E-commerce Link: Work Hand-in-hand
Three actions are critical to great affiliate programs
There are many techniques unique to individual affiliate programs. However, there still are several elements universal to the successful ones. Three actions critical to any great affiliate program are: plan for success; think win/win; and communicate.
Plan for Success
Marketers consistently take for granted the level of planning involved in starting an affiliate program. All too often clients ask for a quick setup. When I tell them it will take a few weeks to develop the necessary strategies, they almost always ask if we can expedite the process. While it’s understandable that everyone wants to increase volume quickly, an expedited setup phase typically only leads to problems later on. When faced with this request, we have to refuse and instead attempt to educate clients on the importance of a detailed planning process. The next step requires us to work backwards from the end goal and determine an appropriate plan.
Any successful affiliate marketing plan includes strategies that address the following questions. Ask yourself:
• What resources do I need to achieve my goals?
• Which agency/in-house team should I use to staff this effort?
• What tracking technology should I use, and how do I set it up?
• How should affiliates be compensated for their efforts?
• How can I verify the quality of the orders through this channel?
• How can I identify and recruit top-performing affiliates?
• What’s the best way to communicate with affiliates?
• What tools should I provide affiliates to help them drive qualified traffic?
• How can I protect my brand during this marketing effort?
Tip: Affiliate marketing should not be viewed as a way to subsidize other high-cost marketing channels like CPM media buys. Your target cost per acquisition should be related to the value of the acquisition, not the marketing channel used. This will keep you competitive and allow you to realize the full potential of affiliate marketing.
According to many advertisers and affiliates, the leading programs have learned to work with their affiliates rather than against them. Building profitable relationships helps ensure the longevity of a program. Advertisers who use the practice of “milking affiliates” quickly realize that affiliates will not stick around long, and their affiliate program volume dries up. Advertisers such as eBay take pride in their ability to help affiliates prosper.
Many top-performing affiliates use search arbitrage, i.e., they purchase keywords on a cost-per-click basis from search engines like Google and direct the traffic to one of their advertising partners, receiving compensation only if they generate a sale. In this regard, search marketing and affiliate marketing have become closely connected. Since the leading search engines use an auction/bid model, many advertisers who run their own search campaigns restrict affiliates from bidding on their branded keywords.
Leading affiliate programs are learning to work with affiliates in the search arena. These advertisers are happy to enlist affiliate help in blocking competition from the top-ranked search positions.
Tip: To create a win/win relationship in search marketing, take the following steps:
1. Clearly explain search marketing guidelines in affiliate terms and conditions and/or custom insertion orders.
2. Provide keyword descriptions to use when bidding on branded keywords. This ensures brand protection and a consistent message.
3. Produce landing pages consistent with keywords to conform to search engine requirements.
4. Promote that you allow affiliates to use search (since your competitors may not) to attract affiliates.
5. Monitor affiliates performing search to ensure adherence to guidelines. You may also want to encourage affiliates to report violations committed by fellow affiliates.
Communication is Key
Earlier this year I moderated a panel of affiliate program managers from companies including Overstock.com, Avon and Blair Corp. at a Shop.org conference. When I asked where they would like to focus more resources, they all agreed on communication. This is the best way to learn affiliates’ needs, challenges and motivators. This information becomes invaluable as you grow and optimize your program. They credited affiliates with aiding in creative development, order process optimization and even consumer-offer design. Furthermore, there is a bond created that can keep you “top of mind” and give you a competitive edge.
Tip: There are many ways to increase communication with your affiliates. After you have assigned the task to one of your affiliate marketing experts, have them do the following:
1. Monitor affiliate message boards such as www.abestweb.com to see what issues affiliates are talking about and if your program is a topic of discussion.
2. Provide easy access to your phone, e-mail and address.
3. Develop a one-to-one relationship with (at least) your top 20 publishers.
4. Distribute a periodic newsletter with valuable content such as top-performing links, top search terms, upcoming promotions, industry news and consumer testimonials. (Remember to make your e-mails Can Spam compliant.)
Advertisers looking to build a successful affiliate marketing campaign should borrow from the best and include each of these elements in their strategy.
Peter Figueredo is cofounder and CEO of NYC-based NETexponent (www.NETexponent.com), an online direct marketing agency for companies looking to maximize their online customer acquisitions. NETexponent recently was named an AD:Tech award finalist for “Best Affiliate Marketing Campaign” for its work with The New York Times. Figueredo can be reached at (212) 981-2700 or peter@NETexponent.com.