and piece on the board has a part to play in helping you to win. The strategy that each player evokes during the game  is what causes one of them to ultimately win. It requires patience, a bit of cunning and a lot of skills.

Strategy is essential to successful affiliate marketing and it combines a number of principal marketing tactics that help you to succeed. When one of these tactics is misaligned or out of sync with the rest of your marketing strategy   it can cause major repercussions to your programme profitability. Good strategists plan for the end game. They are able to foresee where weaknesses in their competition are prevalent and how to overcome them or provide better solutions to ensure affiliates promote their brands instead.

Cookie cutter affiliate marketing and strategy – never works.

Your strategy needs to be designed exclusively to you. It takes into account all of your attributes, your budget, your resources, your technical capabilities, who you benchmark yourself against and what you want to achieve as your overall business goal. It should never be copied. Even if you could take your closest competitors affiliate database and port it over to your own brand – you still won’t get the same results. There are so many factors that will influence the success of the relationship and if every piece in the machine that runs the affiliate programme from your customer service representative to the technology you are using to track your programme is not well thought out or working cohesively together, it will almost always affect your end result.

Strategy is a specialist skill and it’s acquired over time.

If you think about it – as a brand you need to be planning strategically to outstrip your competition, in essence you are in a daily war to win market share and build better affiliate relationships. Having a strategy of marketing in place to support this will ultimately make your business more successful.

Strategists are made over time and with experience.

They are people who have learned their craft on the job, creating and making mistakes and learning from them – over and over again. They understand that textbook marketing rarely transcends exactly from the page into real life and they know how to navigate unforseen skirmishes when things don’t go according to plan. Building an affiliate marketing strategy for your brand, is a specialist skill. It is a complex set of decisions combined with research, experience, and deep understanding. It is something that impacts the fundamental building blocks of your programme, your resources, your budget and your profit too.

It directly impacts your business revenue, so why do we discount it?

If the lifeblood of your business depends on affiliates to drive traffic to your site on a pay per performance basis, why would you not invest in an expert strategist to help you build the very best plan to succeed in this space?

The pressure on budgets and margins of profit lead brands to try and provide strategy on the cheap, in house, or discount this step all together in the planning process. Fundamentally this is where the mistakes creep in. The result of this thinking is always the same. It is actually a unique skill and the effect of it can easily be seen when implemented  because affiliate marketing is so easily measured. Platforms already provide instant data and reporting so it’s quite simple to spot the impact and the ensuing decline in revenue when strategies are missed out or fail all together.

It reminds me of this quote I recently read:

Great strategists unstick the stuck. They separate the useful from the interesting. The planners’ task is “not so much to see what no one yet has seen but to think what no one else yet has thought about that which everyone sees.” (Schopenheaur).”

No-one can expect operators or brands to pay a premium or even value  the need for experienced affiliate marketing strategy and servicing    if all they are ever getting is a glorified understudy. Similarly you have to also understand that you will need to pay a premium in order to access those with actual strategic expertise. (Remember point one – it takes years to learn strategy and just hours to implement it).

In summary:

You pay for what you get in the expertise stakes where affiliate marketing is concerned.

If you want a programme that is successful, is bringing you new business and is profitable too – you simply won’t find that expertise on the cheap. So, If you really want your affiliate marketing programme to succeed, invest in experienced strategic planning. Get the help you need to build the right infrastructure around your programme. I guarantee you won’t regret the investment and you’ll see the results pay off in the long term.

About Lee-Ann Johnstone:

With almost two decades of digital and affiliate marketing experience gained within retail, payments and iGaming brands, Lee-Ann Johnstone is an award winning digital marketing expert, affiliate business mentor and recently earned a place in the iGaming Business – Top 10 Most influential women in Gaming (2019).

Lee-Ann helps operators accelerate their affiliate programme profit, provides business coaching to affiliate entrepreneurs and teaches advanced affiliate marketing strategy and skills development. ( She is also the co-founder of AffiliateINSIDER a media and events company (