Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Problem With Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing can be a useful tool for getting some recognition and spreading the word about your products. After all, it allows you to connect directly with a substantially broader audience via someone that they already may have a trusted relationship with. By leveraging the power of the network of others, you can get your products or services in front of many more people that you might can help. Sounds like a no-lose situation, right?

The problem I have with affiliate marketing is what I call the "shared circles" problem. Instead of reaching new markets, you end up beating people over the head with products and services that they don't want, or even if they were interested, won't buy after being blasted. Affiliate marketing works best when it feels like a personal recommendation and it doesn't feel like you are being marketed to. Yet with the shared circles problem you might as well be running television commercials. Let me explain how this problem comes about.

We'll take a single individual. Let's call her Julie.

Julie gets exposed somehow to a really sweet offer from James via his Twitter feed around a topic that Julie has been searching. She goes to James' site, downloads his materials, and gets added to his mailing list. All good so far, and Julie really starts to enjoy content from James on a regular basis.
Now James has a blogger friend who is really trying to build up a mailing list so she can start selling her online course. We'll call her Amanda. So Amanda asks James if he can do some affiliate marketing for her via his mailing list. Maybe she pays James for the privelege, maybe there's an affiliate kickback, whatever. Either way, Julie gets an email from James promoting Amanda. Julie trusts James' opinion and decides to check Amanda's stuff out. In the process, she ends up on Amanda's mailing list and starts getting emails from Amanda.

Hey, the affiliate marketing worked exactly as it is supposed to! Amanda was able to leverage the trust that James had from his mailing list to expand her own reach and get Julie interested in her content and potentially products. It's all great. That is, until Amanda and James are talking with their friend Michael, who decides to try the same tactic. Only this time, Michael uses both Amanda and James as his affiliates. Since Amanda has marketed her own list subscriptions through James, there is significant overlap in their lists. This isn't particularly a bad problem, since those people are willing to sign up, right? But it does mean that a large portion of their lists, including Julie, got two emails recommending Michael, not just one. Still, our heroine here (and potential customer), Julie, actually likes what Michael has to offer and downloads three different offers from him. Unfortunately, the way Michael's customer segmentation works, he has multiple mailing lists tailored to different topics and doesn't merge them, so Julie gets added to all three of his lists.

Beginning to see the problem? Just wait. In comes Brian. Michael, Amanda, and James all praise and preach the success of their affiliate marketing efforts. In fact, Amanda might even start teaching a class showing how well it works and how she utilized it to build a massive email list and generate huge sales! Brian is sold. He creates a product, and utilizes all three affiliates to market it.

This time, however, Julie receives five emails promoting the same product from James, Amanda, and Michael. She even gets one from a different list she signed up for (since Brian is ambitious and really shooting for the moon, he went in search of a bunch of related topical lists). Not only does she get those five emails, but she's getting entire launch sequences of emails (build interest, set a timer, open cart, close cart, etc.) from all of the different sources. Oh, and one more thing. Brian sent "swipe copy" to the affiliates, so occasionally, Julie is getting the same email asking her to trust their recommendation from multiple people.

In the end, Julie starts to feel like she has been spammed and starts hitting unsubscribe links like it is going out of style. She ends up dropping off of James and Amanda's lists. Eventually she leaves Michael as well once this happens another time or two.

So how can you prevent that?

Honestly, you can't totally avoid it. If you are using affiliate marketing at all, there is a good chance you will have some duplicates on the list. However, there are a few ways to make it feel less of a beating for the recipient.

  • Don't Send Your Whole Launch Sequence Through Affiliates- it might be tempting to keep that launch sequence going through the affiliates, but as demonstrated above, this can overwhelm and flood your potential customers with spam. Save the good sequence emails for those that expressed interest to you directly.
  • Don't Use Affiliates of Affiliates - Ask your affiliates who they use to do their own affiliate marketing, and then feel free to contact them, but don't use multiples from the same circles. Pick whoever has the biggest list and go from there.
  • Ask for Sample Emails - I'm not sure many would go for this as it's pretty common to keep email lists private. I don't and won't ever share email addresses of anyone that signs up on my site. However, it doesn't hurt to ask. If they say no, respect that (and your potential future customer's privacy as well).
  • Keep Your Affiliate Marketing Infrequent - Save affiliate marketing for the big launch. Set a frequency that makes sense (once every year or two) and stick with it. You might get a little greedy and feel tempted to use it with every launch, but that becomes an email nightmare for the recipients. I know of at least one marketer that does a launch every four or five months, and for a while, I was getting launch sequence emails for every one of them through four affiliates of his (I have since unsubscribed to most). Make the marketing count, and count in the right way. Space it out.
After all this, you may still annoy some potential clients and miss out on some sales. But as Amanda, James, and Michael above will tell you (if they existed), affiliate marketing can be an effective way to get the word out. Just do it with caution.

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