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The affiliate marketing industry is showing its teeth, bringing in an estimated £2bn worth of e-commerce sales in 2006.
With an estimated 80% of this coming from only 20% of affiliates, there is a lot of power being held by only a handful of players.
Affiliate marketing is now, more than ever, in need of good communication skills to ensure that clients are getting the cut through needed with ‘super affiliates’ - the big hitters having a huge impact on your online returns.
One thing affiliate marketers don’t often take into account when running affiliate programmes is media agency and public relations skills. And why would they? Affiliate marketing is about securing sales for merchants in exchange for commissions, while media agencies and PR are about wooing journalists and ad networks to get publicity for their clients. Right? Not anymore.
The shape of the affiliate industry is quickly changing, with the success of many affiliate programmes relying on their ‘super affiliate’ relationships for maximum visibility and sales across affiliate networks. But the future of affiliate programmes is not based on sales alone.
Previous experience in media agency environments has taught me that there are better ways of running affiliate programmes. Ensuring merchants have maximum visibility and branding across affiliate sites, and making sure activity is tied to the wider marketing mix, will produce far higher returns.
Below are six key learnings that affiliate marketers should consider when running and securing affiliate programmes - to ensure maximum returns:
- An understanding of how marketing functions operate and how merchants work is essential. Affiliates are sales people, not always marketers, and more often than not, don’t understand marketing constraints, for example why budgets get pulled. Media agencies know how to deal with marketers and this knowledge and skill will enable affiliates to integrate programmes within the wider marketing mix.
- Affiliate marketers need to act as a filter between merchants and affiliates. Both merchant and affiliate time is limited, meaning affiliates need to be able to filter out important aspects of their merchant products and services. Draw out the important information, filtering out what affiliates don’t need, and package the necessary info to make life easier for affiliates.
- Tailored reporting for ‘super affiliates’ is a good way to build rapport and keep your merchants on the top affiliate sites. We run an in house reporting system called DMS, which means we can create tailored reports for super affiliates, giving them the information they need from clients. This makes reporting more accountable and helps affiliates with their month end reporting.
- Think outside the box by assisting affiliates with more innovative ways of driving traffic to their sites - go beyond banners and buttons. Examples could include setting up a blog; product of the week; integrated application forms; use of databases for email lists and specific offers.
- Offer affiliate programmes as part of the wider marketing mix. Get involved in the marketing process. Secure your budget allocation and give affiliate programmes a voice during the planning stage. Knowing when marketing events are taking place and linking affiliate programmes to events such as product launches or a new TV ad can have great returns.
Online branding is a huge task. If affiliates can ensure branding across their sites is consistent and compliant, this is a heavy weight off the shoulders of merchants, making the value of using affiliate marketers just that little bit more apparent.
Working with dedicated affiliate managers, as opposed to in house marketing executives, is highly advisable, as they (should) go above and beyond the sales side of affiliate marketing. It is their job to ensure relationships with ‘super affiliates’ are maintained; that branding is consistent across their sites; that brands get maximum exposure online, and that all affiliate activity links back to marketing campaigns.
If you are already achieving this from your affiliate programmes, keep up the good work. If not, it’s time to see how you can better maximise affiliates for your marketing gain.
Mark Kuhillow is the MD of R.O.EYE.