Forget content. Communication is king. At least, it is in affiliate marketing. As much as management would like to throw money rather than resources at affiliate program (à la media buys), the fact remains it’s largely about relationships.
There are two main ways to communicate with your affiliates: active contacts, such as sending a newsletter; and passive contacts, like making content and tips available to them on an affiliate resource site.
Then, there’s the very underutilized hybrid of the two: Automated affiliate communications. Just take the canned content and tips and send them to affiliates via autoresponders and follow-up campaigns.
Save Time with Autoresponders
If you are not familiar with autoresponders, they automatically deliver information via email in a matter of seconds when someone requests information from you via email or through your Web site.
You’re using an autoresponder, maybe more than one, and probably don’t know it. When affiliates are accepted into your program, they should receive an automated response welcoming them to your program.
This is your first point of contact with a new affiliate. Make the most of it, because your communications could mean the difference between an active or inactive affiliate. Unfortunately, the vast majority of affiliate programs don’t take advantage of this opportunity. Instead, they use the boilerplate copy from their solution provider.
Here’s an affiliate acceptance email I receive all too often:
Congratulations [first name] [last name],
Welcome to our pay-for-performance advertising program offered by [solution provider]. Running a performance-based advertising program is an excellent way to add value to your site, while earning you more revenues.
You can earn cash simply by providing links to [affiliate program]. To get started, all you need to do is login to the [solution provider] Account Manager at http://www.xxxxxxxx.com, then go to the Get Links tab and search for our links by entering a keyword search for [affiliate program], then select the links from our program that best match the content of your Web site.
Thank you for choosing [affiliate program],
The performance marketing team at [affiliate program]. The point is, you already have an autoresponder running. For many of you, it’s a wasted opportunity. It’s a strong, scalable tool. You should not only fix that “Welcome to our Affiliate Program” message, you should add these tools to your program.
Don’t Just Do It
Do it right. The best place to start with an autoresponder strategy is to look at the folks who are doing it best. Ken Evoy, author of the Site Sell series and senior VP of SureFire Commerce, has autoresponders down to a science.
According to Ken, “What we’ve done is put the power of autoresponders in our affiliates’ hands.” He also educates affiliates via autoresponders.
The Surefire Commerce affiliate program offers a series of autoresponder Masters Courses. In the program (I’d encourage all affiliate managers to join and offer it to your affiliates), each affiliate can offer the course through a unique @sitesell.net address. ClubMom affiliates, for example, can access courses by sending a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org. When the course is delivered to affiliates, all links to SiteSell.com are that affiliate’s special redirect URL. “It’s been our single, strongest tool for virally spreading the word,” commented Evoy.
There are a number of autoresponder vendors, but the choice of most marketers is AWeber Systems, Inc. And as you might imagine, they practice what they preach, using their own technology to follow up with new and existing affiliates.
“We send a sequence of seven messages out to new affiliates to help them get their marketing campaign started and to familiarize them with our Web site,” said founder Tom Kulzer.
“Later emails ask them if they are having trouble getting started and for suggestions on improving our program. This often generates comments from affiliates on what they are having trouble with, so we can streamline the setup for other new affiliates and address the problem.”
An emerging player is Opt-in Pro from KowaBunga Marketing. In addition to autoresponder messages and follow-up email capabilities, Opt-in Pro has some leading-edge features, such as “Automatic Smart List Moves.” As each recipient reaches the end of the campaign for a list, Opt-In Pro can automatically move them to a new list, delete them from the current list, or start them over on the campaign.
This feature is particularly useful when your affiliates are broken down into categories based on level of activity in your program. I have my affiliates broken down in six categories on Opt-in Pro, for example: new affiliates, active affiliates, dead affiliates, etc.
If an affiliate transitions from new to dead (in my case, no activity for 90 days after joining), they will automatically receive a message from me asking if they need help. Opt-in Pro integrates seamlessly with MyAffiliateProgram, but can also be used in tandem with programs using other platforms.
Timelines for sending automated affiliate communications depend on the purpose of the message. If you want to make a new affiliate more active, you will use a different approach than if you are trying to appeal to a previous customer.
“As far as the number of contacts, I think if you indicate to users when they sign up that they will be receiving four (or however many you would like) emails showing them how to fully utilize your program and indicating to them the benefits of being a member, they will have no problem,” says Ian Lee, Internet marketing strategist for ADS-Links .”You start getting irritated affiliates when you repeatedly send articles which they are not ready to accept and have no value to them,” continued Lee.
Along those lines, David Fish, executive VP of marketing for Magmall believes, “automated communication to affiliates is too much is when affiliates start to opt-out of your emails/newsletters. Make your automated communication to affiliates smart, and target different groups with separate emails based on what type of affiliates they are.”
Much to the chagrin of some in management, the affiliate program is a different animal from the old media buy. It requires hand-on, targeted communication.
Communicating individually with all affiliates is an impossible ideal. Save your time for speaking with the super affiliates, and automate as many of those other communications as possible.
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