Affiliate marketing is a specific sub-niche of the whole digital marketing. The marketer is not tied to the product they promote, nor to the place where they promote it. They are an intermediary between offers and ad placements.
It’s a whole different situation for a brand marketer, who promotes a brand for a company they work for. There are different levels of commitment and personal attachments involved as well as strategies used.
Brand marketers may look down at affiliates, yet they can learn so much from their agile approach. In the following article, I’d like to discuss some lessons that brand marketers can learn from affiliates.
Lesson 1: Track Everything
When it comes to knowing their audiences, brand marketers have it easier. They usually have a general idea of who their audience is. Why?
- They know the market
- They have already run some campaigns before.
- They often surveyed their customers.
- They have data from the sales department.
Affiliates know a lot about advertising. What they lack is the knowledge about who they’re speaking to. The answer to that is tracking.
Tracking is recording visitor’s interactions with your campaign, along with additional data points. You learn that not only a given person clicked the ad but also what country this person comes from, what device type they use, even what browser version they have.
This may seem insignificant. It may not be. Still, it is wise to record everything you can.
Brand marketers often launch campaigns and then wait for the sales numbers to rise as a proof of their success. Or they don’t even do that, because the goal of their campaign was to increase brand’s visibility, something that is very hard to measure.
There are a lot of tracking and analytics tools out there. Affiliates usually use ad trackers that allow them to make a detailed analysis of the data they collected via tracking. Read the comparison of the most popular trackers and decide for yourself, which one is the best for you.
Affiliates need instant proof that their campaign works or not, so they can fine-tune it on the fly. With tracking, brand marketers can do the same. This brings us to the second lesson.
Lesson 2: Analyze Data and Look for Patterns
Data hides patterns, sometimes very unintuitive ones. Let’s say you, as a brand marketer, followed the first lesson and started tracking everything. Among other things, you track the visitor's operating system version.
You don’t know why.
But think about it for a moment. This information alone allows you to make several assumptions about your customers. An old mobile OS version may mean that a visitor is not very interested in tech, or doesn’t have much money to spend.
Many offers may not make any sense for that person: phone gadgets, apps, smart home devices, etc.
But this is only an assumption.
The key to data analysis is cross-referencing one set of data with another.
- Check how well various operating systems perform and check for variances among different countries. Maybe people from a given country simply don’t need to change their phones every year but they still like to purchase stuff online?
- Compare sales numbers with browser versions. A default browser for a given operating system may mean that a visitor is not very tech-savvy. Using an alternative browser may be a sign of a customer potentially interested in tech offers.
- Internet connection type may indicate a type of a place a visitor is at: a WiFi connection usually means that a visitor is at home, while carrier connection may be a sign of being on the move. Cross-reference it with a device-type data (desktop or mobile) and then think about your offer: is it a serious one that is usually purchased at home (for example, home alarms) or rather something that is usually bought on impulse (for example, clothes or gadgets).
Data hides all kinds of patterns. Even the ones you would never think of.
My favorite story to tell on this topic is not marketing related, but still proves the point. It is a story of an AI employed by a New York hospital to help with patient diagnosis. The AI was doing well with predictions of diseases that can be derived from patients’ charts. But what puzzled the researchers was the fact that this AI started to diagnose mental disorders such as schizophrenia just on the basis of charts alone.
This meant a revolution. Almost 150 years of psychiatry has never made a connection between a patient's stats, such as blood pressure or blood sugar level, and mental disorders. There was a pattern in the data that was absolutely unlikely and only AI could find it.
You don’t have to start any scientific revolution with your data analysis. Just follow where the analysis will take you. Trust data, not only your intuition.
Lesson 3: Be Agile
This is a lesson that can be learned both from affiliate marketers and IT professionals. The latter ones use all kinds of agile work systems to respond quickly to the changes in technology, market, or customers.
Don’t wait for your marketing campaign to be over to assess the results.
If you have a good basis to make a change in your campaign, don’t wait.
Affiliates spend a better portion of the day tweaking their campaigns. To be specific, they adjust the following things:
- Cut down unprofitable placements or portions of traffic.
- Try to get as much profitable traffic as possible.
- Tweak their landing page’s content or their ads.
- Change the time of the day or the day of the week when a given ad is displayed.
Lesson 4: Always Be Testing
This part is much easier for affiliates. If something doesn’t work, they can easily ditch an offer they’re promoting with no regrets and start looking for another one.
Brand marketers are stuck with their company’s offers, with the language they use, branding, and strategies. They have a lot of constraints not known to affiliate marketers.
However, this does not mean they cannot add new elements to their marketing campaigns.
Your design team may have the best execution and the best taste in creating capturing images, and you may all awe at how beautiful they are, but unless you have numbers to support the claim they will work, it is all still a guesswork.
How do you get those numbers?
By testing any new hypothesis you may draw from the data analysis part. There is a lot to consider:
- Color tonation
- Emotional response
- Informative load
- Tone of voice
- Ad type
Your ads may be simply too good. There is a case of video ads that are very engaging on an emotional level but bring little to no clicks. The story dims the product. You may get the views, but not necessarily the profits.
Similar things can be said about your product’s landing page. Depending on your audience and product type, it may work better with more text or more visuals. Sometimes it may pay off to engage the emotional part of our brains, while at other times the rational part will be the way to go.
You don’t know until you check.
And by check I mean A/B test it.
This type of testing means that you show different messages (ads or landing pages) to equal and identical parts of your audience. This eliminates all variables apart from your message.
You have probably already done that.
But the other part of testing that affiliates do follows the assumption that you should always test new angles, even if the old angles work well.
Let me reiterate: even if your campaign rocks and your ads win all kinds of industry awards, you should still show another ad, created with another idea in mind, to a smaller part of your audience.
You never know when you can strike gold and be even more successful by having an ad that resonates with yet untapped audiences.
Lesson 5: Learn from Your Competitors
Affiliates spy on their competitors often to the point where they end up copying their approach.
This is too much. Yet the habit of keeping tabs on your competitors may bring you a solid knowledge of their strong and weak points.
If you don’t watch their ads and read their product page, you are missing out.
If you are not subscribed to their newsletter or are not a part of their Facebook group, you are missing out.
If you don’t use their product, you are missing out.
The thing that you are missing out is the potential opportunity of launching campaigns that will address all the issues your competitors may have.
Once you know them, you’ll know where to hit.
Brand marketers tend to think like, well, marketers. Not like a potential customer who is still yet to choose between products of different companies.
Don’t make it personal
The last advice that affiliates can give is not to get too attached to a campaign. Affiliates create campaigns and ditch them the moment they stop profiting.
On the other hand, brand marketers invest a lot of time, effort, and money into each campaign. If a campaign fails, they get emotional.
Leave emotions out of the equation. Stick to tracked data. Learn from the good things and the bad things. Test new hypotheses. This will give you a winning campaign in no time.
Michał Schindler is a content manager at Codewise, focused on various aspects of digital marketing, with a special consideration for affiliate marketing. He has a wide background in social studies and medicine. Currently, he writes for theVoluum blog, where he helps people meander through the exciting world of online marketing.