How online instrument retailer Sweetwater built out its affiliate program

How online instrument retailer Sweetwater built out its affiliate program

Sweetwater, an e-commerce website that focuses on musical devices {and professional} audio tools, is betting on a customized affiliate hyperlink program to gasoline its subsequent part of progress. The online retailer, which caters to each skilled and hobbyist musicians, has been round for the reason that early Eighties. However, it wasn’t till the previous few years that the corporate leaned into social media and affiliate advertising and marketing.
Sweetwater’s advertising and marketing staff created the affiliate program’s pilot run in late 2019, beginning with about 20 creators and publishers. The program formally launched in early 2020, and membership has since grown to 500 accounts. It additionally skilled 60% year-over-year progress from the fourth quarter of 2020 to the identical interval in 2021. The firm credit the affiliate program — coinciding at a time when extra individuals had been experiencing new hobbies through the pandemic — with serving to Sweetwater surpass $1 billion in gross sales in 2020. Furthermore, the affiliate program grew to become an enormous buyer acquisition channel as a result of inflow of individuals moving into music hobbies throughout pandemic, in line with Sweetwater.
Identifying and recruiting the proper creators 
“Selling musical devices and pro-audio gear by means of online influencers may be very totally different from garments or equipment,” stated Sweetwater’s director of engagement Tyler Grooms. This, he stated, is as a result of many beginner {and professional} musicians need in-depth tutorials, not simply product suggestions. “Even should you see an influencer utilizing a cool new guitar, should you don’t play guitar it doesn’t do a lot for you,” he famous. 

The thought behind the affiliate technique was to cater instantly to every musician’s degree, each their experience and social media following, Grooms stated. This led to Sweetwater making a bonus and commissions-based hyperlinks program that tracks each buyer acquisition and gross sales conversions. Moreover, influencers’ follower rely isn’t an essential issue for Sweetwater’s affiliate partnerships. “We work with creators with as little as 5,000 subscribers, which we discover is extra profitable in changing prospects than a Sweetwater namedrop by a serious channel,” Grooms stated. Some of the program’s largest companions embody Guitar World, in addition to YouTube channels like guitarist Riffs, Beards & Gear and drummer Casey Cooper. 
“We’ve been a retail vacation spot for skilled musicians for many years, and that gave us an natural base of influencers,” Grooms stated. To construct out the affiliate program, Grooms and the advertising and marketing staff labored with Sweetwater’s staff of 600 gross sales engineers to recruit creators. “We’re musicians ourselves and members of the online music group, so we’re consistently discovering nice new companions and welcoming them into our program,” Grooms stated. The program additionally receives some inbound curiosity from creators and present members’ referrals. 
Customized campaigns 
Like different model ambassador packages, the affiliate advertising and marketing staff facilitates the content material creation course of and rewards creators primarily based on impressions and conversions. 
One facet that units Sweetwater’s affiliate program aside, Grooms stated, is the in depth collaboration course of. “We brainstorm enjoyable ideas to focus on gear within the content material they make,” he stated, noting that this generally takes a number of Zoom conferences to facilitate. One current collaboration concerned guitarist Marty Schwartz visiting Sweetwater’s Indiana headquarters, the place he shocked quite a few his followers with classes and product giveaways.
The firm doesn’t ask creators to learn bullet factors, however as an alternative Sweetwater’s advertising and marketing staff finds merchandise the musicians need to attempt earlier than recommending them to their viewers, Grooms stated. Sweetwater has additionally built a self-serve software program system, that “lets creators construct hyperlinks, entry funds, monitor efficiency and see how their work impacts the commissions they make,” Grooms stated. 
Sweetwater’s advertising and marketing staff works with product producers to get merchandise to particular creators in time for his or her content material to roll out. “We present gear or pay a price for product integration into the video,” Grooms stated. This can vary from requests for specialised microphone for a vocal method video, to keyboards or recording tools. “For instance, in the event that they’re [creator] beginning to document a Nirvana tune, we ship them the guitar of their option to make a video showcasing the method,” Grooms stated.

The program’s members obtain a 7% fee of gross sales, in addition to the prospect to earn a money bonus if they carry in a brand new buyer with out an ad-supported marketing campaign. Sweetwater’s trackable hyperlinks present “whether or not a secondary advert helped make the sale,” Grooms stated, by which the creator doesn’t earn the added bonus. 
One arm of the affiliate advertising and marketing staff is devoted to influencer-heavy channels like YouTube, Twitch and TikTook. Another caters to show adverts on publishers like music evaluation web sites and commerce magazines. Electronic DJs, particularly, have been standard on Twitch through the pandemic’s digital live performance increase, with some affiliate creators doing 4-hour streams, stated Grooms. “But YouTube is the most important piece of the pie as a result of desktop viewing is a pure match for academic music content material,” he stated.
Testing out youthful platforms
According to Sweetwater, the affiliate program’s progress is outpacing the expansion reported by its different advertising and marketing channels, similar to paid show and retargeting adverts. For 2022, the corporate desires to develop the program by tapping into the burgeoning TikTook and Snapchat music content material audiences. 
“We need to courtroom a youthful demographic on these channels, however we’re presently figuring out what worth factors this group is comfy with,” Grooms stated. The affiliate program presently has 15 accounts on TikTook, however is step by step constructing out the kind of content material the staff desires to sponsor, Grooms stated. “We don’t need to pigeonhole TikTook musicians by assuming they solely want newbie degree gear,” he defined.  
This coming yr, Sweetwater additionally desires to develop the affiliate program by including new channels from various genres. The subsequent wave of creators can be centered on band and orchestra-related content material to assist promote Sweetwater’s new retailer that’s centered on brass and string devices, Grooms stated.
Outside of Sweetwater, custom-made influencer packages are rising in popularity amongst influencers and types, particularly amongst extra area of interest retailers. Elfster, a Secret Santa organizing service, is one other such website that’s constructing out an affiliate program.
Justin Kline, co-founder of influencer advertising and marketing company Markerly, stated that the extra crowded that influencer advertising and marketing turns into, the tougher it’s for retailers to face out. “The actuality is that you simply is likely to be losing your money and time as a result of, sure, your model is being seen by a variety of eyeballs however a lot of them may not be the proper eyeballs,” Kline defined. Instead, affiliate advertising and marketing is about discovering influencers “who’re deeply obsessed with your model’s business,” Kline stated, and never essentially these with hundreds of thousands of wide-ranging followers. 
For Sweetwater, the program helps the retailer sustain with the music and instrument class’s evolution. 
“Content creators are the brand new wave {of professional} musicians,” Grooms stated, noting that many online musicians are actually getting cash from paid adverts and sponsored content material, versus vying for a document contract. “We need to create a income share mannequin to help this group of creators.” 

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