Inside the Affiliate Mind

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According to the Chief Marketing Officer Council’s 2010 State of Marketing Report, nearly 50 percent of U.S. companies will be enhancing or overhauling their digital marketing and advertising infrastructures this year. Fifty-eight percent of the companies surveyed said they would be training and developing existing staff members in different areas of digital marketing, while 36 percent were planning to hire new talent specifically suited for social media, SEO, display advertising and mobile marketing.

Lost in this outpouring of love is potentially the most valuable marketing channel for any Web business — affiliate publishers. Most affiliate marketers will continue to go it alone in 2011, deprived of many of the advantages that other marketing channels receive such as the continuous exchange of important product information and analytical data, not to mention additional opportunities for training, education and financial reward.

This Internet-age-old phenomenon makes it considerably harder for affiliates to successfully market, promote and sell a merchant’s products or a company’s services, yet countless business owners attribute lackluster performances to a lack of motivation on the part of the affiliate. That is why the most successful online business owners learn how to get inside the minds of their often misunderstood partners, which allows them to give their affiliates the same consideration afforded to members of their own staffs.

That may include anything from sending a weekly email to say hello to a generous holiday bonus given out annually. The important point is that — like anyone else you encounter in the business world — the more you can do for your affiliates, the more they will do for you. Following are the four steps required for building prosperous and productive relationships with your affiliate marketing partners:

1. Set them up to succeed
Affiliates are often doomed to fail before they can promote their first offer. If your company hires a new director of social media marketing and invests a salary and benefits into the success of this new employee, how much of that success are you — the business owner — responsible for? Would you outfit this new hire with an old rotary telephone and an outdated computer in an oversized broom closet, and then check on their progress every three months? Your new employee would never succeed if you did, but this is the equivalent to how many affiliates get started on a new campaign.

You are doing your company, your customers and your affiliates a grave disservice if you do not give the affiliates every chance to flourish. That requires providing each affiliate partner with quality products they can sell; engaging creative content that will appeal to the most qualified customer base; highly targeted promotional campaigns and the proper technology to effectively deploy them, and thoroughly researched sales leads. Most important of all are compelling offers that your affiliates can sell.

“Probably the most important thing for merchants to provide for their affiliates, the thing that the affiliates are most interested in, is a real compelling offer that’s going to stand out to consumers,” says Greg Bayer of performance-based marketing solutions provider Adknowledge’s affiliate division. “That, more than anything else, motivates an affiliate to say, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to promote that offer
more than any other.’ ”

2. Continue to give them tools to succeed
Many business owners manage to provide their affiliates with great content, compelling offers and promising leads on the front end, only to watch them fail over time because they didn’t offer continued support. Everything mentioned above should be included in the standard set of tools at the onset of the partnership, but new tools must be added as the relationship deepens.

These additional tools can include different kinds of training, detailed product demonstrations, video conferences, relevant data about your company, tracking information, customer reviews and testimonials, or anything else that will help them promote and sell your products or services. Providing your affiliates with these tools can be as simple as including them on your weekly company newsletter that has most or all of the information they need –— a simple enough task, but one that is often overlooked in the forgotten affiliate’s world.

However, it is more likely that a stronger commitment is necessary to provide your partners with the tools they need. It may require scheduling training webinars or investing in affiliate tracking software. You may even want to send selected affiliates to the most appropriate conferences where they can network on your company’s behalf and make the knowledge they gain work to your advantage, just as a paid employee on your sales staff would.

“A lot of our advertisers have been tremendously successful by organizing webinars or demonstrating new products for their publishers,” says Deepa Sureka, vice president of the small business unit at affiliate network LinkShare. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of sending publishers more real-time data, or it can be as involved as working with developers to make sure their websites are as mobile compliant
and socially enabled as they need to be.”

3. Show them that you want them to succeed
What affiliates want most from their online business partners — with the possible exception of great offers to sell — is a level of commitment that does not fall short of their own. Investing in some of the tools mentioned previously — affiliate software, training webinars, video conferences and industry trade shows — not only gives your affiliates a better chance to succeed, it also shows them that you are committed to their success.

But commitment isn’t always reflected through financial investment alone. Reach out to your partners frequently, by phone as well as through email and video. Keep them informed of the different activities within your company; it will not only enhance their chances of selling your products but also make them feel like part of a team and increase their desire to succeed.

Earlier, we mentioned adding your affiliates to the company newsletter, if you have one — how about starting a weekly newsletter just for your affiliate partners? Give them the information they need to succeed, and at the same time show them that you are committed to the process. Ask them for feedback about your products and content, and offer constructive opinions of theirs in return. The deeper the connection you build with your affiliates on a human level, the more prosperous your online business partnership will be.

4. Inspire them to continually succeed
If you are able to set up your affiliates for initial success, give them the tools they will need to achieve continued success, and show them your own commitment to their success, then it’s time to explore the next dimension of success. The industry term, after all, is “performance” marketing, and by adhering to the guidelines above you are already ensuring that your affiliates maintain a certain level of performance. How, then, can you help them go above and beyond?

“By increasing the revenue shares for publishers by a few percentage points for six weeks, we have seen sales increase by as much as 300 percent,” Harris Beber, the vice president of e-commerce for David’s Cookies, wrote in November 2010. “Along with boosting revenue share, an online merchant can also consider providing additional bonuses as well as free quality merchandise. We’ve also found that generating special offers for strategic partners helps to strengthen the relationship, increase traffic and boost sales.”

Other performance incentives for affiliates can include contests that you promote in your weekly affiliate newsletter, posting the results in subsequent newsletters for additional motivation; multi-tiered commission payouts based on performance, or faster payouts for the highest performers. Creating a competitive atmosphere instills a greater desire to succeed, but it is essential that the environment remain positive and respectful.

And, rather than penalizing your second-tier partners, pay even closer attention to them and try to identify and solve any problems they may be having. After all, even though you may not interact with them face to face as you do with your own staff, your affiliate partners are people, too.

About the Author: Linc Wonham is Website Magazine's associate editor.

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