The Full-Funnel Opportunity in Partner and Affiliate Marketing

Marketing sales funnel illustration

By Chris Hill, Sr. Director Affiliate at Partnerize

Think about your partner and affiliate marketing program like your Thanksgiving dinner: Are you going to be satisfied with just a slab of turkey when you sit down to the dinner table? No.You want the best meal possible, and that means making sure you save room on your plate for a bit of everything—stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie, you name it. Every side dish is important on its own, and more importantly, they all complement one another across the entirety of the meal and make for a memorable experience.

These days, far too many marketers are focusing their partner and affiliate efforts on just the turkey—that is, one aspect of the affiliate space, whether it is a lower-funnel element that sits closest to the conversion or those at the far top that provide great opportunities for new customers to learn about your brand. Their outcomes and growth are not seeing their full potential as a result.

The secret recipe to building a program to scale is to design a well-rounded program that pulls new customers and orders from diversified partners and affiliates across the spectrum. Adding mid- and upper-funnel tactics to your partnership plate not only drives success in individual areas of your business, but can also up-level efforts across the entire funnel – especially by introducing your brand to new customer segments.  Programs that rely 100% on the top of the marketing funnel are missing out on the higher converting customer segments. The idea is to offer a balanced portfolio across lower funnel, mid and top-of-funnel partners.

Let’s take a look at some of the considerations for establishing a balanced affiliate program by ensuring there are plenty of upper, mid- and lower funnel partners in the mix:

Start by Aligning KPIs

When opening up partner programs to a full-funnel approach, KPIs need to broaden as well. It is important to not only look at important metrics like Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) or Return on Ad Spend  (ROAS) on a publisher by publisher basis, but also on the basis of the blend. Not thinking this expansively is a mistake that many retailers fail to see. Like that Thanksgiving dinner, all dishes on the table work together. Clearly top-of-funnel will always be more expensive than lower or middle, but those higher costs are offset by lower funnel or mid level publishers offering higher conversion rates and lower commissions that present a balanced ROAS, CAC or similar metric that is important to your business.

Focus on Storytelling

Upper-funnel partner marketing is the place to tell your brand’s story. This should include conveying your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). In other words, why should someone consider buying your brand vs. the competition?  The focus should be less about driving purchase action and more about introducing consumers to your brand and in turn, finding new valuable buyers. Popular ideas for top-of-funnel content include introducing new product lines, featuring additional ways to use or wear the product, or highlighting one of those USPs.  Top-of-funnel should always be fresh, changing at least seasonally, and simply provide the undeniable reasons why consumers should buy/use your brand.

Ensure a New Array of Voices

Influencers, brand ambassadors and premium publishers have a tremendous role to play in mid- and upper-funnel partnership efforts. While this may seem like a daunting assignment to start from scratch many retailers already have the tools in place that can be leveraged from other cross functional teams like, PR, product or digital marketing.  Getting the product and support for the unique selling features into the hands of those influencers is a key way to drive this message home.  While there is no guarantee for organic pick-up in these types of situations, true ambassadors of the product will work hard to feature elements they love about a product.  Ensuring that commissions are set at or above your competition will ensure you have a fair shot at securing this placement. Finding the right influencers for your brand is imperative.

New Tactics for New Partners

Influencers, brand ambassadors and premium publishers operate differently within the partnership arena, and that means two things: a brand’s tactics for engaging with them should be different, and those partners should also be compensated according to unique parameters that align to their value. As a marketer, do you know your best selling products for a first-time order?  This is a great tactic to focus on that first purchase with a higher propensity to convert.  Additionally, high-margin products and new products are a great focus area too. Making it easy for top-of-funnel publishers to pull and feature key product information (maybe via sending product) helps to drive pick-up and coverage.

Thinking about how to program your partnership or affiliate program may not sound like a revelation – but if you’ve not previously taken a pause to think through KPIs and diversify, it’s fairly easy to fall into sticking with the status quo. Establishing and working up and down the funnel, aspect by aspect, by definition matures your operation. And, it ensures that you won’t be the guy with one lonely piece of turkey on your plate.