How to maximise your affiliate channel performance this Christmas

Key takeaways

  1. Q4 is the best time to test and learn
  2. Identify gaps in your affiliate channel now
  3. Plan ahead, but be fully prepared to change your approach.


In a webinar, our senior affiliate marketing managers discussed the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the affiliate channel and how this could impact performance going into Q4. In this article, you can read more about the discussion and how you can prepare your affiliate channel to maximise your brand’s festive period.

Learnings from 2019 and 2020

One key learning from 2019 was the success that critical dates can provide for different brands and verticals across Q4. We found that for some brands in the fashion and beauty sector, Singles Day was crucial – in fact, in the US alone Singles Day was worth $30 billion in 2019. In 2020, around 800 million shoppers worldwide participated in Singles Day, and Alibaba reported Chinese consumer spending amounting to $74.1 billion USD on its ecommerce platforms.

For other verticals like menswear and sportswear, Black Friday and Cyber Monday remained key in 2020. For these brands, transparency and flexibility over this period was key despite careful planning. One client’s competitors launched new, aggressive strategies in the final lead up to Black Friday. This required us to make last-minute changes to campaigns to ensure the client’s offering remained competitive and appealing to their consumer base.

Proactive communication and collaboration was key to ensuring success, and some changes needed to be made on Black Friday itself! Despite initial plans going out the window, this flexibility led to our client surpassing their original growth targets and maintaining ROI.

Offer fatigue was something we had to consider for brands that had run discounting strategies across the year. We looked at how we could still engage the consumer, but not repeat an offer they’d already seen. For this reason, we explored added-value campaigns, looking at gift cards and relevant brand partnerships where we offered a brand’s services when a consumer completed a purchase.

This approach was received extremely well, as we tailored offers to the audiences that we were targeting. In turn, we saw positive engagement and results.

Black Friday and Cyber Weekend 2021

The global nature of the Black Friday period makes it a key sales opportunity, in which many clients have experienced YoY growth. To best prepare for Black Friday and during the campaign period, key elements to focus on include:

  • Your website statistics and your customer data
  • Your competitors – what’s their approach this year?
  • Your pricing, offers and discounts
  • Your live support function
  • Your website’s creative elements
  • Your mobile site.

Ensure you’re actively monitoring all of these aspects so that your data is accurate and up to date.

Before and during Black Friday week, focus on your broad marketing mix: email marketing, remarketing, social media, PPC, Facebook Ads and affiliate marketing. Post Black Friday, reflect and request customer feedback. Analyse the performance of your Facebook, PPC and affiliate marketing campaigns – and use these learnings to think ahead for your Christmas campaigns!

Timing is key

The customer is savvy! If your consumer is confident that the discount you’re running is the highest discount they’ll receive, they’ll purchase. However, if they know that you’ve launched a 10% discount as a prelude to a 25% discount on Black Friday, they won’t be fooled.

In previous years, we saw that deliberately staggering offer discounts actually had an adverse effect, so it’s important to balance the needs of the business with the needs of the consumer. One example of this was Currys PC World’s price guarantee, which guaranteed that if an item was reduced further later in the Black Friday period, the consumer would receive a refund for the amount. That serves to build trust and guarantee that the consumer is getting the best deal at the best possible time.

Additionally, key dates falling in late November and December can have a big impact for brands. In these instances, people largely focus on buying gifts for others. For the homeware sector, one thing we noticed last year was a slight drop in AOV compared to previous years. This is because we didn’t see as many sales for large items like furniture, because customers were concerned that they might not get them in time for Christmas. It’s important to have conversations about how we can reduce the loss if we see a drop in AOV. What tactics can we put in place that will help build it back up?

For example, we might look at offers with a minimum order value or at tiered cashback where consumers get more cash back the more they spend, or we might work with certain types of partners that have an audience with a higher disposable income.

Planning and testing

In Q4 particularly, brands need to plan. While the last 18 months have shown us that it’s impossible to plan for every eventuality, it’s important to do as much planning as possible but also to be prepared to be reactive. In 2020, we worked with some clients to have two different versions of an offer ready to go, with codes and artwork ready for both, and then chose the version we thought was right at the time, often based on the decisions competitors had made.

Brands should be particularly aware of what their competitors are doing, and should be positioning themselves so that their offerings are strong enough they don’t get lost in the market space. Loyal customers remain a brand’s most reliable source of income in uncertain times, so it’s also a good idea to work with loyalty publishers, cashback sites and content sites to strengthen a brand message!

Q4 is also a good time of year to gather as much data as you can while the volume is there and you’re able to see what works and what doesn’t. This means that you can build out your case now if you need extra budget signed off to test new things, whether that’s an influencer campaign or expanding into brand-to-brand partnerships. Now is the time to kickstart those budgeting conversations – this will give affiliate managers the best chance to showcase the channel internally.

Awin reported in 2019 that 7% of their sales over Black Friday were from the influencer channel, which is certainly starting to come to the forefront of the mix. If this isn’t built into a brand’s strategy already, they need to be thinking about adding that in, and the same applies to brand-to-brand partnerships which is becoming ever more important in the affiliate mix.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach

For some sectors, the approach to Q4 is very different. For the food, home and garden sectors, Q4 is not necessarily a peak time compared to, for example, Q1 when consumers go back to work and back into routine. In this instance, Q4 can be a great time to think about brand building and how to get the brand in front of new audiences in the lead up to Q1, using tactics such as A/B testing, smaller-scale campaigns, etc.

Q4 is often still a smaller peak period for these verticals, but unlike luxury fashion, menswear, sportswear and the like, the spikes for these brands come generally around October and after Christmas, such as Boxing Day. Instead of trying to be visible across the whole of Q4, brands in these verticals should know their calendar, know their peak times and focus on building awareness and ramping up to Q1. Align your calendar with your consumer behaviours.

The impact of Covid-19 on the affiliate channel

Covid-19 has had an obvious impact for beauty, skincare and fragrance brands, where the consumer experience has changed drastically. These verticals typically rely on in-store experiences such as free samples, but have seen an obvious shift towards online that will likely lead to sampling being run through the digital channel instead.

It’s also a tough climate for a product launch, so we will likely see a big push towards iconic products or ‘safe bet’ products, such as popular fragrances rather than new ones.

How can we set brands up for success in Q4?

One element to bear in mind when planning for Q4 is changing purchasing behaviour. Consumers are likely to want more ‘insurance’ behind big-ticket purchases so we’re going to see customers using credit cards and systems such as Klarna, which instils confidence that they can afford the product overall.

Miriam Tremelling, director of marketing strategy and operations at Partnerize, said: “With upticks in digital content consumption and social media usage since the onset of the pandemic, advertisers have pursued greater diversity across their partner mix. This should continue into the holidays, when it will become even more important to interact with shoppers throughout their purchase journey. Purchases made on social media rose 84.7% year over year during the early months of the pandemic. Leveraging influencer and content partnerships will become an important part of raising brand awareness, driving purchase decisions, and increasing revenue.

“Shoppers will be looking for tangible savings on purchases, so working with traditional affiliates like coupon and cashback will continue to be wise – 86% of people worldwide are interested in hearing from brands that are running promotions.”

Engaging with relevant trends

Brands should focus on ideas that are in the public eye, for example sustainability, which is becoming more important for the modern consumer. Right now, we’re seeing many brands looking to incorporate this into their business model where possible – using recyclable packaging, more eco-friendly products, cutting down on plastic and providing paperless receipts.

Sustainability is also a big topic within the food industry at the moment, and it’s been at the forefront of customers’ minds during the pandemic. Consumers have become more mindful of the food they’re consuming which has led to a reduction in food waste – and they want to keep up good habits and food management at a good level now lockdowns are over.

Brands that are transparent in their approach to sustainability will benefit going forward, as there are many new niche publishers entering the market with a focus on sustainability. For example, some publishers will reward actions that reduce carbon footprint, some take an educational approach. For brands that are looking to get involved in the sustainability movement, it’s a great idea to work with these types of publisher to demonstrate brand ethos.

Talking technology

It’s important to ensure you’re undertaking any website testing in Q3 rather than Q4, apart from any last-minute changes that absolutely need to happen. The reason for this is that implementing something new can create a barrier to conversion, which you obviously don’t want to do in such a key period. You want your purchasing process to be as simple and familiar as possible, so don’t change things like your checkout during this period. Think about championing staggered payment methods such as Klarna and Clearpay, which give your customer that reassurance the product is affordable.

In the run up to Q4 we also need to think about the volume of traffic we’d expect to see come through to your website and double it, triple it. Work with your technology partners to ensure they’re prepared and your website doesn’t crash, losing you valuable sales.

Daisy-Blue Tinne, director, channel partnerships EMEA at Impact, said: “The true key to a successful Q4 will prove to be both automation and volume of partnerships. Now is the time to take advantage of partner discovery tools (both in- and off-network) in order to increase the number of partners promoting your brands prior to the Q4 rush. Managing this diverse array of complex partnerships will require a technology that is able to automate the different needs of partners with speed and efficiency.”

Miriam said: “With mobile shopping during the pandemic surpassing previous holiday shopping levels, delivering seamless shopping journeys on mobile sites and apps is going to be key this year. Making it easy for shoppers to not only convert, but utilise offers and promotions on mobile web and in-app will be valuable for converting browsers to purchasers. In addition, for affiliate and partner marketers, deploying tracking that can capture these sales is important for understanding the value of each partner and optimizing accordingly.”

If app tracking is not implemented, approximately 40% of affiliate channel revenue is missed and therefore cannot be tracked back to your affiliate program, so it’s critical to ensure app tracking is set up and functional.

Final thought

We will undoubtedly witness to a very different festive season to what we’re used to in 2020, so it is key that brands plan and prepare in advance, test new approaches and use the right technology to maximise their affiliate channel throughout Q4.

Please have an informal chat  with one of our friendly team.

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Louise James

Louise James
07 Sep 2021