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Affiliate Marketing Strategist. Owner of Affiliate Insider (An Affiliate Marketing Agency, Media Hub + Training Business).

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What brands need right now are strategies that can help them build customer engagement and campaigns that break through the increased noise on the web. Digital is thriving as a medium to reach new audience segments, and affiliates are just one of the channels that you should be using to build your brand momentum. Affiliates are a variety of publishers and media partners that promote your brand on a pay-per-performance metric. They market your product or services and receive a commission when sales are made that are tracked through their referral links.

Here are four quick ways brands can get more mileage from their affiliate partners and programs during 2021.

Build affiliate strategies, not campaigns.

Digital marketers and CMOs often don't understand the power that affiliates collectively have. Bringing the affiliate channel into the overall marketing and brand mix is a key way that you can leverage the niche audience reach that your partners have to support and augment your entire marketing strategy.

With improved data and analytics reporting now available cross channel, leveraging your affiliates not only in your acquisition campaigns but in all areas of your attribution modeling is going to get you much better results.

Affiliates speak to thousands of niche audiences across multiple channels, and the content they produce (depending on what kind of affiliate they are) is reaching people at every stage of their purchasing life cycle — from the point of brand awareness to product consideration, price research and eventually the end purchase. Make use of your affiliates to build content partnerships to increase your visibility in each stage, not just for pay-on-performance sales delivery.

For example, you can use an affiliate partnership to promote your brand using certain keywords related to content on their site. When a new customer searches for your product using a phrase or term, your product review is shown on the affiliate's site, pushing other competitors out of the search landscape and driving sales. Alternatively, partner with voucher code and cashback sites to help drive repeat customers in the customer life cycle and bring lapsed customers back to your site. Understanding how your partners can help plug customer engagement across the buyer journey is a key part of an affiliate program strategy.

Cater to the rise of micro-influencers.

Influencer-based marketing has boomed in recent years, and I believe 2021 is going to be the perfect time for brands to include micro-influencers as part of their affiliate program mix. Video can massively and positively affect your social reach, and working with a selection of targeted influencers can help you increase audience engagement and sell your brand more authentically. Consumers want to engage with content that is short and dynamic, and it's common knowledge that millennials are driven by word-of-mouth referrals from trusted sources. That's what makes engaging with influencers a great medium to consider as part of your affiliate program mix.

Create more video content.

This year, you need to go bigger with video — both from the perspective of finding more video content affiliates to work with in your program and in terms of how you market your program to solicit and meet new affiliate partners.

A recent research survey notes that 72% of people are likely to hear about their favorite products thanks to video content. Viewers are also more likely to remember and act upon a call to action compared to those who might have read something similar in a blog. Retention rates on video content are also a lot higher, so it makes sense to get a wider reach with partners that are developing this kind of content.

Automate your affiliate management and recruitment.

In times of adversity, you need to dig deep and find strategies that can help you save time and work smarter. Marketing automation has delivered this to us on a silver platter, and this year it's time to implement the same kind of automation you would with your customer in your affiliate program.

Build an automated email life cycle to help onboard new affiliate partners seamlessly into your program. Create a welcome video to help them take a look around your products and understand where to go to get links in your affiliate program, and how to virtually meet their support team and navigate their way around your tracking platform to get the right links.

Investing in new affiliate and SaaS research, discovery and recruitment tools will save you time on manual research, which means you can focus on housekeeping and relationship-building items that drive incremental sales. Focus your energy on performing better campaign analysis versus manually typing out repetitive outreach emails that nobody responds to. Look ahead and spot new trends to pick up partners who are showing any kind of potential early and build better working relationships with valuable affiliates sooner.

Affiliate program management constantly evolves. This year, you'll have to think harder and work smarter to build incremental growth. More brands are going to look at affiliates as a bigger part of their marketing strategy because they can easily measure performance against spend. Taking note of these four key areas mentioned above can help any affiliate manager to adjust their time, resources and strategy to uncover new nuggets of growth and may help you get ahead of some of the changes in affiliate marketing and program management that we are already seeing emerge early on in 2021.

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