Freeshop Chief: Affiliates Are Essential

If you’re not marketing through affiliates, you should be, and if you are, you better start looking at ways to get more specific with the messages sent through affiliates. That’s the gist of a keynote speech delivered by Timothy Choate, the president and CEO of Freeshop.com, at the Affiliate Solutions ’99 conference.

“We actually think that affiliates are the hidden – well, maybe not so hidden today – means of marketing on the Internet,” Choate said.

The ability to send specific messages tailored for specific affiliates – and even to individuals – is the next big thing in affiliate marketing, according to Choate. Freeshop.com (FSHP), which launched its affiliate program last year and recently topped 45,000 associates, says its top producers direct traffic to specific offers within the Freeshop.com site – a free magazine subscriptions area, for example.

This ability to target will only get more sophisticated, predicts Choate, as companies building technologies for affiliate programs develop (or partner with companies that have) targeting and customer profiling capabilities. Eventually, technology that reads visitors’ cookies and tailors messages specifically to them will be the norm.

Choate is especially well-positioned to see the importance of affiliate relationships, because Freeshop.com’s entire business model is based on lead generation – much like the affiliates it has sending leads to its site. The company gets fees ranging from 40 cents to $100 from companies that offer free product samples, catalogs, and other items on the Freeshop.com site.

Other hot areas to watch in the affiliate space, according to Choate, include offering affiliates ways of driving traffic via email newsletters and new payment systems, including direct deposit. Business to business affiliate marketing is also likely to become an up-and-coming sector.

One of the areas in which Freeshop.com has been a pioneer has been pay-per-click affiliate rewards. The company pays associates 5 cents for every new visitor to the site, which is a means of sharing advertising and sponsorship revenue with affiliates. It’s unusual in that most companies only give affiliates a percentage of what’s actually purchased on their site. Choate says it’s a great traffic-generator for Freeshop.com, but admits the company must be very careful to make sure that affiliates aren’t just doing the clicking themselves.

“If we see a site that’s generating a thousand clicks a day and generating no conversion, we’re going to take a look at that,” Choate said.

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