The retail industry is rapidly changing in order to keep pace with new consumer behaviors, skyrocketing e-commerce options, and ongoing impacts of the pandemic, all while trying to anticipate what’s next. With that comes the need, and ability, for retailers and brands to adopt innovative thinking and create new opportunities to continue to engage with target audiences. While this need isn’t new, many are missing out on a strategic opportunity: partnership and affiliate programs.
Partnership and affiliate programs have proven to be very successful for retailers and brands, especially in the opportunities they provide to create meaningful engagements with consumers. But, these programs are not typically not at the top of a marketing mix; that position is mostly owned by digital advertising. Yet between the growing mistrust in ads and the increased usage of ad-blocking technology, consumers are veering away from making purchasing decisions based on digital ads. This has created an opportunity for retailers and brands to look elsewhere for more effective and/or authentic ways to reach consumers and create those meaningful engagements that ultimately lead to increased sales.
Looking for examples? Various companies, many of which we’ve worked with, have seen great success with partnership and affiliate programs over the past year. Some of those include:
- Decathlon Singapore: The leading sports retailer implemented a partnership automation system to help the brand identify new partners and manage partners already in place. In doing so, Decathlon saw this partnership program drive 50% of the brand’s new customer acquisition in eight months and a quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) revenue growth rate of 156%.
- ZALORA: The online fashion destination had the challenge of expanding its brand and product awareness in Southeast Asia. In response, ZALORA teamed up with H&M and, as a result, was able to bring its apparel to H&M’s 400 million consumers, magnifying its visibility across the region.
- Love, Bonito: Another global fashion brand recently consolidated its partnership programs across the US, Hong Kong, and the Philippines to better maximize the output. By bringing all of the partnerships under one umbrella, Love, Bonito saw an increase of 20% of new orders within its first year, with 60% of revenue coming from new customers and a 253% QoQ revenue growth.
Four keys to successful partnership and affiliate programs
Ready to get started? Great! There are various tools and services that can provide support on your journey to establishing partnerships and affiliate programs. There are also several avenues to take the marketing efforts, like influencers and podcasters, content and media publishers and brand-to-brand relationships that offer a diverse set of options to create new opportunities. It is important to remember that the avenue you choose must be one that your existing and target consumers resonate with, and will respond well to.
Once those are set, you still must remember that partnership and affiliate programs are not a set it and forget it strategy. These programs need to be nurtured over time in order to show their true value. When done properly, here’s what you can expect:
- Low risk, great rewards: Partnerships and affiliate programs offer a low-risk option to marketing teams while having a history of strong returns. A 2019 report from Forrester detailed that brands that have held these programs for several years saw them yield, on average, more than a quarter (28%) of the company’s total revenue. Those programs also resulted in faster revenue growth of up to 2x compared to competitors with younger or non-existing affiliate and partnership plans.
- Customizable terms: When affiliate marketing was in its infancy, there was a stricter commission structure for the affiliates or publishers that brought customers, and then revenue, to the company. This prevented brands from increasing spending on specific products, incentivizing their partners, or even rewarding the top-performers. However today’s model provides flexibility and creates avenues for more customization and success.
- Granular measurement: Retailers with affiliate and partnerships programs can track key performance metrics specific to their goals – such as average order value (AOV) and new customer rate – and see how the affiliate and partnership programs are performing in those areas in comparison to other marketing programs that are in place. In doing so, retailers are able to see every facet of the program’s success, as well as identify and address any issues in the moment.
- Customer-focused engagements: Younger audiences in particular are increasingly skeptical of traditional advertising methods, which is why partnership and affiliate programs are so valuable. Consumers seek trust and authenticity in the brands they choose to buy, and these partnerships have the ability to create meaningful engagements with targeted audiences. Consumers are likely to research varying opinions on the best products in that category, and through engaging affiliate and partnership content, they will see those recommendations as trusted and authentic content.
As brands look towards the future of marketing, generating sales, acquiring new customers, and growing the business, in general, are still the most crucial goals of any company. With the modern consumer, though, new thinking and tactics like partnership and affiliate programs offer enhanced connections with consumers and more authentic content overall. Plus, the ability to adjust on the fly depending on what is working and what is not will allow brands to better track towards and achieve their goals.
By Mary Advincula, Marketing Programs Manager at impact.com