Building Your Affiliate Marketing Channel through an Effective Communications Strategy

If I told you that communicating with your affiliate partners will help you achieve a greater level of success, I don’t think I’d get much argument. In fact, many of you may stop reading because you think you’ve heard it all before…

If this is the case, I have just one question…

“Why aren’t you DOING it?!”

Sure, there are many expertly run affiliate programs (and if you’re doing all the things I’m about to reveal, great!), but for the most part, it seems like no one has even been put in charge of many of the programs I come across. Countless times I’ve joined a program, received a generic welcome letter, only to never hear from the company again.

Let’s look at some ways you can use communications to greatly enhance the bottom line of your affiliate program…

First Impressions

Are you reviewing affiliate applications on a daily basis? If not, you need to remember the first rule of direct marketing — strike while the iron is hot! If someone has taken the time to apply to your program, it’s best to get back to them with what they need to get started ASAP! (I once waited four months to be approved into a program offered through LinkShare from a Fortune 500 merchant. I certainly was not eager to promote this merchant after I was finally approved.)
One of the greatest challenges you face as a Program Manager is the participation of your affiliates. I guarantee you’ll have a higher level of participation, if you approve your affiliates the same day they apply and follow the other techniques I’m about to reveal.

Get Personal

It’s critical to start thinking about your affiliates as your in-house sales force. That said…I doubt if you’d send an email to one of your sales people without addressing them by name and signing your own name. Still, I get countless emails from affiliate managers who do neither. Why would you address your marketing partner as “Dear Affiliate” when most affiliate software will allow you to insert a first or full name variable?

Why would you omit your own name, email, phone number, instant messenger number, etc. when you sign emails to your affiliates? I’ve heard some managers say that they don’t want to be bothered by a bunch of affiliates asking “stupid” questions.

First of all, this probably will not happen. My personal contact info is plastered all over several programs I manage, yet I get VERY few inquiries I’d consider bothersome. Second, and most important, we are in the partnership business. If you don’t do all you can to foster productive working relationships, you will not succeed in affiliate marketing.

Make it Easy and Painless

Besides being personal in my communications, I always try to make it as easy as possible for affiliates to promote my merchant clients. Therefore, I always include copy ‘n paste HTML code in my emails to affiliates that already include their tracking ID. In other words, I provide them with ‘ready-made’ promotions for their sites or emails that they can use without even logging into their account. I also provide my affiliate partners with a link directly to their account along with their username to allow them to easily log in to their accounts should they need to.

Be a Squeaky Wheel

I believe it’s important to constantly communicate with one’s affiliates, if you want them to actively promote you. Sending a monthly newsletter is great, but if you’re heavily promoting coupon codes and specials on your site, you may want to keep your affiliates updated a couple times a month. Be sure there is a REASON you are emailing your affiliates. I belonged to one program that sent me the exact same email every week thanking me for my participation and telling me how to log in to my account. There was never any program news, or suggestions on how to promote them, etc. Obviously, this became bothersome and I dropped the program.

One of the best ways to increase the participation of your affiliate partners is to make use of auto responder emails. I encourage you to set up several emails targeted to new affiliates who have yet to participate in your program, i.e. have not generated any clickthroughs.

Make the message friendly and courteous, but ask them why they haven’t started promoting you yet. Offer your personal help to get them started and provide them with easy to understand instructions on the best way to promote you. Use your judgment, but I suggest sending this to non participants approximately ten days after they joined, again at three weeks, and at six weeks. Clearly, by the last message you need to make it clear that their participation is required if they want to retain the right to promote you. (I’m not big on having a program packed with affiliates who are not participating.)

“Dressed” for Success

HTML or Plain Text? It’s a debate that continues and my advice is to utilize both. Some affiliate newsletters in HTML are very compelling, as they foster your own recognition/identity and give you a way to best demonstrate your new promotions. Since some of your affiliates are unable to accept HTML email, I suggest including a link at the top of your HTML emails pointing to a webpage where you’ve posted the newsletter for them to view. Also, remember to place any HTML promotion code in a text box within your HTML email to allow recipients to easily copy ‘n paste.

That said, plain text emails can also be quite effective, especially for special announcements and quick updates. If you’re sending a plain text email it’s important to limit the line length to 65 characters, so the recipient’s email program doesn’t add extra line breaks. One program I use to accomplish this is an inexpensive program called UltraEdit-32. You can learn more about this program and how to download a copy here: http://www.ultraedit.com

These days, it’s critical to avoid ending up in the junk/spam mail folder. One of the best ways I know of to protect yourself is to check your content before you send. Lyris provides a free service where you can run your sample message through their ContentChecker, and they’ll send you a detailed evaluation. The report will tell you if your message triggered any red flags that might block it, allowing you to make edits so your message gets delivered. Go here to use this tool: http://www.lyris.com/contentchecker/

Respond, Respond, Respond!

This is a no-brainer, but I’m compelled to stress the importance of responding to your affiliate partners’ inquiries within 24 hours. I try to always do this and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a friend in doing so. I hear affiliates complaining constantly that it’s impossible to get answers to their emails. So when a Program Manager takes the time to respond, affiliates usually don’t forget this courtesy.

In conclusion, I want to point out an often overlooked opportunity to communicate with your productive affiliate partners – when you pay them! When your affiliate payments go out be sure to include a personal note of thanks and encouragement. Even if you pay via PayPal, there is an opportunity to include a short note.

I hope I’ve given you some communications guidelines that you feel are worthwhile applying to your program management approach. If you have questions or would like to discuss any of your affiliate marketing challenges, please feel free to contact me anytime.

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