mThink Blue Ribbon Panel Member, Jackie Bates, along with LC’s Directors of Merchant and Affiliate Relations, talk with mThink on the process from launch to optimization of performance marketing campaigns. What are some keys to success?
Imagine a new advertiser coming to you to launch a new product. What’s the process between contract and launch?
JB: With over 12 years of experience, LinkConnector has time-tested the launch process for advertisers. Whether an advertiser selects the Self-Managed account option, or chooses to leverage our dedicated management support team with a Co-Managed account, LC has solutions for various needs and budgets. Jennifer King is LinkConnector’s Director of Merchant Relations and is intimately involved in the setup, launch, success and operations of our advertiser accounts. I’m going to turn the question over to her to get a perspective from the front lines.
Jennifer: Communication is key. It’s not just about the basic requirements needed to launch a campaign (although, we do have an easy 5-step process in place). Instead, at LinkConnector, we take the time to have in-depth conversations with an advertiser to ensure we fully understand their product, any existing affiliate tracking setup, and their specific goals. Being armed with this information empowers our team to make recommendations for incorporating the appropriate LinkConnector technologies for an optimal setup. From Advanced Attribution to ensuring proper code setup across various channels, our Merchant Relations team will work with the advertiser to ensure a strong campaign setup from the start.
Outside of the mechanics, our team is available for a complete walkthrough of our interface. LinkConnector offers extensive reporting and functionality; we want to equip our clients with hands-on knowledge of all the robust tools at their disposal. Our Merchant Relations department can help bolster the program from the starting gates through recommending the most advantageous affiliate promotional types to work and strategies to maximize merchant seasonality.
The combination of having an optimally set up campaign and understanding the power of our system allows our merchants’ affiliate partners to have a sturdy foundation for a successful campaign.
How does an advertiser prevent affiliates from competing with and cannibalizing the advertiser’s own search or display campaigns?
JB: With due respect to the sensitivities surrounding an advertiser’s SEM initiatives, there may be missed opportunities for those retailers that view their affiliates purely as competition. With a delicate balance of boundaries and enablement, SEM affiliates have the expert potential to be an extension of a retailer’s own efforts: able to capture more of the SEM shelf space for a retailer’s brand (and prevent leakage to the competition).
As this is an important and widely polarizing question within the performance marketing space, I’m going to turn it over to LinkConnector’s Director of Affiliate Relations, John Nardolilli, who is immersed in the day-to-day operations with our affiliates.
John: There are a few things advertisers need to consider when determining the best way to work with affiliates for their search and/or display expertise. Do you currently do search or display in house? If so, what are your successes and what needs improvement?
For search campaigns, what is your current internal cost? Consider both the budget you set aside for search campaigns and the amount of time you spend managing the campaigns. Then, you can begin to determine if a search affiliate partner makes sense.
There are three words most relevant to online marketing: test, test, test. Even if your internal search campaigns are rock solid you should still test to make sure there isn’t additional traffic you may be missing. Adding a search partner or multiple search partners could challenge your internal search efforts, but it can also open up new traffic sources and secure shelf space from competitors. Why not test and find out? Keep in mind that all you will pay a search partner is the commission they earn from sales generated by their traffic. This simplifies the cost to you (the advertiser) because the risk and time factor is shouldered by the affiliate.
Communication will be key if you choose to work with a search partner while also running your own internal search campaigns. If you choose to keep your internal search campaigns live, be sure you continue to spend time optimizing. You should discuss the search partner’s strategy before they begin promoting to understand the value they bring. Top search partners will want to bid on TM terms and use the profits they earn to target broader keywords for optimization. Set up regular calls and review ad copy. Ask that they provide reports to support their efforts. You do not need to know every keyword they are bidding on, but most partners will share enough for you to feel confident they are developing a strong search campaign. Remember, you know your business best so offer content suggestions to your search partner. Search partners will value your knowledge and use it to help increase traffic and ROI for your search campaigns.
Internal display campaigns can be a little tricky and can end up costing more (or having a lower ROI) if not optimized properly. Due to this, display can also take even more time than search campaigns. A display ad may show a great ROI one month but not the next.
Display affiliates usually know the platforms extremely well and can test to determine whether a particular merchant or product offering is a good fit. They also know how often to optimize ads to prevent overspending.
Communication between you and the display affiliate is essential. You will want to view them as a department within your company and share upcoming promotional banners or product offerings regularly. Your display partners can then work on creating display campaigns to fit your internal promotional efforts. The more information you provide the better. Display campaigns tend to require a higher level of interaction than search because banner ads and promotions change regularly. If you are doing display internally, letting the affiliates know which platforms you are using will be important. The affiliates can then leverage exposure in other platforms. You may want to consider allowing an affiliate to test on the platforms you are already utilizing to see if they are able to generate better results.
What is the best way for a publisher to “get to the next level” where they are offered exclusive offers and improved commission rates?
JB: For a publisher to achieve priority relationship status with its merchant partners, a few foundational approaches are needed. Transparency as to how and where a publisher promotes their merchant partners, as well as consistent communication with network representatives, are a must. Getting to the next level, though, requires greater creativity, commitment and hard work. I’m going to turn this question over to LinkConnector’s Director of Affiliate Relations, John Nardolilli, as he has published several papers on this topic and works in the day-to-day operations with nearly all of the industry’s leading affiliates.
John: Publishers need to have open communication with merchants from the start and they must produce results—bottom line.
Publishers are too often closed off from merchant contacts and sometimes with causation. The more you expose to merchants the more they may want to limit what you are allowed to do—or worse, they may stop you completely. This thought process, however, is counter productive to “getting to the next level.”
I advocate getting in contact with merchants from the start. Let the merchant know how you plan to promote and what you need to be successful. If they are not willing to offer you exclusive coupons, seasonality or demographic insights or consider commission increases in the near term, they may be willing to revisit after you start to drive conversions. If they are invested in you, send more traffic and spend more than you would normally to generate conversions. Keep in contact with the merchant as you drive more conversions. With the extra strategical effort, you will earn more and attain that next level.
The original interview is found on the mThink website here.