10 Types of Affiliate Programs That Earn More in Tough Times

Affiliate marketing isn’t the passive ‘set it and forget it’ source of revenue that many would have you believe. Success relies on making sales, which requires a fluid strategy that changes based on consumer behaviour. At no time is it more important to review and adjust your strategy than during tough economic times.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen affiliate marketers make, is failing to adjust their strategy to suit their ideal customer’s current state of mind. A successful marketing strategy during tough times goes well beyond a focus on discount stores. That might keep you afloat, but it’s a tough environment to grow in.

To make sales and increase conversions during a recession, it’s important to revisit your ideal customer persona. Put yourself in the shoes of your target market.

  • How is the economy impacting their lives?
  • What problems do they have right now?
  • How are they coping & compensating?
  • What’s so important to them that they’ll still spend money on it?
  • What do they love that could be less expensive without giving it up entirely?
  • What will make them click the ‘buy’ button if they’re on the fence?

Read How to Find Info for Your Online Customer Profile (Avatar/Persona) for further guidance.

Once you have a clear image of your target market, you can better select affiliate programs to promote to them.

Affiliate Programs for Tough Times

The following types of affiliate programs are proven winners during tough economic times, based on my past online experience during economic downturns. I’ve included some great examples of products & services that sell better during recessions.

Click the links to join any of the partner programs that interest you. Some lead directly to the affiliate application, but you’ll have to find the affiliate program link for others (usually located in the ‘about us’ section or in a menu at the bottom of their homepage). Not only do they convert, but many programs in these categories also have great commission rates so you can earn even more.

When you understand the mindset of budget-conscious consumers and what drives them, you’ll find many other affiliate programs with the same potential. Choose those that are most suited to your ideal target market and you’ll be able to stabilize your bottom line throughout any recession, while continuing to serve bargain hunters in between.

If you’re new to affiliate marketing, please read How to Start Affiliate Marketing in Canada.

1. Canadians Buy Canadian

Statistics show Canadians have become aware of the importance of supporting local (Canadian) businesses, and they know how important it is for the economy. In fact, a recent CIRA report found two-thirds of Canadians prefer making online purchases from Canadian retailers when they have a choice. Even during tough times, Canadians are willing to spend a little more to buy from local retailers. They also trust Canadian businesses more. When you promote Canadian companies, make sure you mention it!

Virtually every product category has Canadian options with affiliate programs. For example, Puzzlemasters is a Canadian toy company I’ve ordered from. They focus on brain-teaser puzzle toys and have an awesome selection of unique gifts. If you’re looking for a broad selection, Indigo is a fantastic Canadian option.

2. Discounts

It will come as no surprise that discounts are important across the board, be it necessity or luxury. Many Canadian consumers are more conscious of their spending but won’t necessarily give up on extras entirely. For example, they’ll continue to travel but will look for deals to make it more economical. That’s making discount travel sites like CheapOAir especially popular.

Retailers will use many promotional tactics to help convert shoppers:

  • Standard percent off: 63%
  • Buy more, save more: 36%
  • Product bundling: 36%
  • Gift with purchase: 31%
  • Friends/family: 21%
  • Bonus rewards for purchasing: 11%

Promote merchants who regularly supply coupons and discounts. Most affiliate networks have a coupon section that makes it easy for you to find them.

Check out these Digital Discounts That Do Double Duty to Maximize Online Sales.

3. Points & Cash-Back Programs

Loyalty points aren’t only for offline purchases and not all programs work that way. Some will allow you to earn points for performing tasks, like MyPoints or American Consumer Opinion (accepts Canadians). Others offer cash-back on purchases made through their partners and bonuses for referrals, such as Rakuten. It’s a broad type of affiliate program that will fit well in many different niches.

Insider Tip: You’ll often earn more from points & cash-back programs if you join them and then use their ‘refer a friend’ link, as opposed to joining their affiliate program.

4. Buy Direct

One of the ways some businesses offer lower prices is by selling direct-to-consumer (DTC) online, such as some eyeglass companies. Their affiliate programs can be twice as profitable because the price is lower online than it is offline.

5. Necessities

Choose a few programs that convert even when consumers are only buying necessities. Consumables like batteries or printer ink are common examples. Try to find products that aren’t too easy to pick up offline or are considerably cheaper online. It’s a great time to offer generic products or other options that promise more bang for the buck.

Some necessities have less expensive options that can do well when people are trying to save as much as they can. For example, there are several Canadian mattress-in-a-box companies that can save shoppers a bundle by comparison to a traditional mattress.

6. DIY Affiliate Programs

Do-it-yourself resources and products are popular when people are trying to save money. Consider products and services like car repair, haircuts, gym equipment, food preservation, and homebrew (be it alcohol or coffee).

7. Employment & Career Affiliate Programs

Career & employment services are sure to convert as jobs become more scarce, from niche recruiters to résumés. Focus on the most effective, affordable and proven services that are sure to help your customer persona.

When it comes to their career, job-seekers and budding entrepreneurs often want to improve their skillset. Online courses are less expensive and more convenient than going back to school, but they can greatly improve the odds of getting a job (or contract, if they’re starting a side gig). Online courses often come with higher affiliate commissions as well. We use and promote Udemy courses quite often. They offer tremendous value with free and low-cost courses that often include a certificate of completion.

8. Financial Advice & Assistance

Advice and guidance related to finance, investing, money management and credit repair are in demand during tough economic times. However, you must be extremely careful when selecting companies to work with. Do thorough research to vet each company and only share the most ethical among them.

Present them honestly and disclose any affiliations. Additionally, make sure their services are available to Canadians as not everything will be legal or applicable here.

The more expensive financial courses can be tougher to move when consumers are penny-pinching, but you can overcome that objection with more affordable options (such as an ebook).

9. Business-to-Business Affiliate Programs

If you serve a business-to-business (B2B) audience, you can help them streamline operations for savings or help them find more economical ways to accomplish the same thing. For example, most businesses are in a constant state of digital transformation these days and they need to train existing staff to handle more technical tasks. Online learning offers a much less expensive way to teach these skills and the employee won’t have to be absent from work to take courses. As a result, online learning companies like KnowledgeHut have proven to be a popular option for businesses who need to bring in operational tech skills, including Data Science, Web Development and Agile Management.

Another B2B expense is digital marketing. Marketing should never be drastically cut during a recession but it does have to be more focused on value and ROI, with less spent on testing and gambles. Marketing tools have to be highly functional and versatile, allowing businesses to use one tool to replace many. For example, one of our top choices for email marketing is OptinMonster because it helps to grow your email list, improve website conversions, and reduce cart abandonment, while integrating with most ecommerce platforms and other email marketing services.

Small businesses are often struggling most and can really use your help to maximize ROI and remain profitable. Offer them products and services with the most value and they’ll purchase. Keep in mind that they probably don’t have expertise in every aspect of digital business and can’t always afford a professional consult. While you’re showing them the value of the product or service, clearly explain how it will help them.

10. Recession-Proof Categories

Some ecommerce categories experience strong sales no matter what economic condition we’re in. For example, pet care is a sector that continues to grow no matter how much pet parents are struggling. Natural pet care has been a winning category for me. Can you think of any recession-proof products or services for your target market?

How have you adjusted your affiliate marketing strategy for cash-strapped Canadians? Please share your experience or questions in the comments below, or join us in the Online Business Canada Facebook group.


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Digital Business & Marketing Manager at Online Business Canada | Website | + posts

Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.

Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.

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