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 insights to set you up to do just that.

Here’s how:

Understanding the affiliate funnel

An affiliate marketing sales funnel is the path a customer takes before purchasing a product or service. It consists of different steps for potential customers to take so that they can easily move towards purchasing 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 great 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 main technology affiliates will come into play by targeting customers with abandoned baskets with an offer to come back. That would usually be some kind of discount or promotion.

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


Matching affiliates to each stage of the journey

By having a deeper understanding of your customer journey, you can better decide who you partner up with to promote your brand, dependent 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, it’s good content that works the 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 for 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 who are close to making a purchase but want 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 been growing 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 be combining to give a consistent message across the customer journey. If you can identify which channels have the most significant influence on one another, it allows you to test the improved impact of a campaign run across these multiple channels.

That allows you to produce a campaign which provides consistent messaging and overall 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.

Having an aforementioned cross channel view allows you to 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 are producing faster conversions than others, then this gives you insight into the moment at which some affiliates are entering 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, then this may indicate fraud and should be 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 is won.

The pages your affiliate traffic is likely to land on are as good a place as any to start in terms of 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 through 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 VoIP phone service and the next page I visit is talking about printers, I’m already put 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, 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 a few minutes, the same day, or the next week?

You must examine the average click-to-conversion time at the program level and by affiliate if possible. Such insights can be found within the network’s transaction-level reports through your insights provider. The terminology may vary, though, and be called anything from ‘click-to-action-time’ and even’ return days.’

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 most customers are taking a week to convert after the initial affiliate link click, adjust your cookie length. You’d want it to be between a week and ten days to keep the lead 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, though, 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. If they visited your audio setup site after doing some research into audio conferencing, then 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 in the first place, 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. Every customer journey can be mapped, so it’s about making the best out of that information across your 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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