AccuQuote's Sean Cheyney on Getting Leads Through Affiliates
Term life insurance provider AccuQuote knows what would be bad for its brand: advertising in airline magazines and through online obituary sites. The Wheeling, Ill.-based company also knows what sort of affiliate marketing would be good for its brand: bringing in qualified leads and increasing sales by reaching the right audience.
While AccuQuote already knows which target audience it wants to reach—affluent 40-somethings—it simply gave that criteria to the online advertising agency, Direct Agents of New York, when hiring the agency in 2005 to oversee the AccuQuote Affiliate Program. (The collaboration resulted in a finalist position for AccuQuote and Direct Agents in the 2009 ad:tech Limelight Awards for Best Performance Marketing Campaign.)
Pleased with the agency that consistently delivered quality leads to the sales team, AccuQuote decided to step up Direct Agent's management of the affiliate program by introducing transparency.
In May 2009, AccuQuote began its conversation with the affiliates the agency gathered on its behalf, starting with knowing exactly who they were. Sean Cheyney, AccuQuote's vice president of marketing and business development, provides more details.
Target Marketing: What made AccuQuote decide to add affiliate marketing into its lead generation strategy?
Sean Cheyney: Affiliate marketing has always been a part of our mix. But we've always had this blind program where, although it was working well and we had sub IDs and we were able to identify publishers by sub IDs, we decided that we wanted to have more of that direct relationship with the publisher so we could work and do more customization to generate more high-quality leads for us. But at the same time, produce a higher ROI for the publisher ... When it comes to the quality of the lead, by breaking that out for an e-mail list versus, let's say, a display ad banner, I guess the real answer is, it depends. And it depends on the audience more than the advertising channel. ... The people that we're looking to attract as customers are married couples, between the ages of 40 and 64 with a household income over $75,000, homeowners with kids. ...
TM: Was there a specific campaign throughout all publishers, or did publishers get to tweak the ads?
SC: ... We have had times where we've allowed affiliates to tweak the ad. But we have to give final sign-off. One of the biggest reasons for that is because life insurance is so heavily regulated. ... We've taken feedback, not just on the landing page, but more so on the creative itself. ... We actually like it when affiliates take that initiative, because they know what works for their audience ... One of the reasons for having this more transparent program is so we can have our creative team take that feedback from them ...
TM: How did AccuQuote find the affiliates that targeted its demographic?
SC: That's where Direct Agents comes in and really helps us find all those publishers. They've had people apply to our program that just weren't going to be a good fit for us because our audience wasn't a fit. And they let the affiliate know, and I think the affiliates appreciate that because they don't want to have their precious resources wasted. ...
TM: What portion of AccuQuote's 20 percent growth in 2009 can be credited to the transparent AccuQuote Affiliate Program?
SC: ... It's going to represent a tenth of that 20 percent growth.
TM: How does AccuQuote make its ad placement decisions?
SC: ... We do both online and offline advertising and marketing. But for the purpose of online, even an affiliate represents one portion. Search represents another portion. Display is another portion. Social media's another portion. And the way we determine it is, No. 1, we look at where are we going to hit our target audience. And No. 2, where is it going to make contextual sense? We may choose not to advertise in a place where you would think it would make sense, because it would hit our target audience. But contextually it makes no sense whatsoever. So, as an example, one thing we get approached about a lot is, "Hey, advertise in in-flight magazines for airlines." But advertising life insurance in an airline magazine kind of has a weird vibe to it. ... We get approached by ... [an] obituary site. ... And I have to tell them, "No. Your target audience may make sense, but no." ... It's so bad for our brand; I just feel like it would be predatory. ...