What is the Affiliate Management Role?
It may seem simple to answer "What is affiliate management?" Marketingterms website states it as "A person responsible for managing an online affiliate program for an affiliate merchant." That sounds simple enough, doesn't it?
When you dig into it, the boundaries of what's involved, the terms of affiliate, lead generation, influencers, partnerships, it is not a simple and rarely the same in all cases. It will also vary widely across different vertical markets - a fashion program will need to be managed very differently to a software download one!
Background of the affiliate management role
So, you need to start with what affiliate actually means? We've all seen the articles and conference sessions arguing for or against a particularly naming, such as affiliate vs partner. There's a similar argument on whether affiliate is a channel or a model, though as affiliates operate across all channels, model is the better description as we'll explore below.
As a general definition that initial description covers what the role entails but affiliate has a huge number of moving parts and is more complex than many other marketing roles.
The task list
This is a brief outline of the tasks an affiliate manager will need to cover in the role:
- Review new affiliate applications
- Finding and recruiting affiliates
- Manage creative and offer distribution
- Manage commissions and affiliate payments
- Compliance with brand values, legal and GDPR
- Affiliate communications
- Newsletter management
- Reporting on activity, sales and commissions
Of course there's a lot more to each of these that the simple list only hints at. Publisher Discovery has been developed to help affiliate managers with the most time consuming and difficult one of these tasks - finding and recruiting new affiliate partners. There's the added benefit that our tools help you understand your competitors' affiliate activities and see their affiliate relationships.
There's a link at the bottom to take a free trial and see how that can work for your program. There are links to other resources at the end of this article.
Who manages affiliates?
Affiliate managers may be working in a variety of organisations.
From the early days when affiliate relationships were only managed by the network teams, the role has developed enormously. With increasing transparency from the networks, a merchant was soon able to engage with the affiliates personally.
It's worth re-telling that in the 2000s, many networks were not transparent and merchants didn't know where the traffic and sales were coming from. That changed particularly with networks like buy.at and Affiliate Window operating fully transparently.
For programs in mainstream affiliate networks, there is usually an affiliate management offering for the leading programs. Other smaller programs may opt to be 'self managed' usually at a lower fee cost.
Network roles are a great place to make a start on a career in affiliate management with a clear path internally for advancement - as well as options to progress elsewhere as we cover below.
Now that affiliate relationships are transparent some merchants either elect to manage their own programs and affiliates.
Many larger merchants/advertisers will also manage their programs themselves. For complex global organisations like Nike, Apple or Kaspersky, there are likely to be teams in each of the major geos, and sometimes managing programs across several affiliate networks and SaaS tracking providers.
In these cases it is important that all activities are managed in a synchronous way and often a global OPM such as Acceleration Partners or Gen3 will be engaged as part of the overall affiliate management process.
Agencies / OPMs
Outsourced Program Managers (OPMs) initially started appearing in the early 2000s to help brands navigate this new affiliate 'channel' as it was known back then. Since then these agencies have grown and many of the more mainstream digital groups such as WPP and Havas have grown affiliate agencies or divisions.
There are also specialist OPMs to manage smaller programs where the merchant want's to avoid an internal salary or the activity may be less onerous than in a global program. The JEBCommerce blog gives a useful insight into the overall role of the OPM.
Research has shown that only a small percentage of affiliates register with more than 5 networks. So it will often be important to manage different networks on a global program to ensure optimum representation and affiliate engagement.
It may be that a program may work with CJ or Awin to cover US and Europe; but may need to add Admitad for Russia, vCommission for India and Accesstrade for Japan and SEA. A good global OPM can play a role in bringing all this together for a consistent overall approach.
Affiliate Types and Relationships
As a central part of the management of affiliate programs, a full understanding of the types of affiliate is essential. In reality, a good affiliate manager will understand that affiliate is not a channel but an operational model. So a strong and broad knowledge and understanding of all marketing channels is important.
The affiliates can operate in pretty much all marketing channels and reflect a variety of relationships:
- Content affiliate partner with an engaged audience in a vertical market
- 'Influencer' - which may also include anyone focusing on significant social media audiences for traffic and sales
- Blogger - these may well be similar to the Influencers in the way they develop their audiences
- Search affiliate usually arbitraging paid search to a landing page
- Performance partnerships between complementary advertisers
- Coupon affiliate - usually with an engaged audience
- Rebate / Loyalty / Cashback - usually very engaged audience who get (at least a part of) the commission as a cashback or points
- Software affiliate - which maybe via a toolbar offering coupons as above. Also applies to tools such as Envolve and Increasingly which offer merchant functionality on a CPA basis rather than SaaS
Each of these affiliate types will engage different aspects of your target audiences as you can see - and all will need to be managed very differently. Finding the most appropriate content partner or blogger is not simple though tools like the Publisher Discovery Chrome extension can give you a handy shortcut.
Larger brands such as Apple and Adidas have teams of affiliate managers focused on each area. Ideally these are managed in an integrated way alongside the brand's own channel teams.
Training and Career Path
The traditional route for training has been pretty much 'on the job', usually starting in the affiliate networks. It's fair to say that as hinted above, a good solid marketing education is a pre-requisite for this role, with broad channel knowledge and understanding.
Most of the university courses on digital marketing often cover affiliates only partially, and then the information is usually a little dated. That's of course not surprising in an industry as fast-moving and dynamic as affiliate.
There are an increasing number of courses being offered now which are tutored by some of the key industry names such as Lee-Ann Johnstone and Geno Prussakov. Check out this handy guide to affiliate management training courses > for more information.
The career path is also not that defined as it is still really developing. There is a simple path from Affiliate Exec to Manager to Director in networks or agencies, with the option of moving to client side, once some solid experience has been gained. Longer term, an affiliate background appears to be valuable.
Of the people I entered the industry with in the early 2000s in the UK, many have spread far and wide, to key roles from Sydney and Singapore to New York and San Francisco. It's fair to say that a grounding in affiliates is a very solid route into broader digital marketing industry.
Memberships and Accreditation
Affiliate management isn't like paid search for instance as yet and there are no equivalents to Google accreditation. It's fair to say that an OPM looking to recruit a new account manager will mostly need to refer to the applicant's experience to date.
There are training courses as mentioned before and some like the IDM or iGaming Academy lead to a recognised qualification, so it may be worthwhile looking at that as an option.
Publisher Discovery Tools
While we can't help with every task in an affiliate managers role, we have developed some invaluable apps for your tool box.
Free tools include the Chrome Extension and the Affiliate Insights search tool. These can be used as a stand alone, or you can elect to take the free trial and experience the extra richness when connected fully to our databases.
This can really make a difference to your affiliate recruiting and outreach, as you can see in this Case Study and could have the same effect on your own campaign. See what others have said in their reviews of Publisher Discovery as well.