I always think I fell into online marketing by accident.
But I think I was led to Affiliate Marketing – by design.
I grew up in South Africa and began my career in marketing at big blue chip financial companies. By my mid twenties I was managing big budgets but I was very bored.
The blue collar corporate world felt all wrong to me.
I’m a jeans and flip flops kind of girl and originally I wanted to break into creative advertising but back then, it was a really hard industry to get into without knowing someone on the inside. (and I didn’t)
I think I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset, but at the time I didn’t know it. I job hopped trying to find my place and eliminate the boredom I felt in the day to day mundane of finance and marketing.
In hindsight that mindset of constantly wanting to change and learn new things led me straight to Affiliate Marketing. I like to say that it was by accident that I dropped into this industry and by design that I stayed, carving out a niche for myself as a female thought leader in Affiliate Marketing (this is still a predominantly male lead industry) and knowing I am exactly where I was always meant to be.
Where it all began
By early 2000 we were on the cusp of embracing a new digital era, technology was advancing fast , mobile phones were getting smaller and the internet was a shiny new thing. I wanted to learn more about it. I was fascinated by the idea that a marketing campaign could go live and engage customers in real time. (I am not a patient sort).
I liked the idea that you could “talk directly with” your audience and track if they liked what you were saying by using the data to measure online sales. This kind of immediate response didn’t exist in other forms of marketing, at the time.
I knew this was something I wanted to try and do. I had zero experience and a lot of ambition. I remember being so excited by it all, so I took a risk. I ditched my highly paid and very stable corporate job – (my father thought I was mad!) and took a junior role for an online marketing agency nobody had ever heard of learning as much as I could about online media planning and buying.
I started my career all over again.
I was the team’s lacky, I did the stats analysis the planning and supported media buyers with their global marketing campaigns spending in excess of around £12 million pounds in ad revenue per quarter. (You’d be hard pressed to get a budget like that today)
It was thrilling to say the least, and I learnt everything I know – on the job. Every day we were defining new ways to reach audiences whilst creating the best practices and principles that govern online media today.
Best of all there were no corporate suits, jeans and casual wear was the order of the day and every idea was considered and relevant and do-able.
I thrived here.
I fell instantly in love and I finally found my place!
Fast Forward two decades later…
Affiliate marketing is now a complex ecosystem.
It uses the principles of targeted media buying and combines it with planning , strategy, sales, account management, technology, data , and relationship building. It has come a long way with regulation and we have defined best practices to ensure fair and transparent data and sales tracking.
It is also one of the fastest growing digital marketing channels brands use to expand their reach, build reputation and engage new audiences – without ever having to pay a cent for that exposure upfront.
Myth busting what the internet tells you…
There is a lot of guff on the internet about affiliate marketing. Here are some honest facts you should know.
- Affiliate Marketing grew roughly by 10% per annum according to a survey delivered by Digital Growth earlier this year.
- The industry is estimated to continue to grow to a 12 Billion dollar industry by 2021.
- The search results for the term “affiliate marketing” increased by 44% year on year which clearly tells you more and more businesses and entrepreneurs are looking to invest in this channel as part of their marketing strategy.
So why does Affiliate Marketing have such a bad rep?
Truth is, it’s just not as sexy as influencer or social media marketing, funnels and flywheels or inbound marketing and lead generation, which all get the big PR coverage nowadays. Unless you look for it , nobody really talks about the strategic side of using it to expand your global reach.
This is something I’m working hard to challenge. It’s why I’m writing this article, and sharing my knowledge with business owners around the globe to help them access the fruits that affiliate marketing can deliver when done correctly and with a clear strategy in place.
There are loads of “ get rich with affiliate marketing “ gurus who try to tell you black hat ways to make you rich. None of this garbage is true. Affiliate marketing takes hours of effort but when done correctly reaps substantial rewards.
This content on social media has had a knock on effect to affiliate marketing’s good reputation.
Affiliate marketing is complex, but it’s also transparent.
It’s not just about paying money for a targeted ad placement – it’s about cultivating human relationships with various entrepreneurs which impact where and how your product or service gets advertised.
You need to know how to manage different kinds of affiliates and traffic sources in a cohesive and commercially beneficial manner to make affiliate marketing really work for your business.
This means understanding how individual affiliates can be utilized to reach your customer and sales marketing objectives.
Ever heard of the riches are in the niches?
Affiliate marketing helps you reach “niches of customers” who are all online in various places in a cost effective manner, as you only pay on delivery when a sale is completed on your site. You get all the brand and advertising exposure upfront and FOR FREE.
Just in case you still aren’t 100% convinced that affiliate marketing is for your business – here are some new stats to consider :
- Affiliate programs generate 35% of new sales for advertisers
- Fashion, Sports and Health and Wellness are the top 3 areas where affiliate marketing is most popular as a digital marketing strategy
- Ad blockers don’t have an influence on affiliate marketing – which means your spend is 100% trackable and traceable at all times. No blocks, no wasted clicks, no upfront payment with low delivery on spend.
Affiliate programs help you build your brand reach and allow you to expand into wider client niches faster and (over time) cheaper than any other form of direct advertising.
So how do you get in on this Affiliate action?
My top tip is that before you begin, you ask an expert. Affiliate marketing can be expensive if you don’t do it right.
There is a lot of strategy that sits behind creating an affiliate marketing program to suit your business, your budget and your sales objectives.
Here are 3 points to help you get started in Affiliate Marketing
- Choose the right technology to track your affiliates
You don’t need a ferrari if a mini cooper will do. Do you need a full white labelled affiliate program or could you cut costs and launch within a network? There are benefits to both models. Having the right technology in place is key as it is the foundation of how your program is managed and helps you scale and automate management services. Getting this wrong could stunt your ability to grow or worse cost you more to fix later down the line.
- Benchmark your competition
Look at their pricing strategies, often the biggest problem I see is the wrong incentive models implemented for affiliate programs. This can lead to lackluster engagement from affiliates to push your product or service and a lack of continued sales. Cost vs ROI is absolutely key for an affiliate program to succeed and scale your sales strategy online.
- Be strategic about who you work with, where and why.
A good affiliate program needs solid business terms, think about how affiliate marketing fits into your online marketing strategy, how can you use it for your business objectives. Price, place and position plays a big part in this strategic thinking. Affiliate marketing must be used as part of a bigger marketing plan and works best when it’s supplementing your other marketing efforts. Brand associations are key to consider when partnering with 3rd party affiliates to generate sales.
Thanks for reading this far – hope you’ve learnt some new facts about Affiliate Marketing…
By now you should not be able to deny that an affiliate program could help you expand your reach (at low cost) and put you in front of a variety of new niche customers.
It is a long game plan – you invest to build results over time, you leverage the free exposure to boost your other marketing activities and you plan strategy to complement direct sales.
Affiliate Marketing, hands down – always pay dividends over time (when done correctly) at a higher rate of return than any other digital strategy or marketing medium.
I know, because I’ve spent the past two decades proving it! 🙂
Lee-Ann Johnstone is a digital marketing and affiliate strategist.
With more than two decades of digital marketing expertise building million dollar affiliate programs for brands around the world, she now runs her own affiliate marketing consultancy which offers affiliate business mentoring, affiliate marketing training and delivers affiliate marketing services to businesses and affiliate entrepreneurs, around the world.
She’s a Google Square, a Virgin Business Mentor, co-founder of AffiliateINSIDER (a digital media content hub), Writer, Speaker and mother and is passionate about educating the next generation of digital marketers about the strategy that goes into making Affiliate Marketing successful for businesses.
Lee-Ann helps brands strategise, launch, scale and grow successful affiliate programs and was recently awarded the Top 10 Most Influential Women in Affiliate Marketing award from iGamingBusiness Magazine in the UK.
She makes affiliate Marketing , simplified.