invite-only affiliate programs, affiliate strategy

Invite-Only Affiliate Programs: A Good or Bad Idea?

Invite-only affiliate programs, or private affiliate programs as they are known to some, are closed affiliate programs that are not available to the wider affiliate public to join. They are the choice of many affiliate marketers who use the concept to keep control of their brand and target relevant niche audiences. In recent years, invite-only affiliate programs have gained popularity among bigger brands and companies seeking to harness the benefits of exclusivity in their affiliate marketing strategies.

This article explores the advantages and disadvantages of invite-only affiliate programs, shedding light on whether this model is the right fit for your business. It seems that there are both benefits and downfalls to having this as an option for your business.

Read on to see the pros and cons of a private affiliate program and then decide what might be best for your business, service or brand.

THE PRO’s 

– You Can Really Target Your Audience & Test Market Segments

If you have the opportunity to cherry-pick your affiliate partners, you can really study their audience and hone in on a demographic that is most useful to you. You won’t waste resources on people who aren’t going to buy your product and you can work with partners that you know will be beneficial in the future. This approach can also be taken when you are already using expansive media buying to target and reach the masses, but want to partner up with certain types of affiliates who can drive traffic in areas you don’t want to spend upfront budget on.

Keeping a closed partner program means you get to define what traffic source and audience type you want to develop on pay on performance models. You can use this channel to successfully test drive new products and incentives as you know the partners intuitively and have vetted their customer segments to be targeted to your brand or service.  With an invite-only program, you can use a small sample of affiliates to understand the results you might get if you open the program up at a later stage.

– Reduced Risk of Fraud

Open affiliate programs can sometimes on occasion attract fraudulent affiliates looking to exploit the commercial systems offered for personal gain. Whilst affiliate fraud can be managed with a variety of fraud management tools it’s easy to manage this when programs start to increase in size. Invite-only programs, on the other hand, can implement stricter vetting and approval processes, reducing the risk of fraud at the start of the relationship and ensuring affiliates understand the program terms and have direct contact with affiliate managers to ensure their marketing efforts are always pre-approved.

– Create More Tailored Partnerships

Invite-only programs allow for personalised partnerships with affiliates who understand your brand and industry. Affiliates will understand that they are being offered unique promotions and that they are given an edge to tailored marketing strategies, leading to more effective campaigns and ultimately better results. Your partners may feel a sense of exclusivity and pride in being selected. This can result in increased motivation to perform well and uphold the reputation of the program and invest in longer term collaborations to build audience loyalty as well as acquisition of new sales.

– Gain Higher Exclusivity on Quality Traffic Sources

Invite-only programs often feature well-established affiliates with proven track records. Associating these partners to your brand can boost consumer trust and enhance your brand’s image. Customers are more likely to trust recommendations from independent and brand agnostic affiliate sites they already know and trust themselves. Customers will enjoy the fact that they are also getting an exclusive access to first look products, online sales or even access to incentives and benefits they wouldn’t receive anywhere else. Nurturing client relations by offering affiliates the chance at getting access to something that others aren’t, can ultimately work in your favour.

THE CONS: 

– You’ll Have Limited Growth

Cherry picking partner types to invite to join  your program, doesn’t help much when it comes to mass growth objectives. If you’re looking for diamonds in the rough, you’d be better off casting a wider net and allowing more affiliates to join at the start of your program journey. If you’ve got limited budgets for paid and direct media targeting your customers, an affiliate program can help you do that (on performance basis). This means you’ll be leveraging what your partners can offer in brand exposure without paying for it. For smaller brands with niche products to sell, an affiliate program can be a lifeline at the start of their business journey and investing in partnerships early pays dividends in the long run. The old way of thinking is that most affiliate programs have 80% of sales coming from the top 20% of  affiliates but this isn’t really true as most programs diversify and segment their partner bases to augment other digital channels and leverage open affiliate programs to try and bring costs down using CPA or Revenue Share models to get better results.

– Time-Consuming Affiliate Vetting Process

The process of selecting and vetting affiliates one-by-one for an invite-only program can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. This includes: researching partner and traffic types, vetting the traffic sources, outreaching to partners to invite them in, then reviewing their applications, conducting interviews, and evaluating the affiliate’s online presence and marketing methods before onboarding them. For smaller marketing teams the effort simply wouldn’t outweigh the initial results and it could take between 3-6 months to actually get your program started and sales coming in.

– Potential for Missed Opportunities

By focusing exclusively on established affiliates, businesses may overlook emerging talents who could become powerful advocates for their brand. Especially now that the partnership economy is so diverse and social media platforms offer up new rich ground for new customers to find your products online. These up-and-coming affiliates may be overlooked in favour of more established partners. Having access to a diverse array of independent content creators can be a benefit to brands who want to target specific niche audience segments, such as GenZ, Millenials and members of the LGBTQ+ communities.

– Difficulty in Scaling Your Affiliate Channel on Performance Models

Scaling an invite-only affiliate program can be challenging, as adding new affiliates requires a rigorous vetting process. This can limit the program’s growth potential, particularly for businesses looking to expand rapidly. There is a risk that the channel may peak and stop adding value segments to other forms of marketing your business may be undertaking. In which case, you’d move from a growth mindset to a maintenance model and this could become boring for participating partners to continue to invest time and energy into creating content partnerships that last over time.

– A Risk of Exclusivity Backfiring on Your Brand

While exclusivity in your affiliate program can be a benefit it can also be a problem if partners perceive this as favouritism or worse – partners may consider your business incapable of growing and paying commissions because the program has been limited to invite only. Negative perceptions of an invite only affiliate program, can also have an impact to your wider business image and potentially lead to a perception of elitism or snobbery. This may alienate potential affiliate partners or even customers who feel they are being excluded from the program and offers that are given to partners within it.

In Conclusion

Invite-only affiliate programs offer several advantages, including a focus on quality, enhanced trust, and reduced fraud risk. However, they also come with certain drawbacks, such as a limited affiliate pool and the potential for missed marketing and traffic source opportunities. Whether this model is right for your business depends on your goals, resources, and brand identity. Striking the right balance between exclusivity and inclusivity is crucial in harnessing the power of affiliate marketing effectively. Careful consideration of the pros and cons will help you make an informed decision that aligns with your business objectives.

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