Principles of Affiliate Program Management

Article updated August 2013. When I mention “you” or “your” below I mean you, merchants. 😉

I recently read an article by Geno Prussakov where he mentions his affinity towards the phrase “Affiliate Program Manager”, as opposed to the phrase “Affiliate Manager”. In a nutshell, he explains that by the nature of the publisher/merchant relationship, it’s impossible to manage them as you would a traditional work force. They have their own business priorities directly influenced by insight only they have.

Geno’s terminology is spot on. Manage your program first and foremost. Use the network tools and the knowledge you gain over time to assist, but not necessarily direct or “manage” publishers. Relationships matter. Updated and well-managed promos matter. A good datafeed with a unique product identifiers (UPC or MPN) matter. Most importantly, responsiveness matters.

You might be surprised to know there are only a few essential functions of program management, yet many program managers still come up short. If you want to compete for the best publishers and position your program as an authority, manage your program effectively. Below I would like to highlight AvantLink’s Principles of Affiliate Program Management, which are universal mechanics for any program manager, on any network.

People talk, and a well-managed program builds a reputation. By the nature of applying these principles of program management, over time you will naturally attract the best publishers. But nothing can top good old fashioned recruiting. Top off your program management plan with a well thought out recruiting/outreach process. Keep us posted! If in the end you need help, we offer a full-managed service for qualified merchants.

Ad Campaign Management

Actively manage a concise ad list of compelling campaigns for best results. This is a crucial component of any program’s success. In AvantLink, your ad list consists of publisher campaigns utilizing banner, text, html, flash or video ad types. You control the ad creative/collateral to share, landing page destination URL, start-end dates; as well as categorization and tagging mechanisms through the ad configuration. Promotional campaigns can even be “staged” to go live on a certain date in the future, as well as automatically expire when they end.

Ad campaign lists that are dynamic and update regularly with new promotions, special seasonal offers or the latest store codes are effective. Ad campaign lists that never update are not. The number of ads you maintain in your ad list is not important. What is important is having someone make sure every approved promotion your store offers is available via your ad list, at least as a text ad (which can then be flagged for inclusion in your deal feed).

Having a static, never changing ad list of 100 records is bad. Whereas maintaining a dynamic campaign list of say 25 records will help your program grow. The latter approach not only conditions publishers to expect compelling offers regularly and respond to them, but it effectively brands your program as one worth their while. The professional-grade publishers are not interested in investing time and resources in programs on auto-pilot. And a static, never changing ad list is a strong indicator of an un-managed program.

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Regular Communication

Once you are actively engaged in managing your ad list, the next logical component of effective program management is to notify Affiliates of all promotions or special offers. Be sure to embed the tracking code for campaigns you are emphasizing directly in your emails via the email tool in the AvantLink management interface. This only takes a few seconds, and often times publishers will disregard a promo email notification if the code they need is not available in the email. From the publisher’s perspective, if you consider the usefulness of the campaign code embedded directly in their email, it’s a no brainer.

You can find lots of useful, good information to email your publishers about. But do not overload them. Best emails include promotional offers they can make money with. By regularly communicating program-wide it shows someone is paying attention to the program. In additional to promo notifications, you should not hesitate to notify Affiliates of top selling products for each season, new product arrivals, new brands, etc. If you have enough to communicate, consider sending out monthly or quarterly newsletters. Simply by emailing publishers on a regular basis you will be doing more than many of your competitors to build a strong Affiliate program brand.

If you are not doing so already, by setting a routine of notifying your publishers of all promotions, you’ll see marked improvement in traffic volume and sales. Publishers need to know what promotions to feature. Let them know start and end dates, the promo duration as well as special terms or exclusions. Don’t get hung up on superficial things like an ultra fancy template for your emails. A simple, branded template with your logo as the header will work just fine. The important thing is to communicate the offers in a timely, consistent manner.

Responsiveness

How would you feel if you spent a morning analyzing and importing store data, only to have a simple email question go unanswered? Responding to publishers is just as important as managing your ad list, and communicating the promos. If a publisher emails you with a question, respond to them in a timely manner. Even if you do not know the answer, let them know that you will work to get the answer for them. This goes a long way in building relationships and retaining publisher loyalty. It’s always important to remember that publishers have many choices on where to send their customers. They are not in any way obligated to send them your way, and with the click of a mouse some have the power to redirect thousands of potential customers to your competitors.

If you manually review new publisher applications, responsiveness also means addressing applications in a timely manner. If possible do not leave them pending for more than 24 hours. Your Affiliate program is on their mind when they apply so capitalize on that. Channel that interest by getting them activated quickly, otherwise they might just move on. It is unprofessional to neglect new applications for days or weeks, and it sends the wrong message to potentially high-volume publishers.

Recruiting

Here is a surprising, yet solid tip for effective recruiting: be measured. Without mixing words, shooting off 100 generic recruitment offer emails is a colossal waste of time. Build your priority recruitment list and approach each prospect in a specific way. Comment on a cool article or site functionality you like. By establishing a subtle rapport first it’s often easier to keep their attention and motivate them to act. Send a few well thought out recruiting emails each week and track that progress. This will be a better use of time than sending many generic offers at once.

Side note for AvantLink merchants: Remember that you have a co-branded application page that should be used when recruiting publishers. Once a publisher submits an application from a co-branded form, we will auto-seed the recruited publisher’s application record for the merchant once they are activated at the network level. Click here to see an example of the Patagonia co-branded application form.


Really the word “responsiveness” encompasses all essential management components for any program manager. In order to compete for the best publishers, there has to be someone responsive, engaged and willing to communicate. If you manage your program correctly, publishers will talk at conferences, the word will spread and they will come. Brand your program as the authority in your category, and this will naturally attract new publishers and retain the loyalty of existing partners. Finally, do not forget about recruiting! If you invest the time and resources to launch your program correctly, do not sabotage the effort by disregarding the essentials of program management.

Gary M