How to Use The Customer Journey to Create an Engaging Affiliate Marketing Strategy

Blog cover: Communicating with Affiliates

Developing an effective affiliate marketing strategy is made up of a variety of elements and assets. Chief among them is having a deeper understanding of your target customer. Further still, you need to know the journey a customer goes on before arriving at your product or service. This audience-centric approach means weighing up the importance an affiliate channel has when it comes to a customer reaching you.

An affiliate marketing strategy is a popular way to drive website traffic, but too often, it’s treated the same as all other traffic-generating streams. Affiliate marketing, by its very nature, is different.

The traffic it generates comes from a third party, meaning converting that traffic requires a more nuanced and detailed approach. If you want to improve your affiliate marketing performance using the customer journey, you need to think about more than just the value upper-funnel publishers bring.

The good news is that there are ways to make the most of this indirect traffic and convert it into actual revenue. It’s not easy, but you can use your customer journey map and insights to set you up to do just that.

Below is our guide to customer journey mapping and how best to use these to create an engaging affiliate marketing strategy.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is A Customer Journey Map?

Customer journey

Before we dive into using a customer journey map hand-in-hand with your affiliate marketing strategy, let’s first cover the basics. For instance, what even is a customer journey map?

A Customer Journey Map (CJM) is a visual representation of their customer journey, i.e., how customers interact with your brand to achieve their goals. Customer journey mapping is the act of creating these maps.

A CJM helps you understand what happens when someone interacts with your brand and how to optimize each buying cycle stage. This includes all the customer touchpoints on any channel, including your website, mobile app, social media, email, physical stores, call centers, etc.

Customer journey maps are essential for your business as they give you insight into what can be a very complex (and seldom linear) journey. These insights mean you can optimize the customer onboarding process and make it easy for them to go from users to purchasers. You can also get a feeling for the customer experience you’re giving versus the one you set out to deliver.

All in all, the benefits of customer journey maps are to help you to streamline your buying process in a logical order for consumers to follow, thereby increasing your customer satisfaction levels and chances of making a sale. Plus, you get a clearer understanding of your consumers and can therefore create a more personalized product experience for them that pushes up customer engagement levels.

Depending on your objectives and the amount of information you have at your disposal, you may think of using a few different types of customer journey maps. However, the primary type used by businesses is the ‘Current State’ customer journey map. This map includes the actions your consumers take when interacting with your company and their thoughts and feelings while doing so. Other types of customer journey maps include ‘A day in the Life,’ ‘Future State,’ and ‘Service Blueprint.’

Besides there being different types of customer journey maps, some elements are common to them all.

Buying process stages: These stages denote the buyer journey, i.e., the path taken by your customers from the moment they begin interacting with your business till the moment they achieve their customer goal (in most cases, a sale)

Customer Actions: Your customer journey map needs to describe potential actions a customer may take at each buying process stage. For example, in the consideration stage, do they talk to friends about possible solutions, or do they research on the internet?

Customer Feelings: By adding potential emotions and thoughts your customers may be experiencing to your customer journey map, you can put yourself in their shoes. You become more empathetic to the problem they’re trying to solve, and you can also address any negative feelings before they fester and lead to negative word of mouth.

Timeline: Customer journey maps must always include a time frame in which the entire process plays out.

Channels: Where are the key touchpoints and actions taking place? This provides context for your customer journey map and makes it easy to visualize each step of the way.

Points of friction: Identifying any potential pain points (usually where negative feelings get expressed) allows you to solve them before they become more significant issues. Remember, keeping your customers happy and facilitating a great user experience is the key to inspiring loyalty and those all-important repeat purchases.

The solutions: Now, it’s up to your team to come up with solutions to any paint points your consumers are experiencing. The point here is to optimize and improve your buying process so that consumers can quickly get from A to B with a smile on their faces.

This may all sound complex to you, but it is pretty simple. Keep reading to discover how to create a customer journey map for your business.


10 Steps For Creating A Customer Journey Map

We are sure that different companies will have a different method for creating their customer journey maps, one that is unique to them and has been streamlined over time to give them the best results. However, if you are a customer journey map newbie, here are some steps you can follow.

1.Set your goals and objectives

To do this, your team needs to have an in-depth understanding of why they are creating this customer journey map, the overall purpose of the business, and expected business outcomes. Without setting your business goals and objectives, you risk creating a customer journey map with no purpose. This would be a waste of your valuable resources.

Another goal you need to set is the goal of your potential customer. What ultimate action do you want them to take? Do you want them to make a sale or to sign up for your newsletter? Understanding your customers’ goals gives you an endpoint for your customer journey map.

2. Research your target audience

It is time to get up close and personal with your target audience. To create an effective customer journey map, you need to have a clearer understanding of who your customers are, their needs and wants, customer expectations, and any problems they may be experiencing and looking to solve.

To do this, you can conduct market research, send customer surveys to your current database, conduct customer interviews, monitor your brand mentions in your customer’s social media channels, and even analyze your competitors.

3. Create buyer personas

Once you have researched and defined your target audience, you can create your buyer personas. A buyer or customer persona is a customer profile your business comes up on based on the psychographics and demographics of the segment you’re looking at.

Creating customer personas allows you to keep the focus of your customer journey map on the customers themselves. Once you have defined them, you can then reach out to customers within these buyer personas with a questionnaire asking for their feedback on how their entire experience with your business has been.

Ultimately when creating your entire customer journey map, you want to be focused on only one buyer persona. So it makes sense to start with the most important and most common persona.

4. Write out a list of potential touchpoints

It is essential that you are fully aware of where your customers are interacting with your business and through what channels. These are your touchpoints. Your touchpoints allow you to identify the actions your customers may be taking.

Your touchpoints aren’t just your website. They also include social media channels, banner advertisements, mentions or reviews on other websites, and email communication. Monitoring your social media channels, banner ads, and email marketing communications is easy as they are all in your control.

But what about the mentions of your business on other websites? To find this out, you need to run a google search or use a tool like Ahrefs to determine which websites are linking back to yours.

5. Set your journey stages

Now you need to set the journey stages and decide under which stage the touchpoints fall. The main buyer stages that businesses focus on include awareness, interest, consideration, purchases, and post-purchase.

However, some companies add additional stages such as repeat purchases or support. It all depends on the objectives that you decided upon earlier and the industry in which your business lies.

We have outlined the affiliate customer stages for you below.

6. Sketch the journey (digitally or by hand)

You should now have enough information at your disposal to sketch a rough customer journey map. You can do this digitally using tools like Miro or Lucidchart or by hand using a pen and pencil or sticky notes. We suggest using a digital tool as it’s quicker and allows you to easily change your customer journey map as you keep developing it. Digital customer journey maps can also easily get shared amongst your team.

7. Identify and add in all the elements

You have the rough pathway for your journey map, so now is the time to add in the other elements we mentioned above - feelings, actions, pain points, channels, a timeline, and any solutions you come up with.

Once this has been added, you have completed the customer journey mapping process. Congratulations! Unfortunately, this isn’t where your work ends. There are a couple more essential steps you need to do to make sure you’re getting the most benefits out of the customer journey map you’ve created.

8. Note the resources you’ll need

Once your customer journey map has been created, it should be clear what resources your business needs to streamline the buying process and create the best customer experience.

By resources, we don’t just mean time and money. We mean human resources and tools too. Maybe you need more hands on deck regarding customer service or a shopping cart recovery tool for your ecommerce store — anything to improve the current customer experience.

Sometimes convincing those in charge of finances to spend money is hard, but with your customer journey map in hand, it should be clear to them just how imperative investing in these resources is.

9. Test your customer journey map out and analyze the results

Just because you’ve followed all our steps above doesn’t mean that your customer journey map is guaranteed to work or even to be the best version of itself. You need to test out your customer journey map.

Get your team members to follow the customer journey map and note down what they experience. This gives you and your team members a first-hand look at what your customers go through. You then need to analyze the results and identify any areas you still need to improve.

10. Make any necessary changes

The analysis of your results should give you clear and actionable insights into what you need to change to get your website to the level you want it to be and ensure that customers can achieve their gove as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Solve the pain points identified through your customer journey analytics and adjust your map accordingly. Customer needs and wants change regularly, so it is crucial for you to review your customer journey map continually. Ensure that you can identify any opportunities for improvement or gaps between departments and that you are working off the most accurate visual representation possible.


How to Use The Customer Journey Map to Create an Engaging Affiliate Marketing Strategy

We’ve talked enough about what customer journey maps are and how to use them now, let’s look at how to apply them to your affiliate marketing strategy.

Understanding the affiliate funnel

An affiliate marketing sales funnel is the path a real customer takes before purchasing a product or service. It consists of different steps for potential customers to take so they can easily move towards buying the core product, thus generating your sales.

The affiliate funnel is broken down into four sections. Ideally, you’d use a combination of affiliates at each to generate the best results.

Awareness: This stage needs excellent content as it’s usually the first time consumers may meet your brand.

Exploration: This is where consumers begin to know you more intimately. Whether they are referred through an article, read a third-party review, or are made aware on social media, there are multiple affiliates you can utilize here.

Action: The customer is ready to checkout. It’s now that they’ll search for a discount code or look for a cashback opportunity.

Reactivation: This targets customers who didn’t complete their purchase. At this point, your technology affiliates will come into play by targeting customers with abandoned baskets with an offer to come back. That would usually be some discount or promotion.

Being aware of each of the four customer stages means knowing which affiliates to partner with and when to optimize each one’s content and overall strengths.

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Matching affiliates to each stage of the journey

By having a deeper understanding of your customer journey, you can better decide who you partner with to promote your brand, depending on each step. For example, using a content affiliate is most useful for prospects at the awareness and exploration stage.

When it comes to the earliest part of the customer journey, good content works best. By promoting yourself through popular blogs or using an influencer, you’re either putting first-time eyes on you or reaffirming your identity in a consumer’s mind.

Social media platforms are best suited to the exploration stage. Individuals at this point in their customer journey regularly browse through any social platforms they’re part of in search of new brands or offers.

Cashback and loyalty sites play a part during both the exploration and action part of the affiliate funnel. This is for customers close to making a purchase but wants to shop around for the best price before they do. Voucher code websites can be your biggest ally here.

Understand the cross channel

In the past, creating a non-siloed marketing approach has been difficult. However, utilizing a cross-channel view has grown more in popularity as brands begin to recognize the value looking further afield can bring. A cross-channel view allows brands to track the performance of affiliate marketing when compared to other marketing channels.

It also reveals which channels you should combine to give a consistent message across the customer journey. Identifying which channels have the most significant influence on one another allows you to test the improved impact of a campaign run across these multiple channels.

That allows you to produce a campaign that provides consistent messaging and a better customer experience at each stage of the journey. That will hopefully result in more conversions and deliver results you’ll notice when you calculate your profit margin.

Monitor which publishers drive the most traffic

Affiliate marketers want to work with publishers who drive engaged users and deliver high value. Identifying these publishers is only possible if you can access site performance data that shows customers’ behavior regardless of the channel.

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A cross-channel view lets you know which affiliate activity is effectively driving loyal customers compared to your other marketing channels. Additionally, having the ability to drill down into the data even deeper to show the publisher type and individual publisher level lets you plan your affiliate activity more strategically.

If certain types of affiliates produce faster conversions than others, this gives you deeper insight into the moment some affiliates enter your customer’s journey.

It also reveals detail on how they’re influencing buying considerations. If you note an example where the click-to-conversion time is ridiculously fast, maybe even as short as a few seconds, this may indicate fraud and should get investigated.

Ensure good UX

Using customer journey insights to boost your affiliate marketing strategy is one thing, but once a prospect lands on your page, only half the battle has been won.

The pages your affiliate traffic is likely to land on are as good a place as any to start regarding a revamp of affiliate marketing strategy. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!

Above all, be transparent. Transferring your message or branding from your affiliate sites helps reduce confusion. It also lets visitors know they’re in the right place. If I’m in the market for a lawnmower and the next page I visit is about dresses, I’m already putting off and clicking back.

Make sure your imagery is attention-grabbing and on-brand, designed to focus the user’s eye where you want it to be.

Lastly, sell yourself based on where the user has arrived from, test it out with tweaks, and change things to see if your intended messaging is consistent throughout.

Get a colleague to begin a journey as you mapped out while doing a screen share. Watch their mouse scroll across the page, and ensure you come across as consistent but not pushy.

Define the time it takes between clicking through an affiliate to a conversion

How long does it take to turn a click into a conversion when coming through an affiliate link? Is it the same day, the next week, or a month?

If possible, examine the average click-to-conversion time at the program level and by an affiliate.

Then, ensure your program’s cookie duration is set based on the now determined time. For example, if your current cookie length is 48 hours but the metrics reveal average customers are taking 3 weeks to convert after the initial affiliate link click, adjust your cookie length to keep your leads warm.

Collect clear visitor data

Whether or not affiliate traffic is further down the funnel than a first-time visitor, it’s still a reality that most leads won’t convert. That doesn’t mean that ‘unconverted’ traffic should go to waste.

Ensuring you’ve got a smart lead capture system means you can collect affiliate marketing visitor data and continue to market them after they’ve left via email. For that specific traffic, target your forms depending on the source they came from. For example, if they visited your audio setup site after researching audio conferencing, tailor your approach accordingly.

That kind of tailored approach It’s a great way to ensure the alignment between a customer’s initial contact with an affiliate and their interactions with your brand. You must always consider the ad or email that brought them to your site first, along with the source; mobile, PC, or otherwise.

That kind of tailored approach It’s a great way to ensure the alignment between a customer’s initial contact with an affiliate and their interactions with your brand. You must always consider the ad or email that brought them to your site first, along with the source; mobile, PC, or otherwise.

Wrap Up

While not always the easiest thing to do, getting useful insights via customer data and using that information to improve your affiliate marketing strategy can be beneficial in a big way.

The data and tools you need are all readily available, and using them gets easier by the day. Even budget-restricted SMEs who usually limit themselves to only essential startup resources and processes should consider affiliate marketing.

There’s no need for any kind of revolutionary approach; it’s about using what you have in the best possible way. Now that we have shown you the basics of customer journey mapping, it should be easy for you to use these visual representation tools to your advantage.

Every customer journey can be mapped, so it’s about making the best out of that information across your marketing team and sales team to provide the ultimate value to customers. An affiliate marketing strategy that does that has every chance of success.


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John Allen, RingCentral US

John Allen, Director, Global SEO at RingCentral, a global UCaaS, VoIP and audio conferencing provider. He has over 14 years of experience and an extensive background in building and optimizing digital marketing programs. He has written for websites such as Hubspot and Toolbox.

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