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July 2010 archive

Merchants, you need to bring your affiliate program to the next level

They say that first impressions are made within seconds of meeting someone face-to-face. You take a look at them, get a sense of the vibe they’re sending out and make a snap decision whether they’re a potential friend, partner or you might just decide to write them off entirely.

It’s the same with affiliate programs.

I was looking at developing a new niche and found one with multiple spikes in search volume and transactions multiple times a year. The incumbent had a decent affiliate program though their affiliate management leave much to be desired and training resources? Forget about it.

The problem is that it’s a niche with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of items within the space. Coupled with the fact that these are items that constantly need to be replaced and the consumers have to buy their products from somewhere and it’s not hard to imagine a longterm business resulting from this.

The sad thing is that the other merchants in the space didn’t provide deep links. I was looking for product-specific links because the competition (search results) for some of these terms were in the thousands. So what do you do if the merchant only provides links to their root domain? You could move on, though there aren’t many merchants in this space.

It’d be an unwise thing to link to their root domain via an affiliate link, then expect the lead to somehow figure out that they need to type the product name into the search engine, then click on a result.

If I were one of the users, I’d want to type the product name into the search engine and find a direct link to the product and if the price was right, buy it immediately.

If merchants don’t get the affiliate picture, it’d be smarter to hire an experienced affiliate manager or have an outsourced program manager (OPM) on at least a six month engagement (ideally longer) to get things working. Else you’re just wasting your time, and more significantly, the affiliates.

PS: You might notice that I’ve not mentioned video tools or XML datafeeds, especially with a catalog that contains more than 100,000 items. If you can’t get the basics right, there’s no point trying to run before you can crawl.

So The Old Spice Man Told Alyssa Milano…

…Maybe you should watch it for yourself:

And here’s the backstory:

Fresh off his appearance during a tv spot during the Superbowl, former ASU 1996 Rose Bowl wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa, reprised his role as the manly Old Spice Man and has caused a coup in social media circles.

In an industry that’s been increasingly filled with social media experts whose claimed to fame has been writing books about building a huge following on Facebook or Twitter, or building buzz, or sometimes seem like the Internet marketing equivalent of a Paris Hilton “I’m famous for being famous”, the Old Spice Man has brought a breath of fresh air to the social media scene.

On Tuesday, he took questions from multiple social media channels – Twitter and Facebook – and a team compiled the questions and had numerous personalized responses posted on YouTube, which were then emailed, retweeted and circulated around the Internet.

As of now, there are 205 videos posted on the YouTube channel with more content being progressively added.

Before you jump in with a preliminary judgement that this is a case of new-fangled efficiency in aggregating multiple channels, take a moment to watch the finished product.

The Old Spice Man comes across as:

  • Attractive to both genders – women want to be with him, men want to be like him.
  • Intelligent: He’s got the chops to reply with astute answers, compared to the incessant laughing and rambling common with some lifecasters.
  • Funny: He doesn’t take himself too seriously and his humor is infectious.

Except for a few critics, he’s largely won over the bulk of his followers, including Digg founder Kevin Rose, actresses Alyssa Milano and Demi Moore. His biggest win could possibly be the 4chan community, a rabble-like elite community which has spawned memes like LOLCats and RickRolling.

What helped make this a winning campaign. Some of the key details:

  • A successful marriage of social media practitioners and a tech team
  • Trust from Old Spice’s parent, Proctor and Gamble, for the ad agency to have a free hand in scripting and going live with responses to queries, without the typical multiple layers of management vetting and approval
  • Picking the right person to play the Old Spice Man and front the campaign.

The missing ingredient in most social campaigns is an air of sincerity, playing it straight with the audience and an essential star quality and x-factor which all but a few lack.
Isaiah Mustafa possesses all the following attributes in scads.

Watch the videos and you might just get a taste of the future of social media.

Old Spice Man replies to Digg’s Kevin Rose:

Alyssa Milano tweets her delight.

Old Spice Man replies to Demi Moore

How Affiliate Managers Should Get Their Act Together

Some affiliate managers might not confess to it, but when it comes to dealing with affiliates, more than half of them are noobs.

The turnover in the affiliate marketing industry is high, whether you’re talking about networks, affiliate managers or affiliate marketers.

From the affiliate side, it seems like a constant merry-go-round at some networks (particularly the struggling ones) with a new affiliate manager assigned to my accounts every 2-3 months. Maybe they’re having difficulty hitting their monthly or quarterly quotas? I don’t know, but their experience or lack of it shows especially when new affiliate managers inherit the accounts for the AM who left.

Here’s a typical bone-headed intro email.

“Hi, how are you doing? I’m your new affiliate manager/strategist/consultant/partner. What type of offers do you promote? What traffic types do you use? How long have you been in the industry?”

These are danger signs, especially if you’re getting these emails.

Firstly, unless the affiliate is operating under the radar/underground, or one of those super-secretive Israeli affiliates operating with mossad-like secrecy, it’s not too difficult to find their footprints, whether on an affiliate forum like WickedFire or ABestWeb. From their postings you should be able to tell whether they’re noobs or experienced affiliates. You should be able to check out their posts to look at the types of questions they’re asking to get a gauge of their experience level and possibly traffic promotion strategies too.

Many will also have an online presence, whether it’s listed on AffBuzz, else you should be able to find their WordPress blog, Twitter or Facebook account. Failing which, you could talk to your regular group of affiliates to see if they know who the “new guy” or girl is. I know it’s probably easier to send a mass email (personalizing the recipient name), but that’s as good as throwing your list of prospects at the wall and hoping that something sticks.

I’m not going to say that going through a list of 200-300 affiliates that you’ve been handed is easy, especially since the bulk of them might be inactive. But if you’re going to make this more than just a 2-3 month gig, getting by on your $2,000/month base salary, then you need to do a little investment. In this case, it’s not even any cash out of your own pocket (although the better AMs do invest in researching their affiliates), just a little time and company time at that.

It’s time to break out your Excel or Google Docs spreadsheet and do a little affiliate human resources management. Based on your preliminary research, give each affiliate a rating. I like to give them either a A/B/C grade or 1/2/3. Your choice.

You need at least 50 prospects in the A/B basket to make any decent overriding off their efforts, since you might only get 10% of them active.

Once you’ve got your 50 producers, in your next column is where you list some the background information, such as where they’re based, what type of traffic promotion they use, what types of offers they like.

It’s always weird for me that so few affiliate managers are willing to invest something like $67 bucks a month to sign up for a membership at sites like David Ford’s PPV Playbook. You have new and experienced affiliates who’re learning marketing techniques, applying them and building their affiliate income to $100/day and in some cases much more than that.

Then you only have 1-2 network owners who’re active in there and I believe there’ve been less than 3 affiliate managers, including EWA’s Ryan Eagle and GetAds’ Josh Todd, that I’ve seen on there.

So let’s take a stock-take:

  • Hundreds of active affiliates on a paid forum, which prequalifies them as high value leads
  • Experienced marketers like David Ford, Mr Green and other less high profile affiliates doing walkthroughs of campaigns, including keywords, URL targets, offers. Basically everything
  • Few affiliate managers to recruit these affiliates

If you are an affiliate manager or network owner, is this short-sightedness not to invest $67/month to pick up a few good producers?

The slogan “It takes money to make money” applies here.

If you’re an affiliate, you’ll pick up a thing or two at PPV Playbook too.

Should Marketers Fear Competition?

Your “inner game” or mental outlook has a great deal to how you run your business.

In a recent conversation with another marketer I mentioned that a specific home improvement niche might be worth developing, he mentioned that there’re a number of incumbent sites in the space and it might not be worth developing.

There’re bound to be free high authority sites with great content in any lucrative niche. They do have to monetize, even if it’s via adsense, yahoo publisher or some other form of advertising, if they’re planning to be in the business longterm.

On the other hand, you could take a rock and hit some other marketer who’s in the same niche and charging a premium for content – video, PDF reports, audio walkthroughs.

What’s the difference between something that’s free and another that’s paid? Should you fear competition?

My stock response is that free stuff tends to be limited. Unless someone is paying you, the site tends to be one-sided. The site owner publishes content based on keyword demand and search volume and works on 1-2% of traffic clicking on ads or picking broad enough keywords to bring a nice ROI on their CPM-based advertiser payouts.

Paid sites tend to be more customer-focused, just because it’s performance marketing-oriented. If they don’t like the affiliate program you’re promoting or the ebook or guide you’re created and are selling, you’ll come away with empty pockets at the end of the day.

If capitalism teaches anything, it’s that markets are self-correcting. Or in simple English, if your product sucks, you will get zero sales.

So the first thing you need to figure out is your concept. If it isn’t sound, you’re going to have an uphill battle making much headway in your niche, let alone making any decent coin.

The second element is probably the more important one. While a solid business model and concept are good, I’d say that marketing is even more important. You could have the world’s best product and yet fail. Two examples: Creative Technology (based out of Singapore) was the first out the gates with sound cards (remember those?) especially it’s “SoundBlaster” series of cards. It was also one of the earliest with MP3 players (at least a couple of years before the first iPod was released into the market). Given its expertise in audio technology, you’d think that it’d have stitched up the market. But no, instead it decided to come up with it’s own kookie/weird advertising and promptly lost the war once the iPod came onto the scene.

Here’s a video about branding and marketing for the iPhone (note: coarse language)

Like I said: branding/marketing > market concept.