How to run an efficient affiliate programme
1) Find awesome customers
2) Incentivise them to promote you
At Triggertrap, we have the archetypal growth challenge. We have a great product, but — as every startup in the world will tell you — a great product alone is not enough.
The Challenge: Telling people about us.
We have more than a hundred thousand customers in more than 125 different countries, but our biggest disappointment is simple: There are still photographers on Mother Earth who haven’t heard of us yet. Why, we cry. We’re obviously the best tool for the job — why wouldn’t people have heard of us?
With that problem in the bank, the solution becomes simple: Find as many ways to help photographers to find out about us as possible.
Our content marketing stuff has been helpful for that, as is the fact that we’ve been on a binge of launching new products — We are now available on your wrist, and we have a pro app for photographers, for example.
We also got photographers in 11 different time zones together for our EarthLapse project, where Triggertrap customers from around the world created timelapse clips that we assembled into a single video — and then shared around the internet like crazy, of course.
What I’m trying to say is that we know what we are doing. The one thing we’re not as good at as we might like to be, is word of mouth marketing. Triggertrap is an awesome product, but it isn’t inherently viral, which means that while people are creating fantastic photos with our products, there’s no mechanism built in for spreading the Good Word to the photography community.
That is where affiliate marketing comes in.
Aside: A (very) quick introduction to affiliate marketing
- An affiliate signs up to an affiliate programme, and is given a special tracking link.
- When the affiliate uses the link, say in a post on social media, or in a blog post, a tracking cookie is placed on the computer of someone using the link.
- If the visitor subsequently make a purchase, the affiliate is paid out a commission on the purchase.
Why affiliate marketing?
I’ve done a fair bit of affiliate marketing in the past, and there’s always been something slightly sinister about it. Try a Google search for “Best Credit Card” or similar, for example. No, go on, I’ll wait. The quality of the results at the top is pretty good, but from there on, it goes to shit pretty quickly. The reason why is affiliate marketing. There’s a lot of sites out there that are serving the Long Tail of internet searches, exclusively to make money off affiliate income.
Some of the sites are somewhat useful. Ice Cream Recipes, for example, uses content marketing in the form of ice-cream recipes to make affiliate money off ice-cream makers. Clever. A lot of the sites are verging on spam, however.
Affiliates to promote word-of-mouth marketing
There is another way of looking at affiliate marketing, however, and that’s the route we’ve decided to go down: We have a large user base of customers who love what we do, and who would recommend our products anyway. Why don’t we make it as easy as possible for them, by giving those customers the resources they need to help tell their friends about us — and, if they generate sales, why don’t we give them a commission?
Picking our partner
After extensive research, we picked LeadDyno* as our affiliate tool, mostly because they have a no-friction sign-up process, and they have the distinct advantage of us being to build our own programme.
In our mind, using our own programme is a much better option than going with an affiliate network. After all, it’s pretty important to us that we don’t want everyone and their dog to be our affiliates — we only want genuine Triggertrap customers who are excited about our products and our company. Yes, of course that does reduce the number of potential affiliate partners, but at the same time, we don’t really want people who haven’t used our products to recommend it to our friends!
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Setting up the scheme
With our LeadDyno account up and running, we had to decide what sort of commission we were going to pay out. In the end, we ended up on the following:
- 10.0% commission on the first 50 purchases
- 12.5% commission on purchases beyond 50
- 1.0% second-level commission (so, if you sign up another affiliate, you get 1% of their commissions for life)
That’s a lot better than a lot of other schemes, and it means it’s worthwhile to engage with our programme.
Signing up affiliates
So, we now had a working affiliate scheme. We hooked our LeadDyno account up to Shopify (our e-commerce platform of choice), and instructed LeadDyno to e-mail everyone who places an order with us (and who has allowed us to e-mail them for marketing purposes), to encourage them to sign up. The e-mail explains how the programme works, and how they can sign up.
One of my favourite phrases from that e-mail also summarises the main advantage of having our own affiliate scheme:
So, why are we doing this? Because I’d much rather pay you for helping spread the word, than writing fat cheques to Google and Facebook every month for their expensive advertising!
Supporting the affiliates
Signing up our affiliates is only part of the job, of course. Human nature is human nature: People are lazy and/or easily distracted, and the truth of the matter is that being an effective affiliate does take a fair chunk of work. The best way to keep our affiliates engaged, is to help give them the tools. Or, to put it differently: To help them help us.
We do this in several different ways…
Our affiliates get a specific affiliate newsletter, that not only gives the affiliates an early heads-up on anything new and exciting from Triggertrap, but also has a series of tips and advice for how you can help tell your photography friends about Triggertrap as efficiently as possible.
We sent it out whenever something exciting happens, which recently means we’ve sent out an affiliate newsletter every 2–3 weeks. Sometimes we use it to highlight new products, sometimes we use it to highlight awesome things our customers have done, and sometimes we just send out a ‘hey, we exist, and you’re doing great as an affiliate!’ newsletter. It works great.
The affiliate resource base
As an affiliate, you get access to a hidden page on the Triggertrap website that has a load of resources on it: Product photographs, ‘powered by Triggertrap’ logos, an affiliates-only discount code, etc. It’s no big deal, but it turns out it’s pretty useful to have everything in one place.
The Triggertrap affiliate school
In addition to the normal newsletter, we’ve set up what we lovingly refer to as the ‘affiliate school’.
Basically, whenever an affiliate signs up, they’re added to a Mailchimp Automation. Basically, it’s a series of newsletters that are sent out at predetermined intervals. We’ve got a few set up:
- Signup + 2 days: “Reviews make you money”: Encouraging our affiliates to write a review about their Triggertrap equipment on their blog.
- Signup + 14 days: “Promoting your content”: An introduction to how to promote your own blog content generally, but focusing on how to promote the review done in the first step especially.
- Signup + 30 days: “Tagging and commenting your content”: Encouraging our affiliates to take photos with Triggertrap products, and including an affiliate link in the descriptions of their photographs.
- Signup + 45 days: “Staying Topical”: Encouraging our affiliates to create content around local events, calendar events, and projects they are running, to help keep Triggertrap at the forefront of their readers’ minds… And to help them make money in the process, of course.
The open-rates on our e-mails are pretty damn good, and from the volume of customer reviews and additional tagged content we’ve seen, it looks like it’s working pretty well.
The three big wins
We are still experimenting with our affiliate programme — it has only been running for a few months — but so far, we think the results are encouraging.
These are the three big wins we’ve found in the process:
- Pick the right tools for your objectives: Using LeadDyno* has been a big win for us, because we specifically want to work only with our existing customers. If your objectives are different, an affiliate network might work well for you
- Keep communicating: Your business never stands still, but then, neither do the lives of your affiliates. If you keep giving them great content to share with their network, they will keep doing just that — a win-win scenario
- Part of the package: Affiliate marketing on its own wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it could be. We tie our affiliates in with our events, our product launches, and all the other activities we run. By having more things worth shouting about, guess what: Your affiliates will help you do the shouting.
*) Yep, that’s an affiliate link. I rarely use them, but it seems counter-productive not to use an affiliate link on an article about affiliate marketing, n’est-ce pas?