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Making the most of affiliate marketing efforts

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Cruise line Royal Caribbean sells directly to consumers, but a big chunk of its sales come from travel agents. Rather than market directly to agents’ customers—travel agents are often reluctant to share their customer lists—Royal Caribbean decided to help its affiliates create their own direct marketing.

The company created a video magazine that can be co-branded and e-mailed by affiliates; links in the e-mail take those who click back to the affiliates rather than to Royal Caribbean directly, said Tony Quin, CEO of IQ Interactive.

The problem is a familiar one for any business that wants the opportunity to expand its sales efforts by using affiliates. Quin, along with Stefan Pollard, director of consulting services for EmailLabs, provide tips on how to address the challenge.

1) Treat affiliate leads with kid gloves. “When using affiliates to collect sign-up information and pass it over to a company, it is extremely important to send a welcome or introduction e-mail as immediately as possible,” Pollard said. “This e-mail should include information on how the e-mail address was obtained, information about the types of e-mail the recipient has opted to receive and directions for removal if they signed up by mistake.” Even more important, he said, make sure you use a double opt-in confirmation, even if direct sign-ups on your site are single opt-in.

2) Track your sign-ups. Some affiliates offer such appealing calls to action that people will hand over their personal information just to get their free gift or prize. Track the number of complaints or unsubscribes you get so you know which affiliates deliver quality leads and which don’t.

3) Share your vision—and your marketing expertise. Templates that let you control the design and quality of your affiliate’s e-mail message and landing page can help attract more affiliates and keep your brand strong. “If you can make the customization easy for affiliates, they will appreciate it,” Quin said. “Anything you give them is likely to be a thousand times better than anything they can create on their own for you.” And be wary if your affiliate doesn’t want to co-brand materials, Pollard said.

“Why are they afraid to show their brand? It comes back to the quality control issues. If the affiliate doesn’t want to show your brand, there’s a problem,” he said. “This means the names sent over to you have no idea who you are or why they are receiving information from you.”

4) Don’t be afraid to be the bad guy. Even if you have an affiliate program that works, keep close tabs on it, Pollard said. One misstep by a single affiliate site can seriously affect your company and brand, so you should never be afraid to kill a questionable relationship. “If you have a successful offer and brand, bad affiliate programs can tarnish your reputation. Allowing sites to promote your offer independent of quality controls—for example, simply sending e-mail to their own list, using their creative and passing names to you—can get you associated with spam,” he said. “Your domain and brand name could get added to block lists used by receivers to prevent any e-mail containing your domain from being delivered. This could drastically impact future campaigns.”

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