How should you communicate with Affiliates, and what would you say is best-practice?
Fiona Gandy, Key Account Manager, 7thingsmedia:
"Communicating with diverse affiliates that span the voucher code, loyalty, and cashback mix – and then an even more disparate group of 500+ blog and content affiliates – means naturally there's no one-size-fits-all way of satisfactorily communicating with everyone.
"It's advantageous for Account Managers to communicate regularly with affiliates across the board to ensure they stay in mind for the next placement, promotion, or special offer. Always have a named contact and in time you'll have a productive working relationship with that person – it's the same as any industry really.
"We find the best way is to send an email, follow it up with a call, and make sure you always document the vital information (i.e. commission rate start day) in writing. I'm also a believer that suitably segmenting your communications helps to sort your contacts. Maybe email and the phone helps keep existing relationships going, and Twitter and the affiliate networks' mass email facility will connect you to new people.
"I've learned how vital it is to respond to, and follow up with, long tail affiliates just as quickly as you would your high-converting mainstays. Relationship building via communications are keystones in the architecture of affiliate support under your brand and a small website that hasn't converted yet could be next year's big hit; so think long term, and keep them close."
How should you effectively balance a brand's message with an affiliate's voice?
"Brands spend inordinate amounts of money to ensure they communicate with consumers in a certain way, spreading a definite message in their own words to reach existing and potential customers.
"Affiliate brands also have their own voices, their own USPs, and their own readerships to think about, so this inherently needs to be taken in to consideration, but at the end of the day, it is the brands who need to make the final decision and be clear on their direction.
"When first working with clients we establish from the outset what it is the brand wants from an affiliate programme and therefore we can establish what types of affiliates we work with and how. It is important to create your screening parameters for affiliate recruitment, and accept and reject websites on these grounds. We have a firm idea of what an affiliate will look like specific to a particular merchant, so the potential to lose a brand's integrity is limited.
"Sometimes content must not be changed – especially in dealing with insurance and financial services products – and other times, creative industries (ie fashion) inherently demand wiggle-room. Just make sure you are clear with affiliates where you stand with the content you are providing.
"It's completely understandable that some brands want to avoid voucher code and cashback affiliates, and that's where we see it as our place to educate. It doesn't have to be as necessarily black and white as simply: voucher codes cheapen a brand, or that cashbacks pollute the message. The evolution of cashback/ loyalty/ voucher code sites means they're sensitive to these concerns so merchants, if clear on their position, branding and monitoring, can benefit from such a service."
Is affiliate marketing just voucher codes?
"Brands associate headline-winners such as voucher codes and cashback sites as representing this £5bn industry as a whole.
"Some brands will answer yes, as that suits them. Others will answer no as they explore the affiliate marketing mix more thoroughly. It depends very much on the merchant, their requirements, targets, tools, and goals.
"We face this question a lot from brands, and it's a big one. More education is always needed on what affiliate marketing really is.
"TV campaigns and press exposure means the mainstream is aware of voucher codes and savvy shoppers use them regularly so some retailers see voucher codes and cashback options as their bread and butter.
"Considering one voucher code site gets around 15m unique visitors (about a third of the UK active online population), which is more than most shopping centres, merchants shouldn't write them off absolutely. Instead approach them tactically – and again be clear with these sites where you stand.
"Essentially a merchant needs to decide what they are trying to do when listing an offer on a voucher code site. Do they want to shift stock? Drive traffic? Get new customers? - by using voucher code sites to publicise free delivery, one of our clients registered a 70-80% in new customers over a one week period. At the end of the day the customers are on these sites to proactively browse and buy so conversion rates are naturally much higher.
"Some of our clients don't use voucher codes, others use them but do so sparingly.
"This industry is made up of a colossal spider's web of affiliates of all types. Sure, those most commonly associated with the industry are voucher codes, loyalty, and cashback but that glosses over the diverse blogs, aggregators, content sites, forums, and magazine/ lifestyle sites that represent a huge portion of the web, and thus a large share of that £5bn.
"A premium luxury brand we manage prefers to use content-orientated lifestyle, shopping and fashion blogs to push sales and traffic through the affiliate channel. This naturally is not a quick win situation, but by investing the time and creatively engaging with these sites and establishing firm relationships we have seen revenue more than double from these content affiliates and a 200% overall increase in revenue across the programme. Blog positions may lack a killer conversion rate, but the steady growth speaks for itself."
Setting commission rates isn't a one-size-fits-all scenario, how do you effectively set commission rates?
"From the offset brands need to get a clear understanding of their margins and what they can actually offer to make the affiliate programme effective, at the end of the day it's all about ROI. The next step is to establish what it is you are looking to drive from your affiliates, whether it's sales, traffic or leads and then fit your commission payments / tiers accordingly.
"Once you've got an understanding of margins and what you want to drive, the next step we will take as an agency is look at competitors within the space to see what they offer – it is important however that you do not hit your ceiling commission from the offset, always benchmark so that you have room to negotiate / offer an incentive.
"Setting an initial commission rate is only the first step, with all the data in hand you can then review what is the most efficient method, whether you need to start incentivising new customers or offering different commissions at a product level.
"Further to this here at the agency we have a methodology which ultimately comes back down to EPC and the factors that can influence that, which are, the CPA, Click Through Rate and then the on-site conversion of the brands website. Once knowing all these elements you can then have a sophisticated commission rate based on this essential data and a commission rate that is optimum for both you and the affiliate."
What advice would you give to any new affiliate programme managers who have recently started out?
"Affiliate marketing is barely ten years old and it moves quickly so be prepared to accept and welcome change and innovation.
"There's no affiliate marketing degree so be prepared to learn on-the-job – get the basics down, ensure your house is in order and read around the principals of the industry, most importantly: don't be daunted by the new information and changes.
"This is a people-led industry so ... speak to people, get involved! Network-side, client-side, agency-side and tech-side, people will be more than happy to help and can offer you valuable insights into their own area of expertise. A great place to do this is at networking events and on Affiliates4U. Consider training courses with Econsultancy which our founder Chris Bishop is the head lecturer.
"Try read the relevant trade mags, and industry blogs and papers. Stay on top of tech, and don't be surprised when the changes come. You'll get that a lot.
"You'll find networking events are an indulgence of this game: a good opportunity to socialise with peers and get yourself in front of people to make contacts – so make sure you come and say hello at the end of my session at this years Expo (day 2)!"