Affiliate marketing has been thriving over the last two decades, making an incredible financial impact on businesses and affiliates alike. In fact, spending in affiliate channels is expected to hit $12 billion in 2022. With this type of huge growth potential, every online business should be at least considering an affiliate marketing channel of some sort. But is affiliate marketing worth it for your business?
There are many ways you approach affiliate marketing and there is certainly no secret formula that works for every business. Each business is unique and each affiliate program is even more so. Building a successful affiliate program starts with building a great strategy.
This guide will answer “is affiliate marketing worth it” from two different perspectives; that of an advertiser (a company selling a product or service), and that of a content creator (anyone that creates content that can be leveraged to promote a product or service).
There are major benefits to leveraging affiliate marketing for both parties, but just as prevalent are the risks that can make the channel a liability if not approached correctly. Below we will discuss the benefits and challenges for both brands and content creators as it pertains to the affiliate channel.
Is affiliate marketing worth it?
Affiliate marketing is a win/win for both brands and content creators. Brands love affiliate marketing for expanding their reach to new audiences and paying out on a performance basis. Content creators are also big fans of affiliate marketing since it allows for an uncapped earning potential and creativity with the promotion.
Unfortunately, not all brands and content creators see eye to eye on this value proposition. Many content creators with a big audience will insist on upfront fees to commensurate their time. Convincing content creators to work strictly off commissions can be an uphill battle for partner development managers (PDM).
Is affiliate marketing worth it for brands?
Do you have a product or service that other companies or individuals want to write about or talk about? If so, affiliate marketing can be of value to you in some way, shape, or form.
Studies have shown that affiliate marketing has three major benefits:
- Driving brand awareness
- Additional revenue
- Higher average order value
When affiliate marketing is done right, all of these benefits will come together harmoniously. For example, large supplement retailer, Onnit, realized the majority of their early growth by betting big on one influential affiliate, Joe Rogan. Not every brand will strike gold like Onnit, but with the right approach, you can create your own version of success through this channel.
Benefits for Brands.
For many brands, the affiliate channel is an integral part of their marketing stack. In fact, affiliate marketing was responsible for ~70% of Grovia’s revenue in our first year. Not only can affiliate marketing drive more signups or sales, but it can effectively impact your entire marketing funnel. Let’s take a look at some of the main benefits:
Pay for performance.
Most marketing channels can feel like a gamble. You pay for clicks or views and bear the entire risk of whether or not that traffic will convert. Conversely, the ideal payout model for an affiliate partnership is CPA (cost-per-action) where the brand only pays for each sale or signup. This is great for startups who don’t have million-dollar budgets to test on PPC campaigns or haven’t spent years fine-tuning their display campaigns. *Keep in mind, not every affiliate will work on a CPA model, and one indirect cost is the time spent on recruiting partners who are open to CPA or time spent negotiating with content creators.
Affiliates can be great for driving incremental revenue (aka net new sales). Where marketing channels like email and programmatic may focus on retargeting customers who are already aware of your brand, affiliate marketing can help you drive education and awareness for your brand, and ultimately lead to more new customers. Bloggers, influencers, and well-known publications are the best at driving incremental revenue as their content reaches audiences that may not otherwise have been aware of your brand. While these types of affiliates can certainly help you grow your business, recruiting these partners can be a challenge. If you are interested in recruiting more content affiliates, reach out to our sales team!
Conversion Rate Optimization.
At Grovia, we tend to focus more on affiliates that can drive incremental revenue. There are many other “bottom-funnel” affiliates that can assist in driving sales but tend to drive less incremental revenue. For example, coupon sites help you convert customers who won’t buy without a discount. Similarly, rewards apps like Capital One Shopping or StormX help convert users who like to earn cash back when shopping online. Note: If you do not have existing traffic to your site, these affiliates will have very little impact on your business.
One of the more underappreciated aspects of affiliate marketing is the brand awareness benefits. Most brands will have a 30-day cookie window – meaning if a user clicks an affiliate link and converts within 30 days, the associated affiliate will get the commission. All of the users that click your affiliate links and don’t convert within those 30 days are now aware of your brand and can convert at a later date. Pro tip: affiliates like AddShoppers can help you retarget traffic that hit your website and did not convert.
Why doesn’t every brand have an affiliate marketing program?
Now that the benefits are clear, we can address the biggest challenges that each brand faces.
If you’re new to affiliate marketing, it’s not uncommon to think an affiliate program is “set it and forget it”. Unfortunately, affiliate marketing programs will not magically grow once they are created. Brands that start a program quickly learn that managing a fully-functioning affiliate program is hard work.
Program growth starts with finding the right partners. Affiliate recruitment can be extremely time-consuming if your team lacks:
- The right tools
- Proper methodology
- Bandwidth to effectively recruit incremental revenue-generating partners.
- Time to complete the 15 steps an affiliate manager takes to complete deals.
On top of recruiting partners, there are maintenance tasks that also need to be completed.
With all that goes into place to grow and maintain a program, it can scare away most brands into thinking that affiliate marketing just doesn’t work for their products.
However, with the right strategy in place and a team to execute the plan, the success rate of an affiliate program will escalate dramatically.
Is affiliate marketing worth it for the challenges it faces?
Every marketing channel is in a constant battle to become ROI positive. Some channels are harder to achieve than others.
For the affiliate channel, risks are relatively low and the rewards are limitless. But there are several big challenges that brands face when growing the affiliate channel:
- Sales volume
- Lack of brand awareness
- Tracking & Attribution
- Management resources
- Bottom Funnel Blindness
In theory, performance marketing channels sound like a great idea when a business is in bootstrap mode. But in reality, the affiliate channel should NEVER be the first marketing channel you build. The reason: you need proof of sales.
Site optimization is crucial to all channels of marketing. The traffic you drive to the site, whether organic or paid, needs to be converted to purchase at an appropriate level of 1-10%.
Your site also needs to be optimized to sell the product before you present it to partners. Good affiliates will be able to review your site and recognize whether or not it is a viable option in the competitive landscape. If it is not converting well, the commission rate would have to be huge for them to suggest your brand over the competitors.
For ecommerce businesses, Grovia sets a baseline at $50,000 in monthly revenue. However, SAAS products can consider a lower entry-level to create their program.
Lack of brand awareness.
If you’re a new or developing brand, it’s naturally going to be harder to attract affiliates to your program compared to a household name. You also have to put more upfront work in to enable them to promote your brand, as they may not be familiar enough to speak to your products on Day 1.
If this sounds like your brand, incentivizing partners with free products will be a good start for them to test it out. If you truly have a superior product to your competitors, let the partners know what the differentiators are so they can build content around those sales points.
Perhaps the biggest red flag on this is having a business that is localized.
If you only sell a product or service in a specific city, county, or even state, it will be hard to find affiliate partners to focus on this type of region. Big affiliates want to be able to sell your products worldwide. Finding niche affiliates that have localized traffic will likely be difficult, time-consuming, and low volume.
With localized businesses, I rarely suggest creating an affiliate program. Instead, focus your efforts on organic reviews and local search results. Your efforts here will be much more fruitful for sales.
It is tough to compete with top-of-the-market products. They have built up a brand through years of word-of-mouth marketing and reinvesting sales into other channels.
Your brand will need something to stick out and earn space on listicles. Consider these options to level the playing field:
- Higher commissions
- Incentive bonuses
- Activation campaigns
- Free products
- Sponsorship for new content
Every new piece of content from an outside publication is one step closer to your brand being more recognized. Consider showcasing the best content that has been published to motivate other partners to create new content themselves.
RankMath is doing this impressively well. Each month they give away $200 for the best article and video created that month. This contest is not only breeding competition within the program, but it is helping them develop an enormous amount of new content submissions each month.
Once your brand has answered a yes to ‘is affiliate marketing worth it,’ then it is time to build a program. But before you create an affiliate program all willy-nilly, you need to have a trusted and experienced source to design a solid strategy. You have four options here:
- Wing it internally (don’t do this)
- Hire a junior marketer and have them trained
- Bring in an outside consultant or agency
- Hire an in-house manager
If you want it built right, someone with a minimum of 5 years’ experience is a must for this situation. Hiring an experienced in-house manager is going to be expensive and a commitment to the future. Hiring a junior marketer to build and manage the program is risky, so you will have to hire an affiliate management trainer to help show them the proper techniques.
The fastest way to succeed is hiring an agency to do all the right things. Agencies will have personnel with 10+ years of experience in the industry and be able to quickly create an extensive launch plan for the program. They also have a large database of affiliates that will be a fit for your program, as well as a game plan to recruit the right partners. Lastly, they can help train any junior marketer to manage the program into the future.
Tracking & Attribution.
For the individual tasked with developing the strategy, choosing a tracking solution will be the first decision to make. There are dozens of solutions to choose from and it can be overwhelming, so Grovia has created a guide to the best affiliate software on the market today. Check out the guide here:
Bottom Funnel Blindness.
One of the biggest pitfalls that companies fall into is filling their program with coupon and loyalty sites. These sites will make the affiliate channel look great, instantly driving perceived value. However, in reality, they are just stealing credit from your other channels.
Imagine someone shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, filling their shopping cart with things they need and are ready to purchase. Then, right when they walked up to register, someone was handing out a coupon for 20% off. The consumer thinks this is great! But they don’t buy additional items and when they attempt to use the coupon, it doesn’t even work. They continue the purchase whether the coupon works or not…and that person handing out the coupon, earns a commission for the sale.
It happens thousands of times a day in the affiliate industry. Coupon and loyalty sites snag the last click 3 minutes before checkout and earn all the credit of the sales process. They will steal credit from other channels that had touch-points and from the content sites that drove the consumer to the page.
Does this seem like a fair process? Grovia doesn’t think so. That’s why we don’t allow coupon sites in our client’s program. Let’s keep rewarding the content publishers that are really driving the incremental value.
The affiliate world can be a scary place if you do not have the right checks and balances in order. There are many ways affiliates can steal affiliate commissions from a company. Having the proper setup of a program to prevent these tactics is crucial.
If you already have an established program, there are many red flags of affiliate fraud to look for.
Once the program is built and affiliates are welcome to join, there needs to be a gatekeeper in place to manage the program.This job is not easy. Check out this graphic of what this job entails.
Is affiliate marketing worth it for content creators?
Being a content creator has its benefits in terms of flexibility of owning your business, but there are also challenges along the way for figuring out the revenue model for a site.
Sponsorships have traditionally been a way for creators to capture income. Taking sponsorship money is a safe way to ensure the creator’s time is paid for. However, for creators that are confident in their ability to drive significant revenue for a partner, affiliate marketing and hybrid solutions are a better alternative.
Big publications like Forbes and Hearst have long used a method of securing revenue with Adsense banner ads to collect micro-commissions through impressions. However, these publications are now recognizing the huge potential of monetizing their content with affiliate marketing instead.
Choosing affiliate marketing has some nice benefits:
- Unlimited earning potential
- Choosing brands wisely
- Editorial integrity
- Open opportunity and access
- Recurring revenue
- Hybrid deals
Benefits for Content Creators.
The biggest benefit for content creators is unlimited earning potential. When sponsorship money is taken, the earning potential of the influence is capped. The influencer might make $500 for a 30 second mention, but there is a good chance there is no passion behind the copy. They are literally reading out the ad copy that was given to them.
On the other hand, if the content creator is motivated by generating sales for the products that they are pitching, the production level is going to be stronger.
Another big benefit of affiliate marketing is only taking on a product that is a good fit for the audience. Too often influencers will take on sponsorships for a paycheck with a brand that just doesn’t make sense and it sounds forced. But with affiliate marketing, the content creator comes up with their own copy and way of promoting the product. The editorial freedom will allow the copy to flow more naturally.
Opportunity & Access.
The opportunity for sponsorship is on a basis of a few factors, companies must have
- An assigned budget
- Interest in the influencer
- Discover and outreach to the potential partner
- Assurance that the message is on brand
On the other hand, affiliate marketing allows content creators to choose the brands they want to promote. As long as an affiliate program is available to join, they can quickly sign up and start crafting a message to their audience.
One of the best alluring features of affiliate is the opportunity to be creative with the promotion. With sponsorships, there is an expected tone and message that needs to be conveyed. Since there is a payment for services involved, the brand has the right to request a make-good if the message was not on brand.
However, with affiliate marketing, the influencer has creative freedom to do whatever they like to yield results. The brand may or not be happy with the methods, but they will rarely complain about results.
Revenue & Commission.
Revenue is the motivator that drives business. Affiliate allows creators the opportunity to have an uncapped earning potential.
Sponsorships are great; it’s good to know your worth. But if a creator has an engaged audience, they are leaving money on the table. Having a hard stance of only taking on guaranteed placement is a good recipe for confining potential. Instead, consider a hybrid placement deal.
This is a mix of both upfront sponsorship fees and affiliate commissions. For those influencers with an open mind, hybrid deals allow the opportunity to earn a smaller rate of guaranteed sponsorship money AND commissions for all the sales they drive.
For example, let’s say an influencer has 100,000 Youtube subscribers and charges $1000 for three 30-second midroll promotions of a brand. This seems like a pretty fair price for the audience size and engagement of the channel. But to mitigate the risk of our client, the Grovia team of expert negotiators drive the asking price down to $500 AND commissions. If the influencer drives just 10 sales, they would already be making more than they requested.
This is a win-win scenario for both the brand and influencer. It allows the brand to take less risk on an untested audience. On the flip side, the influencer will still be paid for their efforts upfront, but now have unlimited earning potential from their efforts to sell the product.
Influencers with high audience engagement are especially keen to this concept. They will recognize the earning potential to be greater over time for each video. And they will also see the merit in earning commissions over time.
Most affiliate programs offer a one-time commission of either a percentage of the sale or a flat fee. Traditional programs like Ledger give away 10% commission on every order while Routine gives away 50% of the first order.
However, a growing trend in the industry is offering monthly recurring commissions for the duration of the customer’s life. This is especially popular with subscription-based and SAAS products.
Cakemail offers a 30% recurring commission, which is an aggressive commission since their average order value is $50, and the average lifetime is over 3 years. That turns into a $540 average commission per referral!
The great part is, these checks keep rolling in automatically every month, well after you made an introduction to the product.
Who doesn’t like free stuff?! Offering up free products and extended trials will help partners get a first-hand look at the way the company treats the consumer.
Brands that are not big fans of budget for sponsorship, might be more in-tuned to giving away goods in exchange for reviews.
Ecommerce brands can offer up a select number of items to offer affiliate partners to review. SAAS products can give away extended free trials with a limited cost.
Is affiliate marketing worth it for the challenges content publishers face?
One of the toughest decisions with affiliate marketing is choosing the right horse to put your name behind. When researching a topic, there are inevitably a few options for who or what you can suggest.
Choosing the top of the market solution might not be the best decision since competitors might pay higher commissions to keep a level playing field. Consider joining several programs and see who can offer the best deals.
Commission and bonuses.
Once you have made decisions on the products to promote, see what type of incentive bonuses are available. You might be surprised at what is offered for new content and reaching a certain sales level.
However, your bonus is dependent on the brand converting well. Make sure that when you are researching brands to look at a super important metric, earnings per click (EPC). This refers to the average amount of money you earn each time someone clicks one of your affiliate links. The calculation is simple:
(Average commission / average clicks)*100 = EPC
If you are an affiliate on a major network, this number will be visible to all affiliates joining programs. The higher this number is, the better. Look for high EPC $ so you know that other affiliates are successful at selling this product before you invest your valuable time. If this number isn’t visible to you, ask the affiliate manager of the program.
Most affiliate programs allow coupon sites to join. They may seem like a good idea, but the vast majority of coupon sites steal the last click from content publishers and attribution of other channels.
The simple way to combat this is to not let in these types of sites. Reach out to the program affiliate manager and find out if their program allows, coupon, loyalty, or toolbar partners. If they do, seek competitors that do not.
Is affiliate marketing really profitable?
Affiliate marketing allows influencers and content creators to have a glass ceiling of earning potential. By taking on affiliate partnerships, the amount of money to earn will be based on the creator’s ability to optimize the audience traffic.
There are hundreds of affiliate marketing millionaires that started out from scratch and did so by only getting paid for their efforts on a commission basis. Later on, when audience size and domain rank command a price worthy of your time, you can still have affiliate marketing as a backbone for residual income.
Is affiliate marketing still worth it in 2022?
Affiliate marketing is thriving more than ever. The industry has driven over $8 billion dollars in revenue in 2021 and is projected to be near $12 billion in 2022.
Huge publication conglomerates like Forbes and Hearst are now recognizing the huge potential of affiliate marketing and migrating their monetization strategy from impression banners and clickbait.
Can I be successful with affiliate marketing?
Success depends on a willingness to hustle and grind. Starting as an affiliate marketer is a difficult task on your own, so finding a mentor to show the shortcuts to success is crucial.
If you are looking to invest in your future as an affiliate marketer, choose a proven method from a trusted affiliate marketing course that will get you to profitability much faster than trying to do it on your own.
Wrap it up Dustin.
Is affiliate marketing worth it? Yes. Affiliate marketing allows for an uncapped earning potential by utilizing outside traffic sources. Brands and content creators can build a win-win scenario that both can use to build for the future.
Utilizing outside sources to expand your knowledge base of affiliate marketing is essential to expediting scale. Tools like Grovia’s partner recruitment service can be the secret weapon to more eyes on your product and beating out your competitors for sales.
If you would like more details about how Grovia can help your program find content partners, sign up here for a discovery call.
Hiring a smart and experienced individual or team is the best way to ensure all these tasks are juggled properly.