The secret growth strategy for today's SMEs: affiliate marketing

Valerie Mukhina, senior affiliate manager at Alpha Affiliates, explores how SMEs can boost sales with affiliate marketing
Valeria Mukhina
Affliate marketing keyboard image

Affiliate Marketing. An elusive term unfamiliar to many. So, what is it? What do affiliate marketers actually do? And, how can it take your business to the next level?

It really isn’t as complex and mysterious as it may sound. Affiliate marketing is a marketing strategy where a business enlists a person or company to promote their services or products. It’s a partnership between a business, and an individual we call an “affiliate”. 

What is an affiliate? 

Affiliates are, in short, content creators who can be influencers, well-known personalities, bloggers, or even vloggers, with an established community of loyal and engaged followers. 

These audiences are highly engaged and hugely valuable, and tapping into them can be the key to unlocking vast growth. Affiliates are carefully selected based on their audiences, and the target markets brands are looking to reach. Once selected, the business and affiliate work together to create mutually beneficial content around your business’ services or products. They may write articles, produce videos or display ads encouraging their audiences to buy from your business.

What’s unique about affiliate marketing is that it is purely performance based. And the payment is in exchange for direct results - a highly desirable strategy for businesses with tighter budgets but still in need of targeted sales. When a consumer clicks on an affiliate link within an affiliate’s content, and importantly, converts them into a customer, the business will pay them a fee. 

It really is win-win. A business gains a new customer, and an affiliate benefits from their influence or promotion on a commission basis. You need to look at affiliate marketers as your company’s best salesperson - they already have an established audience who trust in the individual and the businesses they promote. It’s time to utilise that to your advantage, and build mutually beneficial partnerships that can take your business to the next level.

Why now? What can it do for businesses?

With businesses facing fierce competition and tighter marketing budgets, affiliate marketing has quickly become an essential growth strategy. In fact, 8 out of every 10 brands (80%) currently use affiliate marketing programs. This is because affiliate marketing is a cost-effective strategy to drive more traffic to your business and increase profits. 

For businesses with smaller teams, particularly marketing departments, tapping into an affiliate marketing network is particularly attractive. For a wide range of industries - from e-commerce to iGaming - it’s become a successful tool in improving traffic, increasing brand awareness, building credibility and ultimately, generating more sales.

Boosting brand awareness

Every business’ goal is to get in front of their audience, and become a recognised brand for consumers. By working with affiliates, businesses can boost their reach among their most relevant target audience. For businesses looking for long-term growth, building this reputation and recognition, affiliate marketing can be an excellent way to raise awareness, earn trust with new customers and set businesses apart from competitors in the long-term. 

Building brand credibility

The goal is always conversions for sales, however, even if that doesn’t happen immediately, working with affiliate marketers gets your name out there and builds brand credibility nevertheless. By getting your business out there, you can boost your SEO and drive more traffic to your business too.

Cost-effective sales conversions

As businesses only pay for conversions, it can be one of the most affordable ways to advertise. Moreover, the ROI is also higher than most other marketing strategies. With a performance-based model such as affiliate marketing, businesses are not buying for impressions or clicks, but instead for sales. With direct access to a receptive, highly targeted audience, affiliates are more likely to buy from your company.

Providing valuable data and insights

And it’s all trackable. For this reason, measuring success and better understanding customer behaviours is much easier than other marketing strategies. By gathering valuable data around where their customers come from and why they are buying, businesses can better understand their audience and make improvements as necessary. They can also identify areas of their website operations that may need improving to drive more revenue. 

But, where to start? Tips for identifying and partnering with relevant, high-converting affiliates

The beauty of affiliate marketing is that it’s all scalable and subject to trial. You don’t have to throw thousands of pounds at it right away. You can instead, start small and spend as much or as little as you wish. 

Still, it does require patience as it takes a while to get the hang of. The success of your affiliate marketing progamme hinges on partnering with the right affiliates. Once you’ve got a strong affiliate network, the results will really start to pay off.

To start, you need to define your ideal affiliate profile. Before outreach to affiliates, make sure you’re clear on the type of affiliate you want to work with. Here, I recommend working backwards - starting with your end consumer. Who is your target customer? And, what type of sources or content would serve that specific audience? From there, you can better understand the affiliate you need. You’ll then be able to define criteria based on audience demographics, content verticals, engagement rates and/or number of followers. This will help you laser focus your search.

Using affiliate platform directories, hashtag searches on social media, and a good old-fashioned Google search, can all help to find the potential affiliates aligned with your business niche. By conducting this thorough research, you can develop a list of prospects that match your ideal profile.

However, before making any decision to work with an affiliate, it’s important to analyse the quality of their content, their engagement with their audience, current reputation and industry credibility. Do not solely rely on an affiliate’s follower count. High engagement rates and industry credibility are often better indicators of potential conversions.

Remember, top affiliates are bombarded with brand requests. So, to stand out, you need to offer competitive commission rates, and exclusive promotions and bonuses that make your business more attractive among the rest. Making an affiliate’s life easy is also key to securing their mutual interest. Providing creative assets and materials that they can promote will make it much simpler for them to work with you as a brand. Therefore, having ready-to-go assets such as product images/videos, samples, and brand books will also be important.

Affiliate marketing success is a two-way street and an equal partnership. The key to a successful affiliate marketing programme is to treat your affiliates as an extension of your sales and marketing team. 

Success is in the long game, which is why nurturing long-term partnerships is crucial. Frequently communicate performance metrics, share wins and customer insights, and be ready to collaborate on promotional strategies to keep affiliates invested and motivated. The most effective affiliate partnerships are built on this mutual trust and transparency.

When you’ve got all your ducks in a row, you can test your affiliate programme. Start small and test your programme with a few affiliates first before expanding your budget and efforts. This allows you to optimise as needed, identify your best performers and scale according to your business growth.

With some strategic planning, and the right affiliate partners, affiliate marketing can be a powerful channel for acquiring new customers, cost-effectively. When done right, affiliate marketing can be the secret growth strategy that propels your business to new heights.

Written by
Valeria Mukhina