Sadly, for years affiliate marketing has been seen as the poor relation of the digital advertising family.

Tracking networks and technology companies typically selling the channel as a no-frills, “no-win no-fee” way to pad out marketing plans.

But no longer. Affiliate marketing has truly come of age.

Isn’t affiliate just voucher codes?

This is not just about voucher codes, cashback and last-click for advertisers, this is part of a holistic approach to digital advertising that promises real and sustained ROI for high-end brands.

The modern managed affiliate programmes use sophisticated groups of content publishers, including mainstream “offline” publishing houses such as Condé Nast.  

This is performance marketing through deep partnership, levered via tenancy, editorial, blogging, email and (yes) incentives like voucher codes or cashback. 

Partnerships with high volume and niche sites that can deliver the kind of primed-to-buy, long tailed traffic available nowhere else.

Are you at risk of losing control of your message?

No, but…

For years affiliate networks and technology companies used the size and scale of the channel as a key selling point, promising brands access to tens of thousands of affiliates.  

Given that they worked on tracking fees based upon revenue generated by activity, who can blame them? 

However, this wasn’t what luxury or designer retailers, already nervous about losing control of their brand’s messages, wanted to hear. 

Only now, with dedicated, digital agencies selling these solutions as part of a wider media strategy, are brands being given the whole picture.

When properly managed, affiliate marketing allows brands to deliver relevant messages to highly-targeted customer segments.  

But it’s the size and scale of the networks that makes this targeting possible in the first place.

But isn’t luxury all about exclusivity?  

Why would luxury brands want their valuable name bandied about on affiliate channels with everyone else’s?

Success in the digital age requires a change in mind-set for luxury brands as customers’ buying cycles accelerate and competition stiffens in every part of the market place.  

No longer can scarcity be the strongest value in a luxury brand's armoury, as the array of choice and quality available elsewhere can fill any sales vacuum.  

Instead, luxury today is defined by desirability, product excellence, exemplary service and, fundamentally, a brand promise.

And affiliate channels are exactly where a brand’s promise, desirability, service and excellence are defined for its target audience.  

They are key to the continued success of luxury brands in the digital age and are proven to send ready-to-convert customers direct to online stores.   

Luxury is talked about and bought online more than ever

Deloitte says that 58% of UK millennial luxury consumers buy their luxury goods online. What’s more, 85% of luxury consumers regularly use social media.

According to Google one in five luxury purchases happens on the web.

And participating in high profile online retail events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday clearly doesn’t dim the lustre of a luxury brand or cannibalize their full-price sales.

In 2015 our client NET-A-PORTER saw Black Friday was its highest day for sales that year, with one item sold every second on its website. 

What’s more, offering deals and vouchering is not regarded as damaging to luxury brands’ reputation by consumers.  

In fact, these luxury customers were four times more likely to be searching for deals on Black Friday 2015 than non-luxury customers (Experian).

Do affiliate tactics really deliver incremental sales to luxury brands?

Yes, they do.

One of our retailers had always assumed cashback websites would only reach customers already on its files and has little effect on overall profit. We helped them prove otherwise.  

A tactical trial conducted with Quidco for the brand found that 86% of consumers that bought their products via the publisher during the trial were “new to file” and their average order value was much higher than the norm.

For another fashion retailer, working with affiliates achieved over 300 pieces of content coverage in a three-month period which, in turn, contributed to content websites driving 50%+ of the brand's affiliate revenue.

Affiliate channels have proved, time and time again, to bring new customers and incremental sales to the table for every kind of brand, particularly those at the very top end of their sector.

Who else is using affiliates?

The roll call of brands that are using the affiliate channel as part of the marketing mix is impressive – Agent Provocateur, Barneys New York, Burberry, Liberty London, NET-A-PORTER to name a few.

But if the affiliate channel was just about vouchers and cashback, they wouldn’t be using it.

These brands know the value of curated conversation and content-led buzz to their brand; they are finding new and exciting ways to engage through affiliate marketing.  

Crucially, they are realising that careful planning, targeted partnership and innovative execution ensures the biggest ROI alongside an extension of digital PR.

The lessons of affiliate marketing

  • Luxury affiliate marketing is happening... if you’re not doing it, you’re already losing out.
  • Luxury consumers are savvy, switched on and impulsive – take advantage of that.
  • Be led by the data and use experts to help you execute the highest quality campaigns.
  • Choose who manages your affiliates carefully – your brand’s success will live or die by their experience both within wider digital marketing, the specific affiliate channel and naturally their knowledge of your brand / sector.
Chris Bishop

Published 11 April, 2016 by Chris Bishop

Chris Bishop is Founder & CEO of 7thingsmedia and a contributor to Econsultancy. He can also be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)

Geno Prussakov

Geno Prussakov, Founder at AM Navigator LLC

Good write-up, Chris!

Co-incidentally, a research we conducted in late 2015 (analyzing North America's 550 best affiliate programs across 6 major affiliate networks) showed Fashion to be *the* top category across all networks (accounting for nearly 1/5 of all top affiliate programs in the U.S.) with High-End/Luxury Stores specifically scoring a #2 spot on one of America's largest affiliate networks.

over 1 year ago

Liz Tehan

Liz Tehan, Founder and CEO at Set That

Many thanks for this well-written article Chris. In Australia, the higher end and luxury Brands have taken quite a while to come on board with affiliate marketing. Some are still holding back as they are still too scared of the risks that you mentioned. However, our experience at Set That has shown that when a Brand campaign uses affiliate marketing with well designed, well placed and engaging content, it can be very successful for the Brand to bring both new and returning customers to their site.

over 1 year ago

Bill Burniece

Bill Burniece, President & CEO at HighPayingAffiliatePrograms.com

Excellent article Chris. Luxury affiliate programs are exploding and most internet marketers aren't even aware of it yet. Part of the problem is most luxury brands haven't figured out a good way to promote their program to affiliate marketers yet. Articles like yours really help spread the word! Thank you.

over 1 year ago

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Robert Farmilo, owner at Robert Farmilo

My group and I are seeking out the best and most lucrative high-end affiliate offers for products and services to market to those with the taste and budget to invest in such delights. Any specific suggestions with links for such offers?

11 months ago

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Thalassa Boom, Owner at Thalassa Boom Resort Wear

I have been looking into Luxury affiliate marketing, but I can't seem to find these programs. What programs would you suggest for luxury brands?

6 months ago

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