What exactly is affiliate marketing, and why should you care about it as a pet brand?
You’ve probably heard affiliate marketing used interchangeably with terms like ‘partner marketing’ or even ‘influencer marketing’. And while the concepts are similar, affiliate marketing goes one step further than influencer marketing by establishing an ongoing partnership with influencers or people with prominent followings and influence online.
The tricky thing with affiliate marketing is understanding how it works, how it differs from influencer marketing, and why it’s a great solution for small pet businesses interested in increasing brand awareness and sales.
We’re going to cover all of that in this Affiliate Marketing 101 guide for pet business owners like you! Let’s get our paws dirty and dive in.
What is affiliate marketing?
To put it simply, affiliate marketing is when a brand (like a pet brand) partners with someone outside of their business (like an influencer) to promote the brand’s products, usually through an affiliate program or agreement; and this influencer earns what is essentially a commission each time a customer buys from the brand after being referred to the brand by the influencer.
It sounds a lot like influencer marketing, but it’s not. We’ll dig a little deeper!
Influencer marketing is often a casual or one-off partnership where someone with influence over a specific audience or segment of customers is paid by a brand through either product, money, or both to promote a product. Once they’ve promoted the product, their job is done. And how often you pair with an influencer to promote your product is entirely up to you or could depend on an influencer marketing strategy if you have one.
With influencer marketing, there’s no real onus on the influencer to drive actual sales to your business or help generate leads for you - their biggest advantage is being able to grow awareness for you, but that doesn’t guarantee sales.
But with affiliate marketing, the influencer - be it a blogger or Instagram influencer - only gets paid from your partnership when people purchase something from you after discovering your products through the influencer. And this incentivizes them to promote your product more regularly. Typically, this influencer is known as an affiliate.
This type of marketing works through revenue sharing, where both you and the influencer make money in an ongoing capacity.
Affiliate marketing partnerships often last for months and, in some cases, years, all depending on how successful the partnership is for both the brand and the affiliate. The important thing to keep in mind with affiliate marketing is that the influencer (affiliate) only makes money when someone makes a purchase based on their referral.
How does the actual marketing part work?
We are exposed to affiliate marketing whenever we see a blogger use their online platform to promote branded ads and products, but this is just one example of affiliate marketing. Some blogs or platforms can be dedicated solely to one product or product type, and partner with brands to drive consistent traffic through things like banner ads, pop-ups, discounts, and other recurring promotions.
When we, as a blog visitor, click on one of those banner ads and follow through with a purchase, we’re participating in affiliating marketing. The influencer or ‘affiliate’ would make a commission from that purchase, and the brand would make from the purchase.
Why use affiliate marketing?
Many use affiliate marketing because it offers them a unique opportunity to reach different audience segments that they may otherwise not reach by paying influencers larger amounts of money for one-off product promotions, or by simply using tactics like social media advertising.
For pet businesses, affiliate marketing has a few key benefits that make it a worthy approach to explore, including the following:
Explore new audiences - while every brand has a target customer, this doesn’t mean that other customers won’t be interested in purchasing your product. Affiliate marketing can assist in putting your brand in front of a new audience so you can explore the possibility of marketing your product to more than one customer type
Product testing - if you have repeat customers but want to reach a broader audience of similar shoppers, affiliate marketing could help you achieve just that by testing your product with a wider customer segment to see if there’s interest
Sales assistance - because influencers (affiliates) in this marketing approach are only paid when people make a purchase with your brand based on their referral, they’ll be motivated to help sell your product for you
What about results?
Beyond the brand play, affiliate marketing is also a beneficial marketing tool or tactic because it focuses and relies heavily on conversions. As the brand, you’re only paying for results, and the affiliate carries most of the responsibility in generating sales because it results in income for them.
While traffic and brand awareness are extra benefits of affiliate marketing, for any brand, conversions are king. A conversion occurs when a site visitor takes a desired action on your site, like purchasing a product or joining your newsletter. Depending on the desired action, your conversion will be different, and you can work on achieving more than one conversion. However, affiliate marketing is really geared towards conversions that result in actual sales.
To understand whether your affiliate marketing is working, it’s important to track all affiliate activities using tools like Google Analytics and focusing on specific measurables to determine whether affiliate marketing is generating a positive ROI for your brand.
In particular, you’ll want to focus on key performance indicators (or “KPIs”) such as:
Revenue - of course, this is the most pertinent KPI to track because it’s the reason why any brand uses affiliate marketing!
Conversion Rate - this indicates the percentage of people who made a purchase based from the affiliate marketing versus other marketing efforts (like social media advertising)
Cost per Sale - you’ll want to pay attention to this KPI, because you’ll want to be aware of how much you spent to acquire each sale through affiliate marketing. This can help you determine whether you saw a positive ROI
Cost per Click - this KPI shows you how much it costs to get a site user to click on an affiliate’s promotional link, ad, blog, etc
How do we make money and choose the right affiliate?
While there are affiliate networks and programs that brands can join to partner with the right affiliate (or influencer), pet businesses would do well do work with a niche or micro-influencer that is dedicated to engaging their audiences and growing their sphere of influence. Especially popular today and in the coming years, micro-influencers who offer affiliate marketing can be more beneficial for smaller businesses because they’re dedicated to nurturing their audiences, not just getting Likes or tons of Followers.
When it comes to partnering with an influencer or affiliate, you’ll want to establish a plan or strategy for how they’ll market your product(s), how you’ll pay them, and which type of affiliate makes the most sense for your brand.
Picking an affiliate
To find the right affiliate or influencer to partner with, you should first look at the niche or industry they’re in, before then turning to the content they create, the quality of that content, and who their audience is.
You can find affiliates or influencers who perform affiliate marketing through networks, affiliate marketing companies, or referrals (maybe you’ve been following a blogger for years and want to partner with them!). However, if they don’t create content relevant to your target customer and your brand, they may not be the best choice.
That’s because your product and brand ultimately have to resonate with the affiliate’s audience in order to help drive sales. For example, if you sell organic dog treats made with locally sourced ingredients, partnering with a local blogger who reviews pet food, treats, and pet health products makes more sense for your brand than a blogger who owns a dog but writes about fitness, nutrition, and travel.
Paying an affiliate
How you pay your affiliate depends on your partnership and strategy, but most brands pay affiliates based on conversions.
Conversions can include clicks or sales, or both, and in some cases, your affiliate may want to be paid for both clicks and sales - this means that you would pay the affiliate for clicks and sales, even if the clicks didn’t result in direct sales. Alternatively, you can pay an affiliate for other conversions, like leads, newsletter registrations, and more.
Ultimately, though, affiliates should ideally be paid within certain attribution windows. Say, for example, that a customer visits your site from your affiliate’s link and comes back to your site to make a purchase 7 days later. If your attribution window (the time in which you can attribute the affiliate to the sale) is 14 days, then the affiliate would get credit for that purchase because the customer made their purchase soon after discovering your brand from the affiliate (the source). But if your attribution window is 24 hours, the affiliate wouldn’t get the credit.
Why affiliate marketing works for pet businesses
Affiliate marketing is one of the most cost-effective marketing methods you can use as a pet business to help generate sales while benefitting from the exposure an affiliate can bring to your brand.
But aside from that, affiliate marketing provides you with a variety of different options as to how you market your products, and in many cases, as a brand you don’t need to worry about creating content. If you partner with a blogger, for instance, it’s their role to create blog content that helps promote your business or product. And if they’re great at what they do, they’ll bring a lot of creativity and expertise to the table which you can benefit from.
You’re also only paying for results when practicing affiliate marketing, and the results you pursue (aka the ROI you want) is based entirely on your goals. This makes it a cost-effective alternative to one-off influencer marketing campaigns or physical marketing (like newspaper ads or magazines).
Additionally, you’re able to track the performance of your affiliate marketing initiatives, and that’s key, because you’ll need to monitor and track whether your approach is working and generating revenue, or if there’s room for improvement.
But ultimately, affiliate marketing can be a cornerstone of your marketing strategy and, as a small pet business, help you rely less on high-cost social advertising and more on targeting customers where they already are.