Affiliate Marketing – A Marathon Not a Sprint

Often times I hear the question from advertisers, “Why does it take so long to gain traction in the affiliate program?” I decided it would be helpful to discuss this a bit since it is such a common question/concern. There are several factors that come into play before affiliates start to contribute greatly to the affiliate channel. Factors such as: building rapport, testing promotions, and simply educating your affiliates takes time, and concerted effort before the program starts to realize revenue.

When working with my clients, it’s very important for me to educate and set the right expectations in order to provide the best client experience possible (refer to one of my previous articles, “Setting the Tone”). The most frequent question I’m asked is “When do you expect us to hit goal or comp LY?” It’s a great question. This is where educating my clients that affiliate marketing is a marathon, not a sprint, is a great opportunity to help them better understand how affiliate marketing behaves compared to other digital marketing channels.


Affiliate marketing is all about relationships. The better you can connect and build good rapport with your affiliates, the more capable you’ll be able to cater to each publisher and what they need to drive incremental revenue – or more new customers to the merchant you’re working with. Think about it, one of the biggest publishers in the industry works with 20+ thousand other retailers and you are just one of them. Obviously, they segregate all those companies by account representatives; however, each account rep is working with at least 50-100+ companies. These affiliates are extremely busy, and have to cater to everyone. So be understanding, show some grace, and just be friendly. This approach will go a long way in building your relationship with them. And when times get tough, and you really need something from your affiliates, they will get back to you quicker and do the best they can to get you whatever you need. So, what do relationships have to do with the speed of which an affiliate program can perform? Because after you take the time to cultivate and foster that relationship, you can discuss what works for that publisher.

Publisher vs Consumer Behavior

There are thousands of affiliates out there. And several different types of affiliates that cater to different consumer demographics. So, which one is best for the client you are managing or representing? You have to do your homework and figure out each consumer demographic with each affiliate. On top of that, each publisher has different promotional needs. For instance, some coupon affiliates prefer over-arching promotional messages, while other coupon or deal sites prefer best of web or product specific offers. Some loyalty publishers cater to more male than female consumers and vice versa. Understanding the affiliate demographics will also help you cater to the consumer. Some loyalty publishers offer cash back, or cash into a college fund, or a charitable donation. Having a strong tactical awareness in how to pursue opportunities with publishers will be instrumental in the growth in the program.


Now that you know how to cater to each publisher, it’s time to test promotions, affiliate only offers, exclusive coupons, and placements. This is where success and failure meets. There are things you’ll do that work great and there will be placements or promotions that won’t provide the traction you were anticipating. It’s okay, you’re testing what works, so you can gather as much information on how to capitalize on peak seasons or holidays. Testing may take many months or as little as a week. But then again, a week is tough to gauge, because maybe you went live with a promotion or placement on a week that is typically slow. Best case scenario, you want to test early in the year – perhaps Q1 and Q2 – to gear up and be ready for the holidays (keep in mind though that each merchant is different, some have a slow Q4 and a higher Q1, etc.). Are you able to see how it can take a while to gain traction for an affiliate program? You need to build rapport with your publishers, educate them on the brand you’re representing, then you need to test, and test some more. Finding success is not going to happen overnight. I’ve been part of realizing a fast ramp-up period (as fast as a month) or as slow as 3-6 months. Affiliate Marketing is a bit different, it’s not like Pay-Per-Click (PPC) where you can see results quickly and adjust on the fly, you have to create a strategy and be tactical in how you execute your plan with your merchant. That is why affiliate marketing is a marathon not a sprint.

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