The role of affiliate marketing in todays online mix

November 20th, 2012 in Performance Marketing 3 minute read

Okay – so, this is the first affiliate blog by me, for our brand new site. I suppose, it’s got to pack a punch, dazzle, and enrich the minds and souls of you readers. Or, alternatively, it could be a nice little read for people with an interest in affiliate marketing.

I’ll aim for the latter, if for no other reason than it being more achievable! What I want to focus on today is the role of affiliate marketing amongst/against the more ‘traditional’ forms of online marketing.

In most online marketing campaigns, we see people opt first for the SEO, or use PPC to pump traffic to a new site, and if there is budget run display to bulk out the brand visibility. Affiliate marketing, however, ends up as the lonely cousin in the attic, emigrant till brands run out of budget and someone suddenly remember there is a CPA model lurking up there. Affiliate marketing is called into battle to provide timely, cheaply acquired sales from high quality publishers who add incremental value every step of the way.

Affiliate marketing has come a long way since the early days of Amazon and PC flowers etc., yet it still seems to be an afterthought for many ecommerce businesses.

It is not treated as a core online channel, and the affiliates are sometimes viewed to hold lesser value than other online channels. This is down in no small part to the nature of the relationships involved. In PPC, the relationships end with the search engines, similarly is the case for SEO with perhaps the addition of sites where you place content. When buying display your contact extends as far the networks or exchanges from which you buy display, however with affiliate marketing the relationships can extend from structured companies licensing technology, working on a CPA to a student working out of their parents spare room using a blog.

This disparity creates a situation where many clients see affiliate marketing as less serious, riskier, and perhaps even unprofessional. The way in which this can be overcome is treating affiliate marketing as you would any other channel; trusting a respectable agency to manage activity, allowing time for development and growth, being realistic with KPI’s, and budgeting for it in your marketing spend.

In all other channels we would account for media costs, any network tracking, set up, or management costs for affiliate marketing are not accounted for by many clients. The brands themselves need to understand that the technology needs to pay for itself, the agency needs to manage the increasingly complex relationships (which will result in management costs) and more and more large publishers are asking for tenancies to run offers and campaigns even whilst working on a CPA deal (we can talk about this in more detail on a later blog), and that this would mean making an investment into the long term growth of the channel; similarly to how you view other channels and not just look for short term gain.

On the flip side, the many large networks out there with differing value prepositions charge varying amounts and can scare off potential new programmes by their rigid approach and short sightedness. If the brand has potential, the product is of a high enough quality, and the client can pay for commissions, surely the very nature and spirit of the performance marketing model should allow the programme to be launched for a minimal fee?

Look for a bottom like CPA on all online channels, make everything accountable – but be fair across the board.

Because affiliate programmes depend on publishers that can vary so much in size and reach, and span so many different activity types from content publishers to voucher codes, e-mail affiliates to cashback sites, there is scope for unsanctioned activity to occur, however with good management this can be nullified without any serious impact on the programme.

Ultimately, the real value of affiliate marketing is in the proper management of the relationship between affiliates and the client – if this is optimal, you will feed off their success, their learning’s, and not share in their failure either.

An affiliate programme is now more than a channel itself, it’s a flexible method of bridging any shortcomings in your own online presence, and accentuating any brand positives through means that would individually pursued require exponentially more time.

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