I was asked the other day what it took to run a “clean” network, as it was put… and I hadn’t answered that question in quite a while – so I wanted to share with everyone some thoughts on the subject.
“Clean”, of course, is all relative … it depends on your own individual perception and point of view. That being said, I can tell you that my definition of “clean” includes maintaining a fair and level playing ground for all affiliates of a network. It includes encouraging innovation, creativity and competition…while still supporting fair business practices. It means that I believe in the “pure” sense of affiliate marketing where affiliates with organic or paid traffic can increase the reach of an individual merchant beyond their own brand limitations…without misleading or confusing consumers. It means each individual transaction brings value to the merchant and to the affiliate.
What does it take?
1. A true desire to keep “clean”. If keeping “clean” is just something that is done to create positive PR, or to squash critics – I would argue that the effort will not be successful. When a “business ethics” choice turns into a “business strategy”, one is able to focus on the efforts of staying “clean” because it fits in with the long term and short term goals of the company.
2. There must be a market to support. In the case of ShareASale, there are a great number of merchants and affiliates alike who use our service because it is “clean”. Our desire to stay “clean” fits in with their business strategy…thus, a market is formed and supported. If there wasn’t a single merchant or affiliate out there who wanted this type of service, it wouldn’t do much good to provide it.
3. The tools to get it done. First and foremost, an organization must have people in place who understand the complex issues of online marketing. When a new application or new strategy is brought to market by an affiliate, it is important for any network employee to be able to recognize the effect that the new tool has on an existing affiliate base. Recognition of any factors that may affect current affiliates is part one, with judgement coming later. A network should also rely on the affiliate base to help them recognize any technologies that may have slipped through the cracks, etc… As part of this, the network must also provide a level of transparency so that an individual merchant can analyze traffic patterns, referers and other indicators to help them monitor their own programs.
4. Lastly, a network must not be afraid to admit mistakes. This is a complex environment, online marketing… with dozens of new issues being brought to light each month. For the most part, decisions must be made with as much information as possible at a given time… and occasionally, the wrong decision will be made. Letting your affiliates and merchants provide valued feedback, as well as listening to that feedback (even if it is negative) is a step that all networks should take.