Debate Offers Opposing Affiliate Approaches

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CAMBRIDGE, MA -- A point/counterpoint format produced a lively debate regarding affiliate marketing Friday during the final session of the New England Mail Order Association's spring conference.

Rick Renaud, online advertising manager at Gardener's Supply Co., Burlington, VT, provided what was described as a liberal approach. Anne Driscoll, Internet marketing director at Ross-Simons, Cranston, RI, expressed opinions characterized as conservative.

"Should you restrict affiliates' keyword bids?" was the first question they addressed.

Driscoll's answer: absolutely, for two reasons.

"It's very important to protect your brand," she said. "[And] one of your objectives is to keep your expenses lower."

Renaud offered a different approach.

"You absolutely don't want to restrict your affiliates," he said. "Affiliates are basically a sales force -- a commission-based sales force. By letting your affiliates bid on these keywords, you're going to increase your volume. You're also going to be able to control your costs because it's a cost-per-acquisition that we're talking about. [And] you're going to have more coverage."

They also were asked about permitting coupon sites into a program. Renaud favored allowing them into the mix.

"It's a tried-and-true method in direct marketing for prospecting," he said. "It's an opportunity to grab a customer that might otherwise go to a competitor."

Driscoll wasted no time in expressing her opposition.

"If you're allowing coupon sites into your program, you're potentially diverting customers away ... from your site to a site that now has both a commission and a promotional cost," she said. "Every touch point that you have with your customers, whether it's a new customer or an existing customer, builds into your brand equity."

She then mentioned sites such as Coupons R Us and Fishing for Deals.

"Do you really want sites like that promoting your brand?" she asked.

Later in the session the panelists were asked to comment on whether to automatically accept new affiliates or manually approve or reject them.

The "liberal" position included:

· You can't always tell whether they are fraudulent upfront.

· A lot of fraud is coming in via good affiliates, so motives are changing.

· If an affiliate is fraudulent, let it prove so by action so you can provide proof when you kick it out. That way, you do not deny any potentially hot affiliates based on suspicion.

Points in the "conservative" side included:

· Your brand is at risk.

· Check every applicant and reject those that take any kind of political or religious content, are under construction or contain adult content.

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