Alexander Hatala of Custom Design Partners: “Relationships are the foundation of a fruitful affiliate program”

Your brand's affiliate program relies in part on the success of others. That includes developing and fostering strong relationships with your affiliates. My experience on why affiliate programs often fail.

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Alexander Hatala

I’ve been on both sides of the bustling affiliate world: as an affiliate and as an affiliate manager. I’ve often noticed a significant disconnect when taking over a company’s dying affiliate program, and it’s always been due to little to no relationships with our advertisers.

I’ll first speak on my experience acting as an affiliate (sometimes called ‘publisher’) and promoting products. The first thing most publishers look at when choosing a program is commission and payouts. Money does indeed talk. However, the second thing we look at is finding the affiliate manager’s email, Skype ID, or any communication line. If I’m a serious publisher and plan to spend my own time and money advertising another brand’s product, I want to say hello.

In most cases, I get a friendly reply back. Then generally followed by weeks or months of radio silence once I start sending transactions through. As your affiliate, I’m getting my payouts on time, my conversion rate is okay (I think), so everything should be fine, right? I would find it odd, and most others would if I’m a top-performing affiliate for your brand, and I haven’t heard a peep from your team. At least a dozen times, a manager will email me out of the blue with a “just checking in!” leading to a phone call. This develops into a mutually beneficial relationship where I was able to double the success of my performance due to an unseen error, a missed opportunity, or a few helpful tips from the brand manager.

I would find it odd, and most others would if I’m a top-performing affiliate for your brand, and I haven’t heard a peep from your team.

I’ve marketed hundreds of products on behalf of hundreds of different companies as an affiliate. My most successful campaigns always had an active relationship with the affiliate manager. To be clear, I understand this is a mutual relationship, and we’re both making money. There’s no real need to thank an affiliate or for an affiliate to thank you for profiting off each other. However, affiliates are people, not automated machines (usually), that have spent a lot of time developing their own marketing strategies for your products and likely have spent a LOT of money, generally starting at a loss, in marketing spend.

Suppose I were to choose between two or more companies offering similar products. My deciding factor is always the level of relationship I can expect with the brand, regardless if payouts are 10 or even 20% less. As an affiliate, knowing that I have an open, friendly point of contact that’s responsive and helpful provides me with the confidence to take that extra leap of faith, experimentation, or launching new marketing campaigns for your products.

Alright, let’s switch sides now.

I’ve managed and audited roughly a dozen different company’s affiliate programs. In most cases, I’m taking over an existing program that has started to fail or simply isn’t performing. My first action step is logging into the dedicated affiliate manager email account and checking the outgoing email box. If there hasn’t been an email sent out in weeks (or months), I know what the problem is: there’s been no effort to build relationships.

I understand the frustrating dynamics between affiliate managers and affiliates. Each party is operating in entirely different worlds, with altogether different KPI’s and long-term goals. There can be suspicion or cautiousness on both sides.

“This affiliate has a way too high conversion rate. They’re probably bidding over our brand name or something!” says the manager.

My performance was abnormally low this week. They’re probably shaving off some of MY transactions,” thinks the affiliate.

This type of negative speculation goes on entirely too much in the affiliate world. The lack of relationships fuels speculation further and is way too often the root cause of a failed or failing program. I’ll provide an easy remedy that’s worked for me many times:

Hi! Just checking in. Your performance has been great! Is there anything I can do or provide you to help you even further?

End.

I often share my case studies and insights on my Linkedin on various digital condundrums.

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