About Affiliate Activation and Retention

There is some wacky discussion going on at Sam’s post that is titled “Affiliate Managers Don’t Get It: Communication Is Still Key“. Many of the comments don’t have to do with the actual post, but they all relate somehow to communication in affiliate marketing. Jesse Bouman, affiliate manager of 1and1.com complained (okay, mentioned) that there are not many posts and information out there that talk about affiliate retention, nourishment and activation.

Well, I started a comment, but decided to post it separately to avoid that it gets buried and forgotten in the list of the already 37 comments to that post.

What affiliates want
My post from July titled “What (super) Affiliates Want” was well received by affiliates who agreed with my statements. It’s good for starters and you should take it by heart. It talks affiliate needs and wants. Those things are the same for affiliates that did not sign up for your program yet, new affiliates to your program who are inactive and also for affiliates that make up your top active tier.

I will also provide some general and some specific tips for affiliate managers to help acquire, activate, nourish and retain affiliates broken down by type of affiliate.

Personalized Communication jada jada jada
First, personalized and specific communication always helps, but is not as effective as you might think it is. You maybe got a food into the door, which is already more than many others got, but that’s pretty much it and did not get you much further in regards to motivating an affiliate. You got their attention.

Now look at an affiliate from a different view for a moment. Consider it to be a “customer”. Ask yourself the question: What does he or she need? What does he or she not have enough of? Then deliver or offer it to the affiliate. Apply the classic sales principle AIDA. AIDA is an acronym that stands for A = Attention, I=Interest, D=Desire and A=Action.

“A” for Attention
Okay, the first “A” was covered with your personalized communication, but this attention will not last very long. The next letter is “I” for Interest and the toughest part. If the affiliate signed up for your program then it already showed some interest in it. Something seems to be missing though or the affiliate would already promote your products. You already got the interest of existing affiliates that actually do promote your offers already. A bit nurturing of the desire does not hurt either type of affiliate. Some of the examples below are as good as a nurturing tool as they are for activation of inactive affiliates.

Creating interest and desire is one step in case of affiliates who already signed up. It is only separate for new affiliates where you need to get them interested first to be able to create desire. I will not go into too details regarding affiliates that don’t have signed up for your program yet. Just combine the stuff I mentioned in my article about what affiliates want with this one.

“I” for Interest and “D” for Desire
Affiliates who signed up for your program did so for a reason. Unless you offered an incentive to do so, chances are that the affiliate had something specific in mind with you at the time of applying to your program. Most programs require manual approval, which is good and bad. I personally would prefer to do an auto approval first, but then make sure to check all sign-ups and deactivate quickly affiliates you don’t want. I strongly recommend to make it clear to affiliates who you are looking for and most important who you are NOT looking for. Let them know that their account is only active and in trial status and that it will be deactivated if it does not fit those criteria.

This will help to counter the IMO biggest cause of inactive affiliates.

Understanding how most affiliates work
Affiliates work weird hours, often nights and on weekend. Unless you are a robot, it will be impossible to approve new affiliate applications within minutes 24/7, 365 d. Sign-ups are usually not planned days or weeks in advance. They happen when the affiliate is ready to go with a specific goal in mind the affiliate tries to accomplish right there and then. If the account is not approved, the affiliate might be unable to proceed with what it is doing. It either decides to stop right there or applies for competitors programs who maybe auto approve or the AM happened to be around at that time to approve the application quickly, following up with an email asking the affiliate what it needs right away.

This last part is something you should always do after you approved an affiliate. When you go through the review of the application, you probably check the affiliate site etc. This is the perfect time to make notes already about what the affiliate does and might need. This will allow you to be already specific in your email where you welcome the affiliate and ask for what the affiliate needs. You can already add a specific question related to the affiliate site or include an offer or tip for how to promote your products or services.

Time from SignUp to Contact
If the affiliate was not approved, every hour, every day that passes between the signup and the initial personal contact will work against you. Chances increase that what the affiliate planned was already finished without you or that it was abandoned altogether. It may sounds funny, but affiliates have sometimes ideas in their head that they attempt to realize immediately if it does not seem to take too much time to get something going.

Remember, affiliates do stuff by trial and error and most of the stuff they try does not work or yields less return than they hoped it would. Affiliates that plan and plan and never do anything are usually not the ones that are successful. Affiliates build small first and then grow it later.

Missed Opportunity
If you missed the opportunity to be right there and then with exactly what the affiliate needed, you already made it much harder for you to get an affiliate going. But even if you jumped in early enough or auto-approved the affiliate, but do not provide what the affiliate was looking for, you lost right there and then and there is only little you can do to activate that affiliate. This does not always have to be your fault, but it probably is in the vast majority of cases. It will happen that an affiliate signed up because he or she thought that you offer something that you don’t, but that is more the exception.

Problems to avoid
Most of the time is the problem that either important information, such as details about does and don’ts were not accessible or hidden to the affiliate prior sign-up, things that are a deal breaker for the affiliate. The second most common problem is the lack of the right promotional material the affiliate planned to use, but is not available for them. Size of banners and buttons, promotional offers for coupon affiliates, no or impractical product data feeds for comparison shopping site affiliates, search-boxes, ready to use templates for email campaigns, the ability to create an affiliate link to a desired page on your website etc.

Now lets assume that everything the affiliate needs does exist, but the affiliate still does not use any of it to get going. This can happen. Time is often the factor that causes this. Affiliates need also sleep and also underestimate things regarding their complexity and what is needed to get a specific thing going. There you have the opportunity to help and give the affiliate what it can’t do itself at that moment.

Website/Content Affiliate
If it is a web based affiliate, what does this affiliate need? Content! If it is a product review site, check which of your products fit the types of products reviewed by that affiliate. Provide the content that the affiliate needs for the review that are independent of opinion. Provide a good image and maybe even the ready to use affiliate link. You could even go so far that you send the affiliate a sample product for review, permanently or leased (depending on the product).

Search Affiliate
If it is a search affiliate, provide keyword suggestions, but more important provide statistics. Numbers like: average conversion of PPC campaigns across the board, break down by brand term keywords vs. generic keywords would also be nice. What is the average order size if it is not a specific product that is advertised by a system or product category?

Cut a deal to send the affiliate a check over $xx/xxx dollars that they have to use for a campaign for your site to try it out. They burn your money = no risk for them. However, if it is looking promising or they even made profits, guess what they will do when your play-money is exhausted? (I would do this only with known successful search affiliates though)

Coupon Affiliate
Provide the coupons as early as possible. Always include an expiration date. List the facts clearly, such as Type of promotion (% off, $ off, shipping etc.), coupon code, expiration date, start date, restrictions. Provide an image if it is a product related coupon and provide a ready to use link with affiliate ID encoded already.

Offer exclusive coupons with the site name of the affiliate as the coupon code. It does not only show the affiliate that you respect her, but also that you take her serious. It also helps the affiliate to show to its users that they are recognized by you, which will increase the confidence of the user into the offer promoted by the affiliate.

“A” for Action
You should get the idea by now and be able to start getting creative about the needs and wants of your own affiliates. Those things will certainly get the interest and create the desire to promote you in your affiliates; the action will follow with almost certainty.

If my examples sound like a lot of work then the reason for that is obvious, those things are actually a lot of work and they cannot be automated in almost all cases.

No Jeff, It does not “scale”
Jeff Molander and others say that the biggest problem of affiliate marketing is that it does not scale. The thing is that affiliate marketing was never meant to scale in the first place. Many relationships that exist today under the umbrella affiliate relationships are not that, but something different. They only use the affiliate tracking technology for what they are doing, but that choice was only because of convenience and availability.

A little off topic rant
Yes, I am referring to incentive sites. You might notice that I did not include an example for them. The reason for that is that I do not have an example other than giving them a higher cut that they can pass on a higher reward to their users. Coupon sites are border line in my opinion. Affiliate marketing was meant as a customer acquisition tool. It can be leveraged as customer retention tool, but that is rarely what advertisers have in mind when their launch their affiliate program. The types of sites I just mentioned do a poor job when it comes to customer acquisition (compared to any other type of affiliates, except for search affiliates who bid on trademark and brand terms in PPC search engines). They provide new customers too, no doubt about that, but they come with the additional price tag of diverting certain types of customers of yours to their site to send them right back to you, acting as a porter or concierge.

But this is good for its very own discussion all by itself. Lets focus on the affiliate activation and retention part for now, shall we?

Carsten Cumbrowski

About Carsten Cumbrowski

Internet Marketer, Entrepreneur and Blogger. To learn more about me and what I am doing, visit my website and check out the “about” section.

Twitter: ccumbrowski

3 Responses to About Affiliate Activation and Retention

  1. zubby says:

    This is an awesome site. I am the owner of zubby.com which has taken off like crazy lately and needed help with ads, and the networks etc.. Thanks and I look forward to reading your site everyday.


  2. Pat Grady says:

    "Coupon sites are border line in my opinion. Affiliate marketing was meant as a customer acquisition tool. It can be leveraged as customer retention tool, but that is rarely what advertisers have in mind when their launch their affiliate program."

    Thank you for adding this part, I see it too often go unsaid, or worse, twisted into partial truths. Sometimes that twisting is intentional, sometimes its just a lack of understanding – either way, and whether others agree now or not, in the long run, value IS what gets rewarded and is the thing affiliates should be focusing their time and efforts.

    This era of less than full understanding will come to an end slowly, but it will come. If you want to be strong later, focus on adding value (bringing new customers) now.

  3. Jonathan (Trust) says:

    What you posted under Coupon Affiliate, was great. You have no idea how many times I have to hit reply and ask for an expiration date. A lot of times to the same affiliate managers I’ve asked in the past.

    “Coupon sites are border line in my opinion. Affiliate marketing was meant as a customer acquisition tool. It can be leveraged as customer retention tool, but that is rarely what advertisers have in mind when their launch their affiliate program.”

    You should start another post on that. The reality is there is no such thing as an acquired customer.