Online affiliate marketing's renaissance

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Jeff Molander
Jeff Molander

Marketers have, for years now, been increasingly focused on doing more with less — more sales and/or leads with fewer and fewer Web affiliates and traffic partners. According to experts this trend may be reversing itself. David Delisle, founder of The Partner Maker LLC and affiliate management veteran, goes as far as predicting a Renaissance period for affiliate marketing.

"We'll see affiliate marketing move back to where it began with thousands of small mom-and-pop Web sites each driving a little bit of traffic to marketers," Mr. Delisle said.

"This is really getting back to where affiliate marketing began, almost a Renaissance in a sense."

While it may sound far-fetched, other veteran marketers agree that big change is in the wind. Tapping the more obvious, established affiliate partners like Fatwallet.com and uPromise.com is certain to remain common practice (based on their ability to aggregate large numbers of product or service seekers). However, partnering with fewer, larger affiliates offers less dramatic growth opportunity. Social media sites, like MySpace, are getting revved up and this is where some see serious potential for marketers to connect with masses of product loyalists - all seeking to tell the world about themselves through favorite music artists, gadgets, movies, etc.

When social networking is combined with certain negative trends, such as search marketing's recent collision with affiliate marketing, the strategy itself seems poised for dramatic change.

"Leveraging burgeoning social networks is very much on my mind and on the minds of the other people who manage affiliate programs," said Seán Crotty, senior manager of affiliate programs at Art.com and AllPosters.com

According to Mr. Crotty, mass recruitment of prospective affiliate partners within this new realm is a daunting task given the current tool set marketers have been given.

"The crux is making it so simple that anyone can be an affiliate," Mr. Crotty said. "AllPosters.com has a full set of robust tools and sites in several languages. The challenges encompass simplifying affiliate sign-up and management processes…radically simplifying the tools we make available to them."

He said that even after those challenges are conquered the biggest challenge is getting word out in a broad sense.

"We have 400,000 products which means we have relevant prints, posters, or photos for almost any site or blog. It's about getting in front of the blogging masses … getting them to realize how utterly easy we've made it for them and getting them to put that link on their site," Mr. Crotty said.

On a recent edition of the Entrepreneur Magazine's eBiz radio show Mr. Delisle said that originally, "The original idea wasn't to have a small group of highly skilled affiliates driving tremendous amounts of traffic [as we have today]… it was to have a large sales base of people each sending a little bit of traffic to your site."

"Over the years we've continued to hear that smaller programs are better -- with greater control and more direct contact with affiliates," he said. "The problem [with this model] is the difficulty of communicating and monitoring a large group of affiliates. Instead of focusing on how the industry could better communicate with its affiliates it moved in an entirely different direction -- focusing on less affiliates."

So what's the problem? According to Mr. Delisle, "This practice puts a large reliance on a small group of people [affiliates]."

He suggests marketers are not able to grow revenue with a "small group" approach and have become reliant on search-focused affiliates that are now struggling with changes from search engines and marketers themselves.

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