Affiliate programs can be a major source of international growth. But you’ve got to know the dynamics of each market.

Helen Southgate, managing director, Acceleration Partners, EMEA

Helen Southgate, managing director, Acceleration Partners, EMEA

In an increasingly connected world, many brands are seizing the opportunity to expand their sales footprints to other markets. For many e-commerce companies, affiliate marketing is a major revenue driver. Many retailers are earning 10 to 20 percent—or even more—of their home market sales from performance partnerships.

But growing affiliate programs internationally comes with challenges. Many leading retailers struggle to succeed when they expand their performance partnership efforts to additional markets. Some delay or decide against expanding their affiliate programs internationally. Others try to apply exactly the same approach in every region, regardless of differences in market dynamics.

Neither approach works very well.  If you’re looking to grow your partner marketing program globally, consider these seven tips:

1. Do Your Homework: The success of any international launch rests on the company’s understanding of market dynamics.Brands need to ensure they carry out in-depth market research, invest in the necessary distribution and customer support resources, and present benefits in culturally relevant ways.

In many of the largest and fastest-growing markets, like China, Brazil and India, complex financial regulations make it difficult to do financial business.

2. Find Local – and Multinational – Expertise:There’s no substitute for people who deeply understand partner and affiliate marketing in a new market. Unfortunately, in many key markets, such people are thin on the ground. That’s one of the reasons why international retailers are more likely to leverage agencies for partner marketing; by engaging the right agency, they can quickly acquire such expertise. International agencies also often leverage the hub and spoke model to deliver highly experienced strategic leaders and locally immersed specialists for key regions.

3. Make Essential Investments:There’s no doubt that partner marketing enables retailers to drive significant sales with few fixed costs and lower risk. But to do partner marketing right, you need to ensure business investments are made in key areas. First, you need an efficient and secure e-store. Secondly, you need a customer support team who speak the language and know the market. Finally, you need a team digging into the data and business trends. Successful retailers take a strategic approach to identifying essential from nonessential costs.

4. Invest in Data: Increasingly, partner and affiliate marketing are data-driven businesses. Partner program managers need a comprehensive understanding of user behavior and partner performance in order to optimize. No network or platform is right for every brand. You need to match capabilities to needs. Success in the channel requires matching tools and services to your specific brand needs for each market.

5. Find the Right Partners for You:While partner and affiliate marketing were first established in the U.S. and UK, these are increasingly global businesses, with a wide range of large and specialty niche partners available in most leading markets. I am a big believer in partner/advertiser fit; brands and publishers that share values, audiences, and interest categories perform best. Of course, identifying the right partners is one of the key reasons why having people with local market expertise is important.

6. Integrate Partner Marketing Data Into Your BI and Reporting Stack: Increasingly, brands want an integrated view of their customers and programs, incorporating data from all channels and devices. Unfortunately, too many companies have been slow to integrate partner and affiliate data, as if it is a niche channel instead of a major business driver. But times are changing. Performance Horizon, for example, is helping several retailers incorporate partnership data into multi-channel, multi-touch attribution systems.


7. Ensure Smooth Partner Payments: Partners are just like brands—they promote products to make money and expect to be paid promptly according to the terms of their contract. When you explore network and software options for program management, make sure your vendor can make invoicing and payments seamless in your target geographies. For some regions, this isn’t a big deal. But in many of the largest and fastest-growing markets, like China, Brazil and India, complex financial regulations make it difficult to do financial business. This area is one reason why it’s so important to have both international and local expertise.

These seven tips aren’t an exhaustive list of what’s required for building a thriving  international partner marketing program. But by following  these guidelines, you’ll be able to more successfully define a strategic plan and implement your partner program. Partnerships and affiliate are incredibly rich and dynamic fields within marketing, and are increasingly important to the top and bottom lines of all retailers. Why not get all the sales you can from this channel?

Acceleration partners develops online customer acquisition programs that include affiliate marketing, organic search, paid search and other channels.