Using Affiliate Programs to Improve Customer Loyalty

Loyalty can still be difficult to maintain, or even build.That's why many companies are now turning to affiliate marketing.
Customer Strategy

Loyalty just ain't what it used to be. In a matter of minutes, consumers can hop online and do a little research to find out which brands offer the best-quality goods for the best price - all before committing to a purchase. Winner takes all.

Of course, that isn't to say consistency in quality, service, and user experience doesn't help. It does. If you engage with customers and provide value, appreciation, and ease of purchase, youincentivizebrand loyalty.

But with all that in place, loyalty can still be difficult to maintain - or even build -and that's why many companies are now turning toaffiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing can do a lot to build trust, especially when that affiliate has a huge following. Rather than ask consumers to take your word for the quality of your goods and the worth of your wares, you ask someone else to do it for you - all while increasing the exposure and reach of your brand.

The Twofold Benefits of Affiliates

Because you're asking a third party to review your products, the affiliates serve as endorsements (the first benefit). They offer relevant resources to consumers. Many affiliates use the products and compare them to other products in the same category. If they like what they see, they'll recommend them to their customers, going so far as providing reasons why one product is better than the competition.

As you add affiliates to your program, each brings an additional page dedicated to your product, potentially capturing more real estate in search results (the second benefit). When consumers see more results for a particular brand, it inherently builds trust. They become more familiar with your name, and the more they see that name, the more they come to trust it.

Trust alone doesn't build loyalty. But it can encourage purchases. Then, it's up to you to deliver, which is your only opportunity to establish relationships and cultivate a little loyalty from those customers. Affiliates bring people to the table, and it's up to the brand to take it to the next level.

When to Launch Affiliate Programs

Like any marketing strategy, an affiliate program isn't for everyone. It must make sense foryour brand; otherwise, it won't be of benefit. Evaluate whether it's appropriate for your company in the following ways:

Set clear customer acquisition goals. You need to know your profit margins and how much you're willing to spend to acquire a new customer. Figure out every dollar customers spend to determine how much you can afford for each acquisition. This will tell you how much you can pay affiliates; they don't do it for free. Without that number, you have no way of setting parameters and could be losing money just to gain customers.

Look at the competition. If the competition is already working with affiliates, you could be losing potential customers to this channel. Check competitors' websites to see whether they have links to affiliate programs. Go covert and sign up to be a potential affiliate of any major network, such as CJ Affiliate by Conversant, to see all of the programs in the works. Or check large affiliate sites, such asRetailMeNotorEbates. Then, determine what you need to do to break into that space.

Review your current marketing efforts. If you're not already utilizing paid search, SEO, andremarketing, look at these channels to decide where to invest your marketing dollars first. Affiliates should never be the initial channel you test in the digital landscape because you can't really test this type of program. Go to other channels first to build an online presence-unless you've put a system in place to acquire customers naturally.

Appraise your available resources. Besides knowing how much you can spend, you also need to determine whether your company has the resources to properly manage an affiliate program. It takes time and effort. If your staff can't handle it, you'll need to hire an individual or an agency to help guide you through the process. Make sure your ideal candidate has experience in this area. There's a bit of a learning curve.

Affiliates do a lot of work to introduce the customer to your brand; it's up to you to complete the conversion of the customer. If you're able to make that customer happy and build a relationship, loyalty is often right around the corner.