Prepping Your Affiliate Program for Holiday 2018

2017 told a significant growth story in Holiday retail, with overall e-commerce revenue up 18% year-over-year, mobile commerce up 23%, and total retail sales up 2%. Consumer spending trends throughout the year thus far lead to a similar prediction about Holiday increases during the upcoming 2018 season, which leaves marketers in the midst of the busiest, and yet most critical planning period of the year.

According to CJ Affiliate’s 2018 Holiday Intelligence Report, affiliate marketing revenue was on a substantial upswing during last year’s Q4, and as a broader industry trend, we see Affiliate revenue becoming a larger piece of the pie when it comes to both digital spend and revenue. Our affiliates team is in peak preparation for Holiday, getting client programs geared up, and ensuring that all publisher and affiliate partner communications are in place to support a cohesive strategy as we enter the second month of Q4.

With our planning in full swing, here are some of the top tips for affiliate marketers to consider as they’re readying their own teams and partners for the upcoming Holiday season:

Timing is Everything

Data from YouAppi’s August 2018 Mobile Holiday Report shows the percentages of marketers that plan to begin pushing their holiday items over the months of October through December, with a special callout to Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend. The majority (30%) pointed to November being the prime month for holiday promotions, though those that responded “Before October” also increased from 2017. In the digital world, advertising for Holiday begins well before the big holiday weekend.

For affiliate teams in particular, it’s crucial to get your planning in order far enough in advance so that you’re not missing out on opportunities, especially if you’re running a new program. And this year, you may be thinking beyond Black Friday/Cyber Monday, to include promotions surrounding other events like China’s Singles Day, or Free Shipping Day. Black Friday shopping and promos happen earlier each year, and buying placements outside of the big holiday events may offer some less expensive options. Another thing to consider is planning before publisher freezes happen, which we’ve seen occur as early as the beginning of September, and as late as the first of November.

Set Specific Holiday Goals & Clearly Communicate Them

Having a handle on the prior year’s performance is key for goal-setting in 2018, so before you start establishing your KPIs for this year, dig into the data from last year. What were your overall objectives, and have they changed this year? Were there any programs or partners that were particularly strong in driving conversions? Use this knowledge to set clear goals for your 2018 holiday season, and ensure that all necessary team members and partners are aware too.

If you’re like most marketers, achieving solid year-over-year growth is important during Holiday. But what does growth look like for you? Are you focusing mainly on driving revenue, traffic and/or clicks, and in what places are you looking for those KPIs (i.e. loyalty affiliates versus coupons site versus bloggers and influencers versus content providers). It’s important to ask yourself whether the primary objective is driven by revenue, only, or also by broader brand awareness. This will ultimately drive the strategy you’re building around your holiday programs, and identify branding opportunities versus revenue drivers.

More recently we’ve seen content providers, like Scripps Network and Meredith Corporation, enter the affiliate channel, offering content opportunities to advertisers. Understanding the true goals of this program, as well as having a long-term scope of the opportunity will help avoid disappointment if ROI based on immediate revenue isn’t achieved.

The most important thing here? Make sure everyone is aligned on what those bigger objectives are, so that tracking and evaluating what success looks like throughout the season is agreed upon.

Think More Mobile

Mobile commerce was up 23% last year, and as more and more consumers are comfortable shopping on their mobile devices, the more critical the mobile experience is going to be. In order to optimize that mobile experience for customers, take a moment to step into their shoes. What products are most intuitive for purchasing on mobile? What channels are easiest for engaging on a mobile screen? What content is most easily digested? Thinking mobile-first through the customer’s perspective will help drive content and product strategy across devices.  Another key piece is having an understanding of your current mobile reach. What demos are you reaching on mobile? What browsers and devices are they using? If you’re looking to expand your reach through mobile, are there certain publishers you should be looking at over others? For instance, you may prioritize working with publishers that have a stronger mobile presence and overall better mobile conversion.

And finally, (this might sound like a given), having all landing pages optimized for mobile can ultimately make or break your ability to drive revenue, and being that consumers don’t have much patience for a bad mobile experience, you won’t want to overlook any steps needed to optimize.

Happy holiday planning, everyone!

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