Want to Expand Your Market Share? Try an Affiliate Program

By Denman Wall

In business, it's good to have friends who can help spread the word about one of your programs or events, membership drives, and/or other activities taking place in your organization. Word of mouth advertising and sharing of promotional information across networks and niches is incredibly valuable to any association that needs to reach beyond its own community. Many times, these types of cross organizational mentions are done without any type of attribution of where user traffic comes from or who generated an action such as someone signing up to attend a conference.

Enter Affiliate Marketing. Affiliate Marketing is a strategy whereby a company or organization partners with other organizations in a formal manner with the goal of increasing its revenue from registrations, purchases, memberships, etc. Those partners, or affiliates, in turn, promote the event to its constituency, typically in return for a commission or other type of credit. For example, let's say the "XYZ Association" is preparing for its 5th Annual XYZ Conference. In an effort to broaden its reach to others in relevant communities, it decides to create an affiliate program. For every successful registrant that comes through an affiliate's outreach effort (typically tracked by a unique hyperlink provided to them), the affiliate receives a percentage or flat rate amount.

Sounds good, right? So, on a $1,000 registration fee, an affiliate may receive 10%, or $100 (or whatever the agreement is). The XYZ Association gets another registrant that it may not have had and the affiliate gets rewarded. Although potentially a win-win arrangement, you may want to consider the following parameters and best practices when coming up with your affiliate strategy.

Create a formal affiliate program
Affiliate strategies are difficult to just "wing it." Most formal affiliate programs require the original organization and the affiliates to have a terms of agreement. This might include capturing affiliate contact information, determining a minimum number of email sends to their audience, timing of the promotion so affiliates know when to promote, amount of the commission, how the commission will be paid and when, etc. Good programs will also allow the original organization to pay the affiliate through PayPal or other gateway. Most good affiliate endeavors utilize affiliate software and have a staff person assigned to manage and automate the relationships.

Be sure your software and database environment can handle affiliate programs
Whether you have a custom-designed website and database or a pre-fabricated system, be sure that your technology infrastructure is capable of handling affiliate programs. WordPress, for example, has a number of affiliate "Plugins" that integrate seamlessly with multiple eCommerce systems. And be sure to test the affiliate system. Create one or two affiliate accounts and be sure the software can track sample purchases back to their affiliate origin.

Seek out partnering organizations that are kindred to your organization
No one likes getting SPAMMED, especially members of other organizations. It's always a good idea to have some kind of promotional agreement/terms of affiliation and relevancy. If you're a food truck association you may not want to partner with a dog kennel organization...unless maybe you offer those affiliate dog kennel members a discount on something special such as a "bring your dog" day.

Start with just a few affiliates
It's better to start cautiously so that you can learn how an affiliation program operates. Gain some experience from the first few initiatives, learn the particulars of the operation, then feel free to widen the flow once you're comfortable with the process. Also, you may want to identify and recognize "power affiliates," those who do a terrific job of helping you get more traffic and conversions. You'll want as many repeat affiliates as you can get in your campaigns.

Determine which products and services are eligible for the program

Make sure to determine which specific products and services are eligible for the affiliate program. Although the sky is the limit, it's not a good idea to start with every product in your portfolio. Instead, start out with a conference registration or something with a high return, limited metrics and a defined window of availability. Expand from there.

Provide "Swipe" copy and graphics to the affiliate organizations
Swipe copy is prepared content written by the original organization, but in an affiliate's perspective that they can then modify to send to their own lists and contacts. It is literally like they are swiping the copy they want to use, modifying it for their voice, and then sending it. The graphics would be used to embed into various promotional vehicles. It's always better to prepare at least two swipe copy versions and provide multiple graphics tailored for different formats such as email, Facebook, website banners, etc.

Offer discount coupons for consumers that come from the affiliate's community

It's always good to offer a discount or other incentive to the members of the affiliate organization. Offering a discount to members of the affiliate organization may help to drive "conversions," and helps to make the promotion more relevant to them.

Have an exit strategy
Let's face it. Some things just don't work out. So, be sure to have an exit strategy. Use metrics to determine how successful the program is.

In closing, affiliate marketing programs, when utilized to their full extent, and well thought out, can make a difference in your bottom line. If you have created an affiliate marketing program, and have some other tips, please be sure to share them in the comments.

Denman Wall is Director of Interactive Services at Dolci Interactive and an active member of NYSAE.