Getting affiliate marketing off the ground: a guide

Rachel Said
June 14, 2020

While growing large global brands is fantastic, I really enjoy working with smaller emerging ones too; brands with fresh ambition. Affiliates has the potential to be a great channel for any retail brand; but finding traction can be challenging, particularly for an emerging one.

Over the past year, I worked with an emerging brand to launch its first affiliate programme and there were more challenges than I anticipated. I’d initially thought affiliates had a low barrier to entry and in a way there was. On the whole, affiliates were open and supportive, but getting the programme started was harder. I had to approach it in a different way, getting super creative and stubbornly not giving up. Steady and slow won the race!

An emerging company by definition has lower awareness than established brands. You need to treat affiliate marketing as ‘another’ channel in your marketing mix, rather than the sole source of your exposure to new potential customers. Our overall experience at Genie tells us it takes at least six to 12 months to build the foundation of a solid programme. So be patient and follow the steps outlined below.

What do you have to offer?

As an emerging brand, you’ll have to work more creatively with potential partners to gain their attention. To do this, you’re going to have to bring your A game and remember affiliate marketing is a two-way street:

  • Create a brand pack to explain why a potential partner might want to work with you. How can what you do help the partner?
  • Can you run a competition for them?
  • Is there anyone in your network that could help get you access to the partner?
  • Are there incentives you can offer the partner?
  • Can you sponsor a prize for its community?
  • Can you offer a deeper commission or an alternative commission offer?
  • Can you offer any kind of exclusive deals or content?

They say necessity is the mother of all creativity – and in affiliate marketing, you’ll definitely need a lot of that as you get going.

Have strong and attractive terms

Any programme should have attractive terms, but this is of increased importance for emerging brands on the open marketplace. Here, we recommend working closely with an affiliate network to help you set up your programme in the most effective way. This will also future proof your programme against changes such as ITP2.

At this stage, it’s also vital to build the processes to keep everyone happy on a practical level. This includes making sure you have the in-house or agency resource to ensure validation of conversions are made on time, and making sure communication with partners is fair and timely. Ultimately, much of doing affiliates well is about maintaining relationships.

Talk to partners and create relationships

One of the most effective tools we’ve found for creating and maintaining new relationships is a simple one: pick up the phone.

While we live in a digital world, verbal communication is still vital. A joke can get lost in an email, but actual camaraderie can be built over the phone. Even better is to actually go and meet your partners, although this can be difficult when managing global programmes.

Without meaning to flog a long dead horse, relationships are key in the affiliate landscape (did we mention that already?) Any effort you put into cultivating strong and open dialogue with partners is time well spent.

Share your challenges: How can you work differently?

After a while we felt more comfortable sharing our challenges with our affiliate partners – and once we had, we wished we’d done it sooner! For example, at one point in our programme with a smaller client, ROI wasn’t where we wanted it to be. We discussed the challenge with our partners, and they were really responsive to the situation.

We ended up testing more flexible packages at a lower level. The benefit here was we were able to get exposure on terms which were far more suitable for our level of commitment at the time, and with lower risk. It also meant we didn’t lose out on the channel completely, meaning as exposure picked up so could our commitment. This openness can be applied to retailers large and small: if you can build trust, you have a solid foundation for future growth.


While affiliate channels have potential to deliver very favourable returns, the channel is not one that delivers immidiate returns without substantial effort. If I was to reflect back, my main piece of advice would be to stay calm, continue working hard, and in time the results will come. If they don’t – feel free to contact me – I’d love to chat about helping you grow your programme.

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