In the beginning, there was one affiliate model. It all started back in July 1996 at a cocktail party. Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon.com, chatted with a party guest who wanted to sell books about divorce on her web site. After that exchange, Bezos pondered the idea and thought about having the woman link her site to Amazon.com and receive a commission on the book sales.
Soon after, Amazon introduced the Amazon Associates Program. The idea was simple: Affiliates added links to their site for individual items, or to the main site. When visitors clicked from the affiliate site through to Amazon.com and purchased items, the affiliate received a commission.
Over the past three and a half years, affiliate marketing has flourished, and the original prototype has spawned a variety of new and innovative models. As a testament to the reach and versatility of affiliate marketing, the original model from Amazon has been revised and refined to work effectively for individuals, businesses, schools, and charities.
Nexchange improved upon the traditional affiliate model by allowing the affiliate to keep the visitors while they shop and buy. When the affiliate creates a Nexchange online store for their site, the Nexchange store looks exactly like the affiliate’s site to offer a seamless shopping experience for the visitor, and the affiliate is able to choose from thousands of products in dozens of categories.
Another model that allows the affiliate to retain the visitor after a purchase is the Vstore model. Vstore’s e-commerce system links more than 130 distributors and allows each web site operator to open its own store. The Vstore model offers affiliates a choice of themes and categories to feature in their store, such as a NASCAR, Elvis, or Irish store.
DirectLeads provides the affiliate with quality lead and per-click generation programs, and the affiliate is paid for each subscriber and/or click that the advertiser receives. DirectLeads delivers the leads from its affiliates to major clients like CoolSavings, MyPoints, and ValuPage.
Many affiliate programs mandate that affiliate links reside on the web site of the affiliate, but Barnes & Noble with its MybnLink program recently implemented email links into their affiliate program. With the MybnLink program, affiliates add a link to their email, and they can designate one of five national charities to receive their earnings, or they can keep them for themselves.
Favemail takes affiliate marketing via email to another level with what they call an “inspiral marketing solution – part inspirational, part viral.” The Favemail model enables affiliates to display banners in their regular email, thereby sending out personal referrals for affiliate programs with every email transmission by the affiliate.
Two-tier affiliate programs can effectively grow an affiliate program, as they reward the affiliate for signing up additional affiliates. As well as earning commissions on their own sales, the affiliate earns commissions on the sales of the affiliates they have signed up.
While the two-tier model has been lauded for its growth potential, it also has a drawback, as unscrupulous affiliates may spam in an attempt to build the tier below them. AllAdvantage.com, a site that pays people to view ads as they surf the web, has a two-tier program – and a firm, anti-spam policy that states: “If you spam, you are out – your account will be closed, your referrals will be lost, and you will be ineligible for a new account.”
The days of selling candy and greeting cards door to door are quickly fading as schools are going online for fundraising. efundraising.com pays a commission to a school when friends, family, relatives, and co-workers purchase CDs, magazines, food, and other items through the school’s customized web store.
Another twist on the affiliate fundraiser model is utilized by 4charity.com. Shop at any of 4charity.com’s 140+ stores and a percentage of the purchase price is donated to the charity of your choice. In the case of 4charity.com, 100 percent of the affiliate commission goes to the charity.
The affiliate marketing concept can be customized and configured for just about any purpose in e-commerce. As we embark on the new millennium, there will no doubt be many more variations and improvements on the model. Not bad for an idea that was born at a cocktail party.