Plenty of retail and hospitality companies have discovered the power of owning multiple brands. Parent companies such as Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, Athleta and Old Navy benefit from a larger audience and efficiencies in buying and marketing.
While consumers see these brands as separate entities, they’re often integrated behind the scenes. For example, Hudson’s Bay Company owns Hudson’s Bay, Home Outfitters, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Zellers. The parent company recently launched a new initiative called HBC Digital to handle the marketing efforts for all of its brands.
When it comes to affiliate marketing, however, many parent companies make the mistake of setting up separate affiliate programs for each of their brands. While this does make sense in some cases, in most cases, I think the marketing teams are mistakenly thinking of their affiliates as customers who need that brand distinction rather than business partners.
Taking this approach has some notable drawbacks.
- Each Brand Requires Separate Setup and Monitoring. Adding banners, links and terms and conditions to different accounts for each brand, then monitoring and updating each one separately, can quickly drain your time and resources. Funding multiple accounts also means more work for the accounting team, and differences in reporting across various programs or networks can make consolidating data and comparing stats difficult.
- You Must Cross-track All Programs. This is the only way to ensure affiliates get credit if users jump across brands, especially when those brands are promoted in a global navigation — in which case affiliates would rightfully expect to be paid for cross-brand transactions.
- It Requires More Administrative Work. Although affiliates are often dealing with the same internal or external management resource, all of the programs need their own landing pages, marketing materials and contact information.
- You Miss Out on New Opportunities. When you create separate programs for each of your brands, affiliates might not know that your brands are even related, which is a missed opportunity for incremental exposure and promotion.
- Quantity Doesn’t Equal Quality. More programs don’t translate into more partnership opportunities with large affiliates. Also, it could actually increase the number of fraudulent affiliates moving across the programs with multiple accounts.
Unfortunately, I learned these lessons the hard way.
When we originally launched the Tiny Prints and Wedding Paper Divas programs (now part of Shutterfly, Inc.), we approached each as separate brands and set up two different programs with cross-tracking. We soon realized that we were just recruiting many of the same types of partners into both programs because they had sites that targeted each brand. This created double the work, and many of our affiliate partners didn’t even realize they were dealing with the same company.
After merging the programs, we identified synergies and had much less administrative work. Large partners could also see their sales from a single combined entity, which suddenly made us a bigger partner for them. Later, when Shutterfly acquired these brands, we went through the same process before successfully merging all the brands into a single Shutterfly affiliate program. Affiliates can now access all of the company’s brands in one place.
Advantages of an Integrated Affiliate Program
Consolidating your programs can minimize your workload, expand your branding opportunities and make tracking your programs much simpler. It will also allow you to:
- Leverage Brand Opportunities and Increase Awareness. Affiliates aren’t end users and don’t need to distinguish your brands. When signing up for one program, they can learn about all the brands they could potentially promote right from the start. Affiliates see consolidated sales reports, so you’ll register as a larger partner and create more awareness and high-level discussions.
- Integrate Reporting and Processes. A single set of terms and conditions can govern all the brands, and parent companies can get both integrated and individual store reporting.
- Streamline communication. With an integrated program, you have a single point of contact and set of marketing and recruiting pages for the program. Why make up 10 or more contact affiliate addresses and “affiliate team” signatures when they all go to the same group? This will also put a human face on the program and tell affiliates exactly who they’re working with.
- Segment Messages to Affiliates. You can identify their interests across all brands and create more targeted messages to relevant affiliates. For example, we communicate upcoming deals across the Shutterfly brands to those who have expressed interest, and we can do this once rather than six times to the same people. The same goes for wedding content.
- Recruit Once. It’s hard enough to get affiliates to join and activate one time. Plus, when you recruit for multiple brands, you have more opportunities to catch someone’s attention.
Challenges Associated With an Integrated Program
While an integrated program sounds great in theory, there are also challenges, and you need to make sure your technology partner or network has the capabilities to execute. When developing an integrated program, it can be difficult to:
- Keep track of varying cookie lengths and commissions by store.
- Keep the brand assets separate — but easy to find — within the overall program.
- Manage multiple product feeds from a single account.
- Segment communications by brand.
Many parent companies lack the strategy or technology to organize and present multi-brand programs. When consolidating your affiliate programs, look for partners with a proven track record so you can successfully develop an integrated affiliate program.