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An affiliate marketing program is simply another name for a online referral program, associate program, or partnership program.

In the online world, an affiliate program allows you to create and manage a large group of affiliates with relative ease. There are a number of variables you will need to consider, but we will discuss some of the major benefits and provide you with an overview of why you might want to add an affiliate element to your marketing.

Why affiliate programs?

Here are a few reasons that might help you when considering an affiliate program for your business:

  • It can be insurance against other riskier forms of advertising that you are using to attract business.
  • Affiliates can drive traffic to your business in ways you are not able to do on your own.
  • You can get a considerable amount of brand exposure for very little cost.
  • It can be a low risk and low cost addition to your overall insurance marketing strategy.

But my business is localized!

Depending on how you set up your affiliate program and how you attract affiliates, you can leverage traffic from across the country to drive and filter leads into your business.

For example, say there is a huge email affiliate that has millions of records that sends out email broadcasts each week. If they join your program, they can send targeted emails out to those people in your state or locale. Or, an affiliate who is a wizard on social media can drive people to your office via those outlets, regardless of their geographical location.

Just because you are a local business doesn’t mean you are precluded from running an affiliate program.

Okay, I am interested. What do I do next?

There are a number of ways to run an affiliate program. You can run it in-house using a piece of software you can buy off the shelf, or you can run your program via an affiliate network. An affiliate network is basically comprised of two things:

  • A piece of software you use to manage your program, and
  • A database of affiliates you can invite to your program.

There are advantages and disadvantages of each, as described below.

Option 1: In-house Program

Software examples include: Post Affiliate Pro, Hasoffers or AffiliateWP

Pros:

  • Low cost, one-off fee (the software cost)
  • Easy to manage
  • Easy to scale, as you can start small with just three or four affiliates to test and prove the model

Cons:

  • No ready-made base of affiliates
  • Higher recruitment activity needed
  • Technical integration can be tricky
  • Another piece of software to learn and maintain

Option 2: Affiliate Network

Network examples include: LinkShare, ShareaSale, or Conversant (CJ)

Pros:

  • Easy to deploy
  • Affiliate network supports the technical integration
  • Ready-made affiliates that can sign up and drive traffic from day one
  • Recruitment is easy
  • Drive lots of activity quickly

Cons:

  • More expensive (setup fees, overrides, monthly software fees)
  • More affiliates could mean more administration needed
  • Could grow faster than expected, causing internal strains

Keep in mind that there is nothing stopping you from starting with an in-house program, and then moving to a network, or running both types of programs at the same time. We know several companies that have a network presence and an in-house program, so it is not a simple case of choosing one option or the other.

Once you have decided which route to explore, you will need to decide on your remuneration model—how much are you going to pay affiliates and for what activities? There are a number of ways this can work, regardless of whether you have a full quote and buy system.

Remuneration Models

There are four main remuneration models in the affiliate space:

Cost per Lead/Referral

A user visits your site and completes a quote inquiry form, and the affiliate is paid for each valid completion (meaning the data is a real potential customer requiring your products or services). The bigger the inquiry form and the more data you request, the more expensive the lead will cost.

Cost per Action

A user signs up for your newsletter or downloads your ebook, and the affiliate is paid for the action. These tend to be easy actions and are therefore paid less.

Cost per Sale

A user comes in via an affiliate and buys your insurance, and you pay the affiliate a commission based on the sale. Note that this approach requires a full quote and buy solution on your website that you can follow by adding a tracking code.

Cost per Call

A user calls your office or call center, and you pay the affiliate. Payments can be tied to the length of the call, so the longer that call lasts, the more you pay the affiliate.

As a rule of thumb, our client programs can run up to $15 per call depending on the length. For example, a 10-minute call is likely to lead to a sale, whereas a 1-minute call probably will not.

Again, there are many ways to run your program, and you don’t have to stick to a single remuneration model. You can start small and work up to different models for different types of business. For example:

  • Car and home insurance can be sold online in most instances, so you could use cost per sale.
  • Business and commercial insurance leads tends to be a longer sale process due to underwriting complexity, so maybe cost per lead or referral is easier to track
  • You may want calls into the office, so you could set up a pay per call element, in addition to another approach.

There are an infinite number of ways you can use an affiliate program for your business, and I hope this gives you some ideas.

Take-Aways:

  • Affiliate marketing is simply another way of saying online referral marketing.
  • An affiliate marketing program can work for your business.
  • Consider what type of activity you want–sales, leads, calls—and how that would be tracked. This can help you focus on the approach that will work best for you.
  • Figure out how much that action is worth to your business – this tells you how much you can afford to pay an affiliate.
  • Take your time – there is a lot here that can trip you up if you rush into a program too quickly. Do your research, visit some networks, and check out other companies’ programs.
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