How to Develop a Communications Strategy for Your Affiliates

As I sit on Miami Beach, enduring a visit with the family (just kidding about the enduring part) and suffering from jet lag, I’m wondering, like you, how to get my affiliates to make more money — if any at all. The solution may be simply to communicate.

Merchants need to talk to affiliates — more often and more intelligently.

More often because you don’t want them to forget about you as they are deluged with communications from other sources.

More intelligently because you need to figure out a way to stand apart from a barrage of other communications.

If you want someone to “see your message” and act on it, you may have to send it up to 29 times. It’s called the Rule of 29. The number of messages isn’t important here. Rather, it’s the idea of repetition.

The Rule of 29’s logic applies to someone who opts in to receive messages. Continually repeat and reinforce your message to your affiliate force. Guide them down the path you want them to follow. Lead them to your money.

The best way to learn is often by trial and error. Until you get your hands dirty and start “testing” your abilities, it’s a long-distance relationship — and we know how unsatisfying long-distance love can be. Case studies are the second-best way to learn (at least, that’s what they told us in law school). So, I submit for your review a case study and primer on affiliate communications developed by my company’s new (and first) communications director, Vanessa.

Her first step was to develop a format that would be consistent in all communications to affiliates. Here’s what we’ve adopted (it launches in March):

  • New products and product no longer available. This tells affiliates our line is constantly changing and enables them to make certain their offers are in sync with ours.
  • Cut-and-paste feature offer. This offer is usually for the most popular or most profitable product. It’s ready to be copied onto an affiliate’s site or into email for immediate distribution. As with any other link to our site, it’s precoded with the affiliate ID.
  • Category killers. We offer 12 product categories. It’s difficult to predict which categories will interest individual affiliates. So, we provide links to specially designed pages devoted to each category.
  • A feedback link. This link requests input from affiliates on how we can improve our program or help them improve theirs (product-related or not). We include a quote or testimonial from an affiliate to make it seem real and participatory. As important as it is to talk to affiliates, you need to listen, too. Affiliates and your customers are the best barometers for your business.
  • A viral tell-a-friend link. This link forwards the newsletter, or portions of it, to people who may become new affiliates.
  • A time-sensitive incentive. The incentive can stand alone or be applied to any of the above items. An extra commission or freebie will incentivize affiliates to push particular offers or provide feedback. Customers love giveaways, but salespeople (i.e., affiliates) love them more. They’ll demonstrate that love right into your bank account. Any incentive should be for a limited time, or human nature will take over and they won’t act.

Keep one thing in mind before you set a communications strategy: spoon feeding. Assume your affiliates just woke up and don’t have a clue how to proceed.

Make your call to action simple and easy to implement. I try to lay out my propositions step by step in this column. Do the same for your affiliates. If you don’t want to use valuable space in an email message, put the longer, more detailed step-by-step scenario on a Web page and link to it from the newsletter. Your affiliates will appreciate the effort you’ve made to show them how it should be done.

If you’re interested in our 12-month communications plan or tactics that have worked for other companies, drop me a line. If you have comments on the above, which, as with anything else on the Web, is a work in progress, please share them, and I will update the program in a future article.

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