In recent times, affiliate marketing has only increased in complexity. There are more options, more contacts to manage and more data at our fingertips than ever before. It’s an exciting time, but it can also be challenging in terms of managing the crux of what’s really important to deliver a successful travel affiliate campaign.
It’s worth noting from the start, that although this post does have a particular focus on the travel sector, it doesn’t mean that you should disregard it if you work in another sector. These principles can be applied to ensure success in most cases, so let’s get stuck in…
The 7 Steps to a successful Travel Affiliate Campaign
1. What is the objective? It’s not always just about sales
2. Partner up and get talking to publishers
3. Plan Ahead
4. Don’t flog a dead horse!
5. Budget and reward your publishers fairly
6. This is not a science
7. Learn, adapt and optimise
Step 1. What is the objective? It’s not always just about sales
Historically, affiliate marketing is always measured on ROI and was very sales/revenue focused, however over the years, this focus has changed and developed.
Discount sites and cashback were King, but over the last 4 years or so that has drastically changed, with brands moving away from discounts and using the channel more creatively to meet other business objectives, with the travel sector being no exception.
Explore Worldwide, one of our adventure travel clients here at Silverbean, utilise the affiliate channel to meet numerous objectives. Yes, to predominately focus on increasing sales and revenue, but to also engage further with travel niche and content based affiliates. This allows Explore to engage with new customers, as their existing customer based are already generally loyal to the brand due to the high quality of their trips.
Content affiliates, by rule of thumb, fall earlier in the customer buying journey and this is often where potential customers are introduced to a brand.
This is particularly important within the travel sector, given the research that people undertake in the lead up to booking and the power of informed word-of-mouth. Working with these types of affiliate will help uplift your overall travel affiliate campaign performance. You need to keep in mind that you may not see sales directly, but you will see more conversions by your incentive based affiliates.
Lead generation is another possibility via the affiliate channel, with many affiliates open to running competitions and sharing any data gathered for future marketing purposes. There’s also the array of email affiliates that can be used to target potential customers, using segmented databases that fit your customer demographic. Again, with travel having such a long lead time, this is an excellent idea to be able to market directly to people you know are interested in what you have to offer.
Step 2. Partner up and get talking to Publishers
Publishers are the most important part of your affiliate program and determine how successful you will be in achieving your goals/objectives via the channel. It is important to work with a good mix of affiliates, especially in the travel sector, as holidays are a considered purchase and it is far more complicated than to merely assume that the cheapest wins.
“Discovery can happen at any time” – Econsultancy
Historically the buyer journey has been a linear process, but even back in 2014, Econsultancy were reporting the massive change in how people purchase products or services, due to the rise of social media and technological advancements. This has only become more apparent and true in the 2 years since that article was published.
Affiliates were always seen as ‘converters’ and therefore sat at the very end of the journey, but as things have changed and progressed, so has affiliate marketing. The shift towards content based marketing has also filtered into the affiliate world, which is no surprise.
People no longer want to be told what to buy, or be subjected to mass marketing techniques. They want to work with useful and inspiring brands, and then if they can get a discount too, great.
Making sure you hit as many touch points as possible in the channel is integral to a fruitful travel affiliate campaign.
Step 3. Plan Ahead!
Planning ahead may sound obvious, but it is often very overlooked and handled last minute. Know your marketing plan as far ahead as physically possible and then share these plans with your affiliates, certainly your key affiliates.
With the shift towards content driven strategies, it is even more important to look ahead, as producing high quality, useful content, takes time.
Long gone are the days of relying on last minute voucher codes and flash sales at 4:30pm on a Friday. Those sorts of quick win activities are to supplement a broader strategy.
When planning your marketing strategy, build affiliates into this, the affiliate channel is a great channel for targeting specifics and working outside of your general marketing activities. This works particularly well with travel, as the affiliate channel can be used to target specific destinations. You may have a destination or trip type that struggles at particular times of the year – using the affiliate channel, we can work with niche affiliates to try and improve the performance of these products.
Lead time on travel can also be a lot longer than your average purchase so making sure you are planning ahead of peak seasons is key, it is not good running some campaigns when you want bookings, this should all start in the lead up to the busy booking periods ensuring you don’t miss out on opportunities.
Step 4. Don’t flog a dead horse
The travel market in particular is extremely saturated and competitive with a lot of vendors essentially vying for the same customer. Therefore, it is imperative to make sure you are doing all of the right things to be successful.
“Consumers need to trust the brand and clearly understand the advantages of booking with that company over another” – Affiliate Window
In the past this often meant offering a voucher or making sure your sale offer was better than your competitors. However, as Affiliate Window mentions in their tips for travel affiliate marketing, customers need to trust the brand and clearly understand the advantages of booking with that company over another.
It is no longer about being the cheapest, it is about being useful, providing high quality content and targeted campaigns to make sure you communicate your brand and message in the right way, to the right people, distinguishing yourself from competitors.
A great way to do this is to facilitate trips for trusted influencers in your space, building strong lasting relationships with these people and creating brand ambassadors. These publishers generally have huge social followings and the ability to reach potential customers at various different points of the buyer journey.
All too often, travel advertisers focus on the “offer” and don’t focus on actually showing the benefits of booking with them.
Step 5. Budget and reward your publishers fairly
This is a vital part of the process and should be thought about carefully.
All too often we see digital marketing managers that want to focus on other opportunities other than voucher/cashback, but need ROI.
Content publishers are often not rewarded fairly for their part in the customer journey as most people still reward on a last click basis, despite a shift toward multi-click attribution and merchants wanting to work on a content basis.
It is important to understand the full value of an affiliate, this will make it easier to allocate budget accordingly.
“Weather2Travel Traffic Increased 247% MoM”
Our client Explore recently ran a campaign with Weather2Travel to help promote their Costa Rica trips. This was a tenancy opportunity and only generated one sale over the entire month.
Traffic was up 247% and the affiliate was involved at some point in a further 5 sales. Adding to this, the article is now live and will be for as long as the site is live, meaning longtail sales will provide excellent ROI over time. The beauty of evergreen content, right there.
The lesson here? If you were to look exclusively at one month and from a sales perspective, this campaign could have been assumed to be a flop, however when we look at the overall picture we can see that this affiliate and campaign will provide positive results for an extended period of time, whilst opening up the Explore brand to customers who already have a vested interest in that destination.
In a month where we took the time to focus on creating and circulating high quality content through the affiliate program, we achieved the best results of the year so far, across a number of KPI’s.
Step 6. Fail smart and learn fast! This is not a science!
Step 5 leads on nicely to step 6, do not be afraid to test things.
Stop playing it safe!
Yes, it may be expensive, it may not work, this is not a science, and there is no definitive formula, but try things and try them more than once, run a campaign with an affiliate, if it doesn’t work, analyse it and try and learn from it. Optimise it a little and run it again to see if results are more positive. You’ll never stop learning.
Obviously there will be campaigns that make no sense, so don’t just go ahead and try anything but don’t use ROI as a reason to not run a campaign. You don’t know until you try.
All too often advertisers run the same campaigns with the same affiliates. I receive countless emails from Topcashback, Quidco and VoucherCodes.co.uk with the same people in every week. This is all well and good if you are also spending money on affiliates that sit elsewhere in the buyer journey, don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment, otherwise your program will become stagnant.
Step 7. Learn and Optimise
Again, this may seem obvious, but all too often when we look at an affiliate program, we see that the problem is not optimising it and learning from campaigns. This can be numerous things, commission structures, budget allocation, affiliate mix.
Analyse your data, learn what campaigns are working and what objectives they are fulfilling, how can you apply these learnings to future campaigns. Do not just run a campaign and then forget to look at the results.
It is so easy to only work closely with the top 5-10 revenue driving affiliates as a means of trying to maximise ROI on tenancy opportunities. However, it is just as important to increase your number of order active affiliates, reduce your reliance on affiliate and diversify your revenue sources.
This will make it far more stable and future proof.
Some of what I’ve covered in the above may seem completely obvious, but you may be surprised to know that a lot of the above are the things we notice wrong with programs all the time, across more than just the travel sector.
Use this as a checklist of sorts, and whenever you run an affiliate campaign, try and make sure you have all the bases covered, making sure that you’re then giving yourself a good grounding for a successful travel affiliate campaign.