More brands are turning to affiliate marketing as a tested strategy for proving ROI for partnership campaigns. At the same time, the space is increasingly converging with influencer and user-generated content marketing. In fact, the term ‘creator affiliate’ is rapidly gaining popularity amongst brands, agencies, and solutions platforms. As such, brands that have influencer and UGC marketing programs are well positioned to embrace affiliate marketing in 2024. This guide will go over how to start an affiliate program for your brand in 2024.
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing refers to the type of performance marketing where a brand / business offers an incentive to a partner (the affiliate or publisher) for facilitating a sale or lead on the brand’s behalf. Incentives vary from paying a fixed amount for every website click, to a % commission on every affiliate sale.
Affiliate marketing is typically a core pillar of any performance marketing initiative due to its inherent ROI structure. Brands / businesses only pay out a commission once sales and/or leads are confirmed.
A common way that a creator affiliate will participate is by using a brand provided affiliate link or discount code when publishing content on Instagram or TikTok. The affiliate link or code is supported by affiliate tracking technology. This allows the brand to measure the number of leads and sales generated from the creator affiliate’s content.
The total amount of revenue being pushed through affiliate marketing campaigns in the US is approaching $10 Billion USD. Any brand or creator that hasn’t tapped into affiliate marketing is missing out on a massive revenue opportunity.
Steps to start an affiliate program
There are a few simple steps to take to start an affiliate program in 2024.
1. Build your affiliate program with a trusted technology partner
While motivated individuals can build and manage an affiliate program using freemium tools, it is strongly recommended that you seek out a trusted technology service with superior support. Affiliate marketing platforms power and automate the key aspects to any affiliate program such as:
- Tracking and attribution: software will track traffic to your site and determine whether the affiliate was responsible for the lead
- Recruitment network: affiliate software often has a marketplace for brands to discover potential affiliates and publishers for their brand. This is especially important for any brand looking to start an affiliate program from scratch
- Commissions: affiliate software automate payouts to your affiliates, under the guidelines you set forth for attribution. Most software integrate with Venmo, PayPal, etc. to make the payouts simple
- Communication: mature affiliate marketing software should make it super easy to communicate with a large body of publishers. Running a successful affiliate marketing program often means distributing promotional materials and announcing big events to a body of publishers
There are several platforms available for brands looking to start an affiliate program – we recommend:
- ShareASale: ShareASale is the low-cost popular option for SMB brands looking to start an affiliate program. ShareASale has most of the desirable affiliate marketing automated commissions, affiliate discovery and more.
- Impact.com: Impact.com is the enterprise-grade solution for any brand looking for complex program setups. Impact.com comes at a cost as it supports advanced algorithmic attribution, custom API / integrations, and more.
- LoudCrowd: not only does LoudCrowd help brands track attribution and automate payouts, it also automates product seeding, social gifting, and other forms of user-generated content rewards. LoudCrowd also improves upon the traditional affiliate marketing model by offering Creator Storefronts. Creator Storefronts are designed specifically for 2024 e-Commerce trends – people are shopping other people (example below).
2. Recruit affiliates to join the program
You’ll need affiliates to join your program after you’ve built it. Many brands tap into their existing network of partners and ask that they join the new program. Others will promote the program throughout their website, and on their social channels like Instagram and TikTok.
Forward-looking brands tap into their brand ambassadors and other super-fans. These brands recruit customers with ‘refer a friend’ email campaigns, or on the post-purchase page. Not only do these types of affiliates love joining these campaigns, they are actually highly effective at generating new leads and sales because they generally have a higher social media engagement rate.
3. Affiliate receives their unique tracking like, code, or Creator Storefront
Tracking and attribution is paramount to running a successful affiliate program. The vast majority of affiliates will stop participating in the program if they don’t feel they are being adequately compensated. Mature affiliate software should automate the creation of trackable affiliate tools like:
- Affiliate link: a unique link where each click is equipped with tracking technologies like cookies, first party pixels, an attribution window, etc.. Links are great for publishers that run blogs but can become ineffective on social media where linking rules are stricter.
- Affiliate code: affiliate codes typically reference the affiliates name or username. Affiliate codes tend to have stronger attribution because they are generally shielded from the limitations of tracking technology in links (Google/Apple privacy rules, disruptions in customer journey flow, etc.). However, affiliate code abuse is common due to the existence of coupon code sites like Rakuten, RetailMeNot, and Knoji.
- Affiliate Storefront / Creator Storefront: a type of affiliate link that arrives at a personalized landing page for the content creator, on the brand’s website. A great Creator Storefront typically has a curated page of the creator’s favorite products and pieces of content. Creator Storefronts especially supports the way younger consumers prefer to shop – by people not product categories.
4. Incentivize your affiliate creators to post about your brand
It’s generally extremely difficult for a creator affiliate to generate sales for your brand without regularly posting content.
Brands should be making it easy for their affiliates to produce quality content by sharing tips & tricks, providing intel on brand updates, and creating assets that affiliates can repurpose.
Best-in-class affiliate programs also automate incentives to creator affiliates for posting approved content on Instagram and TikTok. LoudCrowd data suggests that gamifying the creator affiliate experience with automated UGC incentives drives a 25% increase in revenue.
5. Monitor your attributed affiliate creator orders in your affiliate software
Once your program is live, you’ll want to keep a close eye on orders attributed to your creator affiliates. Most importantly, you should keep a close eye on:
- The highest performing affiliate creators (revenue by affiliate, average order value by affiliate, conversion rate per affiliate)
- Looking for signs of affiliate fraud [READ MORE ON AFFILIATE FRAUD, COUPON FRAUD]
Based on the insights above, you’ll want to take action. For example, say you discover an abnormal number of sales coming from an affiliate that never posted about your brand. Immediately, you’ll want to search for that person’s affiliate code or link on RetailMeNot, Rakuten and the other coupon sites. You may even want to consider honey-proofing your affiliate program with a software provider like LoudCrowd or Veeper.
Another more positive action you could take would be boosting / whitelisting content from your affiliate with the highest conversion rate. Similarly, if your software supports Creator Storefronts, give your top affiliate creators their own page on your site.
6. Payout your creator affiliate commissions
Your creator affiliates are only going to continue to advocate for your brand if you fulfill your end of the partnership. Seasoned creator affiliates expect to receive commissions for approved orders at least once per month, some even more frequently. It’s important to be on-time as many affiliates rely on their commissions as their sole income. Being on-time is imperative for fostering healthy relationships with your affiliates.
Prior to fulfilling your commissions, it’s a great idea to scan all attributed orders to make sure you don’t see any fraudulent activity.
Mature affiliate marketing software supports creator affiliate payouts via gift card, PayPal, Venmo, and more. Reducing friction for your affiliate creator’s to redeem their deserved funds, ensures they’ll continue to drive revenue for your brand in the future.
Lastly, it’s important to keep a detailed log of your payouts, or at least have a mature affiliate marketing software that does this. Any (U.S.) affiliate creator that earns over $600 in commission will need to be issued a W9 for tax purposes.
Why you should start an affiliate program
There are several reasons why nearly all of the top e-commerce brands in the world engage in some form of affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing has strong ROI
Affiliate marketing is performance based, meaning you’re only paying as you see the benefits. Any commission payout is entirely dependent on the affiliate creator driving an attributable order.
Your affiliate marketing software will likely cost you a small amount of fixed and/or variable money per month, but the revenue coming through the program will likely dramatically outsize.
Relevant, high converting traffic
Because you’ll primarily work with creator affiliates who have a relevant audience to your brand, incoming traffic will be predisposed to being high converting.
Brands can take their high converting traffic to the next level by giving creator affiliates personalized landing pages or Creator Storefronts. That way, creator-led traffic can have a seamless experience between social media and their e-commerce shopping journey.
Increased brand awareness from word-of-mouth marketing
Increasing your brand’s awareness is often the first step in making an affiliate creator’s audience engage with affiliate links, affiliate codes, and Creator Storefronts. The more often creator affiliates talk about your brand’s features / use cases / benefits, the more likely they’ll be able to drive sales and earn commission
Significantly more revenue, if done right
Best-in-class creator affiliate programs generate 25% of their Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) through their affiliates. That’s a huge percentage of a brand’s revenue that can generally be automated with the right software, processes, and collateral in place.
Frequently asked questions about how to start an affiliate program
How much does it cost to start an affiliate program?
Many brands can manually run a program at 0$ / month (aside from commission owed to creator affiliates on sales). However, a robust setup with mature affiliate marketing software will run your brand about $500-$1000/month, but is well worth-it. Brands can even go with a creator-centric affiliate / influencer marketing software like LoudCrowd to support traditional affiliate marketing, influencer campaigns, and Creator Storefronts end-to-end.
How long does it take to launch a creator affiliate program?
The pre-requisites to launching a basic affiliate creator program should take about a month. Brands that have partnered with LoudCrowd have launched full-fledged creator affiliate programs in two weeks.
What help is available for starting an affiliate program?
Most creator affiliate programs can be launched with the install of an application on your e-commerce store. Technology providers like LoudCrowd and Impact.com can provide full-service onboarding and ongoing strategy support to ensure your program is successful.