No time of year exposes the weaknesses in an affiliate program like the Black Friday/Cyber Monday wave of holiday shopping. It’s a crazy time of year for e-commerce, when everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. But it also presents a huge opportunity, with some businesses raking in 10 percent or more of their annual revenue in just a few short days.
Whether your affiliate program gets burned by the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend or is able to capitalize on it depends largely on the quality of your program management and if your program is staffed properly internally or externally to deal with a fivefold increase in demand.
Acceleration Partners has always believed that affiliate programs only truly flourish when given lots of attention by experienced managers. This is how we operate all year round, but it’s especially important during the holiday craze. We provide a level of engagement for our programs that’s rare in the industry and is one of the reasons some of the top consumer brands choose to work with us.
How 360° Affiliate Management™ Is Different
When many people talk about affiliate program management, what they’re really talking about is managing the operation of an affiliate program, the nuts and bolts. They set the program up and keep it functioning, but do very little beyond that. This type of management is largely reactive, especially when it comes to massive spikes in demand, such as that around the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.
360° Affiliate Management™ is different. It involves understanding client brand and marketing goals and developing an aligned program strategy. Once the program is up and running, it involves proactively looking out for the client’s best interests and working to prevent problems before they happen, especially around a time of year as essential as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Here are some of the common problems engaged, 360° Affiliate Management™ is able anticipate and solve:
Account Funding Issues
The affiliate channel is unique from other marketing channels in that it’s purely performance-based. You only pay your affiliates when they contribute to an actual sale (as opposed to, say, a PPC ad that requires you to allocate a certain amount of money to AdWords and pay Google every time the ad is clicked).
For this reason, it can be very difficult to budget for affiliate commissions in advance. If you have a busy Black Friday, and your affiliates make lots of sales in the first day or two, it’s possible you could run out of money to pay them. But, if the sales they’re bringing in are profitable, it makes sense to continue funding the channel.
Engaged management will recognize a shortage of funds and work with accounting to get more money allocated to the program before a budgeting emergency occurs. Truly proactive management will anticipate some fluctuation in budget and work with the accounting department before busy periods to allocate a contingency fund of up to 20 percent that can be tapped into if the program performs above projections.
Holiday Weekend Staffing
Not only is Black Friday weekend extremely busy, but it also falls over a holiday weekend, making it difficult to staff for the spike in demand. Most people are off that Thursday and Friday, and by the time they get in to work on Monday, Cyber Monday sales are already off and running. Any last minute adjustments need to happen over the weekend.
One internal employee managing an affiliate program isn’t going to be able to monitor the program and respond to fires if they’re on vacation. And if they have to give up their vacation to do it, that’s going to be one unhappy camper.
The same is true of program managers at most affiliate agencies, which don’t generally devote time and manpower to their programs. Even if that manager works all weekend, they’re likely managing five or six different programs by themselves. Spread between so many busy programs, they likely won’t have enough time to put out the Black Friday fires that commonly arise.
For the 2014 Black Friday weekend we wanted to make sure we were staffed to deal with any problems that arose with any of our programs. Members of our affiliate team took turns being on call for a couple hours during Thanksgiving weekend. We had an eye on our accounts close to twenty-four hours a day from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving all the way through Cyber Monday. This way we were able to head off any major fires while still giving our staff a weekend with their families.
Last-Minute Program Changes
Being properly staffed over busy periods and holidays also allows us to make last-minute changes to a program so it can be fully operational. For example, if there’s a technology issue, such as a pixel breaking and causing tracking to go down, we’re able to fix it immediately, limiting the amount of damage done.
If there are any last-minute changes to a promotion or sale, we can update creative, such as banners and text links, so that they’re accurate. This allows the merchant to be nimble in their response to sales. And if there are any new affiliates who want to join a program right before the Black Friday/Cyber Monday surge of sales, we can accept them and get them active so they can start generating sales.
The holidays are also the time of year affiliate fraudsters come out to play, because the surge of legitimate orders allows them to more easily disguise their illicit activity. This year, for example, we were able to catch $200,000 of fraudulent purchases for one of our clients through a loyalty affiliate all coming from one hotel room in a short period of time.
Proactively monitoring for fraud like this can save merchants money and major headaches, but it’s a level of service that’s only possible for programs that are properly staffed.
Managing Relationships Between Publishers and Merchants
Affiliate marketing is a relationship business and during stressful, high-volume times of year it’s natural for the relationships between publishers and merchants to become strained. A fully engaged agency can anticipate friction and take steps to help both sides reach an agreement.
Going into the Wednesday night of Thanksgiving week, for example, one of our merchants was stuck in a negotiation with a very large publisher. We were able to help negotiate a deal that allowed their affiliate program to enter the Black Friday weekend at full strength.
These are only a few examples of what 360° Affiliate Management™ entails, but they’re illustrative of the huge difference it can make over the course of the entire year. Take a hard look at your affiliate program and make sure it’s getting enough attention from your in-house manager or OPM. Or contact us to find out more about how your program could benefit from our 360° Affiliate Management™.