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If Madonna doesn’t start playing in your head when reading that headline, you’re much younger than me. But more importantly, the word “affiliate” should send your mind scrambling as we all try to adeptly learn the ins and outs of affiliate marketing in today’s publishing world.
Affiliate marketing is a payout to affiliates, generally influencers or media that promote your brand or product with a unique link that tracks their contribution to your sales. When a sale is made from their link, they earn a commission, generally 5%-10% of the product cost. You can think about affiliates, also known as publishers, as external salespeople for your brand — they essentially market your product, whether consumer packaged goods, consumer electronics or pretty much anything else you can physically sell.
As a communications executive, the first media outlet I really saw put affiliate deals to works was Wirecutter, a product reviews site that was quick to monetize and today sits within The New York Times Company. This new model was a critical development for publishers because media outlets struggled to make up for declining ad sales. Today, most media outlets have commerce teams that handle their affiliate programs. Transparency is critical, so most publish their terms to explain the separation of editorial content from affiliate programs.
Most influencers also leverage affiliate programs today. They use their personal brand equity and channels to endorse and promote products, with affiliate revenue often representing their largest stream of income.
The adoption of affiliate marketing today is incredible: 81% of brands and 84% of publishers leverage it, with spend increasing 10% a year, expected to reach $6.8 billion in 2020.
Today, an entire industry has popped up to broker affiliate deals, working with both brands and publishers to set up programs, including SkimLinks, CJ Affiliate, Share a Sale and Rakuten. Behemoth Amazon runs its own affiliate program. And while the company recently cut its affiliate rates dramatically, Amazon’s sheer size will continue to drive a massive volume of affiliate sales and commissions.
Making Affiliate Marketing Work For Your Brand
As PR practitioners, we are seeing more media connect us to their commerce editors, and more influencers request either that we provide an Amazon link or details of our affiliate program. We also have media tell us who they work with, and we find CJ Affiliate and SkimLinks to be the most common, with CJ claiming Buzzfeed, CNN, Time and Wirecutter as a few of many publishing partners, and SkimLinks claiming Condé Nast, Gizmodo, Hearst and HuffPost.
Brands today should have affiliate programs, and if not, they should make their products available on Amazon. When pitching a product to media, including an Amazon link or an FYI link to the brand’s affiliate program is common practice for PR practitioners.
Marketers should take the time to connect with commerce editors to understand the unique programs and policies for their key outlets. The brave new affiliate world we live in is not going away, and being able to navigate it expertly is critical to a brand’s success.
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Author: Molly Mulloy, Forbes Councils Member