Viral Email Marketing Affiliates

Affiliate marketers are ready to embrace alternative affiliate marketing channels, if last week’s email responses are any indication. Having looked at virtual storefronts, we now turn our attention to a newly emerging category.

In fact, the space is yet to be named. Think of it as email marketing meets viral marketing meets affiliate marketing. One early entrant, Favemail, bills itself as “the ultimate word-of-mouth network.” Superbowl watchers may recall a second-half ad from epidemic.com, whose web site openly claims: “epidemic.com pays you to carry graphics in the emails you already send.”

Paid Viral Marketing

Whatever label these consumer-sponsored email ad purveyors ultimately take, the premise is incredibly simple. People love to support their favorite products – and often happily advertise them for free. Think bumper stickers on cars, Nike swooshes on sweatshirts, sports teams and college logos on hats. Why not allow consumers to merchandise and accessorize email, too? What’s more, offer to pay for any sales to boot.

Should You Fave?

After changing its name from Clickmail to Expression Engines, Inc., the Big Apple start-up has introduced its patent-pending Favemail. With an estimated 3.4 trillion email messages sent in 1999 (or 2.1 billion daily), the upshot of getting just a fraction of that market to include a “Fave” is staggering.

It works by having users download a small plug-in or open a free web-based email account. Plug-in users, the company claims, won’t see a noticeable increase in the size of the email and won’t have to take extra steps. Supported email clients include Outlook 2000, Outlook Express 4.7 and up, Eudora Pro 4.2, and Netscape Communicator 4.0 and up for Windows 95, 98 and NT.

Moreover, companies with an existing affiliate marketing program will find the transition a snap. A button on the web site asks: “Have an Affiliate Marketing Program? Click Here.” You provide a selection of banner ads, and your visitors add personal recommendations about your web site. Favemail also claims to have impression and click-through tracking available to partners. Perhaps best of all, Favemail isn’t currently charging anything to become a partner.

Reaching Epidemic Proportions

From high in the Denver mountains comes rival epidemic.com. While the idea for epidemic came to Kelly Wasner in early 1999, one cannot help but notice the two companies seem nearly to be clones of one another. One exception: Where the Favemail site is clear and concise, the epidemic site seems to clutter the process with lots of jargon, all of which seems to be service marked…

First, you sign up to become an “e-Carrier,” which requires downloading the “epiNabler” plug-in application. This allows you to select from an assortment of “epiAds” to send to people you know. If you’d like, you can team up with other e-Carriers and enroll as an “epiGroup.” This allows members to pool their epidemic earnings and donate them to a worthy cause – whether a large not-for-profit institution or a local school organization.

In terms of email client support, epidemic offers the same list: Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora and Netscape. It also supports other web-based email like Yahoo and Hotmail. Unlike Favemail, epidemic supports text ads via non-HTML email clients, allowing even AOL users to participate.

Favemail calls its merchants “partners,” whereas epidemic calls them “advertisers.” While the web site doesn’t make it clear, it seems that what Favemail does for free, epidemic happily does for a fee.

A quick look through some of epidemic’s current offers does create some questions, though. Most seemed to be suspiciously priced at half the commission normally offered via affiliate channels (e.g., VarsityBooks at 2.5 percent and 1-800-flowers at up to 4 percent). This left me with the impression that epidemic is filling slots by itself, joining existing affiliate programs, and splitting the commission with e-Carriers.

As affiliate marketers continue the drive for more product placement and more points of presence, pay-for-performance viral email ads look to be a worthy vehicle. Both Favemail and epidemic offer easy entry for affiliate marketers wanting to promote products and services via email, while still maintaining the performance-based benefits of affiliate marketing.

Thanks for all the feedback. Please keep it coming, as we hope to compile the best questions and comments in future columns.

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