4 Takeaways from Lee-Ann Johnstone on Scaling Partner Programs

Ashley Carrow

After spending more than two decades in a constantly evolving world of digital marketing, Lee-Ann Johnstone has built her home in the affiliate space.

She got lucky, as many of us do (depending on how you choose to look at it!), when she fell into affiliate marketing by accident. Citing her genuine “people person” personality, relationship management came naturally.

Today, Lee-Ann runs AffiliateINSIDER, a leading digital marketing agency, media and training company in the UK designed to help brands launch, scale, and grow successful affiliate programs. She also hosts the Affiliate Marketing Podcast which is dedicated to bringing awareness and making important, competent discussions about the space more accessible.

Zach Measures, Commercial Director EMEA at Everflow, sat down with Lee-Ann for a fireside chat where they discussed the nuts and bolts of building a program and scaling activity from affiliates and influencers.


Here are 4 takeaways from the conversation:

Define your objectives. Make sure you take the time to get really clear on what you’re looking for from an affiliate program. Answering these questions prior to building the program is imperative to knowing how much time, money and other resources you’ll need to get there. The infrastructure has to be laid out and functioning properly before you start making revenue strides.

More specifically, be realistic about your expectations with ROI during the first 3 – 6 months to a year. It’s important not to allow false hope to discourage your confidence in the program altogether. Know that it takes time and dedication to build anything meaningful, regardless of the industry.

Focus on brand affinity. The game has changed. Lee-Ann often says that affiliate managers are more like fan managers, because you want to make sure you’re spending your budget to appeal to your brand’s existing fans and potential ones. Where there are fans, there is an audience. Which makes anyone with a fanbase a shoe-in as a publisher.

Of course, you’ll want to make these decisions based on empirical data in an effort to offset costs. Paid media continues to rise in cost, so it’s important to be strategic about your performance-based efforts, like with affiliates and influencers. Allow some time for newer partnerships to come alive, but pay attention to the data once you have it.

It’s also important to be aware that just because an affiliate doesn’t necessarily top your sales reports every month, they are still peddling brand awareness and fostering meaningful brand affinity. Don’t forget about the softer value they deliver that might not make it to your reports. 

It’s not just about price anymore. Your affiliates are essentially an extension of your own marketing team, so treat them like you would a valued staff member! Think about how you can make their lives easier with attractive incentives since they are doing their part to send new customers your way. You’re competing not only for your customer’s attention, but also for your affiliates' attention.

Giving this attention means cultivating an excellent in-house affiliate management team or hiring an agency dedicated to nurturing these relationships. It takes dedication to make your affiliate channel thrive, so make sure you start with someone who has a sunny disposition and can shower them with incentives.

Keep it simple. Lee-Ann reminds us that at the end of the day, affiliates want honesty and transparency. They want a smooth onboarding process, the ability to speak to a human when they run into an issue, and to make some money. Since this likely achieves what you’re looking for as well, be genuine in your communication and work together to achieve your goals.

For more conversations about affiliate marketing, program management, and what’s happening across the different verticals and industries within the digital marketing space, be sure to check out the Affiliate Marketing Podcast! And if you’re interested in partnering with Lee-Ann’s agency, click here to visit AffiliateINSIDER.

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