How can affiliate marketing support growth ambitions for retailers?

Rachel Said
March 9, 2020

What comes to mind when thinking about affiliate marketing? Democratic? Performance-based? Just a bunch of influencers?

Truth is the affiliate marketing channel is so varied, trying to speak about it in general terms is difficult. A far more productive conversation is, therefore, one where we focus on how to leverage the channel in specific ways. In this blog post we’ll look at how to use affiliate channels to aid a retail growth strategy; also looking at how the channel can support your global ambitions.

It’s about activity put in upfront

While this may seem like an obvious point, you’d be surprised how many brands fail to properly prepare. Affiliate marketing (unlike PPC, it could be argued) is not a tap a retail brand can switch on and off and expect proportional results against spend. Affiliate marketing requires strong communication with partners, relationships to be built, management of content and much more.

I’m not belittling the effort required to make other channels work; it’s just the human element of affiliate marketing means there are different requirements that go into making the channel a success. The practical upshot is anyone looking to take affiliate marketing seriously needs to allocate enough resources to allow for the strategic and time elements of running a successful programme (either in an agency or in-house), not just the financial commitment.

Think creatively - growth is not limited!

If you think you’ve grown affiliate channels to the point where they’re not going to grow anymore, you haven’t.

We often hear this from clients with more mature affiliate programmes. Brands set out to achieve a goal, then stop putting the effort behind their affiliate activity once they’ve achieved it. The result is a stagnant programme, which then fails to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves – or spot when they need to be created.

The real strength of affiliate marketing is the opportunities it presents: voucher codes, influencers, promotions – or simply trying to present things differently, rewarding partners in other unique ways. Which links with the first point: affiliates is not a channel you can ‘set and forget’. If an affiliate channel is static in terms of activity, something is going wrong.

Mature programmes can benefit from a reset

If your affiliate marketing hasn’t been setup correctly, or has stagnated, take a step back and understand what’s working and what isn’t – then start again by re-engaging with your partners. The opportunities are out there, you just need to take the time to discover them.

Book a meeting with your affiliate partners and discuss:

  • Brand goals: What are the KPIs that matter most? How are they measuring success?
  • Their goals: Are there any boxes the retailer can help tick with their own activity? What are they working towards, both big picture and small?
  • Budget: Be honest, as this information will help the partner tailor what they can do in a realistic way and save everyone time in the long run.
  • What has/hasn’t worked so far: What can we do to double-down on previous successes – and what can we learn from ideas that haven’t worked?
  • State clearly the retailer would like to do more: Don’t skirt around the issue – make it clear the brand is dedicated to making affiliate channels a success and wants their help in making it happen.
  • Explore future opportunities: Good affiliate partners will have grand plans. If you have a clear understand of what’s coming, both retailer and partner stand a far better chance of doing something special – rather than reacting post-publishing. For example, ask for access to a partner’s content calendar to help spot upcoming opportunities for collaboration.

In our experience, having the presence of mind and determination to engage with partners in this way can open a whole world of new opportunities. And, crucially, strengthens those all-important partner relationships.

Think global, but act local

Affiliates can really move the needle with retailers expanding internationally, often achieving new market rates beyond those seen in other channels. By engaging with international affiliates, retail brands tap into organisations who’ve already done the hard work integrating with their local market, gaining trust over time. When a brand heads into new international markets it’s crucial to act with a localised attitude, adapting activity depending on regional market activity and preferences.

Our process for engaging with international affiliates is to first analyse where our clients are already driving traffic or affiliate activity internationally; giving us an idea of where to target first.

We also encourage brands to consider their rationale for entering other markets at this stage: why are they choosing to expand to this area? Do they have access to preferable shipping rates? Is the market underserved by your offering? Understanding the ‘why’ is often as important as the ‘what’.

Finally, it’s important to consider affiliates as just part of globalisation efforts. The most successful programmes we’ve seen have been those combining affiliates with other activity across the marketing spectrum. No channel is an island.


Your affiliate channel will rarely (if ever) be at the limit of what it can achieve: new markets, opportunities and alternative affiliate types mean growth is out there. There is a lot affiliates can do to support growth ambitions: it’s just up to the retailer, or agency, to acknowledge this channel requires constant work if it’s going to deliver. But the reward is the delivery of growth, often beyond that achievable in other channels.

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