Modern marcoms, especially online, centres on developing a two-way dialogue between brands and consumers, with an emphasis on the need for brands to listen to consumers’ views, react and evolve their products and propositions to better suit their needs.
In the world of affiliate marketing, this need for an open dialogue and reactive advertiser is key to a successful marketing strategy, according to many key players in the industry. Speak to any of the affiliate networks and they stress the need to develop direct contact with affiliates/publishers to enable merchants/advertisers to help deliver the best results.
Affiliate network Buy.At claims to have pioneered the idea of an "open network", encouraging clients to build strong relationships with leading affiliates. Buy.At chief executive Kevin Cornils, says: "When we entered the affiliate industry, it was clear that openness – all parties knowing and communicating with each other – was the key to cultivating affiliates as brand ambassadors for clients. Therefore, our clients have always had contact details for affiliates to ensure their brand attributes are understood by the affiliates and to understand that their advertising is in the appropriate places.
"We led the introduction of openness in the UK affiliate industry in 2002, and have now seen the introduction by other major players of this business method worldwide."
He says that big brands are built on years of good brand management, which needs ambassadors through all points of contact with consumers. "Affiliates are like your online sales force, and you wouldn’t send your sales force out without marketing materials, so it works to put them in touch and have the brand owners explain their products, USPs, target market and so on," he explains.
Affiliate Window head of communications David Hall agrees that it is essential to build close relationships between merchants, the networks and the affiliates and says that by doing so, both merchants and affiliates benefit. Hall says/ "Affiliate Window believes that affiliate marketing requires software that enables merchants to know what is happening on their programme and an understanding of how we can manage and increase revenues from the affiliate channel.
Demonstrating the commitment we have to developing our technology and to the business relationships we nurture with all our merchant partners was a key part of our approach to win the contract with Evans Cycles."
Such a personal and involved approach has also seen P&O Ferries extend its affiliate activity through TradeDoubler. Managing director UK & Ireland Andreas Bernstrom explains that securing long-term and honest relationships is essential to make the most of any affiliate programme and he says more companies are dedicating marketing staff to the discipline in order to cultivate genuine relationships with affiliates. He explains that once a close relationship with affiliates has been established, brands need to continually motivate them and give them incentives, if they are to keep them on-side and productive. With P&O’s programme, incentives were offered to TradeDoubler’s 100,000-plus active publishers, while simultaneously devising bespoke incentive schemes.
NetBooster general manager Janak Mistry agrees and says/ The work is not done once the affiliate network is created. The affiliates must be maintained and motivated in order to remain interested in your programme, stay connected and continue to work on behalf of your brand.
"It is important to identify your top affiliates and put in place a remuneration rate based on performance. So, create improved incentives for your top affiliates. In my experience you need to proactively manage your affiliates, make them aware of your programme and the attractiveness of your offer. Make sure you provide them with the necessary sales tools to make their job easier, such as up-to-date creatives, free content and e-mailing kits. Keep them updated with your offers or sales promotions and increase incentives for performance." He says that this will lead to added traffic and increased sales.
However, it seems not all parties understand this need for a close relationship. Nicky Iapino at Affilinet says that all too often traditional media agencies just don’t get it. "Some are doing it well but too many just don’t understand the sector or the need for close relationships. Too many look at affiliate marketing as though they do the rest of digital, half-heartedly selling it as a straight ‘media buy’. You can’t apply the same rules. There are agencies that invest time and effort in building affiliate programmes for clients, but too many don’t.
"The majority of affiliate programmes need close relationships to work well. Traditional agencies need to understand this."
She says that the close relationships between advertisers and publishers is also about the free exchange of information and data. She adds/ "Some sectors, such as travel, have understood this need yet industries including retail have been slower to appreciate the benefits of the free exchange of data. Historically, high street retailers have not been used to revealing information such as stock inventory. They failed to realise how important it was to allow affiliates access to such data, which then would help them to recommend alternative products should something be out of stock.
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"However, the past few months it has risen up their list of priorities and they are beginning to overcome their nervousness regarding affiliates, access to their data."
So whatever your sector, the message is clear. Affiliates are your sales force and as such you need to work closely with them, you need to motivate them and make them feel appreciated. Most of all, you need to treat them – and make them feel – as if they are part of your staff. Do that and you are sure to succeed.
Case study: Affiliate Window and Evans Cycles
Evans Cycles is embarking on rapid expansion – in three and half years it has more than doubled the number of stores to 23 stores the year and intends to open five stores a year. Predominately based in the South-east it aims to become the UK’s only nationwide specialist cycling retailer.
Achieving this though, is not just about opening new outlets. Ben Hart, Evans Cycles marketing manager in 2003, says affiliate marketing was an obvious step to help build growth online. He says. "It ties in with our offline drive to reach a wider audience beyond the ‘cycle enthusiast’ – a segment that we already market to quite effectively. The affiliate channel helps us to get out to a much wider audience on a range of sites, most of which are not cycling specific.
David Hall, head of communications at affiliate network company Affiliate Window, explains how meetings with Evans Cycles helped Affiliate Window understand how its affiliate strategy can fit with the marketing overall. It has helped Evans Cycles capitalise on brand values while offering an attractive commission to affiliates. "The programme had an excellent start and, like most clients, Evans Cycles can expect to see revenues from their affiliates grow throughout the first six to nine months as new affiliates join its programme and existing partners develop a greater understanding of what does and what doesn’t convert. Growth will be achieved though analysis of what works, responding to feedback, pro-active affiliate recruitment initiatives and communicating regularly with affiliates directly and through its Affiliate Window account manager," says Hall.
Hart adds/ "For us affiliate marketing was unknown, but from the very first it went well. 300 affiliates signed up with five of them doing 85% of our transactions. In the first quarter we have had more than £100,000 worth of business through the Affiliate Window network."
Case study: TradeDoubler and P&O FerriesTrade
Doubler has been working with P&O Ferries in the UK since 2003 to develop a strategy built around a commission structure based on publisher performance. To maximise sales it was vital to build strong relationships with "super publishers" or "super affiliates".
TradeDoubler established a daily dialogue with the super publishers, giving publishers frequently updated P&O Ferries user offers along with individual commissions to suit the publisher’s marketing model. Publishers in sectors ranging from keyword buyers, ferry specialists to loyalty sites like Nectar were recruited and offered monthly incentives.
Three publishers were recommended for brand-related pay-per-click search activity. Each publisher built a dedicated landing page promoting the P&O Ferries sailings and worked together to help P&O Ferries maximise search engine exposure on brand and generic terms while keeping the costs low. After feedback from the publishers, P&O Ferries improved its creative content to focus on stronger call to actions and user offers. Monthly competitions and incentives were run for publishers. Public incentives were communicated to the TradeDoubler network of more than 100,000 active publishers. Private incentives were tailored to individual publishers, setting them bonus commissions on hitting sales targets.
Julie Adams, online marketing manager at P&O Ferries, was impressed with the results. "It proved to be such a cost effective sales channel for P&O Ferries that we have rolled the programme out to several other European countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium." Following P&O’s website and its affiliate programme through TradeDoubler saw the volume of sales grow more than 670% for every £1 invested – P&O ferries earned back £12.26.