If Madonna doesn’t start playing around in your head when you read this title, you’re a lot younger than me. But most importantly, the word “affiliate” should quickly cross your mind as we all subtly try to learn the ins and outs of affiliate marketing in today’s publishing world.
Affiliate marketing is payout to affiliates, influencers in general or media that promote your brand or product with a unique link that tracks their contribution to your sales. When the sale is made from their link, they earn a commission, generally 5%-10% of the product cost. You can think of affiliates, also known as publishers, as outside salespeople for your brand – they basically market your product, whether it’s consumer packaged merchandise, consumer electronics, or anything else that you can actually sell.
As a communications executive, the first media outlet I saw really putting affiliate deals into action was Wirecutter, a product review site that was quick to monetize and today is inside The New York Times Company. This new model was an important development for publishers as the media struggled to make up for declining advertising sales. Today, most media outlets have commercial teams that handle affiliate programs. Transparency is critical, so most post their terms to explain the separation of editorial content from affiliate programs.
Most influencers also benefit from affiliate programs today. They use their personal brand equity and channels to endorse and promote products, with affiliate revenue often their biggest source of income.
The adoption of affiliate marketing today is incredible: it benefits 81% of brands and 84% of publishers, with spending increasing by 10% annually, and is expected to reach $6.8 billion in 2020.
Today, an entire industry has popped up for affiliate brokerage deals, working with both brands and publishers to set up software, including SkimLinks, CJ Affiliate, Share a Sale, and Rakuten. Behemoth Amazon runs its own affiliate marketing program. And while the company has recently drastically reduced affiliate rates, Amazon’s sheer size will continue to drive a massive amount of sales and affiliate commissions.
Make affiliate marketing work for your brand
As PR practitioners, we see more media connecting us to commerce editors, and more influencers asking that we either provide an Amazon link or details of the affiliate program. We also have media telling us who they work with, CJ Affiliate and SkimLinks being the most popular, with CJ claiming Buzzfeed, CNN, Time and Wirecutter to be a few of its many publishing partners, and SkimLinks claiming Condé Nast and Gizmodo, Hearst and HuffPost.
Brands today should have affiliate programs, and if not, they should make their products available on Amazon. When promoting a product on media, including an Amazon link or a link for your information to the Brand Affiliate Program is a common practice for PR practitioners.
Marketers should take the time to communicate with commerce editors to understand the unique programs and policies of their major niches. The brave new world of affiliates we live in isn’t going away, and being able to expertly navigate it is critical to brand success.