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Exclusive: Online music retailer Sweetwater succeeds with affiliate marketing

Sweetwater uses affiliate marketing to connect customers with content creators.

Sweetwater is incorporating content creators into its marketing strategy.

Tyler Grooms, director of engagement at Fort Wayne, Ind.-based online retailer of music gear and instruments Sweetwater, recently had a conversation with Chain Store Age about how the online retailer has implemented an affiliate marketing strategy, and how it approaches selecting what influencers to work with.

Sweetwater uses affiliate marketing to push a holistic customer experience, with the company viewing its “Sweetwater Difference” as really being the product it is promoting. The company initially launched this program in 2019, and 2020 was the first year it ever surpassed $1 billion in sales. 

[Read more: Exclusive Q&A: Sweetwater Sound hears the needs of the customer]

What made Sweetwater pursue an affiliate marketing strategy?
The development of Sweetwater’s affiliate program came about quite naturally because of interest from our customers who happened to also be content creators. We already have a reputation in the music industry for being a go-to source - not just for instruments and pro audio gear - but also for expertise and knowledge. Content creators approached us with ideas about how we could partner on projects that would be a win-win for both them and us, so we worked to create a more formal program that would reward them each time they sent a customer our way.

How did Sweetwater implement your affiliate marketing program?
We already had a network of people we collaborated with on a fairly regular basis, but we were able to scale that once we implemented an affiliate management software that could help us govern the program. We’ve grown our partner list steadily over time as we’ve extended invitations to more and more great channels and publications. 

How does the program work?
We are constantly looking for opportunities to partner with musicians and other content creators, but we’re very selective about who we invite into the program. We work together to help them share their passion in an authentic way that will generate interest in our brand. We want their content to be original and engaging, so we don’t follow a formula.

As a result, we spend a lot of time with our affiliate partners simply brainstorming. Once the content is created, they push it out on their channels with special trackable links that generate a percentage of sales they help drive. 

What are the benefits, both for Sweetwater and your customers?
Musical instruments are a big investment. Customers are researching their options and the third-party recommendation from their favorite content creator is a powerful factor in helping them feel better about what and where to make their purchase.

Every content creator we have partnered with has worked hard to build a reputation with their audience. It’s important to them that they can send their fans to a retailer who they know will take the utmost care of the customers they send our way.

Are there any future plans for your affiliate marketing program you can discuss?
We are currently expanding our team so that we can bring in even more affiliate partners and find new and innovative ways to collaborate with them. We also continue to look for ways to improve the program by working with our manufacturers and vendors on things like new product launches, affiliate giveaways and more.

And their promotion attests not just to the products they're using, but their experience as a customer working with Sweetwater to purchase and help them in their musical journey.

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