Brand protection and affiliate marketing

Liane Dietrich, managing director of LinkShare, talks about how brands can protect their reputation online at the same time as engaging in affiliate marketing.

Liane Dietrich
Liane Dietrich

Over the past year online shopping has seen a dramatic increase. Most recently the Christmas shopping report from the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index show that consumers spent the equivalent of £88.93 each buying goods over the internet in December. UK shoppers spent a total of £5.46 billion online during that time, with sales rising by 3.8% compared to November. In response to this growth brands across the country have increased their online marketing focus, with an emphasis on the returns that affiliate networks can bring.

At the same time, the nation has greeted the new decade with the good news that we are now officially post-recession. But the money-saving habits we have learned, both as businesses and as shoppers, will not be easily forgotten. Consumers are used to hunting for the best deals on the products they buy, whatever that product is, and the internet is the first port of call. Some high street restaurant chains like ASK and Pizza Express have taken this on board: their meal deals can be easily found on voucher sites, encouraging spend-shy consumers through their doors even in the height of recession.

But their approach has not yet received universal uptake and some brands are still cautious about engaging in affiliate marketing. In particular, a number of high end and luxury brands are still holding onto the belief that engaging with affiliates might tarnish their reputation and damage the exclusivity that they have worked so hard to build up. But even they are being proved wrong. Those who have made in-roads into the affiliate marketing sector are seeing the benefits and, as a result, the rules of the online retail landscape have changed: whether a product is high end or high street, consumers will be searching for it online, and well-planned, well-targeted affiliate marketing campaigns will make sure they find it in the right place.

Today’s affiliate marketing campaigns incorporate a range of promotions, vouchers and more creative communications that can be designed in line with a brand’s identity and ethos. Department stores like Harrods and Selfridges have been known to offer online discount vouchers, as have brands like Apple and Molton Brown. Neiman Marcus in the US maintains its brand integrity by offering a discount on shipping, not core products; another valid technique for brands who don’t want to devalue their products is the loyalty scheme, which will help not only retail customers but also encourage repeat business. With consumers always on the hunt for the retailer who can make them the best offer, rewarding them for repeat business is one of the few ways that will make sure they come back time and time again. The power of bargaining is firmly in the hands of the consumer: rewarding their loyalty is a necessity.

Strategies like these allow brands to take advantage of consumer shopping habits without compromising on their identity. And it is more crucial than ever that they find a way to do so; recent trends have made it clear that supply will soon overtake demand on the high street. When that happens even luxury brands will have to make sure their online strategy is appealing to the right kind of web savvy consumer. It is not simply about a series of banner ads on target websites; it is about expanding an online presence and finding ways to deepen the customer relationship and generate loyalty in what will only become a more competitive market.

When this level of competition is combined with the ever-increasing online shopping trends, a broad online presence becomes more critical than ever. Affiliate marketing, far from being a dark art, provides an affordable yet effective way to extend a brand’s reach on a global basis. Retailers like Lipsy, Oasis, Sweaty Betty and Karen Millen are all proof of the positive impact an affiliate campaign can have; with the right strategy and approach, affiliate marketing need not damage brand reputation. Instead it enhances a brand’s position, using the right methods to target the right consumers and draw them back to the retailer themselves. Ultimately, a strategically increased web presence leads to increased sales; the end goal for any retailer.

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