ADOTAS – If you ask several different people for advice on whether you should manage your own affiliate marketing program, you’re likely to get several different answers. In many cases, it comes down to the size of your company, your products, the volume of your online sales, and the skills of your employees. You might start out managing a few publishers directly, only to find that there’s a lot of devil in the details. Tracking is only part of the equation. You also need reporting, an efficient payment mechanism, and tools that let you manage the details of your program while communicating efficiently with your publishers.
Creating some CPA-based relationships with a few publishers will provide you with an appreciation for what’s involved in affiliate marketing. The question is, when do you make the jump to a major network?
You’ll know the time is right when you require more advanced tools for productivity and scale. The publishers themselves also understand the value of networks, and some of the more successful publishers may not work with you unless it’s through a network.
You should know, however, that you don’t have to give up control when you partner with a major network. A hybrid model is possible where you retain 100 percent control and transparency over the program, but your internal resources are applied to the tools of an established network. This do-it-yourself (DIY) strategy means you still manage the program and communicate directly with the publishers, but you centralize the management of all your relationships using proven tools that are easy to use and cost-effective. The cost savings are delivered through very low fees and the streamlining of your daily activities, including creative asset management, commission structure, offer management, communications and reporting.
If you’ve decided that your company is ready to turbo-charge your DIY strategy by partnering with a major network, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Don’t compromise on transparency. If you already have experience managing publishers directly, you’ll have a good idea of what you want from a network in this area. Make sure you have full access to publisher contact information and the details about their site. There should be no restrictions on contacting publishers.
2. Evaluate your internal skill set. One of the biggest mistakes advertisers make when going down the self-service path to affiliate marketing is being unrealistic when considering the time it takes to nurture and grow an affiliate marketing channel. You also need someone that can spot trends in the reporting, yet can also roll up their sleeves and keep the program up-to-date with fresh creative and offers.
3. Understand the limits of your team. To help with seasonality and to plan for the unexpected, choose a network provider that offers flexible service options. For example, you may need help with publisher approvals at certain times of the year, or you might need help with creative around the holidays. A network with a la carte service offerings will likely be more cost-effective compared to signing a long-term, full-service contract.
4. Leverage the tools. In a DIY model, you can get access to the same tools that are used in the full-service model. You’re just using the tools yourself. Tap into them and you’ll learn how to be productive while optimizing publisher communications and maximizing link distribution.
“It’s really about focus. You have to be strategic and at the same time devote the right amount of time to the tactical day-to-day requirements of running a well-managed program. At this point, I can’t imagine running our program without the advanced tools and reporting of a major network,” said ShadesShuttersBlinds president Louis Lyons. “Our program is growing faster and we’re able to respond to the needs of publishers more effectively.”
Not all advertisers will achieve success. To make the most of this approach, here are some best practices to consider:
• Devote time to the program: It’s easy to overlook the management and maintenance as well as the time required to foster strong relationships with publishers, but if you allocate your time effectively between communications, managing your offers and creative, and doing the right analysis, you’ll see a consistent rise in performance and results.
• Invest in resources: Include training your internal team and taking advantage of the collective experience of your network partner. Thiscombination ensures you’re not working in a vacuum and allows you to make the most of your investments. Select a network that has training options.
• Master the marketing principles: The basics of product, price, promotion and placement still apply when it comes to the online channel. Extend your marketing calendar to your affiliate marketing channel. Integrate your marketing messages to ensure consistency across all your channels while customizing your messages according to audience whenever possible.
• Keep up with the industry: Make sure your offers are current, compelling and competitive. Publishers have a lot of options. If your competitor is offering a better commission, then you can guess who they’ll promote.
While the self-service model on a major network isn’t ideal for every advertiser, it can be a way to cut costs while tapping into a very advanced yet easy-to-use set of tools for building a long-term affiliate marketing strategy.