I’ve been talking to a number of merchants recently about which affiliate they thought promoted themselves most effectively and one name kept cropping up – Mark Pearson from myvouchercodes.co.uk.
So what is that Mark is doing on the profile and marketing front that other affiliates can learn from? When I mentioned the idea of using Mark as a benchmark to an agency head, he said myvouchercodes.co.uk has a big budget, and that a large marketing expenditure would explain it. There’s a valid point there, but in the early days of most businesses, there isn’t that big a budget. After doing some research on how he started out, and thinking about my own experience in successfully launching startups, I’ve come up with a few tips that affiliates could use on how to effectively promote themselves – both to consumers and to the industry as a whole.
Lesson 1: Don’t Underestimate PR
Good PR can really drive traffic to your website and increase the profile of your company/websites. It ‘s a natural artillery tool for affiliates, both from a consumer perspective and trade point of view as it’s free and involves hard-work, something affiliates are not unfamiliar with. There is an assumption that professional PR’s wine and dine the media, send out a press release and wait for the coverage to roll in. In fact the reality is very different. Journalists, like affiliates, get hundreds of email communications from PR’s selling them stories. Often releases don’t get read or, if they do, the media doesn’t respond. So how do you make it work?
Like any form of good communication, the story needs to be relevant and timely. For example when Mark ran his first business Roses by Design (personalised rose petals) it was getting a lot of traffic and he wrote a press release focused around Valentine’s Day. He got a message from ITV asking him to come on – that led to TV exposure only nine weeks after launch.
If you look at Mark’s media coverage over the last six years, what you will see is that there is a long-term ongoing dialogue taking place. It can take 1-2 years before you see the rewards of ongoing regular PR activity. You need to think about what the media needs – what makes a story that they will want to run?
If you are looking at consumer PR consider conducting a customer survey for a title, running a local competition, hosting an event, creating a publicity stunt, approaching a celebrity to endorse a product, writing an article for the publication or provide a case study.
As Hannah Swift from Bright Minds, outlines, "There are a number of affiliates in niches who do especially well from the lesser known media. For example an affiliate specialising in selling mobile phones, may find they get significant coverage with the trade magazines, or gadget shows or tech bloggers. Affiliates need to target the right places to market themselves. All affiliates should be aware of how their SEO, social media and PR interlink. They should look at a content marketing strategy around this. Feed out information through different channels to widen the net, and the chance of their story being picked up."
What about trade PR? Is there any gain to be had out of entering the Performance Marketing Awards, speaking at conferences or getting exposure in the trade media? My answer to this would be - can you afford not to if your competitors are? Getting your name out there and being seen to be active means you become part of the conversation. There’s a lot of concern about resources in executing effective PR if you’re under pressure, but a lot of the early research and leg-work can be done by a smart intern or apprentice working under close supervision.
Lesson 2: Face-to-face Meetings
In this day and age where business can be conducted via phone, skype and email many people question why you need to spend time and money at events and meetings? I have got lots of new business out of face-to-face meetings because you can chat, build rapport, read the body language of people, your instincts can tell you loads about whether you want to work with a person you have just met as a prospective client or let your instincts guide you as to whether this would be a mutually beneficial and lucrative association or not.
I was reading Mark’s interview with the FT.com and highlighted the importance of people working together physically. He said, ‘As I am self-taught, there have been some expensive mistakes. Initially, I did not want to commit to a base, so while I ran the business from my home, I had web development people working elsewhere. Six to eight months in, we had communication problems and I realised I had to centralise. Now everyone is based in Croydon, so it works a lot better.” So for face-to-face networking to work affiliates need a proper game plan to ensure success. And that means making sure you’re asking yourself the right question.What is your 3 minute pitch? Do you know how to ask open ended and close ended questions? How do you follow-up after an event? Should you send a proposal or request a meeting after?
Lesson 3: Social Media
Most affiliates are very good at using Twitter as a push and pull channel for consumers and for reaching out to advertisers. Where less work is put in however is in using social media channels as a customer service tool. It also has an important role to play in driving product development, which we have done with our own website enthuse.me. Let your customers talk to you in the way that they want. That means having a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, email, and having a comments section on your website. Talking to your customers is still one of the best ways to market yourself, great customer service means great word of mouth. That’s still the life blood of an SME. Keeping customers up to date with what you are doing is a great way to keep you in the front of their minds and to maintain a relationship. Don’t underestimate the importance of responsiveness. Pinterest is a great example of how affiliates who are early adapters managed to build a mini-brand through pinterest and are now reaping the rewards.
In the end these three lessons are really talking about the same thing. Whether you’re talking to the press, your clients or the consumer you’ve got to make sure you’re telling people what you want them to know, at a time and in a way that works for them. The ways in which we talk to each might have changed, the channels may have grown but they’re all just channels for the same thing – make sure you keep the conversation going and manage it well.