affiliate DTC Marketing

If you’re a brand and you haven’t yet considered how affiliate marketing can help you scale your digital marketing activities, you might be missing out. We’re here to tell you why.

Affiliate is a digital marketing channel centered on relationships, and building or leveraging those relationships to generate awareness, traffic, and conversions for your brand. With affiliate, brands hire publishers who earn a commission for promoting the brand’s product or service using an affiliate link. The affiliate partner is then rewarded a payout for delivering specific results to the brand.

Affiliate is one component within the larger partnership marketing umbrella, alongside influencer marketing and public relations (PR). While all three overlap, each also has distinct differences:

  • PR is more about brand awareness; here, brand or agency reps reach out individually to editors who are writing and pitching the brand through press releases, product launches, etc.
  • Influencers often consist of individual brand ambassadors, celebrities, etc., with whom the brand or agency works with directly. 
  • Affiliate is similar to influencer, but instead of working with each influencer directly, the agency or brand works with a single contact at an external affiliate network who acts as a middleman between the agency/brand and the publishers.

“In the ideal scenario, a brand will leverage all three components of partnership marketing and use them together to achieve their goals,” says Audrey Durand, Sr. Director of Digital Services at The Stable. “The affiliate channel, however, is often considered the most efficient of the three because it allows brands to tap into a network of qualified influencers rather than having to manage relationships with multiple individuals.”

If you’re considering affiliate marketing, you’re already on the right path. Next, we’ll break down everything you need to know to build out a successful affiliate marketing program.


Which Brands Should Consider Affiliate:

Affiliate programs can be a good fit for brands in any vertical or industry, as the structure of the program itself can be adjusted based on specific goals and the brand’s desired key performance indicators (KPIs). Instead, deciding whether affiliate is a good investment really comes down to brand maturity.

Brands that will generally benefit from leveraging affiliate marketing should:

  • Have an eCommerce presence;
  • Have been selling for at least one year;
  • Be investing in other marketing channels.

For larger brands with established brand awareness, affiliate is a no brainer. For smaller, emerging brands, affiliate can be a good fit, but it’s important that the brand has been active in the eCommerce space long enough to have generated some awareness. It’s not going to be an effective channel if no one knows who you are, because publishers likely won’t want to work with you.

At the end of the day, you’re asking publishers to advocate and go-to-market on your behalf. If your brand is too new, publishers are going to be less likely to take the risk over more established brands that would lead to guaranteed results. 

“We recommend that smaller, emerging brands get activation through paid or owned media channels first,” Durand continues. “This way, they can start to build a presence organically. Once they grow to the point of having hand-raisers for their brand, that’s when they should start looking at affiliate.”


How To Choose The Right Partners: 

So your brand checks all the boxes we listed above, and you’ve decided to move forward with affiliate marketing? Next, we need to find the right affiliates for your brand.

In order to achieve success in affiliate, a brand either needs the experience and insight of working in the industry, or the time to organically identify the big players- and furthermore, the big players that are going to be the right match for their target audience and goals.

“This is where the value of an agency comes into play,” Durand says. “Agencies like The Stable not only have the necessary experience, but have already put in the time to evaluate the thousands of affiliate publishers out there in order to identify the top traffic drivers, publishers, syndication partners, and overall revenue drivers in the space.” 

Before you start vetting different affiliates, it’s important to identify the KPIs through which you are going to gauge the success of your program. In addition to understanding your margins, this is what will allow you to select the affiliate partners that are going to help you reach your goals.

For example, if your main goal is top-line revenue, then you should target the affiliate partners that are making the most and also work within the margins of your business to promote your brand. If instead, you are hyper-focused on growing awareness for a narrow category or within a specific demographic- or maybe you’re promoting an individual product, like an article of clothing- then you should look for a partner that is hyper-targeted on that specific niche. 

When recruiting new affiliates, first and foremost, you need to remember that whoever you choose is going to be representing your brand. This means that their persona, image, and values all need to align with those that you want for your brand. 

We recommend evaluating potential partners using the following criteria:

  • Do they have an audience, and is it the right audience for your brand?
  • What does their traffic and volume look like?
  • Do they have an established and legitimate website?
  • Do they drive high conversions?
  • Do they offer the promotional model that you prefer – whether that’s CPA, CPM, or CPC, it’s important that you understand which levers they can use and that it is going to be a good fit with your brand.


Timing, As Usual, Is Everything:

“Since we are already in the middle of November, it is a little late to start an affiliate program in 2022,” Durand says. “If you already have established investments, then by all means, carry on. But for a net new affiliate program, planning and strategizing now for a Q1 2023 launch is going to be your best bet.” 

This is due to a variety of factors:

  • Top loyalty partners and coupon sites are already increasing their holiday rates, so it’s going to be difficult for a new brand to penetrate the market at an affordable price.
  • It takes three to four months to ramp up an affiliate program – getting key partners involved, score pages up, click-and-save activated, etc. – at this point, you’ll miss the holidays entirely.
  • Key publishers will have code freezes starting soon, so most won’t be onboarding new merchants until December or early Q1 anyways.

In reality, we recommend that brands decide by September, at the latest, if they are going to utilize affiliate for the holidays. Something to keep in mind for next year.

If you already have an activated affiliate program, however, you still have time to make the most of it for this year’s holiday season if you act quickly. Our experts recommend that you:

  • Look at your data, especially cost per acquisition (CPAs) over the last few months, or year-over-year, so that you can set realistic benchmarks.
  • Secure paid placements for additional inventory on publisher’s sites. During key holidays, some publishers will prefer working with brands and advertisers on a flat fee only, or on a combination of flat fee and  increased CPA payment models. Defining your paid placement budget ahead of time – at least 60 days prior to the campaign launch – will help you avoid paying higher rates as you get closer to this set launch date.
  • If you don’t have the budget for flat fee, consider increasing CPAs with strategic partners to incentivise publishers to promote your brand over competitors. If you have loyalty publishers in your program, you might also consider increasing cash-back around key dates like Black Friday or Cyber Monday instead.
  • Communicate offers, promotions, etc. as early as possible to publishers; content affiliates finalize their calendars months in advance.


How to Evaluate Success:

Evaluating the success of an affiliate marketing program not only allows you to measure metrics like return on ad spend (ROAS), but it also gives you the information you need to make tweaks and optimizations moving forward. 

The main goal for affiliate for most direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands is driving transactions and meeting goals/numbers, like ROAS. Measuring these metrics on a monthly, or even weekly, basis will help you understand what’s working, what’s not working, and what the right path forward may be. 


In Conclusion:

We asked Kyle Riedinger, Affiliate Marketing Specialist, to round out this article with a summary of his recommendations, and here’s what he said:

Affiliate marketing is a pay-for-performance and relationship-based channel that allows brands to work with a wide variety of partners to build value throughout the brand’s entire funnel- from awareness, to influence, to evaluation, activation, and action.

Affiliate is often considered the most efficient channel within partnership marketing because it allows brands to tap into a network of qualified influencers, rather than having to manage relationships with multiple individuals.

The affiliate marketing channel can be a valuable component of cost-effective media programs, if set-up at the right time:

  • Identify if your brand is ready to expand to earned media activities, like affiliate, or consult an expert to help you explore the option.
  • If you already have an active program, finalize your plans for the holidays with partners through increased CPA or media buys to earn strategic coverage.
  • If you are new to partnership marketing, use Q4 to vet the right agency partner, build your affiliate strategy, earmark your annual budget, plan for key holiday seasons, select the right technology, and start setting up your program terms with future partners. Plan for a Q1 launch.

If you think your brand is ready to expand to affiliate marketing, or if you are looking for an expert to take over management of an existing program and take it to the next level, contact The Stable today at Learn more about our approach to affiliate marketing here