Let the flames begin. From the reaction to my previous column on spyware, you’d think I’d already sold out to adware companies or acknowledged the demise of affiliate programs.
I long ago embraced the concept of demand marketing. It’s the practice of activating the customer’s expressed demand for specific products and services. Not random clicks surfing the Net, but targeted clicks that generate sales activity. Adware companies do great (albeit über-aggressive) demand marketing by profiling customers based on their actions and serving ads in response to those actions. Search engine affiliates have done this for years. This new form controls the user experience in creative ways. Demand marketing evolves with the customer.
There’s huge controversy over the role of adware in the affiliate space, but as my friend and mentor Jonathan Mizel used to say, “Customers are three things. They’re lazy, they’re selfish, and they’re right!”
People click on ads all over the Internet. They don’t know or care much who owns the click or the ad. They just click. That expresses demand. That’s the action everyone in Web marketing targets, leading to a conversion. And that’s where affiliate programs are changing from an old, banner-driven model to a direct response model I call demand marketing.
Who owns the customer’s desktop? I don’t know. No one does. That’s why affiliates, affiliate networks, and adware companies will meet next week in New York to start setting some rules. There are guidelines, but currently no rules. Many customers have downloaded adware applications that redefine this space because of their ability to target and generate customers, often through profiling, or demand marketing.
Traditional affiliate channels rarely profile. Most programs play a game of broad reach, chucking out as many ads as they can and hoping for the best This is a huge mistake. My company regularly profiles affiliate traffic through clicks to understand the expressed demands of visitors to better target ads. So do search engine masters, who find the right combination of keyword and price to drive revenue. And so do adware companies — with a vengeance. That angers many traditional affiliates.
Affiliate programs began as a way to place links and banners all over the Internet using tons of affiliate sites. They have morphed into limited partner channels that generate volume. The controversy over adware and affiliates is part of that trend.
Adware is a symptom of companies’ need to generate sales. This demand is met by adware companies. They outperform most affiliates. Few generate volume, as any affiliate manager knows. Those generating the highest volume now aren’t playing by the old rules.
Early affiliate programs primarily targeted massive amounts of clicks and customers. Quantity first, quality second was the motto. Everyone bragged of having thousands of affiliates. These affiliates would do anything they could to get in front of the right customers and generate sales. They threw ads up everywhere. Super affiliates now break into three basic categories:
- Search engine affiliates buy clicks at Overture and Google.
- Mass emailers send hundreds of millions of emails per month.
- Adware companies make ads appear in front of Internet users.
People associate affiliate programs with spam, pop-ups, and search engine results driven by commerce.
Affiliate programs are becoming demand marketing. Programs are based on understanding customers and delivering ads targeted to their needs. Instead of sending ads to random affiliates, take control of your program. Ask yourself:
- What if you could predict the success of your affiliate ad before you placed it?
- What if you could tell right away whether your creative hit the mark, your landing page converted the right numbers, or customers would buy your product in this lifetime?
- What if you could go further and analyze your top 10 affiliates, then come up with a benchmark you could use to compare any traffic buy, email, or pop-up with another?
What you’d be developing is the new breed of affiliate program: demand marketing. Emulate and replicate what’s successful. Whatever it is you do, someone else does it better and cheaper. Companies that profile and observe their customers (such as adware companies) generate better results than do random ads flung in front of the great masses of Internet surfers.
All things can be known, if we allow customers to tell us. Demand marketing’s principle is simple: By their actions you shall know them. Aggressiveness works, whether with adware or insistent questions from Yahoo every time you check email. Aggressive always worked in affiliate programs. Now the stakes are higher. There’s more competition.
It’s time to practice demand marketing. Listen to the customer. Sending massive amounts of ads to the masses won’t work as well as targeted commercial links.
Ask adware companies and search engine affiliates who drive real traffic. They understand demand marketing. Do you?