Thursday, October 2, 2008

Affiliates at Christmas

This article was first published in marketing magazine.

Last week, I wrote about how marketers can prepare their search activity for Christmas. Whilst search campaigns for the holiday season have been in planning for some time now, there’s still a lot that can be achieved in the short time that’s left before the slimming season takes over.

So assuming that search is all sorted now, this week we’re going to look at affiliate marketing. Unlike search, there aren’t many different strategies needed at Christmas – rather it’s the intensity of competition that demands merchants up their game.

Weakness on the high street is leading more retailers to focus effort and investment on their internet plays, and this fourth quarter is likely to see some of the most intense rivalry yet, as merchants compete for customers’ hard-earned cash.

I’m going to look at three actions that are specific to the season, and at elements of good practice that simply become more important as competition peaks.

First, content affiliates – who run websites with content designed to draw in traffic mostly sourced from natural search. Most will be optimising their sites for Christmas right now so those merchants that can provide them with copy, product ideas and creative in good time will stand more chance of being featured prominently.

Secondly, some affiliates specialise in Christmas – creating sites and search campaigns aimed directly at consumers looking for seasonal goods. Your existing year-round affiliate relationships may not include these outlets, and it’s useful to review coverage at this time of year to ensure you’re represented here.

These specialists look to get their sites up and running three months in advance of the season’s peak in order to maximise coverage within the search engines’ natural listings. But many will still be finalising sites over the next couple of weeks – so there’s still time to get materials out to them.

As ever with affiliate marketing this is about effective communication. The offer to affiliates itself is one thing, but building a direct relationship with affiliate partners stimulates lower churn and better prominence, as well as useful intelligence about what affiliates are looking for to drive their businesses.

You wouldn’t manage a sales force through email alone, and affiliates are no different. They have their own goals, marketplace dynamics and challenges to their businesses – a dialogue with them not only enables them to work more effectively on your behalf, it enables you to shape your offer around what they need – keeping you ahead of the competition.

Third, as with search, if you can capture data and good practice around seasonal activity, this becomes a vital resource for future campaigns. Key actions can be recorded and used to build a process which can be applied repeatedly, benefiting from the ongoing accumulation of experience.

And you won’t have to wait until Christmas to apply it. Half term, Valentine’s Day, financial year end, Easter – all present seasonal opportunities which affiliates cluster around, and all therefore present an opportunity to dust off your model on a regular basis.

Affiliate marketing is a burgeoning sector which is becoming increasingly complex as it grows in value as a route to market. The competitive peak around Christmas will test merchants’ capabilities in managing this channel, and a good performance here will provide solid experience for the year.

Affiliate marketing was a £3 billion market in 2007, and it’s still growing fast as consumers increasingly turn to the web for purchases in the tightening economy. Christmas 2008 will be the biggest yet – and there’s little time left to grab a piece of the action.

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