Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Affiliates for all seasons

Affiliate marketing is not just for Christmas; it can be usefully employed across the entire year.

Last week, I wrote about how marketers can prepare their search activity for Christmas. While 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 ramp 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 fiercest 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, which run websites with content designed to draw in traffic sourced mostly 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.

Second, some affiliates specialise in Christmas sites and search campaigns aimed directly at consumers looking for seasonal goods. Your existing affiliate relationships may not include these, and it's useful to review coverage to ensure you're represented here.

These specialists look to get their sites up and running three months in advance of the seasonal peak to maximise coverage within the search engines' usual listings. However, many will still be finalising sites over the next few weeks, so there's still time to get materials out to them.

As ever with affiliate marketing, this is about effective communication. The offer itself is one thing, but building a direct relationship with affiliate partners creates lower churn and higher prominence, as well as useful information about what affiliates look 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 capture data and indulge in good practice around seasonal activity, it can become a vital resource for future campaigns. Key actions can be recorded and used to build a process that can be applied repeatedly, helping you benefit from the accumulation of experience.

You don't have to wait for Christmas to apply this practice. Valentine's Day, half-term, financial year-end, Easter: all present seasonal opportunities for affiliates, and therefore an opportunity to exercise your model.

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

Affiliate marketing was a £3bn market in 2007, and it continues to grow quickly as consumers 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.

- Andrew Walmsley is co-founder of i-level


- CDNOW was the first non-adult content website to use affiliate activity. In 1994 it launched BuyWeb, allowing users of Geffen Records' artist information site to click-through and purchase music from CDNOW.

- In 1996, Amazon launched an affiliate programme allowing associate sites to publish links to individual products sold by Amazon, or to the Amazon homepage, and to earn commission on subsequent purchases.

- Though several sites had similar pre-existing systems, Amazon applied for a patent in 1997, and was granted it in 2000. In 2001 it purchased CDNOW.

- Affiliate marketing is used most in the gambling, retail and adult content sectors, with mobile phones, finance and travel expected to post the most significant growth.

- The interactive nature of web 2.0 sites such as social networks and blogs has invigorated the channel, allowing marketers to capitalise on users' greater emotional connection with content.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message