As internet usage has grown in Zimbabwe so has its potential as a marketing medium for products and services. Unfortunately, unlike virtually everything else on the internet, marketing on it usually doesn’t come cheap or easy. In cases where it does, it’s mostly ineffective because your marketing message gets drowned out by the noise from all the other people who are there to market their products.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing offers companies and individuals a chance to effectively promote their businesses, products and services on the internet without having to part with large amounts of money upfront. At its most basic, it is a type of marketing in which businesses reward other parties, called “affiliates”, for the customers brought in by the affiliates’ marketing efforts.

It’s not referral marketing

Affiliate marketing is often confused with referral marketing. The latter primarily relies on the trust and personal relationships between the referrers and the referred to spread the marketing message while for affiliates the relationships are purely financial. Referral marketing is limited to the referrer’s circles and can be either financial or not while affiliates can market to as many people as they possibly can for financial gain.

Rewarding the people who support you

Affiliate marketing programs can also be considered as schemes for rewarding and encouraging the people who are already recommending your products and services to others. The simplest and most straightforward of such programs to implement are those run by companies which sell products that customers are supposed to fork out a once-off payment e.g. the kind run by Amazon. In such cases, the scheme for rewarding the affiliate is simple enough: they get paid a fraction of the sale. Compare this with a company which offers a subscription-based service; there are a lot of forms which a reward scheme in such a case can take. For instance, do you pay the affiliate a fraction of the new client’s first fee or you acknowledge the overall lifetime value of the new customer and reward your affiliation with this in mind?

It is a less risky form of marketing

As a form of marketing, the affiliate kind takes away most of the risk from the hands of the advertiser. Unlike most forms of advertising where the advertiser pays upfront for a marketing campaign, money which he or she loses regardless of its ultimate failure or success, in affiliate marketing you only have to pay when you see actual results e.g. when a sale and payment is made. The one disadvantage with this approach is that it can be difficult to win over the affiliates. If they don’t believe in your product or don’t trust that it will sell well they won’t bite.

Finding the affiliates

Finding the affiliates to partner with is perhaps the most important requirement for an affiliate marketing program to succeed. Finding and keeping affiliates is perhaps the most challenging aspect of running an affiliate program. You have to try to ensure that the affiliates you work with also get clear benefits from the arrangement.

Since for most online affiliate programs, website and blog owners are the primary and logical choice of partners, these are the people you should seek out. Choose a website with enough traffic and an audience most likely to buy your products or services. This means that the people who visit the affiliate’s site must be those most likely to benefit both of you. Remember that while you lose nothing when any of your affiliates are not able to convince people to buy from you, you will quickly lose the affiliate.

You can either approach individual websites and content creators with your offer or just mass-market your whole program.  The last approach will usually require that you set up a platform which allows those who wish to be affiliated to automatically sign themselves up.

Deciding on the compensation

As I mentioned earlier, deciding upon the compensation can be tricky when your business model is different from the simple retail kind. Whatever the approach you decide upon, remember that your affiliates will have a rough idea of how much you are making. In particular, while a business person’s instinct is to always cut down on expenses if you give your affiliates meagre financial compensation they will sooner or later realise just how much money they can make themselves doing what you do (affiliate marketers know exactly how well your business is doing and their ability to market it).

Setup the technology

Affiliate marketing on the web relies on the merchant being able to track how much business each affiliate marketer is bringing in. This involves knowing exactly which transaction occurs due to each affiliate. Each affiliate usually has to be assigned a unique link so that whenever someone clicks on it, the information is stored for as long as possible. This allows the affiliate to be rewarded even if the actual financial transaction takes place days, weeks or even months after the clicking of this link.

You can either implement this technology in-house (by hiring developers or using your own) or you can just use a premade solution. In the case of the latter, you will find many plugins which neatly implement this, some free and some paid.

Prevent abuse

Without the appropriate safeguards, your affiliate marketing program can quickly become a nuisance on the web. Since you are effectively handing over your advertising to third parties and rewarding them if they bring in business, they can easily adopt shady practices if left unchecked. Spamming, false advertising, forced clicks and adware are just a few of how unscrupulous affiliates can try to expedite their marketing profits. Make your affiliates agree to terms of service which will require that they only stick to advertising practices which you approve of.