The Importance of Properly Planning your Brand

Yes, planning. We’ve heard it a million times. “If you fail to plan, plan on on failing”. It sounds cliche but the point is, it’s true. I’ve written several articles on How to Write an Effective Internet Marketing Plan which outlines the very basic elements that should be considered when planning a new online venture.

But what I want to discuss today is the importance of properly planning your brand and what impact having a properly planned brand could mean for you. Your brand is far more than your logo. It’s the synergy between who you are, what you do, how you think, what you represent and how others see you. It’s everything from the look and feel of your website to the values you communicate to your target market.

Let’s have a look at the affiliate marketing industry as an example. There are two ways people in this industry have successfully built brands. One is to brand themselves and the other is to brand their product or company.

1. Your Personal Brand

Examples of individuals who have successfully branded themselves are people like James Martell, John Chow, Missy Ward and Shawn Collins to name a few. These people, when you say their name, have huge brand recognition and chances are, even someone new would have heard their name a time or two.

If you visit their websites they have pictures or “icons” of themselves and have a strongly recognized “voice”. You wouldn’t have to have met them to know what they look like and chances are if you did (for the first time), you might be slightly nervous because they are considered slightly iconic in the industry.

Each of these people make it clear what they do and who they are. James Martell teaches newbie affiliates how to make money online through his Affiliate Marketers SUPER BootCamp. Shawn Collins and Missy Ward are most famously known for co-founding Affiliate Summit the affiliate industry’s largest and most recognized conference. From these other new successful brands and products were born.

But did this all happen by accident? Absolutely not. Each person spent countless hours (even years) carefully planning their brand and delivering a consistent message about who they are and what they do. Its that effort in planning, foresight and consistency that has helped them become the household brands they are now.

2. Your Company Brand

The second way to brand in this industry is to focus on your product, service or company as a whole. When you think of ShareaSale you think of honestly, strong ethics, personal attention and warmth toward both merchants and affiliates. You don’t only picture their logo. In fact, I personally am on their website daily and don’t remember exactly what it looks like. But I do know where to find them, know that they will be at all the industry shows and can name at least half their team and call them friends.

We think of the people behind the brand and what they stand for and how they will affect my business and my affiliates. I think about the good tools they offer, the quick response times from their IT department and the fact that when I call for help, I get immediate, friendly attention where I know I will be well taken care of. ShareaSale, through careful planning, long term vision and deliverance of a consistent message, have successfully build a brand around their people and values and as a result are one of the fastest growing affiliate networks in North America.

So I challenge you, whether you are an affiliate or a merchant, to look at the big picture of who you are and what you represent. Look long term toward the feeling people will have when they think of your brand and how they will respond. Then work your way backwards until you achieve it.

Just one thing to note, sometimes your brand might turn out differently than what you expect. At the end of the day, it’s your audience that determines what your brand really means. With proper planning your brand won’t be too far off.

Skimlinks an Affiliate or Affiliate Network?

Recent Update (several months after original post) : there are several merchants and outsourced program managers who are complaining about Skimlinks being a sub-network and the types of affiliates they are allowing into their network. The original post which made it sound like a positive solution and one to accept into your programs may no longer be accurate. The bottom line is Skimlinks IS in fact a sub-network and there are pros and cons to this. I encourage you to do your own research and make a decision for yourself as to whether you will allow sub-networks into your program or not. There are many who are for it and many who are against it. It will ultimately be up to you.

— ORIGINAL POST —

There have been a few questions lately about what Skimlinks is and how it fits into the affiliate marketing world. Some question whether it is an affiliate, a network or something in between.

Skimlinks is actually a great affiliate tool that allows an affiliate to easily and seamlessly earn money from text links on their site (perfect for bloggers!) where as Skimlinks puts in an affiliate link to a related product or service for you. Then if a sale is made, both Skimlinks and the affiliate earn money from the sale (25%/75% split respectively).

I signed up to see what it was about myself and here are the instructions I got emailed to me once approved:

“To install Skimlinks on your site, you first need to login to your account using your username (which is the email address you registered with: sarah (at) allinclusivemarketing.com) and set your password here:

http://skimlinks.me/uNPdWJ

Once logged in, you’ll be guided through the process of installing Skimlinks on your site. Installation is really straightforward: copy and paste the Skimlinks Javascript into your site’s footer. If you are using one of the following platforms, we have a dedicated installation guide which can be found under the Installation tab in your Account Interface: WordPress, vBulletin, Blogger, Typepad, Tumblr and Glam. If you don’t want to add the code yourself, we’ll show you how to send all the relevant details to your tech team.

Your Skimlinks account also allows you to:

  • Monetize content keywords with our SkimWords product
  • Run detailed revenue and activity reports
  • Check your balance
  • Search for suitable merchants
  • Apply to use Skimlinks on additional sites
  • Add new users to your Account
  • Access our extensive suite of publisher tools, specifically designed to help you get the most out of your content

To get most out of our service, we recommend adding product links and references to any content that is relevant. SkimLinks will turn these merchant links into their equivalent affiliate link, and SkimWords will turn product references into unobtrusive shopping links. Both services are automatically enabled on your site when you add our code. You can downgrade or deactivate any feature at anytime on the Installation page of the Publisher Interface.

If you have questions on any of the above, please visit the Support pages once you’ve logged into your account.

Thank you for choosing Skimlinks to help you earn more money from your content!”

Here’s what it looks like live:

Note to Merchants: Skimlinks gets to approve the affiliates, which means you don’t. However they have very strict rules about who is eligible and you can stop using their service at any time as well as request particular affiliates be removed from their service (though it’s up to them whether they remove them or not).

Skimlinks was nominated in 2010 as affiliate tool of the year in 2010 on AbestWeb by Wade Tonkin, Affiliate Manager of Footfall Fanatics. It is also used by many reputable affiliates including some of the founders of Affiliate Summit.

Affiliate Marketing in Canada: The Next Big Thing?

I had a bit of an epiphany this week after speaking with a US based affiliate who recently launched a website targeting Canadian buyers. This affiliate started in the industry about eight years ago with one website and a two man team. Today, this affiliate owns over 25 different Google Page Rank 4 properties and is able to fund the employment of 25 people strictly on commission from the merchants they promote.

It was an interesting conversation which led to me sending myself about 10 emails from bed the other night as my husband and baby slept beside me. The evolution of ideas keep coming in and I required my blackberry remind me in the morning each exciting angle that came to me.

What was the bottom line? Canada is the next big opportunity for US based affiliate marketing programs. Merchants and marketing companies have done such a good job advertising their brands that the US marketplace has become somewhat saturated and margins cut to a bare minimum.

That means US based companies are looking for new places to emerge. They need new customers who they can sell and deliver to easily. The obvious solution? Canada. Canadians think similarly to Americans in many ways because they are exposed to many of the same tv shows, movies, commercials and celebrities that Americans have been exposed to.

In general, Canadians know more about the US government than their own. They know more about American news, can name more American celebrities and in a lot of cases, have stronger brand recognition with US based companies than Canadian ones.

Combine that with the fact that shipping products by land is cheaper than by air and voia la! Your next big unsaturated target market for the States.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Like Americans, Canadians are also extremely pratriotic. They love their country and will do anything to support it. So just as Americans would rather buy from a US based company than a Canadian one, Canadians would rather buy from a Canadian based company, or at least one that’s in their own currency and targeted specifically to them.

That’s why US based affiliate SurfMyAds relaunched Coupons.ca after years of testing in the Canadian market. Three years ago Canada wasn’t ready for this website. There were not enough US based merchants shipping to Canada and there were not enough affiliate programs from Canadian based companies. Today that’s all changed as shipping has become less of an issue and Canadian companies are waking up to the opportunity of Canadian based online shoppers.

This leads to an incredible opportunity for Canadian based distribution companies, affiliates, merchants and Outsourced Affiliate Program Managers, such as Vancouver based All Inclusive Marketing, Toronto based GrowthSpurt Media and Vancouver Island based Her Media, which specialize in affiliate marketing management for both US and Canadian based clients.

There are many Canadian affiliates looking to partner with US based merchants targeting Canadian shoppers. Better offers, exclusive coupons for Canadian customers, a better selections of merchants and the possibility of different tax regulations open the doors for interesting opportunities for these groups.

What many Americans don’t know is that Canadians have a hard time finding products that can be shipped to them from the US. For example, many products on Amazon.com cannot be delivered to Canada. Even Zappos doesn’t ship to Canada anymore due to high shipping rates and limited cross boarder tracking. That’s why Amazon.ca is building up their next empire in international destinations, such as Canada, offering larger inventories and wider selection than anything seen in previous years.

Needless to say, you don’t have to be Amazon to take advantage of the Canadian shoppers waiting to get their hands on your goods. By offering quick shipping, exclusive coupons and ensuring orders can be placed in CND, you’re opening the doors to new revenue opportunities. With 33 million people and several billion dollars spent on shopping each year, even a small piece  of that pie could equate to a small fortune.

Register Today for ASW12

7 Free Affiliate Recruitment Strategies That Work

I’m often asked what my top affiliate recruitment strategies are by new merchants coming into the affiliate marketing space. Depending on their budget, there are a variety of free and paid affiliate recruitment strategies I recommend. Here are my favorite free affiliate recruitment strategies that work.

1. Search Engines

The most obvious free way to find good potential websites to partner with is to do a manual search for related keywords in search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.

However many people stop there. Don’t forget there are a variety of search engines, not just the top three. Also consider niche search engines such as Search7.com for business, or Ask.com which helps people find answers to questions they might have.

Also consider international search engines. Asia, Europe and South America all have their own popular places to find free information online, which include a whole new opportunity of potential affiliates to partner with.

Also consider the geographic location of your searches. If you’re in the US looking for the top 10 websites in Canada in Google, for example, you can alter the resulting URL to what Canadians would be looking at.

For example, if you do a search for “Ray Ban Sunglasses”, you’d get a result like this: http://www.google.ca/search?q=ray+ban+sunglasses&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en&client=safari

If you add to the end of this resulting URL “&gl=ca” it will give you the results for the same keyword in Canada. This additional code literally translates to “and Global equals Canada”. If you did “&gl=uk” it would be “and Global equals UK” (United Kingdom) and so on.

Once you find the top 10 (or 30) websites you’d like to work with, you can begin personalized outreach to each.

2. Twitter

One interesting new way to recruit affiliates for free is through twitter. There are a few ways to find potential affiliates.

By using the search box for related keywords on their own (Ray Bans), or related topics (#RayBans) or related companies or people (@RayBans) you’ll be able to find a variety of different related results.

By doing searches for Affiliate Networks such as ShareaSale combined with the keyword (“ShareaSale” and Ray Bans”) you’ll be able to find affiliates who are talking about this particular product.

3. Facebook

Facebook is a GREAT place to find affiliates for free, mainly because they are pretty much all on there and are ACTIVE everyday. Affiliates use Facebook to stay connected with important people (colleagues, partners, merchants, etc) in the industry while also promoting their affiliate links to potential buyers.

The best way to find affiliates on Facebook is either to already know some affiliates and start introducing yourself to their friends. As you have more friends in common, it’s easier to identify which people are in the affiliate marketing industry and which are just personal connections.

Additionally, there are a lot of different pages and groups, such as the Affiliate Summit group, where many affiliates hang out and get program and industry updates. Say hi on the wall of these affiliate related pages. As to join groups. participate in discussions and help people get to know you and your place in the industry.

4. Check Competitor’s Backlinks

One of the best ways to find potential affiliates is to look at the back links of your competitors’ website. This particular affiliate recruitment strategy is a little time consuming but can lead to some very effective affiliate partnerships.

The reasoning? These websites are already interested in your niche or product and are already likely set up as affiliates. It’s just a matter of either getting them to add your links as well or getting them to replace your competitor’s links if you can offer them a better deal.

To do this, go to the search engine of your choice (usually Google) and do the following search: “Link:www.CompetitorsWebsite.com”

You can also check Alexa.com for back links to your competitors’ websites. This is also a good place to check information about other related search terms and websites you might not have already through of.

5. Put an “Affiliates” Link in your Footer

This one is incredibly simple to do and you only have to do it once, but it’s one of the most effective ways of helping affiliates who visit your website access your affiliate program page.

Simply make sure there is a link (usually a text link that says “Affiliates”, “Associate Program”, “Become a Partner” or something along those terms. “Affiliates” or “Affiliate Program” are the two most common.

That link should then lead to a page on your website with more information about your program and how an affiliate can sign up (with the link to the sign up page) and get any additional details about how the program might work for them.

It’s industry best practice to also include contact info to the affiliate manager, some sample banners and text links and any top sellers that might catch the prospective affiliate’s eye.

6. Affiliate Directories

There are a few free affiliate directories out there that are worth posting your program in. Usually you have to fill out a company short bio and go through a bit of an application process, however once accepted, give affiliates searching directories a place to easily find you.

Additionally, affiliate directories help with your affiliate program page placement in the search engines, because you’re able to get a back link back to your affiliate sign up page. This will help you show up in the search engines when affiliates type in keywords such as “sunglasses affiliate programs.”

7. Affiliate Announcements

If you already have an affiliate program running, specifically one that utilizes datafeeds, you can use popular affiliate tools, such as Popshops and GoldenCAN to get additional exposure to your affiliate program through their announcements.

When you begin working with either of these two affiliates, they put up an announcement in the main Affiliate Forums, such as AbestWeb.com as well as include an announcement of your program in their email newsletter.

Anyone can follow the free affiliate recruitment strategies as outlined above, and by doing all of them you’re more likely to find potential affiliates to join your program.

3 Tips for Attending Affiliate Summit West 2012

Register Today for ASW12

Affiliate Summit West 2012 is just around the corner and is the most anticipated affiliate marketing event of the year. This year’s Affiliate Summit will be located at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, between January 8-10. It is expected to sell out by the end of this month.

All the biggest players from all angles of the affiliate marketing world will be at this event. Last year, Affiliate Summit West saw a record breaking 4,800 attendees, with this year being even larger.
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5 Myths About Your Affiliates

There are several misconceptions that merchants have about their affiliates and their affiliate marketing programs. Here are 5 common myths I’ve come across over the years.

1. Affiliates Work for You

Affiliates work WITH you, not for you. They work for themselves. Many merchants have the mentality that affiliates are their employees or subcontractors. They are not.

The beauty of being an affiliate is that you have the freedom to pick and chose what merchants you want to work with, which products you want to promote, which hours you want to work, what you want your website to look like and how you want to market them.

Affiliates can be anything from stay at home moms and dads to large corporations looking to further monetize their websites.

So how, then, do you work with them? As valued partners. As respected peers. You have to ask nicely, show them that you care, provide the tools they need, have good response times to their questions and inquiries and respect that they have the right and freedom to work with you or not.

It’s your job as the merchant to provide them with the value they are looking for and a solid working relationship so they feel happy and confident promoting you and your brand.

2. Affiliates Don’t Want To Be Reached Out To

It’s true that not every affiliate wants to be called at home or constantly harassed by email, but for the most part, the vast majority of affiliates want to be reached out to.

Better yet, affiliates are shocked when you personally find the time to look through their website and call them to explore ideas or send them a personal message to see how they are doing, if they need anything or had any questions about your program.

Affiliates need to be communicated with. How else do they get the most relevant information that’s applicable only to them? Or ask the questions they’ve been wondering about how to best position or sell your niche products?

Most affiliate managers send a newsletter one a month or once a quarter. However you’ll get better results if you do a little more. Try personal outreach. Host a live webinar where affiliates can ask you questions about your program or how to better position your products so you can ALL have better sales.

If you must rely on your monthly newsletter being your only form of outreach, try to include as much information as possible to help them make better decisions and updates to pre-sell your products on their websites. Things like best sellers, new products, new features on your website, upcoming sales, new banners or text links or videos should all be included.

I would even take this one step further and encourage you to segment your affiliate list to send separate newsletters to different groups of affiliates depending on their level of expertise and performance. You don’t want to send basic tips and tricks on Facebook marketing to an affiliate who strictly does PPC, and you don’t what to send data feed updates to affiliates who only have a content site and strictly use text links.

The point is, affiliates need relevant information and they need to know you’re looking out for them. This way, you can work together to find the best possible solutions that will help them, and you, get the sale.

3. You Should Only Care About Your Top 1% of Affiliates

This is a very dangerous belief that a lot of merchants seem to take. Think of it this way, if you only have 100 affiliates in your program, with 1 (your top 1%) producing all your program’s sales, you have just put all your eggs in one basket.

What happens if that affiliate decides to leave your program? Or one of your competitors comes along and snatches them up instead? Your program has just gone from high performance to zero performance overnight.

Instead, spend time taking care of your higher performing affiliates, but also look to bring in new potential high performers as well as help the guys who are already in your program.

You never know if someone already in your program who’s relatively new in the field will end up being one of your best performers, and they are simply waiting for you to work with them before they break out.

4. Affiliates are Thieves and Scammers

Affiliate marketing has had a bad reputation for a long time due to unethical behavior from a few affiliates as well as the quick fix, porn, gaming or get rich quick schemes.

Fortunately there are also a TON of ethical affiliates who work hard, put forth the honest time, effort and financial investment, and have a legitimate business for themselves.

These guys follow the rules, honor your program terms of service and are able to capture the right targeted audience with the same skill and technique that some of the leading marketing agencies in the world use.

From this, it’s important to know how to identify fraudulent affiliates in order to better protect your program, but also important how to recruit super affiliates who just know what they are doing, and do it right.

5. Affiliates Should Perform Immediately or You Should Kick Them Out

First of all, unless an affiliate has done something incredibly unethical, illegal or diminishing to your brand, it’s better not to kick an affiliate out of your program.

Here’s why:

Your affiliates, being self employed and in high demand, are extremely busy people. Many affiliates sign up for multiple programs at the same time and don’t always get to them right away.

Some affiliates sign up for a program because they have a domain that would be suitable for your products but haven’t had a chance to launch their new site yet.

Other affiliates are simply new to affiliate marketing (or internet marketing in general) and are still trying to figure out the best way to promote your product or brand while they learn the ropes. There is no reason they can’t become a top producer for you within a few months.

There are a hundred reasons why your affiliates haven’t gotten you up on their site yet, but it’s important to know that one day they may, and that it could mean a lot of sales for you.

Affiliate marketing is a long term strategy. If you want fast results, launch a Paid Search campaign. However if you want to work with your affiliates as valued partners, you’ll both need to invest in a relationship together, both working to understand the others’ needs and desires, then finding a way to help each other achieve them. Usually as the affiliate manager, that next step comes from you and your affiliate outreach strategies.

As a merchant you need to help educate your affiliates about your products or services, what works well to convert sales, what keywords perform over others, what products sell better than others, what value propositions or words to use in their copy and so on. Ultimately, they need to test these things themselves, specific to their website traffic and make adjustments that work for them.

Not every affiliate is going to work the same way and not every method is going to be successful for each affiliate. Just like any other marketing channel, you (and they) need to test what works, measure, tweak and try again. It’s a process and it takes time. So give it the time it needs to grow and flourish into something beautiful and profitable for all.

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