The Most Overlooked Element of Affiliate and Partner Programs

Inplace #2

We all know that the partnership and affiliate spaces are evolving at an incredible pace. As new ways of forming and managing partnerships surface, we’re seeing accelerated sales growth. Lots of attention has been paid to the emergence of data-driven partner marketing programs. What’s gotten a bit less attention are exciting developments in how we make and deliver creative.

Years ago, most affiliate programs got by on a very small number of creative executions. Fast forward a decade, and we’re definitely seeing more creative development from the most innovative and active advertisers. We have seen a significant increase in the average number of executions fielded by advertisers, along more frequent concept testing and creative refreshes. If you are looking for a new way to jumpstart your growth rate, consider some of these increasingly popular creative strategies and tactics:


Apply Creative Best Practices

As the affiliate/partner channel has grown, so too has the focus on applying creative best practices to the creative units we use to attract user attention. Many marketers report that they are consistently applying creative lessons learned in the banner advertising channel to their partner marketing units.

Do a quick audit of your partner creative juxtaposed against your standard advertising units. Ensure you are using brief text, attention-getting visuals, and CTA buttons. But characteristics like these are just the starting point. Consider extending well-tested banner ad concepts into the partner space as a means of improving performance. Additionally, work with your colleagues to coordinate creative refreshes across channels to deliver the best possible results.


Commit to Extensive A/B Testing:

No one doubts that creative testing has value. Of course, it makes sense to compare response rates for different executions and optimize toward the better ads. But until recently many brands eschewed scientific ad testing of specific ad elements and messages in the partnerships channel. But that is definitely changing, as management platforms make it easy to track and compare different creatives. Now, many smart brands are testing both evolutions of existing concepts and truly innovative approaches in the “fail fast” mindset.

To create a strong, ongoing A/B testing regimen to your business, think about your creative using the 90/10 rule. Across 90 percent or so of your programs, use proven creative concepts and units. With the other 10 percent, test new creative concepts before you deploy them more broadly. Compare the performance of proven versus test concepts. Then deploy or go back to creative development as appropriate.


Deploy Bigger Sets of Executions:

For years, brands have sought the answer to the question, “When does an ad wear out?” While I have never seen a definitive impression count answer to that, I can tell you that we are seeing brands develop and field more creative concepts in their programs. For some brands, the variations are as simple as featuring different models in similar units, or changing background colors. But other brands are taking creative variation much further, altering any and all elements so as to attract and hold greater user attention.

The best way to monitor for wearout is to watch for changes in response rates for your existing creative units. Most creative shows a decline in metrics like click and conversion rates over time. When unit performance drops 20 percent or so, it’s probably time to deploy new units that may deliver better results. But before you retire an ad, make sure you have a fresh one that can outperform it.


Leverage Audience Segmentation and Segmented Messaging:

One-size-fits-all messaging is no way to maximize sales in a consumer environment where people expect things tailored to their needs. Now more and more affiliate programs are placing greater emphasis on developing tailored creative geared to the specific desires of audience segments.

Your first efforts at segmentation needn’t be complex. First, consider whether there are multiple demographic or psychographic user segments and whether you have partners that can deliver more targeted messaging to these segments. Consider also if your product has multiple use cases that can be communicated. Then work with your creative team to develop creative that can be applied to these groupings.


Implement Meta-Data-Powered Dynamic Creative:

As the line between partner marketing and retargeting blurs, we’re seeing an increasing number of advertisers field messages customized to past purchases and browsing behaviors. For example, a travel search engine might show ads featuring hotel deals in Orlando to people that have searched the destination recently. Travel was the first sector where this form of customized messaging really took off. But now it has become very common for retailers, financial institutions, and web services products, among others, to use this technique to drive incremental purchases.

Developing and fielding great partner program creative is both a science and an art. While this article has focused primarily on the scientific side, never forget that great creative concepts don’t always have all or even any of the scientific characteristics. Instead, they bring surprise, simplicity and a smile to users — moving their hearts as well as their minds.