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S3E15: Assembling an Affiliate Program 101

Show Synopsis

On this episode, Tori Barlow is joined by Elliot Myers, founder of the Affiliate Marketing Advisor. The two are talking all things affiliate programs, including Elliot’s past experiences at GymShark and the lessons learned that allow you to set up an affiliate program that achieves.


  • When affiliate programs should be considered at a company
  • What first step listeners should take when starting an affiliate program
  • Where PAMs can go wrong when managing relationships?

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The Script

Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the podcast for partnerships. In our episodes, we discuss ways to power your programs and gain actionable insights for all company sizes and partner types. We sit down with industry thought leaders to get the best tips and tricks for you, the listeners, to achieve your channel goals.

Tori Barlow:  Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound. Excited to be here with Elliot Myers, founder of the affiliate Marketing advisor. Welcome, Elliot Pumped to have you today.

Elliot Myers: Great to be on the podcast. Thank you for inviting me. 

Tori Barlow: Yeah, pumped to talk about affiliate stuff and all things partner manager style. But first I want to give you a few shout outs because you are up to a lot. Your head of affiliates at Gymshark back in the day and you scaled the program from 0 to 30 million in two and a half years. You founded your own agency in 2018. The clients are pretty big names like Google, Priority Pass and Reese. You published your book, The Advertiser’s Guide to Affiliate Marketing in 2018, and you are a world renowned speaker. You’ve spoken at events in Berlin, New York and London. So I’ll add you to our next in-person customer event that we have. Sounds great.

Elliot Myers: Yeah, great. Let’s do it. 

Tori Barlow: You know, given your your company and what you’ve founded at the affiliate marketing advisor, I think today is the utmost importance of not only relating to what affiliate programs can do for a company, but how you actually manage that on the human side. So today we’re talking about trying not to damage relationships. What can be lost in that point? And then a few tips from you on how to really get down and dirty with affiliate marketing. So before we dive in, you know, you advise companies on how to scale their affiliate programs. What’s your take on who and when affiliate programs should be considered at a company?

Elliot Myers: I think affiliates can benefit any business if you look at it at a base level of partnerships. So if you’re an organization and you want to accomplish something, there’s likely another organization, um, that can help you. So there’s an organization in a sense that most affiliates are businesses, but in the same sense, influencers, B2B relationships as well could also help a business. So I think that all in every business should have some sort of Partner Channel or Partner Channel mix. They may not necessarily need to use the full suite of affiliates. So, for example, if you’re a Louis Vuitton, you may not want vouchers cashback to keep up, you know, the premium, the luxury image of the brand. But you may want to tap into influencers. You could even tap into comparison services affiliates and to rank on Google shopping for people searching for luxury goods. So yeah, I think any business really can benefit. Think the second part of your question was when. So traditionally businesses would be advised to probably launch affiliates less. So looking at affiliates, probably like over the last 20 years, I think that’s sort of been the status quo. I don’t think that’s accurate though, or the right thing to do.

 With some of the startups we work with who have basically like no brand awareness and they’re just activating all their acquisition and marketing channels. What we actually go and do is build a content led editorials, bloggers. We work with affiliates that can help spread brand awareness so you can utilize affiliates in the early stages of a business to strike the right partnerships. Sometimes, you know, you can you can if you can generate the interest, you can actually secure deals on coverage on a CPA basis for samples and affiliates can help businesses right from the get go. So it’s really not the case anymore that you need to have a certain amount of traffic of visits going to the website or your businesses at a certain size. I’d encourage all businesses to try affiliates from the beginning. 

If you spend years and years building affiliates rather than activating it last, than it’s sort of an afterthought, it’s naturally going to be integrated to your wider marketing strategy to be viewed as a more important channel for the business, and it will generally then perform better.

Tori Barlow: The example you gave was the the Louis Vuitton example, or really like a B2C example is what I gathered. Like what about the B2B motion? Is it the exact same when you know, startups or B2B companies are thinking about the affiliate program? What’s the difference there?

Elliot Myers: Yeah, I think it’s a big opportunity for B2B. So, for example, you could have a company that sells. They want to sell stationery, pencils, pens, etcetera. And yes, they’re going to traditional route. They can go on LinkedIn. They can send out mailers. But what they could also do is partner with emailers on a maybe on a cost per lead basis so they can go out and generate inquiries, drive persons. So, you know, the office manager or directors or whatever it is, who’s in charge of stationery, they may have a list of persons on their database. That partner can then help the business selling stationery to tap into B2B prospects and build lead gen campaigns for them. So again, on B2B, it can work. And even the the charity, the Third Sector in and again charities could team up with again, I’ll use email as as a as a pretty simple example. They could have a database of persons who are the ideal giver or or donor that the charity wants to reach. And then again, they can drive. They could drive traffic or inquiries for people to donate to that charity as well.

Tori Barlow: Let’s talk about if someone’s about to kick off an affiliate program. My thought of, you know, just hearing you talk and seeing other successful affiliate programs is like you have to kind of understand who your thought leaders are. Maybe influencers are in the space that you want to partner with, but what is the main first step people should take when starting an affiliate program?

Elliot Myers: The absolute most important thing is to understand what affiliate is and the purpose as to what the business wants to do. So I don’t recommend anyone just go and find some affiliate network and then launch because you then left with an affiliate network which might not even be the network you need. So, for example, some clients that want to launch that we’ve taken on that want to launch a global program, the networks that they’ve partnered with before, they got us involved. Our networks are only strong in one territory, so it doesn’t really lend itself to having a global program. So again, it can create barriers there straight away. So the first thing you want to do is understand what affiliate is. Listen to this podcast and purchase books. Go on YouTube, even have some content out there to help brands to to begin this. But yeah, definitely get educated and speak to speak to someone, an industry expert, even if it’s just to get some advice. And then after that, decide what you want to do for affiliates with affiliates, rather. So I’ll give an example. So Gymshark, when we were, um, when I was thinking about how to scale, I’m just doing the business. I set a goal for the Gymshark program to be the most loved affiliate program in the world.

 And that really was the purpose because I knew that if affiliates loved the program, then they’re going to offer us added value media that we are going to be front of mind when it comes to the best opportunities and media placements, and they’re going to work really hard for us. So there’s lots of, you know, with that as sort of the, um, the top line, what we want to, what I wanted to accomplish, everything else filtered through. So it’s like having a team in-house so we can closely monitor everything going out, being really social, meeting with affiliates, offering generous commissions and really being very conversational and having a high engagement rates, talking to partners on a daily basis, not even weekly or monthly, but daily, not having hundreds or thousands of affiliates limiting the program to a few tens of affiliates that perform really well and that we want to work really closely with. So you can see right there that just by having that one sentence, it sort of helps create and mold the the destiny of the program as opposed to let’s just do affiliates and see what happens. You know, you’re going to get you get muddled up. You’re not really going to know where you want to take it.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. Okay. So create a vision statement and really your mission for understanding like what do you actually want to accomplish at the affiliate level within your program? And then I guess taking it one step further, when you build that network and we’re meeting with affiliates every day, but they were quality affiliates, like how did you actually go about finding them or starting that?

Elliot Myers: So yeah, it’s quite a mundane process. It’s quite, quite manual. What we would do is we would partners would ever apply for the network working with or we’d hit the, we’d hit Google, Bing or any other relevant search engine and just manually type in the relevant terms and then find out who are the affiliates and then approach them. We then go through a test and learn phase for about 3 to 6 months. So depending on how that partner performed and scaled and more importantly, depending on how much they cared. So even some partners who are setting the world on fire, but they’re really engaged. They really cared about the brand. They bought into my team and what we were trying to accomplish, what Gymshark was trying to accomplish, You know, we’d see it through with them and more often than not, they’d be able to produce results somewhere down the line. 

So we’d be looking for a mix of results and engagement and then partners who don’t quite fit that or aren’t as engaged or the results aren’t there, we would start working with them and then we’d take the the cohort that we’re working quite well forward and keep them on the program as permanent partners

Tori Barlow: Yeah. Okay. I think that’s a common theme too, not just with affiliates, but like your entire partner program and all partner types is like you’re working with a human. At the end of the day, you’re not working with this like, lead machine. So yeah, if they care and you care, that makes everything go round. And I guess, what were you using to track sentiment or results? Was it just in a Google spreadsheet or other ways you track it?

Elliot Myers: So what I encourage the team to do and what we do even now is we it’s going to sound a bit archaic, but we got a memory. So because we’re trying to limit the amount of partners on the program to the most engaged and the highest performance, we should just know, you know, who are our top partners are. We don’t necessarily need to put hard metrics behind that. Again, because affiliates are so relationship focused, you can really tap into that more emotive side of it. So if we’re friends or we’re very friendly, we have a set of partners, you know, we’ll know them by name, we’ll know what they did yesterday, what they like to do in their spare time. You know, we’re trying to really quite pally with these partners. So between between the team and my team, my team now we we just know and understand who the who the top performers are for our clients. But aside for that, we do obviously have a Google doc where we track the latest conversations, what’s going on with media performance and whatnot. So there’s a mix of metrics there. Again, just, you know, a layperson can sort of understand what’s going on, the situation with partners if new people join the business. But generally, I really encourage the team to really get to know the affiliates because at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships and people and you should know who your friends are. And we consider partners want to work with friends and if we work on that basis, we get the best results for clients. 

Tori Barlow: Okay. Yeah. So that kind of leads me to my next question of, you know, it’s interesting you track it on memory and sentiment, but it makes sense if you have those quality partners like, you know, another viewpoint you have here is around the role of partner managers, managing partners, whatever partner type it is. Where can you go wrong when managing relationships? 

Elliot Myers: I think the biggest pitfall is not to, you know, kind of forgetting that you’re dealing with a human being. So what we encourage or encourage the team to understand is at the other end of that email or the phone is the person who has feelings. They’re, you know, they’ve come in to work to do thing. They want to do the best they can do. We give them the benefit of the doubt always. They have their own targets that they want to hit and they have their own aspirations of where they want to go within that business as well, within the industry. And if we position ourselves as enablers rather than blockers. So if we’re not confrontational, if we’re if we’re polite, if we try and take the partner’s point of view into consideration as well, um, I find that it makes the relationship blossom and we get a lot more out of partners and everything is quite genuine and sincere as it should be. I think the other thing, the that it’s important that partner managers do is protect their affiliates as well. It’s in my experience quite often the case that someone in senior management or or, you know, even an agency in a circumstance and they want to make decisions that can be harmful to the partners, that may not necessarily. Well, more often than not, it’s borne out of a misunderstanding of how the affiliate channel works and thinking that, you know, it’s like Google or Facebook, you just turn it on and off. You know, these are people relationships that have been hard to build. You know, sometimes relationships take some months to get off the ground in the first place. 

If someone’s coming in just to bulldoze all that and it’s not in the best interest of the business, obviously, you know, in the view of the partner manager, I think they have to be bold enough to try and protect the partners, protect the program, because once the damage is done, then it’s very hard to, you know, repair that.

lElliot Myers: You know, if you, for example, turn off key partners just on a whim because someone just doesn’t like the sound of something they have, they’re going to take a financial hit and they may not be willing to give the brand the same sort of love they did before because they’ll be wary. So, yeah, so I think, you know, protecting relationships and building those relationships, I think partner managers need to view the program as like a delicate plant needs watering, it needs tending, it needs care and attention. It needs light. Et cetera. So if you if you view it like you’re looking after something, um, and do that, try and protect it from any adverse decisions, then the program will do quite well. But I think more often than not, affiliates can be scapegoated or thrown under the bus if things go wrong, and that just shouldn’t be the case, you know, because the affiliates at the end of the day are the last person in the chain. And if they’re getting a kick in, they don’t really have any way to kick back. They’re just kind of have to take it, whether that be a commission cut or being kicked off a program, they can really get the short end of things sometimes. So it’d be really good to see more advocacy and protection for affiliates.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I mean, the way you’re describing it now is like the utmost human element. It’s like not transactional at that point, which I think a lot of partner managers, you have so much going on in your view of of partner. Types even. And like if affiliate is one partner program, it’s like, well, we can just kind of like, let them run how it is. The reality is you have to tend to them and it can be a challenge to meet with people every day. But like, that is your army, you know, like that’s what you have to keep going and you’re the captain of it. So I think that’s interesting. And I guess you see it all day, every day. Like, what’s one thing folks are doing really well in the industry with affiliates and what’s one thing going completely wrong?

Elliot Myers: So we’ll start with the positive. One thing I’m really well, what I’d like to see is the advocacy for B2B partnerships. I think most of the networks and a lot of agencies are now really investing or really pushing B2B partnerships, getting clients that they have on their books to work together. It makes perfect sense if two brands can complement each other and you can add tracking in the middle of that so it’s accountable and you know, you can get some really good data off the back of it to, you know, quantify what the relationship is doing then. Yeah, I’m all for that. And I think it’s a really good way of showing the diversity within affiliates. I’m not so much a fan of this whole partnerships versus affiliates. I think it’s just the same thing if you just call them. Yeah, we just call them partnerships. They all sit under the same umbrella and they can all work well and help brands if they’re done in the right way. What I think not being done so well is there’s so I think in pitch and networks, agencies are pitching to clients probably more so than networks that they lead with. Whereas affiliates with higher ROAS, typically high ROAS programs are quite heavy on vouchers and cashback. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with vouchers or cashback, but what I think is it undersells the fact that affiliates is a full formal channel. So one of the only marketing channels that can really stake a claim to that because you can have your lower funnel, you can have partners that are better, better at serving the conversion element.

 You’ve actually see cashback. You can have blogs that can do education, you can have your your comparison shopping services partners, influencers that sit at the more towards the top of the funnel. So within your affiliate channel, you can actually map out the full funnel and probably the, you know, the touch points that are consumer will take could all be done for affiliates right through to purchase and even repurchase because if you have cashback live then there’s a there’s a loyalty incentive for that person to shop with you again because they can get a reward for doing so. So I think that’s really should be positioned as a full funnel solution on a commission. It’s really the only marketing channel where from the top of the funnel to the bottom and even to repurchasing, you can pay for everything on a commission basis, making it highly cost efficient. Obviously the execution has to be there. You have to have the partners in the mix that can go out and perform and, you know, drive awareness, drive education, then drive conversion, then drive loyalty. But it’s perfectly doable. It’s something that I’ve done. We did at Gymshark. We’re doing it for clients now, but I think that’s how affiliates should be sold in rather than just vouchers cashback you get 11, 12, 13 x return on ad spend as the primary reason for launching an affiliate program.

Tori Barlow: Wild okay, if people are listening and I’m thinking of starting our own affiliate program after this conversation. Elliot But if people want to learn more about what you guys can can do for their organization, where can people go to find information or get in touch with you?

Elliot Myers: So I’m on LinkedIn. Elliot Myers Our website is oh, I think it’s affiliate marketing really know that it’s.

 Tori Barlow: The right we’ll put the right link on the landing page. How about that?

Elliot Myers: Yeah. Um, my books on Amazon The Advertiser’s Guide to Affiliate marketing. But I think the best thing to do would just be to reach out on LinkedIn. All my details are there. You can schedule a calendar I’m happy to take and give free consultation calls to all the listeners and just help people have really successful affiliate marketing programs because I think it’s important that Affiliates is shining a good light. And you know, we do more to combat the stigma that it’s just a cannibalizing channel, it’s just vouchers or cashback because there’s just so much more to affiliates when when it’s done properly and when clients see the full potential of that full funnel that I mentioned as opposed to, you know, the status quo is. 

Tori Barlow: Thank you to our guest, Elliot, founder of the affiliate marketing advisor. And thank you to you, the listeners, for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to podcasts. 

That’s all for this episode. We’d like to thank you for taking the time to listen in. If you like what you heard, we’d love the chance to take the talk to LinkedIn and continue the conversation. If you want to stay up to date with all of our new episodes, subscribe to our series wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

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