A recent post on econsultancy’s blog regarding affiliate communication draws attention to the findings of the 2009 UK Affiliate Census on this issue. The contention is one that is often made in the affiliate channel: that the level of communication between merchants and affiliates is insufficient and potentially detrimental to the success of a programme.
It is widely acknowledged...
...that successful communication is key to merchant-affiliate relations. The question is whether the research done supports the conclusion drawn in the Census that there is “a worrying lack of communication between merchants and affiliates” and that this is “holding back the industry”? Does this assertion speak beyond the evidence?
Clearly more can be done to improve the quality of merchant-to-affiliate communication. However, more communication does not always mean better communication. There is a difference between the “level” or frequency of communication that the question in the Census refers to, and whether affiliates find this level sufficient. This in turn has to be distinguished from the question of whether affiliates find the kind of communication they are receiving from merchants useful.
As it is worded in the Census the question posed is, ‘How would you describe your level of communication with your merchants?’ Affiliates were given five possible responses they could choose to answer with.
It is difficult, however, to draw conclusions from their responses. If an affiliate communicated with a merchant once or twice a month, would they choose the option that described this as ‘limited communication’ or ‘good direct communication’? An affiliate might feel that once a month was enough. Moreover, would it matter if the merchant communicates directly or via the network, and is it clear whether an affiliate’s response referred to their contact at the network or the network’s interface and communication tools?
It is important to note that the question refers to affiliates’ experiences, and thus how things are rather than how respondents would like them to be. Affiliates were not able to specify from the options provided whether they felt communication should be better or not.
The key point is that limited communication is not the same as a lack of communication; indeed, limited communication might be sufficient communication. It would be odd if communication were not limited in some way, so that affiliates were not spammed with potentially irrelevant material such as PR releases or event-themed newsletters with little connection to any current offers or deals. When an affiliate is signed up to potentially hundreds of merchant programmes across several networks their inbox is likely to get flooded quickly.
With such a plurality of communication methods – email, forum, IM, phone – the challenge becomes one of quality over quantity. Merchants that know who their customers are and can communicate effectively to their affiliates targeted and relevant deals or offers that suit both parties will always have the upper hand.