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Practical Ideas to Protect your Brand in Affiliate Marketing

Practical Ideas to Protect your Brand in Affiliate Marketing


The ability to control the reputation of your brand in affiliate marketing is a concern shared by both advertisers already adept in the channel and those relatively new to it. Here are some simple pointers to help brands strike a balance between embracing affiliate opportunities and ensuring those opportunities do not compromise or devalue their brand.

Attracting and engaging suitable affiliates

To attract and engage new affiliates put together an ‘affiliate pack’ containing information on your customers’ demographics and shopping habits to educate affiliates about the kinds of customers you are after. What do you know about their onsite shopping habits or their average order values? Advertise this information, together with your brand’s USPs, alongside your programme’s description to help make sure affiliates are referring on-target traffic.

Ensuring affiliates are clear about how to represent your brand

Start by ensuring your programme’s terms and conditions adequately reflect what affiliates can and cannot do, and how you will deal with any breaches. Rather than lifting the customer T&Cs; from your site, ask your network for guidance on affiliate-specific T&Cs; that adhere to industry best practice – particularly important in the areas of voucher codes and PPC. Policies on paid search should stipulate what is acceptable around the use of your brand, both as a keyword (including mis-spellings and brand + generic terms) and with respect to affiliates using your brand in display URLs, ad titles and descriptions. If you do not want affiliates bidding on your brand ask that they include it as a negative keyword in their campaigns.

Vetting and monitoring new affiliates

Advertisers should always ask their network(s) what checks are carried out on new affiliates and what tools or resources are committed to ensuring activity is consistent with your brand. Affiliates should provide details of what sites or promotional methods they use and give you visibility over this. Review new affiliate applications to your programme manually, and if you are working to a capped budget consider operating an invite-only programme in the short-term to retain control over spend.

Guarding against fraud

Fraudulent transactions by some unscrupulous customers can come via any channel, but there are a number of suggestive indicators to look out for. Ask your network for the referring URLs of incoming sales so you can check and audit each site. Be alert for unusually high conversion rates or short latency times between click and transaction: some orders may have a high on-site conversion but fail to complete once received. Also look at the IP addresses orders have come from. If these are all the same an affiliate might be submitting multiple transactions themselves, revealing that the customer has had little or no engagement with your brand. It may also highlight transactions from incentive sites, indicating that a single member is attempting to claim cashback or rewards with no intention of fulfilling their order.

Keeping copy and creative compliant

Through your network’s interface affiliates will be able to access pre-approved, compliant creative, but you may wish to share your brand compliance documentation when organising bespoke promotions – such as co-branded emails or competitions – with affiliates. Regularly update your creative to reflect your latest deals and supply it in the sizes suggested by your network or the IAB. Offering a ‘copy bank’ of pre-approved copy in various sizes – 25, 50, 100, 200 words – will also give you control over the messaging displayed by your affiliates and allow them to use this on-site without having to worry about compliance.

Working with voucher codes without de-valuing your brand

Voucher codes can be a very flexible and effective marketing tool, but some work better than others. A consistently popular code is for free delivery – customers hate paying for shipping and many abandon their baskets after factoring in this cost. Indeed, research indicates that customers prefer free delivery codes even more than discounts on the items themselves. To increase the urgency of a customer offer, try a short-term or ‘quick expire’ code to incentivise the user to transact. Similarly, the average order value can be boosted with a ‘stretch and save’ code, like ‘£5 off all orders over £50’, as an alternative to a 10% off voucher. If you do not want to discount the basket you can still offer a free product: perhaps a box of chocolates with every order of flowers? Certain codes can also attract particular kinds of customers. A discount on your first purchase, for example, can be used to capture new customers.

Safeguarding your brand on cashback and incentive sites

Due to their incentivised nature, cashback and reward portals are vulnerable to abuse by members seeking the cashback but with no intention of buying. Finance or lead-based advertisers may already be familiar with this. Asking these affiliates to display on-site messaging to their members will help pre-empt and discourage fraudulent transactions, as will lengthening the validation time so you can be sure of securing the customer before paying out.

In summary, as is the case with any marketing or sales channel, there will be certain pitfalls brands should look out for when running an affiliate programme. This article has attempted to point out some of these pitfalls and propose a few practical ways brands can address some of the issues they present.

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Owen Hewitson

Owen Hewitson

Owen Hewitson is Associate Director in the Performance team at Starcom MediaVest. He oversees the management of performance marketing campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands and a team of experienced affiliate specialists focused on clients' acquisition-based activity. He began his career in performance marketing in 2007 at Affiliate Window, working first in the account management teams and later as a Client Strategist. He has spoken at a number of events in the UK and Europe and contributes regularly to industry sites and publications.

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