Affiliate marketing comes into its own

Ticketmaster will launch its entry into affiliate marketing on December 1. The program has a resource center where affiliates can learn how to build compelling links and access customizable marketing materials. Affiliates can also get sales reports and share best practices with each other.

When this news is coupled with the growing number of midsize retailers branching into affiliate marketing, it seems that, despite being one of the oldest online marketing strategies, affiliate marketing hasn’t yet reached saturation.

“Some retailers stayed on the sidelines of affiliate marketing for a while, trying out different channels,” such as search, says Shawn Collins, co-founder of the trade show Affiliate Summit.

Often, this was because of a negative connotation that clung to affiliate marketing for years, thanks to the shady practices of some players in its early days, when click fraud was rampant.

“There’s a far greater level of transparency in affiliate marketing today than there was just three years ago,” says  Chris Henger, VP, affiliate marketing at DoubleClick Performics.

This is one reason why his company was able to add 52 new affiliate marketing clients in the third quarter. Retailers can easily follow affiliate Web traffic, and analytics are available that show loyalty over time and the lifetime value of customers acquired through affiliates.

Affiliate marketing has many benefits for marketers of all sizes, especially small to midsize operations. As well as the benefits of linking with a large site with high, good-quality traffic, affiliates also frequently can access marketing advice.

“A lot of metrics are proving that a quality customer comes through affiliate marketing,” Henger says, adding that other reasons retailers are taking another look at affiliate marketing include its cost-effectiveness and ability to drive tangible sales.

Collins says that another reason for affiliate marketing’s current strength is the improved ability retailers have to create programs that help activate affiliates, using direct mail and e-mail to provide incentives and tools to help drive sales and/or leads.

Merchants are also looking into offering affiliates advanced media solutions.

“A banner ad is not going to cut it anymore,” says Heather Paulson, president of Paulson Management Group, referring to the increasing use of video, mobile marketing and social media with affiliate programs.

Because of the strength of US affiliate marketing, more merchants are expanding their programs into Europe and Asia, according to Paulson. The strategy “gives merchants an opportunity to leverage new markets.” As a result, she continues, international affiliate networks like TradeDoubler are increasingly influential, and other companies are looking into creating multi-language affiliate Web sites.

What’s really happening is that affiliate marketing is being recognized as “a mainstay in the online marketing mix,” Henger says. “Is it going to be a 30% contributor of paid online activity? Probably not,” he continues. However, he insists that affiliate marketing will continue to be an “important cog” in the wheel that is online marketing.

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