The Top 6 Trends of 2003: Don’t Predict the Future, Invent It

This column could be like so many others and predict who will spend how much money on advertising next year, but let’s get real. Like direct marketing, this column is about improving what is currently working, rather than pulling pie-in-the-sky figures out of the air.

Want to make 2003 a good year? Start with a new focus on improving ROI and lowering customer-acquisition costs by focusing on performance. If you pay CPM, make it perform. If you run a CPA campaign, prove it works, so your affiliates will roll it out widely.

The funny thing about most end-of-the-year columns is that they try to predict trends based on what they hope will happen with company spending. Many of these writers are agency folks who love to take big budgets, charge outrageous CPM prices, pretend they’re doing targeted marketing and then cry when the client goes away despite their polysyllabic defenses of poor marketing. This type of person hates affiliate programs because they are based on performance — on getting down in the trenches and actually acquiring customers.

Good affiliates do not hope for trends, they create them. In their typical, understated fashion, affiliate programs represent some of the biggest trends in the Internet business. Here are the top six trends that will affect you in 2003:

  1. Email used to be quick and easy. Now you have to ask yourself if your message will get to its target. Is that list a spam list? Or one to which a billion messages are sent a month, making it inherently a spam list, no matter how it was compiled? Do you, like many others, wonder if you should even try to email AOL, Yahoo or Hotmail? For a hint of the real future, look in your snail mailbox. See the piles of junk mail? Like it or not, this stuff doesn’t go away, and neither will email. With such high margins, it is a game of volume, so those work-at-home and debt-consolidation offers won’t go away anytime soon.

    For those of you who want to be snobs, remember that repeated marketing messages are most often a sign of success, not stupidity. While you may consider yourself superior to your neighbor, people out there are buying these products. Look for new regulations, massive lawsuits against scapegoat spammers, and a new trend towards sending less email more often so it gets to its destination by avoiding volume filters. Sound crazy? In the email environment of 2003, less is definitely more.

  2. The power of adware: meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Like it or not, it’s working. Adware (aka “stealware”) companies are on the forefront of controversy in the affiliate community, resulting in the new code of conduct issued by CJ, Performics, and Be Free. LinkShare is offering its own anti-predatory advertising addendum to keep adware companies from hijacking affiliate links through technology. Meanwhile, the major players in adware like Gator and WhenU continue to dominate the new game of contextual linking. Will the adware players agree to play by the affiliate networks’ rules? In the ever-changing game of affiliate programs, some of these adware companies consider themselves more than affiliates. Merchants will follow the sales no matter what the controversy; in tight markets, ethics are nice but profits tend to win out. In the coming weeks, look for more articles in this column covering the ever-growing power of adware companies and the threat they pose to traditional affiliates.
  3. Pay-per-click affiliates continue to be threatened by Google and Overture. It’s no secret that most programs’ top affiliates dominate the pay-per-click search engines. These affiliates are better than most companies at

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