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Fewer Leads, Better Quality

  |  December 13, 2002   |  Comments

How Kaplan controls an effective affiliate program.

Remember the old saying, "I'll make up in quantity what I lack in quality"? Those days are gone for affiliate programs, and a growing number of companies are looking for quality leads.

In the early days, affiliate programs were always about more, as if a mass-quantity, retail model was the only one that mattered. But as the dust settles, a new breed of affiliate program is rising, one that focuses on quality instead of quantity. A great example of this new breed is the program operated by Kaplan, the test preparation company.

In a recent interview with Adam Weil of UNreal Marketing, whose company manages the Kaplan affiliate program, he shared comments that prove the old days of affiliate marketing are long gone. In the highly competitive field of online education, Kaplan takes a powerful brand and a careful approach to getting qualified leads that convert into cost-effective sales.

Q: What does the Kaplan affiliate program offer and whom are you targeting?

A: The Kaplan affiliate program offers a variety of courses and degree programs, including business, IT, financial planning, criminal justice, paralegal, nursing, and law. All of the programs are targeted towards working adults looking to further their careers.

Kaplan is looking for the working professional, 25-plus, online, affluent, with a household income that averages around $50,000 per year. Our ideal affiliates have a large demographic of relatively affluent, 25-plus professionals. We do not want to market to the freebie, contest, and sweepstakes oriented and definitely don't go for incentivized Web sites. Business and finance sites perform well; however, niche programs like criminal justice, legal nurse consulting, and law often require highly targeted site planning.

The majority of the lead volume is generated through email marketing, using both text and HTML emails. Newsletter sponsorships also work particularly well. Banners of all sizes are used, but Kaplan prefers not to use pop-ups and pop-unders.

Q: Why do you limit the number of leads your affiliate program gets each month?

A: With most affiliate programs, immediate success is recognized through a sale or lead. With Kaplan College's CPA [cost-per-action] initiatives, a lead was acceptable; however, the full success of the program is measured by conversions into student enrollments.

The Kaplan sales cycle can take up to 90 days; therefore, the program must be managed effectively, ensuring diverse, quality lead sources as well as aggressive tracking and data sharing. Unlike most affiliate programs, the Kaplan College program has a much higher price point and requires significant interaction with the brand's sales representatives and course consultants.

Most CPA deals give an immediate reward of success, for either a lead or a sale. In this case, considering the 90-day sales cycle, you don't know what you get until you exhaust the funds. That is why it is essential to limit leads.

Q: Name the three best marketing approaches you have used to succeed with your affiliate programs and why they work.

A: Restrict the campaign in the affiliate network, selecting only those affiliates that meet the Kaplan requirements. Do not offer this to everyone.

Use a diverse range of affiliates and creatives, and aggressively optimize the campaign by click-to-lead conversion, and, most importantly, from lead to enrollment.

Rather than always using a creative that deals with one particular degree program, we like to use general distance education "get your degree online" creatives, bringing the visitor to a general landing page, which is clearly designed and lists all of the Kaplan courses. We then like to make it as easy as possible for the user to make one or two simple clicks (at most) until they receive the information request form.

Q: Name three marketing approaches you would not recommend using with your type of affiliate program and why they don't work.

A: We would not recommend enabling any and all affiliates to carry the Kaplan offer. This would bring Kaplan the wrong quality of leads and not convert well into enrollments.

We will never support and/or practice any spam tactics, as this is against [Kaplan's] ethics and would not reflect positively on them.

Limit short forms asking for fewer data, which generate high volumes of leads but not necessarily high quality leads. Although our request for a course catalog form is quite long, we feel this will generate a higher-quality student prospect. We do not want to capture simple demographic and course-of-interest information, as we feel this does not give Kaplan enough information to properly assess the lead. The cost to send out a catalog is also very expensive, and this needs to be limited to serious inquiries.

Like most good direct marketing, less is more. Many affiliates can generate thousands of unqualified leads. But the smart marketers like Kaplan's understand that a value of a lead is only as good as the conversion it generates.

As you plan the growth of your affiliate program, look at the new formula that Kaplan's excellent program represents:

  • Carefully qualify leads. You must carefully sift through the leads, asking yourself specific questions to ensure that the appropriate person pursues the lead.

  • Test information-driven lead generation and minimize dependence on immediate customer reaction. Requests for initial information must be followed up (by email or telephone) to improve results and add to quality of leads. In this step, you qualify the leads.

  • Get quality control. Qualifying processes need to be implemented to better qualify leads. It's easy to get affiliates to sign up thousands, but by being picky you win. In fact, many affiliate programs now pay for double opt-in leads only, and pay more for fewer leads. If these leads convert and the numbers are right, the quality is there. If not, you don't spend the farm trying to figure out what works.

In a few weeks, I'll share the six most important trends in affiliate programs for 2003. Enjoy the holidays and get ready for a much better new year.

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Declan Dunn Declan Dunn is CEO of ADNet International, a direct marketing services provider that focuses on select projects and its own super affiliate network, including the Net Profits business training systems delivered at ActiveMarketplace.

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