I frequently marvel at the marketers who foster an atmosphere of anarchy and then complain when nobody follows the rules (as there are none).
The latest instance is highlighted in Jeff Molander’s blog post, “DRTV Advertisers Should Reconsider Using Affiliates.” I think a more appropriate title here would be “DRTV Advertisers Should Consider Managing Their Affiliates.”
Jeff’s piece gives glory to “an outstanding article in Electronic Retailer Magazine” (italics are mine) by Paul Soltoff today, CEO of SendTec.
The gist of the article, “Should You Be Employing an Affiliate Program?,” is that affiliates are fleecing merchants.
The commentary in this article is tragically ill informed, but it certainly plays to the fears of DRTV brands.
“One of the main marketing tactics employed by affiliates… is affectionately known as brand squatting. A result of significant marketing budgets being spent on DRTV advertising is brand recognition. This brand recognition results in search queries being conducted online on the brand name by consumers with high purchase intentions. The result is an affiliate swarm to the brand you built with your money.”
Oh yeah? This is one of the main marketing tactics employed by affiliates? Perhaps this is prevalent in affiliate programs with no gate keeping in place on the front-end. After all, if an affiliate program is manually approving affiliates, these affiliates that bring nothing to the table should be easily screened out and rejected before ever getting started.
And surely this is covered in the Ts & Cs, right? If affiliates are breaking the rules, enforce the rules. it’s easy as that. That’s assuming a company bothers to establish rules around this sort of behavior.
Soltoff actually acknowledges that it’s important to keep tabs on your affiliates – as if there is any marketing effort that should be left to operate without any sort of stewardship.
“While manipulative marketing communications are a significant risk an even bigger risk can show up in your P&L statements should you let your affiliates go unchecked.”
How about this… check them. Establish rules, and require that affiliates joining your program consent to the fact that breaking the rules will result in forfeited commission. Then get a $5 an hour intern to police it. Shouldn’t be too hard, as the article points out “many affiliates bid only on your brand.”
Affiliate programs require hands on management. It’s the nature of the beast and a cost of doing business. If you want to benefit from the deeper penetration and lower acquisition costs that can be afforded by affiliates, you’ve got to actually manage the affiliate program.
The funny thing here is that some pundits are serially inclined to blame affiliates for myriad issues, like channel conflict and trademark infringement.
I say proactively manage your affiliate program and aim your concerns and paranoia at the devil you don’t know. There are plenty of folks out there looking to bid on your brand name to divert traffic to your competition.
Witness the recent news about Edina Realty, Inc. v. TheMLSonline.com. This upcoming court case could significantly alter the way Google allows your competitors to bid on your brand and divert traffic, and whether the practice may constitute trademark infringement.
In this case, TheMLSonline.com purchased keywords including “Edina Realty” and several variations and typos, on both Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing (Yahoo has since changed its policy to disallow the practice).
As I was reading about this issue on a private forum recently, I was surprised to read the comments of one big online media exec who admitted that competitive terms provide some of the best PPC ROI. And therefore, he is rooting against Edina Realty.
I’m not surprised that you get great ROI from being a bottom feeder and leveraging the brand of the competition. Rather I am surprised that this sort of shady practice has been mainstreamed.
I’d like to see Edina Realty emerge triumphant and Google pressured to adopt terms that prohibit competitors bidding on your brand.
The moral of the story: work with your affiliates and work against the real dregs that are trying to lift money out of your pocket.