Whether you’re already using affiliate marketing as part of your overall marketing strategy or looking at implementing it, there’s a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about how businesses can effectively leverage the affiliate channel.
Let’s bust some affiliate myths:
It’s Only for Big Players
Many businesses ignore affiliate marketing programs because they think their market is too small. But affiliate marketing works for almost every size company and every industry sector – even niche companies. It’s not about the size of your company (although you do need the resources to support the program). It’s more about being smart, choosing the right affiliate partners, and determining your specific goals and objectives. Smaller companies can benefit by leveraging affiliate marketing to increase sales, acquire new customers, and even get more brand exposure.
Programs Run on Autopilot
Like any other marketing channel, affiliate marketing requires hard work and time. You can’t just start a program and expect immediate results. An experienced affiliate program manager (whether in-house or at a specialized agency) knows that launching and sustaining an affiliate program takes a lot of effort and a long-term commitment to be successful. Careful planning, execution, constant oversight, and refinement are required. But the payoff is worth it.
Affiliate Marketing Needs to be Seperated
There are some aspects of the affiliate channel that are unique and require expertise. And, yes, it is it’s own channel. But the best affiliate programs work in conjunction with all other marketing efforts and disciplines. Taking a holistic view of online and offline marketing efforts should include affiliate integration as part of the overall marketing strategy. When affiliate marketing works in harmony with all marketing efforts, you dramatically increase your chances of success.
Fraud is Rampant
There are scammers and fraud in every industry. There’s always going to be a small percent of people that try to game the system in any (and every) area of business. It’s a fact of life. However, the amount of dedicated, reputable, ethical affiliates far outweigh the few bad apples that perpetuate scams or act unethically.
The key is to manually approve affiliates. This gives businesses full control over who is let into the program according to predetermined criteria. Additionally, mitigate risks through careful and immediate monitoring of analytics. Technology and common sense are your best friends to combat fraud. If you suddenly see an anomaly in channel (like a massive spike in traffic coming from one affiliate who previously hadn’t been sending much or skyrocketing sales from a single source) question it. Investigate it immediately. It may turn out an affiliate had a hugely-successful viral promotional campaign. Or it might be fraud. Either way, digging in, investigating and identifying problems immediately can save you time, hassles and lots of money.
Bigger is Better
The best way to think about affiliate marketing is quality over quantity. Having a massive number of affiliates in a program isn’t always better. Vetting affiliates and approving those that help accomplish your goals is best. Affiliates that are engaged with their audience or community are likely to have higher conversions. Finding the right affiliates (whether big or small) that drive results will make an affiliate program a success.
Coupon and Discount Affiliates Provide Little to No Value
Depending on your business and the type of product or service being promoted through the affiliate channel, these types of affiliate can actually add value. Many retailers fear these types of affiliates can devalue their brand. Another trepidation is that some affiliates are being paid a commission for a sale the retailer/brand would have gotten without them. That might be true in rare cases. But for the most part these affiliate partners can drive a lot of traffic, and more importantly, sales.
Many consumers focus on getting a deal. But that doesn’t mean it has to come in the form of a percentage off the price. It could be that the retailer only allows coupon affiliates to promote free shipping at a certain threshold. And in many cases, these coupon and discount affiliates have cashback or reward points for members. While purchasing through that affiliate’s link might not get consumers a discount, it can earn them rewards and that’s valuable to them. It can also mean the retailer gets the sale without having to lower prices. Win-win.
Trademark Bidding is Bad
This tactic doesn’t work for every business. In fact, many companies prohibit affiliates from bidding on trademarks. But trademark plus bidding (the act of targeting paid search advertisements to branded keywords searches that include a brand name, or some variation plus another word like review or discount) can often help brands. Many brands like to stop trademark bidding because they want to be the only ones bidding on their trademark. That’s because it makes the cost of clicks less expensive, they can block out competitors who may divert their potential customers, and they have control over messaging.
However, many affiliates are search specialists and can end up at the top of the search rankings. That can be good for a business. The more ads returned on a trademark means that your competition is less likely to show up on that page. Plus, your site will show up several times in the top rankings, which means more clicks to your site. Brands can also put specific restrictions in place for trademark plus bidding and even structure commissions differently from other affiliates. Additionally, businesses can have search affiliates doing trademark plus bidding work in tandem and coordinate efforts with their internal search team.
You Can’t Control Affiliates
Affiliates are their own business. They don’t work for you as employees. So, controlling them completely ‘an option. However, by carefully vetting affiliates prior to letting them into your program, you can at least weed out undesirable affiliates and instead work with reputable, ethical affiliate partners. You can also put in place specific terms and conditions in your affiliate agreements that give you control over actions that affiliate can take on your behalf. The affiliate program manager must ensure terms and conditions are followed and enforced.
So, regardless of whether you’re a brand with an existing affiliate program or thinking of launching one, fully understanding the realities of the unique, proven affiliate channel will help you move forward with a successful program.