How to Grow Your Affiliate Marketing Efforts: Develop an Audience-First Paid Media Strategy

media strategy

The first two posts in this series emphasized the importance of an audience-focused approach to growing your affiliate marketing business. In the first post, we covered how to identify your unique audience insights, and how to use that information to select the right products and services to promote. In the second post, we focused on how to create a segmentation strategy that helps you position your communications to your unique audience, setting you up for successful affiliate conversions.

In this post, you’ll learn how a paid media strategy can help build a long term following of engaged consumers, while simultaneously building trust with your audience and the brands you promote.

You might also like: How to Grow Your Affiliate Marketing Efforts: Choosing the Right Affiliate Offers.

Paid media and affiliate marketing

Affiliates often come from an online marketing background, making affiliate marketing a practice that’s often thought of synonymously with the use of paid media. And while digital marketing and paid media are important skills for an affiliate to have in their toolkit, many affiliates focus so much on the transactional elements like performance metrics and commissionable earnings of advertising, that they lose sight of what’s important.

The purpose of paid media is to amplify a message. But most brands don’t allow their affiliates to directly promote their products with ads. Instead, affiliates can use ads to drive traffic to their own channels, such as their website or social media pages. This helps counter any conflicts that could arise from both the brand and affiliate using paid media to promote the same products—like bidding on the same keywords for example.

So rather than making the aim of an ad to promote a third party product, affiliates should focus on building their own audience. With this approach, affiliates can build an engaged audience that converts on a multitude of products, rather than a one-off approach. From the brand’s perspective, this type of partnership yields higher value than an approach that focuses exclusively on the quantity of referrals.

You might also like: How to Grow Your Affiliate Marketing Efforts: Using Customer Profiles to Optimize Conversion Rates.

Writing the right ads

When powering an ad, it’s easy to get caught up in conversion rates, calls to action, and sales copy, but the reality is that the objective of any message—whether with paid or unpaid media—is to deliver value to the consumer.

Where affiliates can get a bad reputation is when they focus too much on the transactional elements of an ad. The real success of an ad isn’t in its quantitative performance, but instead in the way the audience consumes the message, how they perceive the brand it’s promoting, and what they feel compelled to do after experiencing it.

As an affiliate, performance marketing is second nature. But the industry is evolving and affiliates are held to a higher standard. Where the value of affiliate marketing used to be defined by its ability to drive traffic and acquire a high volume of new customers, brands now also look at the quality of those referrals, looking at factors such as how likely they are to become lifelong customers who make repeat purchases.

When affiliates promote an ad for a third party brand, it’s important to know how that brand should be positioned to its audience. Neglecting this step can lead advertisers to question whether the affiliate relationship is negatively impacting their brand equity. Advertisers are also more mindful of the product return rates, so as an affiliate it’s important you don’t become pegged as someone who drives sales by customers who end up returning or churning from the product.

This new definition of success is in fact a positive shift for affiliate marketers. It allows affiliates to focus on nurturing quality over quantity. Developing an audience with a higher chance of engagement and conversion will translate into higher quality leads for the brands you promote. In the long run, this creates a more sustainable business with higher earning potential than if you focused on numbers alone.

Here are six tips to help you master the formula of building your audience while successfully driving value to the advertisers whose products you promote.

media strategy: planning

1. Strengthen your personal brand identity

Remember that as an affiliate, you are an extension of the advertiser’s brand and sales teams—your monetary success is directly correlated to how well your audience converts on the offers you share with them. This means that you need to be positioned to sell to your target audience better than the brand itself could. Your audience needs to have a strong affinity for you, otherwise the advertiser wouldn’t need you at all.

From the brand’s perspective, the value in partnering with you is your ability to reach a group of buyers that the brand cannot reach on their own. That means that your audience’s trust in you is precisely what makes you uniquely positioned to reach them.

Determine what your unique selling proposition is. Are you an expert on a subject matter, a coach for their business questions, an inspirational figure, or a third-party product reviewer? Whatever it is that you represent to your audience, capitalize on it to carve out your unique identity. Let them get to know you as the face of your business. This helps your audience trust you, and helps advertisers identify you as someone with a strong connection to their target audience.

2. Develop an audience-centric paid media strategy

An ‘audience-first’ paid media strategy embraces the concept that there’s more power in targeting specific sets of users than the spray and pray tactics of traditional media.

Paid media costs money, which means it’s in the interest of audience growth and your budget to target those most likely to follow your content for the long run. You can lean on the audience insights and customer profiles that you developed in the first and second parts of this series to know exactly who you should be reaching with your paid ads.

You might also like: 25 Affiliate Resources You Can’t Miss.

3. Focus on targeting

The key objective in running any ad is to create content that appeals to your buyer personas. Take advantage of the customization options available on platforms like Facebook and Google to help you reach those core segments of your target audience. With granular targeting options, you can gain better control of your ad exposure and use your budget effectively. Check out Facebook’s guide to learn about the various audience customizations that can help you micro target on Facebook.

With Google AdWords, you can control targeting by placement and keywords, reaching your target audiences through search, video, and text ads. Adwords gives you the flexibility to adjust ads according to criteria like geolocation, time of day, age, gender, and device.

Another great feature to go even deeper with Adwords is to use custom affinity audiences. Affinity audiences allow you to create audiences based off of specific industry criteria, like those who are already purchasing from brands similar to those you promote.

4. Try different ad formats and channels

Keep in mind that the best channels to promote ads will depend on where your audience is most engaged. Pay particular attention to where your target customer profiles are in their buyer journey. Creating the right messages for your target personas at the right time in their journey will set you up for sustainable success.

Test out different ad formats that emulate organic content, like sponsored posts, recommended content, and contextual ads in Facebook Messenger. Each type of ad has the capacity to deliver relevant, hyper-personalized experiences to your target audience.

5. Native advertising

Native advertising is a form of paid media that functions like organic content. While traditional advertising can be loud and disruptive, native advertising looks and feels organic. It not only delivers a better user experience than traditional ads, but according to Sharethrough, native ads also receive an 18 percent higher lift in purchase intent.

In the form of a contextual link or banner, native ads feel like a natural piece of content. You can use native advertising on all kinds of marketing channels, including social media, YouTube, and email marketing. Check out these examples of native advertising done well.

media strategy: social

6. Focus on longevity with gated content

Gated content is a fantastic way to develop an engaged, long-term following. With the use of paid media, you can amplify your gated content, targeting it to paid audiences who share the same characteristics as your core user segments.

Use your call-to-action (CTA) to give away free content by allowing the user to engage with you on a deeper level. Invite them to sign up to your email list or follow you on social media to receive exclusive access to your content. Guides, ebooks, video trainings, templates, and mini-courses are all great ways to offer value and build your audience. It also allows you to establish a long term relationship with them, which will pay dividends down the road.

While it can take longer to see an immediate return on your ad spend with gated content, your investment will go further by building an audience you can market different products to again and again. Using paid media to build your following is a more sustainable solution than relying upon paid ads each time you need to market a product.

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk is an advocate of content marketing, recommending that you give your best work away for free. He subscribes to the philosophy that giving away value will pay dividends in the long run.

“In order to build any type of relationship that gives you the air cover to be able to ask for something down the line,” Gary says, “you should always be the one providing the value upfront.”

Consider how you can become an influential source of information for your audience by creating your own free content strategy, then amplifying it with paid media.

Template Icon

Audience vs. product

Rather than build your ads around promoting products, shift your focus towards building your audience. It will remain your biggest asset. Then create content that your audience wants and needs to monetize the products and services they’ll find valuable. While your return on ad spend won’t be immediate, acquiring loyal followers will pay off in the long run—dedicated followers will be far more likely to convert on the offers you share, since the products you highlight will be tightly aligned with their needs.

Brands will continue to look towards developing partnerships with those closest to their target audience, so stay focused on positioning yourself as a source of influence. Use your paid media skill set to build your audience, keeping them at the heart of your affiliate marketing strategy. Remember that you’ll secure your most lucrative brand relationships when you can clearly articulate the value you have to offer. Although they’re the ones offering you monetization, you’re the one introducing them to customers. That relationship is a two-way street, and both parties win when the relationship you have with your audience is strong.

How has taking an audience-first approach benefited your business? Tell us in the comments below!

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Learn more