Should Affiliate Programs Be Managed or Optimized?

A webinar announcement that was circulated earlier today by Impact Radius started as follows:

Are you managing your performance-based marketing program when you should be optimizing it?

Great question, and as a speaker on this upcoming webinar I’d like to take an opportunity to touch upon this question in my today’s blog post.

During the webinar, together with the legendary Todd Crawford, we will discuss numerous subjects starting from tracking-related questions (such as deduplication, cookie duration, and others) and on to reporting issues. We don’t have to agree on everything to have a fruitful conversation, and one of the things that I would argue today is that program optimization and program management aren’t, in fact, mutually exclusive.

In my understanding, affiliate program management should be approached with several key tasks in mind. Initially outlined in my “Affiliate Program Management: An Hour a Day” book but also dissected in my recent Affiliate Summit presentation [see my slide deck here], I like to view these tasks as 5 central pillars of a healthy approach to affiliate program management. They are: affiliate recruitment, affiliate activation, compliance policing, communication, and … yes, optimization.

There are numerous ways one may optimize his/her affiliate program’s performance. The 3 key approaches that we have seen yield continuous fruit are:

  1. Replicate your own successes
  2. Employ best practices
  3. Spy on your competition

Working in the above-listed directions equips merchants with knowledge which, when used to craft practical strategy, results in building highly agile (and, therefore, competitive) affiliate programs.

However, as mentioned earlier, when it comes to management versus optimization, it should not perceived as an “either… or…” question, but a “both… and…” situation. Affiliate program optimization is management, or, to be precise, one of the five key components of a holistic approach to affiliate program management.

Of course, the “Comments” area below is wide open for your input/thoughts on the subject.

Managing Pre-Launch Expectations of Affiliate Program

This is part of one of a two-part series on managing merchant expectations for an affiliate program. In Part One, managing program pre-launch expectations for merchants will be discussed and why it is important to make sure the merchant and the affiliate management team are on the same page.

ExpectationsWhy do some merchants have unrealistic expectations for their affiliate programs? For some affiliate marketing is a new venture, or they have heard how other merchants have had great success with their products/services using affiliates marketing. Either way, the merchant must understand the difference between unrealistic and realistic expectations and defining them up front is essential to the success of any affiliate program. It begins with the set up process of the affiliate program.

Overall Expectations

When initially communicating with a merchant, one of the first things to be discussed is their expectations for the affiliate program. Are their expectations in line with what the affiliate management team is capable of doing? If their goals for the program are too high they need to be informed and an attempt to lower them to a more acceptable level is needed, but that is not always as easy as it sounds. The reason being is that they may have heard other programs had great success at the beginning and they are expecting the same results, however, the merchant needs to understand that every affiliate program is different and comparing theirs to other programs should be avoided even if they are direct competitors.

Website Expectations

The next topic to discuss with the merchant in the set up process is their website. It is the most critical piece to an affiliate program. It should be functional and all landing pages should be optimized to their fullest. With that being said, some merchants do not realize that their site could be the largest roadblock to affiliate program success, but refuse to make recommended changes because they like the way it looks. No matter how nice the site looks, if the landing pages are not optimized properly, traffic sent by affiliates will not convert. Managing website expectations is vital to a merchant and their success in affiliate marketing.

Revenue Expectations

The third topic to discuss with merchants in the set up process is their expectations of sales. Two of the biggest questions asked by merchants before their program goes live are: 1. When will we start seeing sales? 2. What are your projections for the program? Let’s start with question # 1: It all depends on how quickly affiliates are recruited into the program, activated and optimized. Once affiliates are active, optimization is needed to ensure they are motivated to keep promoting their product/service. The previously mentioned steps take time and merchants need to understand that it takes approximately 1-2 months to start seeing results from affiliates.

Now onto question # 2: Making projections for an affiliate program can be slippery slope, but it all comes back to expectations set forth by the affiliate management team hired to oversee the program. The biggest piece to the projection puzzle is the website. If it is new or does not convert well, then projections may not be what originally expected, therefore, showing the merchant everything that is involved in starting and managing an affiliate program is essential to the success for everyone involved. Affiliate programs take time to grow, which may be scary for some merchants, but it is just a fact.

Check back next week for part two of Managing Merchant Expectations for an Affiliate Program, where 3 more critical pieces will be outlined to ensure merchant expectations are kept in check once their affiliate program is launched.

Affiliate Management: Common Misapprehensions, Definitions

With this being the very first post on a brand-new blog, I cannot think of anything better to devote it to than to the core subject of the blog. Since this website is fully devoted to all things affiliate management, let’s start right from affiliate management itself.

Having worked as an “affiliate manager” since early 2000s, I have taken note of several different definitions of “affiliate management.” Here they are – together with the reasons why, in fact, they all represent nothing but misapprehensions about the subject.

Approach #1: Affiliate management – the process of overseeing and managing affiliates.

Flaw: By the very definition of the term, affiliates are independent, self-managed online marketers, generally not accountable to merchants for performance, and free to choose what affiliate programs to promote, and what programs to drop, what merchants to push more aggressively, and on what merchants to spend less effort.

Approach #2: Affiliate management – the practice of supporting, supervising, and controlling the company’s relationship with its outsourced affiliate manager.

Flaw: While the previous definition/approach aimed at going deeper than necessary safely possible, this is one is surprisingly shallow. No company should ever equate their “affiliate management” approach to mere vendor management. Handling vendor payments, reviewing their routine reports, and managing your contract with them has nothing to do with affiliate management.

Approach #3: Affiliate management – the process of managing the company’s relationship with the affiliate network.

Flaw: While, similarly to approach #2, this one equates affiliate management to vendor management, it may end up being even more disastrous than approach #1. Presuming that all you need to do is keep positive affiliate network balance, while the rest will be taken care of by the network can be deadly. The network’s job is provide you with the infrastructure for running your affiliate program. The rest (affiliate recruitment, compliance policing, and other affiliate management tasks) is extremely rarely included by default.

Having said all of the above, here is what I suggest as the definition of (and the approach to) affiliate management:

Affiliate management – common shortening for affiliate program (or marketing) management, or organization and coordination of affiliate marketing activities of a business, as well as full support of its affiliate program with the purpose of equipping affiliates with the tools and knowledge they need to market the business efficiently.

Since in most cases it involves management of a specific program, wherever possible/suitable I try to call it affiliate program management. It is also because of this that I included the word “program” in the very domain name of this website.

More articles on the subject to follow. Stay tuned…

Oh, and if you have something to add to the above, the “Comments” area below is all yours! I’d love to hear your thoughts too.