What is affiliate marketing? How partnerships help you build revenue
Does affiliate marketing make sense for you and your business?
Because acting as an affiliate on behalf of brands represents a low-hanging opportunity to drive additional revenue from content you’re already creating.
And if you’re an influencer, blogger or publisher with a dedicated following, there are likely affiliate partnership opportunities available to you today.
Let’s be clear, though: affiliate marketing isn’t some sort of get-rich-quick scheme.
While the concept of so-called “passive income” might be enticing, it’s crucial to understand the best practices of affiliate marketing and what it takes to sell products the right way.
And that’s exactly what we’ll cover in this guide.
What is affiliate marketing, anyway?
Affiliate marketing represents a form of advertising where a creator (or publisher) promotes a product on behalf of a business, receiving a cut of revenue from sales attributed to the affiliate.
Despite the jargon, the concept here is pretty simple, especially if you’re familiar with influencer marketing. Affiliates act as a middleperson between businesses and consumers and receive a commission as compensation.
Affiliate marketing is massive and something that you probably encounter on a day-to-day basis.
#ad posts on Instagram. Promo codes in podcasts. Commission disclosures in blogs. These are all examples of affiliate marketing in action.
How exactly does affiliate marketing work?
Good question! Let’s start by looking at the roles involved in any given affiliate relationship.
- The seller: This is the business providing the product or service to be sold by the affiliate.
- The affiliate: This is the person who’s actually promoting the seller’s products to consumers.
- The customer: This is the person that’s making a purchase through the affiliate.
Now, here’s a simplified, step-by-step breakdown of how affiliate marketing works:
- The seller and the affiliate initiate an agreement in terms of what’s being sold, how sales are being attributed (unique promo codes, affiliate links) and what constitutes a payout.
- The affiliate promotes the seller via content such as social media posts, blog posts or marketing emails directed to their customers.
- Customers engage with the affiliate’s promotions by clicking links or redeeming promo codes.
- Once a sale is made, the affiliate (eventually) receives a payout based on the parameters of the seller’s agreement.
Rinse and repeat. That’s the kitchen table version of affiliate marketing.
Most companies with affiliate programs either work with a network to find affiliates or have their own application and approval process. The specifics of affiliate promotions and payouts vary from seller to seller.
Affiliate marketing is performance-based with attribution often based on link clicks or code redemption. The more you sell, the more you earn (and vice versa).
That said, it’s in the best interest of businesses to make the process of scoring sales quick and efficient for affiliates. Affiliate relationships should represent a win-win for businesses and creators alike.
How do you get paid in affiliate marketing?
Getting paid fairly and on time is a priority for any affiliate and rightfully so.
Most affiliate programs are pay per sale. In short, you get a straight-up commission for closed deals and completed purchases.
For example, the Pura Vida affiliate program offers up to 12% commission on all sales:
This is the most straightforward type of agreement for both the seller and the affiliate. Pay per sale benefits the seller as they’re only required to pay out when money’s been made.
There are also affiliate programs that pay per lead. We typically see this with SaaS affiliates or sellers promoting a program that requires some sort of demo or sign-up. Here’s an example from Skillshare:
These types of affiliate programs typically offer a smaller payout for referrals than larger ones if someone becomes a long-term subscriber.
Keep in mind that every seller is different in terms of payout requirements for affiliates. For example, Magic Spoon requires affiliates to hit a specific quota in order to be part of their program:
These payouts and requirements highlight how affiliate marketing is ideal as a means of supplemental income. Smaller payouts and less aggressive selling requirements are attractive for affiliates who want to build new revenue without too much of a time commitment.
What are the advantages of affiliate marketing?
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at why so many affiliates are partnering up with sellers these days.
Uncover low-hanging opportunities to earn money
If you’re a content creator, there’s something out there to sell to your target audience.
And despite popular belief, affiliate marketing doesn’t have to mean selling skinny tea or some sort of too-good-to-be-true product.
There are more affiliate and ambassador programs out there than ever before, including household names in fashion, software and much more.
Although there’s definitely legwork involved in promoting products, inserting affiliate links into blogs or social posts requires much less of a time and financial commitment than, say, running Facebook ad campaigns. This really rings true if you’re already blogging or producing social content on a consistent basis.
You don’t have to provide support for what you’re selling
You obviously want to sell products that services to your audience that are legitimate.
But as an affiliate, you’re solely responsible for scoring sales and maintaining your own brand voice while doing so. That’s about it. The relationship between affiliates, sellers and customers is relatively hands-off after the fact.
In other words, you experience the benefit of selling a product minus the headaches associated with ongoing support.
Work and scale at your own pace
Only want to work with one affiliate? Looking to branch out and promote more offers? The choice is yours.
Although there are some full-time affiliate marketers out there, it’s more realistic and actionable to treat affiliate income as something supplementary.
If you already have an engaged audience and eyes on your content, you can at the very least test the waters of being an affiliate. Doing so doesn’t have to be a massive commitment of time or money.
The challenges and realities of affiliate marketing
We’ll say it again: don’t be fooled by dreams of totally “passive income.”
Successful affiliates don’t happen by accident. Below are a few reality checks for anyone looking to become an affiliate.
You can’t be spammy or aggressive
Sure, the average consumer is aware of what an affiliate link is and they’re more than happy to engage with such offers.
That said, you can’t go overboard. It’s crucial that affiliates maintain a sense of authenticity and don’t drive their audience away by cramming promotions in every piece of content.
Much like any form of social media advertising, a bit of subtlety goes a long way.
You have to put in consistent effort
Clicks and sales are far from guaranteed.
And since you’re dealing with performance-based advertising, consistency counts if you’re looking for significant payouts. Dropping links occasionally isn’t going to cut it.
Finding the right products isn’t always easy
Piggybacking on the point above, you can’t just expect to sell random stuff to your audience.
For example, many Twitch streamers sell caffeine products and PC parts to their subscribers. This makes perfect sense for their audience but would be totally wrong for, say, a fitness model or most marketing affiliates.
As noted earlier, there are endless affiliate opportunities out there. You should try to tailor the sellers you associate with to your audience, not vice versa.
Where can sellers and affiliates connect?
Let’s say you’re interested in becoming an affiliate but have no idea where to start in terms of sellers.
The good news is that finding potential partnerships is easier than ever, either through an affiliate network or direct brand relationships.
Platforms such as CJ Affiliate (see below), ClickBank or Amazon Associates are in-depth affiliate networks that do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to finding sellers and getting paid.
The big upside of these networks is that they spell out clearly what to expect in terms of payouts, performance and expectations. That said, the payouts are sometimes on the lower end (particularly for Amazon) and finding high-quality products often requires a bit of digging.
Affiliate and brand ambassador programs
You’d be surprised at how many of your favorite products and brands already have affiliate programs (see Grammarly below).
As in the case of many brand ambassador programs, you often have to go through some sort of application and verification process before becoming an affiliate.
Working with individual brands requires a bit more juggling in terms of communication versus an affiliate network.
But again, brands make it as quick and painless as possible to win affiliate sales. You can likewise be more selective with products when you go this route, picking and choosing brands you’re familiar with first and foremost.
Who are the best candidates for becoming affiliates?
To wrap things up, let’s look at some quick examples of who should consider becoming an affiliate and what those relationships look like in the wild.
From influencers and YouTubers to Twitch streamers and beyond, smaller content creators arguably have the most to gain from affiliate relationships.
Sponsored content is all the rage right now for creators and advertisers alike. With a bit of creativity, creators can seamlessly integrate affiliate offers into their content.
Sitting somewhere between a creator and a publisher, affiliate links are commonplace in blogs.
A somewhat more “set and forget” form of affiliate marketing, these sorts of offers can drive significant revenue over time as bloggers produce more and more content.
Here’s an example of an affiliate disclosure that actually feels personable and highlights how bloggers can promote products without being spammy.
Large media sites
Lastly, large blogs and media sites are prime candidates for publishing more in-depth sponsored content. Below is an example from MindBodyGreen. Notice the “Paid Content” tag at the top:
And with that, we wrap up our guide!
Is affiliate marketing on your radar?
Affiliate marketing represents a reliable way for creators and publishers to earn more from their existing content.
Although getting your campaigns off the ground requires some legwork, doing so is worth it for those willing to put in the effort and uncover the right sellers.
And if you’re interested in becoming an affiliate on social media, make sure to check out our guide to increasing your conversion rate to score sales across Instagram, Facebook and wherever else your audience is active.
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