One of the important responsibilities of managing an affiliate marketing channel is communicating with affiliates. The most common form of communicating with them is an email newsletter. A question many affiliate managers ask is, “How often should I send a newsletter?” The concern is if affiliate managers bombard their affiliates with repeated emails, affiliates will ignore them. However, affiliate newsletters should be approached with the same philosophy as customer communications. If the content is newsworthy, relevant and serves a purpose, then it is less likely to get overlooked. All of your affiliate messaging should be relevant and timely, and should be action-oriented rather than informational.
At a minimum, I suggest sending a weekly newsletter. At Groupon, where I serve as affiliate marketing manager, I send three to four newsletters a week. Each newsletter focuses on a different channel. One might highlight travel deals from Groupon Getaways; another might focus on a particular theme such as weddings or Mother’s Day. With the Groupon model, inventory changes daily, so there is a need to communicate frequently with affiliates.
Jon Goodwin, affiliate manager for Eastern Mountain Sports, the outdoor gear and equipment retailer, does an excellent job communicating with his affiliates. He sent the following newsletter — which you can also read here — to his affiliates earlier this week.
In the Eastern Mountain Sports' newsletter, notice the following best practices.
Advance notice of upcoming sales. A common concern with providing affiliates with advance notice on sales or promotions is that your competition will get wind of it and set up a competing offer. The way around this is simply to put the affiliates under embargo. Ask them not to post any details about the promotion until it is actually live. Affiliates know that if they violate the embargo, they risk being terminated from the program, and since this is their livelihoods, there is no motivation for them to deviate from your request. In Goodwin’s newsletter, he provides information about current sales as well as upcoming sales. Information about each sale is clearly listed: start date, end date, promo code (if necessary) and promo name. Putting all this information in one place, in bullet-point format, is helpful for affiliates. “We like to include main and secondary messaging from our clients' marketing campaigns. We also like to highlight any products we anticipate would significantly impact revenue,” Goodwin says.
Product highlights. Your affiliates may be experts at online marketing, but you are the product expert. Use the newsletter to teach your affiliates about your products so that they’re better equipped to drive relevant traffic. In the EMS newsletter, Goodwin highlights three Gore-Tex shoes that are part of a footwear sale. He provides product images and descriptions, which give affiliates a better understanding of benefits and attributes that they can share with potential consumers.
Banners and code. Affiliates get newsletters from merchants every day. It’s easy for them to fall into the read and delete process. One way to help ensure that your program remains in their inboxes is to provide the affiliates' actual tracking codes in your newsletters. This way, all they have to do to get your latest promotion up on their site is to copy and paste the code provided. This saves affiliates from having to log into their affiliate account, where they might be distracted by other merchants and tasks. In the EMS newsletter, you’ll see that Goodwin provides banners along with a “Get HTML” link located immediately underneath the actual creative. By doing so, if affiliates see a banner they want to place onto their sites, all they need to do is click that “Get HTML” link and their tracking code will be provided in a pop-up window with their affiliate IDs pre-populated.
“Affiliates are busy, and we appreciate and respect that. We strive to make their lives easier with our affiliate newsletter, to make links easily accessible. That way affiliates can simply grab links and place them on their site,” Goodwin explains.
Goodwin also provides several text links with pre-written copy. There are two benefits associated with this. First, it makes it quick and easy for affiliates to communicate sale information to their visitors. Second, Goodwin is able to control the message, so he knows that the sale is being communicated in accordance with any brand and marketing guidelines. Goodwin also knows that this particular copy converts well, so by providing it to his affiliates, he can help them boost their conversions as well.
Direct contact information. A mature affiliate marketing program could have tens of thousands of enrolled affiliates. Because of this, many affiliate managers think they will be overwhelmed with phone calls. They hesitate at providing personal contact information. However, there are significant benefits to providing a direct line of communication. First and foremost, this information helps build credibility. It shows that you view your affiliate partnership as collaboration, and that you are available to answer any questions that your affiliate might have. “We include contact information, so if any affiliates need clarification, additional links or assistance, they can reach out to us,” Goodwin says. “We want to ensure we're doing anything and everything we possibly can for our affiliates, to go that extra mile to make sure they have what they need to be successful.”
Remember that people form relationships with people, not entities. By including your personal contact information, you show affiliates that there is a real human being behind the newsletter. Also, affiliates are often the first to notice an issue on your site. There have been times when an affiliate has called me to let me know that our API — a dynamic list of products that we provide to affiliates for use in their marketing efforts — was down. Such fast feedback on our tools cuts down on recovery time. Goodwin provides multiple touch points for affiliates to communicate with him: direct phone line, direct email address, and Twitter handle. Contrary to what you might expect, he is not overwhelmed with affiliate inquiries. In fact, Goodwin loves connecting with affiliates and views that as one of the best parts of his job.
The newsletter is your chance to connect with your affiliates on a personal level. Try to maintain a tone that is helpful, friendly and informative. Affiliates are often partnered with hundreds of merchants. The best way to distinguish yourself and secure loyalty is to build a relationship. Don’t be afraid to share workplace stories or experiences that might help affiliates relate to you on a personal level. Doing so often opens the door for two-way communication.