When Is a Brand Ready for Next-Level Partnership Marketing?

By Mandy O’Brien, Vice President of Customer Success, Partnerize

Partnership marketing represents an incredible opportunity for brands, but its results aren’t guaranteed out of the gate. Success in this channel requires some minimal criteria to be fulfilled in advance of launching a program. Similarly, brands looking to take their established programs to the next level need to ensure they’re meeting certain conditions first.

If your brand launches or expands its partner marketing program prematurely, you could be disappointed in the results. So how can you know when your brand is ready for a successful launch or expansion within the realm of partnership marketing? Let’s take a look at minimal requirements for success.

Establishing a Successful Partner Program

The appeal of the partnership channel for young brands is understandable. As an outcomes-based channel, partnership and affiliate offer low risk and high reward. These opportunities are not tied to high CPMs with uncertain returns. There are no escalating CPC bids on highly competitive keywords. The channel avoids a lot of the common concerns weighing on marketers these days, and for that reason, companies are eager to dive in. However, those entering the channel too early often do so with unrealistic revenue and return expectations.

Some brands today are being sold on the notion that it’s “never too soon” to dive into affiliate and partnership marketing arrangements. However, there is a level of marketplace awareness among target customers that helps drive success in this channel. If your brand hasn’t achieved that yet via basic marketing campaigns, it’s unlikely to achieve a desirable rate of return within the partnership space out of the gate. Ultimately, partners are incentivized to focus their efforts where they are most likely to achieve conversions. Eye-catching, relevant and high-quality offers from brands that audiences already know are the most likely to drive conversions.

In addition to having some foundational marketing programs in place, there’s an even more basic criterion that marketers should ensure they’re meeting before delving into partner and affiliate: the willingness to test and learn. While it’s true that partnership and affiliate represent low-risk channels for brands, they’re not without investment—especially if you’re doing them properly. Success requires brands to establish and foster relationships, and to be willing to test different tactics with different partners to fine-tune success over time. The brands that embrace this process are the ones most likely to achieve the impressive ROI for which the channel is known.

Leveling Up Your Partner Program

Once a brand has launched and established some baseline success within the partner marketing realm, a question naturally arises: How do we do more? The good news is that there are more opportunities than ever to expand partner and affiliate marketing efforts. But as with launching a program, brands must ensure they’re meeting a few criteria first to ensure a successful expansion.

When expanding and optimizing a partner marketing program, there are two key strategies that brands should consider: diversifying their partner mix, and exploring alternate commission arrangements with partners. With diversification of partner types—for example, moving beyond discount or cashback sites to add premium content publishers and influencers into the mix—brands can reach new audiences and meet existing audiences at a different place in their consumer journeys. Likewise, exploring alternate compensation arrangements—for example, moving beyond a flat commission to pay higher rates for more-desirable types of customers or purchases—can help brands nurture their best partnerships and increase the lifetime value of those relationships.

That said, before a brand rolls up its sleeves on diversifying partner types and payment arrangements, it should ensure that it has a strong handle on two things: its KPIs and the performance of its other marketing channels. Only by having a firm grasp of KPIs, beyond simple revenue generation, can brands hope to identify appropriate new partner types and incentivize them to deliver the types of programs most likely to meet those KPIs. It’s vital for brands to solidify the contributions of paid channels in terms of audiences and outcomes. Solid establishment of the partnership channel ensures that any expansion of partner and affiliate efforts only complements and does not compete with other paid programs, everything from search to display to social.

Partnership has a valuable role to play in all brands’ marketing mixes—but don’t rush it. Whether you’re launching or expanding a program, be sure to do the foundational work to get your brand ready for success in partner and affiliate sales. The channel will be standing by and ready to deliver—when you are.