How to craft an effective affiliate marketing campaign for the holidays

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…Personalized promo codes, paid search keywords, and gift guides in a pear tree. Or something like that.

By early fall, affiliate marketers tell us that most holiday marketing plans should be set or nearly set given things like publisher inventory scarcity and influencer calendars filling up.

“[Affiliate’s] not like a social or email campaign that you can get out a couple days before Black Friday or Cyber Monday,” Marshall Nyman, founder and CEO of affiliate marketing consultancy NYMO & Co, told us. “The next two weeks are kind of the finish line before people have to have everything hashed out and decided for Q4.”

As brands finalize the details for their end-of-year campaigns, what are the best strategies to make the most of the season of giving?

Less is more

One of the main benefits of affiliate marketing is the number of touchpoints available to reach consumers, said Karl Holzwarth, director of affiliate and influencer at digital marketing agency Group 8A, which counts brands like Theory, Robert Barakett, and Echelon as clients.

“We can use affiliate to do paid social, we can use affiliate to do paid search, we can use affiliate to do influencer,” he said. “There’s nowhere we can’t go.”

In the last year, Holzwarth said he’s seen affiliate marketing budgets shift toward cost-per-click (CPC) media placements, where publishers write articles promoting brands and are compensated based on article clicks.

But despite the plethora of affiliate options, both new and old, Holzworth said brands should step back and consider how many products and offers are being thrown at customers and publishers around the holidays, and therefore be strategic about where they’re investing.

“I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice by bombarding folks with irrelevant information because we’re not taking the time to consider the partnership from everyone’s perspective,” he said.

Time is money

In an ideal world, Holzwarth said marketers would speak to their customers to figure out what brought someone to their brand or a competitor. Beyond that, he said doing a deep dive on performance data and budget from existing campaigns can help hone Q4 strategies.

“You might find money by doing an internal audit of, ‘Oh, I’m paying 8% [commission rates]. All my competitors are paying four. I can still win by paying six. So let me take that 2% and do something else with it,’” he said.

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According to Nyman, brands should send product offerings to publishers as soon as possible to help secure limited placement in things like gift guides—especially if they don’t have an existing relationship with those publishers.

“It’s really just figuring out which publishers are most aligned with my brand or product, and then getting in front of them to understand what their offerings are for Q4,” he said.

Given ad oversaturation and publisher rate increases in Q4, Nyman said he often recommends brands spend less in Q4 and focus on connecting with publishers they’ve had success with over the year to help ensure coverage, whether paid or organic.

“Affiliate marketing is a sales job. It’s getting after people and getting them to promote you,” he said. “You’ve got to be the squeaky wheel.”

One way to generate interest with publishers and influencers is the offer of exclusivity, Matt Wool, CEO of affiliate management agency Acceleration Partners, told us. “That’s going to get them to be much more interested than if you’re just giving them the same 10% offer that you’re plastering on the internet in general.”

Consider the economy

With a dip in holiday spending expected this year, Wool said he’s interested to see whether lower-cost brands excel in their affiliate campaigns because of additional discounts offered.

He said he expects the messaging to change to meet consumers where they are. “I think that you’re going to see a lot of brands trying to position their products as have-to-haves, as opposed to nice-to-haves because people are going to be more wary of discretionary spending,” he said.

Wool said he expects to see more investment in influencer marketing and third-party reviews, in addition to publishers, to help convince people that something is worth spending money on.

“People are making choices between rent and holiday gifts, and those are really hard choices,” he said. “They’re going to be really picky about what they want to spend their holiday dollars on. So I think every brand needs to recognize that and think, ‘How can I work with publishers and creators to position what I have in that environment?’”

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