Zero to hero

Zero to hero

If you really want to get ahead of the game, you need in-the-know input from specialist marketers. Lee-Ann Johnstone offers her tips

Published 18th September 2018

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with multiple brands to launch and develop a variety of affiliate programmes. I’ve also had the unpleasant task of cleaning up mismanaged or neglected programmes that have negatively impacted operator cost and profit margins because they were not set up to perform correctly at the start.

Planning an affiliate programme requires strategy and is a definitive marketing skill. As one of the largest acquisition channels for igaming operators you can’t afford to go into it blind. New brands coming into the market need to do their homework, invest in expertise to get their proposition right and put effort into defining a winning strategy that meets company revenue objectives.

An affiliate programme should develop clear USPs and have a solid structure (terms and conditions) and marketing guide in place to avoid potential fraud or financial losses from mismanagement. You wouldn’t go to a dentist when you needed a doctor and now that affiliate marketing has evolved into a more complex and specialised digital channel, you should consider investing in expert advice before you dive head-first into using this channel to promote your brand. The days of thinking you can build an affiliate programme and affiliates will come in their droves to promote it are over.

All in the planning
Understanding your brand value, your target affiliate audience and how you would like to position your affiliate programme in the competitive landscape is the first step to ensuring your launch success. Knowing where you sit within the market is as important as benchmarking your brand and product against those of your competitors.

Taking time to investigate positioning helps you to formulate a clear strategy that cuts through the noise. Often this first step is missed by brands excited about launching fast to get traction to their platform, and who may then waste a lot of money before realising a return on their initial investment.

You have to think about the affiliates you want to engage with and if they will bring you the right kind of customer. Understand their traffic, take note of price points and competitor positioning on these sites and work out how you can make the best commercial decisions to gain traction for brand reach and new depositing players. If you want to target millennials, for example, you need to find, attract and speak to affiliate portals that hold and engage this audience as a main target point.

Having your key metrics in place means it’s easier to action a strategy that meets your business objective. Making sure you use the right tracking technology to support the launch and scalability of your programme is also important.

All technologies are not the same
One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “What is the difference between the various affiliate technologies that support igaming programmes?” Without getting too complex, there are big differences between the available technologies, both in everyday usage and the different levels of service they provide to your business, from price and scalability to reporting and analytics.

So it’s key that you make the right choice for your business and avoid paying unnecessary costs at the start of your affiliate-programmes lifecycle. There is no point in paying for the Rolls-Royce of a fully customised white-label solution when what you need is a functional Ford Fiesta – basic reporting and tracking – to get your affiliate revenue stream started. Your programme can migrate and scale up when it is the right time to do so; don’t be stung for expensive, over-complicated systems in your first year of launch.

Compliance is also a factor for operators, so think about how you will track this within the technology you have and how you can leverage automated services to manage it. You might want to invest in a system that watches over this in addition to tracking and reporting – wag.io and rightlander.net are two such solutions.

Remember: you are responsible for the failings of any affiliates you work with. A small investment in expert advice at the beginning of your affiliate journey will save you wasted spend down the line. Affiliate marketing is now a specialised field and speaking to someone who’s been immersed in the industry and understands the finer attributes of this digital channel can be highly beneficial for your business.

Perfect your pitch and support your launch

When it comes to launching your affiliate programme, you’ve got to start thinking about its functional operations and dayto-day running. Account management functions can easily eat up your time so make sure you have a strong team in place post-launch to take your programme forward. Ensure you have the right level of customer support to help new affiliates get up and running.

Often it is easier to work initially with an established agency that can leverage its networks and relationships to help you quickly gain traction in the community. Affiliate marketing is all about building trust. As a new brand or programme in the market, you may struggle getting the buyin from affiliates who are cautious about spreading their risk to unknown names. Affiliate recruitment is a specialised art and an incredibly time-consuming activity.

You have to invest a lot of hours to research connections and then perfect your pitch to effectively sell your programme to affiliates. You should also invest in promotional marketing to pitch your programme within the affiliate community and gain a wider reach. Participating in events and forums is a good way to do this, as is creating a strong content-marketing plan that enables you to be seen as a thought leader committed to growing the affiliate channel for your brand.

It’s not just about courting new affiliates one by one either; you also have to focus on retaining your existing affiliates and growing your relationship with them. Commercial negotiations are key to ensuring relationships are maintained and deliver the right return on investment for your business. Measuring results and engaging those deeper conversations will bring you a long term relationship that works for both parties.

Above all, listen to your affiliates. When they’re candid and tell you how they feel as your partner, you have to really take note. Remember that affiliates are in the front line of promoting your brand to new audiences so their feedback is invaluable in helping your business grow.

These are the key elements for success: be smart, ask for expert guidance and remember you’re investing in long-term revenue growth, not quick wins – so make sure you have strategy and objectives mapped out. That way your affiliate programme will launch with a clear structure, pay dividends and help your business to grow.

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