Webster’s Dictionary defines autopilot as “a device for automatically steering ships, aircraft, and spacecraft.” Such systems of directing vehicles without assistance from human beings are excellent when used in the contexts that they were created for. Affiliate marketing is not one of them.
However, numerous merchants run their affiliate programs the “autopilot way,” and many are not even aware that they do.
I’ve found this problem to be more common with programs run on affiliate networks. When a merchant starts a program on a network, they often mistake the affiliate network for a self-adaptive autopilot.
Aerospace avionics expert George Siouris defines this type of affiliate program as one that “measures its own performance, compares it to a standard, and adjusts … parameters until its performance meets the standard.”
Similarly, some merchants believe that once an affiliate program is started on an affiliate network, the network will both measure its performance, and ensure that the program keeps developing according to a “standard”.
However, the job of the affiliate network is to provide the merchant with tracking, reporting and payment solutions. The rest is affiliate program management, and most affiliate networks do not have it on the list of services provided by default.
An affiliate program is a marketing campaign. Launching it on a reliable platform (affiliate network, for example) is only half the job. The second half entails active affiliate program management.
The key management elements are (a) recruiting new affiliates, (b) educating and motivating current ones, and (c) policing all affiliates for compliance with your Terms of Service. Yes, you want to make sure your program has a detailed TOS agreement, in which you specify what affiliate behavior is unacceptable, and what consequences such behavior will bring about.
Examples of the most frequently banned affiliate behaviors include trademark bidding, forcing clicks, cookie overwriting, cookie stuffing, and use of downloadable software.
Besides recruiting and policing, the affiliate program manager is also responsible for reviewing new applications, and maintaining a healthy communication channel with the affiliates.
In February 2009, Econsultancy.com published the UK and the US Affiliate Censuses. Among the top reasons for not promoting a merchant, US affiliates pointed to “slow acceptance to program” (17%), and “bad follow-up communication” (10%). Poor communication has also been mentioned by 12% as the reason for dropping affiliate programs.
UK affiliates have also stated that “merchants do not communicate a variety of issues to them,” and whatever communication does exist, “ranges from bad or impersonal contact” to “failure to convey important information.”
US affiliates echoed this observation by underscoring that “merchants do not communicate enough with them,” and when they do, it is performed in a generic, mass-mailing style.
All dangers of the “autopilot approach” are too many to outline here. If you are serious about your online presence, treat your affiliate program as a serious marketing campaign. Otherwise, gaining genuine trust and loyalty of affiliates will be an impossible task.
Geno Prussakov is the Founder of AM Navigator, and author of “A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing” and “Online Shopping Through Consumers’ Eyes.”
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