When is the best time to run an affiliate marketing campaign?

Affiliate marketing - promoting your brand through other people's influential websites - is something big brands have been doing for years. Now affiliate marketing is within reach of small businesses

If you’re an SME selling online, you’ll know how important seasonal retail dates are for sales, and how they can make or break your entire year.

With Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas to name just a few, you could easily spend all of your time planning for seasonal promotions and bidding on increasingly expensive digital ads, in order to compete with the large brands and competitors.

But what if we told you there was a way to reach your potential customers and have someone else do some of the legwork? That’s where affiliate marketing comes in.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is what’s known as “performance-based marketing”. An ecommerce website – known as an “advertiser”- will reward a chosen partner – known as a “publisher” – for successfully driving an agreed action on their website. This action is typically a sale but can also include other valuable interactions, like completing an online form or submitting an email address.

‘Many customers using Awin get an average return of £14 for every £1 spent’

This can often mean access to vast numbers of new customers that can be difficult to get access to alone, or through other expensive digital ad platforms, so it’s a great way to spend precious marketing budgets. 

Read our full guide to affiliate marketing to get more information on how this marketing channel can reap huge benefits for an SME.

Want to know more about how to supercharge your online sales? Download the full Awin webinar for free here

What is the best time of year to start an affiliate marketing campaign?

Do your homework on the seasonal dates that mean something to you.

Ten years ago everyone was focused on December as the main retail period. Now, with so many celebrations through the year, it’s important to maintain good relationships through an affiliate programme year-round. By doing so, you can measure performance and gather enough data to know where to put extra focus.  

A 2023 study by the Influencer Marketing Hub said that more than 80 per cent of marketers use affiliate marketing at the earliest stage of the customer journey; when trying to build awareness with brand-new customers. So, it’s also good to maintain a year-round presence if you’re a niche or luxury product so that you increase the chance of individuals who are shopping for that payday treat, or gift for a loved one, finding you through your chosen partner at the right moment.

Affiliate marketing provides a reliable and low-maintenance income stream, so it’s it an ideal choice if you’re looking for a source of steady revenue. Whenever you chose to join an affiliate platform you stand a chance of reaping huge benefits.

If you’re thinking specifically about preparing for the busy winter retail season, many retailers are now starting their sales as early as October.  To get the most out of this peak, it’s best to be setup and exploring partnership options in your chosen affiliate platform by early September, so that you can take advantage of specific promotional pushes or marketing opportunities offered by them for days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  

Around 30-40 per cent of customers that are attracted from an affiliate partner are brand new, according to data from Awin.  That figure can rise to more than 50 per cent depending on which partners you chose – showing just how impactful it can be for SMEs who are reliant on these key retail dates.

5 top tips to prepare for seasonal retail dates

#1 – Hang out where your customers do

A great digital marketing strategy is about more than just the number of channels used. It should also focus on the channels that your specific target audience regularly use, and that feel comfortable to them.

Using a wide range of channels lets you explore where customers are best engaging, and this will help you shape your strategy. For example, you may already have tested Google Ads with some success, but it cost you a lot and you didn’t see any real sales. How about being featured on a cashback or voucher code site? Or, getting an influencer in your industry to give a product demo or unboxing to their loyal followers?  

The biggest benefit for an SME of working with partners through an affiliate platform, is that you only pay them when they drive a customer to you and they complete an action that you agreed. So, it’s easy to see great ROI on a tight marketing budget.  In fact, many customers using Awin get an average return of £14 for every £1 spent.

#2 – Go early

Do your homework about all the peak events across the peak retail seasons. Don’t see days like Black Friday as a one-day sprint, but a month-long marathon.

Retailers are starting their Black Friday and Golden Quarter sales as early as October, and consumers are hunting for bargains well before Christmas.  You’ll need to think about how to sustain promotions across multiple sales events and spread your offers across the months rather then splurge in one generic promotion.

By partnering with affiliate partners through a reputable affiliate platform, you can integrate with their marketing plans and expertise. This allows you to take advantage of the hard work they’re already doing to reach their audiences in different seasons and retail dates.

With the Awin platform, once you are set up and have selected the perfect partners for you, you can speak with them directly through our communication centre about ideas for seasonal dates. Whether it’s about a feature in a “Top 10 gifts for Mother’s day”’ social reel, or a “Best Christmas gifts for a cycling lover” blog, you can let them do the heavy lifting.

#3 – Play to your strengths

Online SMEs have quite a few things in their favour when it comes to working with affiliate partners. Firstly, you can be agile, flexible and quick to respond to new opportunities when they arise.

Awin works with different technology providers that can help you address poor visit to sale conversion rates, or companies that can stop so many customers leaving your site before they buy.  Larger brands can take months to implement tech like this. As an SME you can avoid lengthy internal process and switch these on quickly through the one platform.

Lessons learned from the pandemic show that consumers are moving to supporting local and small companies. Use this to your advantage over the big corporates and find ways to push your small business credentials in your banners and offers. Find affiliate partners that have a desire to support smaller businesses, or select micro-influencers who may have a smaller but loyal following.

#4 – Don’t assume peak season is just for retail or gifting

You may think that people are focused purely on gifts for friends or family on key retail dates. Awin data shows that many people are looking to buy for themselves as much as they are for others.

Think about how this can impact your messaging, rather than just focusing on gifting. Speak directly to and appeal to shoppers getting themselves that payday treat. 

Other interesting Black Friday trends show that people are looking to purchase all sorts of things online, not just traditional retail. So, even if you sell things that you don’t think fit into the usual Black Friday or seasonal categories such as telephone contracts, insurance or experiences, you can still take advantage of the surge in online traffic around the end of November and across Golden Quarter.

Where do I start?

Awin’s affiliate marketing solution, Awin Access, has generated over £200m in sales for SMEs. It is the perfect first step to get ready for peak season, reach new customers and grow your online sales. 

Michelle O’Sullivan is the global customer success director for Awin’s exciting entry-level SME affiliate solution, Awin Access. With over 21 years’ experience in digital marketing Michelle is passionate about supporting SMEs and independent businesses in accessing and benefitting from great digital marketing opportunities

Avatar photo

Michelle O'Sullivan

Michelle O’Sullivan is the global customer success director for affiliate marketing platform Awin.

Related Topics

Affiliate marketing