Protecting Your Brand In Affiliate Marketing

The ability to control brand reputation in affiliate marketing is a concern shared by both new entrants and experienced advertisers in the industry.  To help brands strike a balance between embracing affiliate opportunities and ensuring those opportunities do not compromise or devalue their brand, I put together a set of simple pointers.

Attract and Engage Relevant Affiliates

To attract and engage new affiliates, put together an ‘affiliate pack’ containing information on your customers’ demographics and shopping habits.  This will help educate affiliates on the kinds of customers you are after.

  • What do you know about customer on-site shopping habits?
  • What are their average order values?
  • What are your brand’s unique selling points?

Supply affiliates with this information along with your program description to help make sure affiliates are referring on-target traffic.

Ensure Affiliates Know How to Represent Your Brand

Start by making sure your program’s terms and conditions adequately reflect what affiliates can and cannot do, and how you will handle any non-compliant activities. Rather than lifting the customer T&Cs from your site, ask your network for guidance on affiliate-specific T&Cs that adhere to industry best practices – which is particularly important for PPC and coupon promotional activities.

Policies on paid search should detail acceptable behavior around the use of your brand, both as a keyword (including misspellings and brand + generic terms) and with respect to affiliates using your brand in display URLs, ad titles, and descriptions. If you do not want affiliates bidding on your brand, ask that they include it as a negative keyword in their campaigns.

Vet and Monitor New Affiliates

Advertisers should always ask their network(s) to describe their process to check in on new affiliates, as well as the tools or resources devoted to ensuring activity is consistent with your brand. Affiliates should detail the sites or promotional methods they use and provide you – as well as the network – with this level of visibility. I recommend reviewing new affiliate applications manually, and if you are working on a limited budget, consider an invite-only program in the short term to retain control over spend.

Be on Guard Against Fraud

Fraudulent transactions by unscrupulous customers can come via any channel, but there are a number of indicators to look out for:

  • Ask your network for the referring URLs of incoming sales so you can check and audit each site.
  • Be alert for unusually high conversion rates or short latency times between click and transaction; some orders may have a high on-site conversion but fail to complete once received.
  • Look at the IP addresses that orders come from. If these are all the same, an affiliate might be submitting multiple transactions themselves, revealing that the customer has had little or no engagement with your brand.

It’s also important to note that use of the same IP address may highlight transactions from incentive sites, indicating that a single member is attempting to claim rewards with no intention of fulfilling their order.

Keep Copy and Creative Compliant

Affiliates will be able to access pre-approved, compliant creative through your network’s interface, but you may wish to share your brand compliance documentation when creating custom promotions with affiliates – such as co-branded emails or competitions. Regularly update your creative to reflect your latest deals and supply sizes suggested by your network or the IAB. Offering a ‘copy bank’ of pre-approved copy in various sizes – 25, 50, 100, 200 words – will also give you control over the messaging displayed by your affiliates and allow them to use this on-site without worrying about compliance.

Working With Coupons Without Devaluing Your Brand

Advertisers with high-end products may look to preserve the exclusive or aspirational nature of their brand, and therefore choose not to work with coupon sites.  The concern is that coupon sites will undermine this aim by offering a lower lost, and therefore, a perceived lower value.  Many brands are also fearful of getting stuck in a ‘race to the bottom’ against their competitors, becoming overly dependent on coupon sites in their customer acquisition strategy.

However, working with coupon sites does not require discounting products.  Instead, research indicates that customers prefer free delivery more than discounts on the items themselves, and ‘stretch and save’ coupons – such as ‘$5 off all orders over $50’ – can actually raise average order values. In addition, offering free products or bonus items – such as a box of chocolates with every order of flowers – provide an enticing deal without devaluing the product.   Also, coupons can be designed to attract a certain type of customer.  For example, highly engaged, discount-savvy shoppers respond well to ‘quick expire’ codes, while offering a discount on the customer’s first purchase can be used to attract new customers.

Coupling these tactics with coupon tracking will enable advertisers to identify which coupon was used in a sale, and avoid paying out on orders that involve an unauthorized code.

Safeguard Your Brand on Incentive Sites

Due to their incentivized nature, reward sites are vulnerable to abuse by members seeking the benefits but with no intention of buying.  Requiring these affiliates to display on-site messaging to their members will help preempt and discourage fraudulent transactions. This copy can be as simple as explaining to site viewers that the reward is only payable on verified and dispatched orders.  Alternatively, some advertisers require their incentive partners to display a warning that fraudulent orders will result in the suspension of their account. Lengthening the validation time to allow for order confirmation, or to ensure the customer passed the cancellation period, provides additional protection against the risk of paying out on fraudulent orders.


As is the case with any marketing or sales channel, there will be certain pitfalls that brands should consider when running an affiliate program.  I hope these suggestions will help you identify and avoid these pitfalls and address any challenges they present.



About Owen Hewitson

Owen Hewitson is a Client Strategist at where he advises clients on launching, managing and optimizing their affiliate programs. He contributes regularly to a number of UK online marketing publications and speaks at performance marketing events in the UK and Europe.

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