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  1. #1
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    Merchant needs guidance
    I'd like to get some feedback from some experienced affiliates to help us decide whether to use an affiliate network to broaden our marketing reach. I've done quite a bit of research on ABW forums (very helpful), so I'm very interested in your comments specific to our situation.

    First, here's some background:
    We've had a successful business for 5 years by partnering with art museums to sell their street banners to people to hang in their homes as art/wall hangings.

    We mostly use Google Adwords, running on their search engine and display ads on their network, but this is limited. We've done some testing to expand advertising on Google, but never been truly satisfied with the CPC model.

    We've had real success marketing ourselves via editorial coverage in national publications and niche periodicals. We've found that niche editorial coverage works, but it needs to be targeted to the right crowd. National publications work best because there is a larger audience, many who may not read the niche publications but to whom our product appeals. And this is our impetus for considering an affiliate network. We feel that an affiliate network may help us broaden our reach.

    Now to some realities:
    We effectively sell one product, with 135 different variations. Each banner is part of a limited edition. On average, we introduce 2-4 new banners each month.

    We don't discount or have sales, in part because we want to make sure that a person who first buys a banner in a series will pay the same as a person who buys the last banner in a series. We always offer free shipping and are not inclined to offer many incentives. Once in a while we offer a museum catalog with each sale.

    To affiliates, we cannot allow storefronts or allow email marketing. We will allow affiliates to bid on Google, Yahoo and other search engines, as well as the other typical affiliate marketing via website, blog postings, ads, etc.

    We will manage the affiliate network ourselves and pay a lead commission (signing up for our newsletter) and a sale commission. Our sale commission % will increase based on greater sales. We would also provide an affiliate referral of 180 days.

    Now to the questions:
    1. Can affiliates get excited about marketing our product? It's an exciting product (exclusive and unique), but it doesn't fall into an existing product category and is unconventional.

    2. Our product is difficult to categorize, but couldn't the content also be promoted/marketed via websites in the following subject areas: music, jewelry, photography, local cities (NYC, LA, SF, Chicago,etc.), travel, green, etc. We envision our products no only marketed via decor websites, but through websites that are related to the content of our banners. For example:

    Music: http://www.betterwall.com/bnr.php?bid=280
    Photography: http://www.betterwall.com/bnr.php?bid=124
    Jewelry: http://www.betterwall.com/bnr.php?bid=289
    Makeup: http://www.betterwall.com/bnr.php?bid=57

    Would this work with affiliates?

    2. Considering the realities of our inventory and prices stability, using a data feed may not make sense? Or could we create feeds around the subject areas in #2 above? We may only have one product/banner in some categories.

    3. We are strongly considering SAS. Their price is right, but more importantly they get great reviews. But are their affiliates right for our product? My sense is yes.

    Any other helpful comments are welcome.

    Thanks for your feedback.
    Nick

  2. #2
    The "other" left wing davidh's Avatar
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    3. We are strongly considering SAS. Their price is right, but more importantly they get great reviews. But are their affiliates right for our product? My sense is yes.
    Virtually all active affiliates are members of all or most of the established networks. You really wouldn't get much more or less exposure from choosing one over the other.
    CUSTOM BANNERS by GRAPHICS CANDY ~ Banner Sets and Website Graphics ~ Professional design, reasonable rates
    DESIGNER DOG CHECKS ~ We double-dog dare ya to write one!

  3. #3
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    That's a pretty unique opportunity.

    I think a relatively limited niche like that is ideal for ShareASale, as the monthly minimums at CJ, LinkShare and GAN would be prohibitive for you.

    Don't discount datafeeds. As long as you update them regularly with your current inventory and your affiliates realize the dynamic nature of your business, I think you'll find that some affiliates will be able to utilize them.
    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com
     Affiliate Tips | Merchant Best Practices | Affiliate Friendly? | Couponing | CPA Networks? | ABW Tips | Activating Affiliates
    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  4. #4
    Life is Supposed to be Fun! Rexanne's Avatar
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    Sounds all good to me. Niche products do well with affiliates because affiliates all have different markets and visitor demographics. Your *reach* will expand BIG.

    Personally, I like that you don't offer discounts - saves me the pain of competing with coupon sites. :-)
    Peace,

    Rexanne

    Rexanne.com
    Loving Everyone's Child Creates Magic


  5. #5
    notary sojac Herb ԿԬ's Avatar
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    Lightbulb
    ditto re datafeeds. lots of possibilities there.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for the feedback everyone.

    It sounds like data feeds are useful, even in our situation.

  7. #7
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    I also agree that a datafeed will likely be a good idea. Because of the unusual nature of your product, you'll need to do some very focused thinking about the exact product titles, description text, and content of each field. Consider posting your preliminary ideas on this here to get specific feedback from affiliates with datafeed experience.

    I agree with Michael that the high entry cost and monthly minimums at CJ, LS, and GAN would likely be inappropriate for your niche. You will likely face a longer "learning curve," recruitment cycle, and time-to-profitability than many other merchants -- and an affiliate program might not prove profitable for you in the end. (Not because of the cost of ShareASale or another affiliate technology, but because of the administrative cost of managing the program). While a datafeed can be a useful tool to allow affiliates to "discover you" (via PopShops or seeing your products in a price-comparison or shopping portal site, for example), and any network will bring you new affiliates via the network's search function and categories (which also require your attention when choosing categories and writing your program descriptions), you'll still find, as all merchants do, that your best-performing affiliates are folks you've recruited personally.

    An alternate (parallel, not exclusive) strategy for getting your products "out there" would be to offer your products through other resellers (e.g. Art.com, other art merchants, other merchants offering specialty "locally branded" or "team" types of merchandise) and marketplaces (Amazon, eBay) which have their own affiliate programs.

    Spend some time to take advantage of the wealth of useful advice in these forums (plus my free advice, linked below in my signature).
    Last edited by markwelch; January 14th, 2010 at 01:13 PM.

  8. #8
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    Also, regardless of whether you have an affiliate program or not, you should have a very robust way of handling items that are permanently sold out. Those pages on your site are SEO goldmines which will continually get traffic. Once an item sells out, your landing page for that item should revert into something that clearly explains that it's gone for good and how your inventory works, and dynamically point them to the IN STOCK items that they are most likely to be interested in (based on category, museum, location, color, etc.). With something like this in place, it's not so essential that affiliates keep their pages refreshed. Even if it points to a sold out item, you're just a page away from some very similar in stock items.
    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com
     Affiliate Tips | Merchant Best Practices | Affiliate Friendly? | Couponing | CPA Networks? | ABW Tips | Activating Affiliates
    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  9. #9
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    Another thought: you might it useful to read through my ancient discussions when launching a new affiliate program and specifically about creating datafeeds (yes, multiple variations) for a now-defunct merchant: use the ABW search function with "QuoteProducts datafeed" as the search term.

  10. #10
    Outsourced Program Manager Sarah Bundy's Avatar
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    I agree with the guys above, SAS will offer you some great new opportunities with the affiliates they have in their network, their tool capabilities and their support team. Because there are no monthly minimums your financial risk is a lot less. Definitely a good place to start.

  11. #11
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    FWIW, they do have monthly minimums ($25, I believe), but they're small enough that even the smallest of businesses should have no problem justifying them.
    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com
     Affiliate Tips | Merchant Best Practices | Affiliate Friendly? | Couponing | CPA Networks? | ABW Tips | Activating Affiliates
    "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela

  12. #12
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    Thanks for the additional guidance. It's very helpful. Michael, you're right about the richness of our pages and how that translates into high rankings in search results. We see that every day. And passing on some of that content to affiliates (perhaps via widgets) will help them with SEO too. Any other ideas on how to pass on that rich content?

    We've experimented with keeping our sold out items "live" on our website. We found that when people found an item they really liked that was sold out, they were disappointed to find that these limited-edition items would not be available again. And they didn't buy something else instead. That broke the basic rule of don't show customers something you can't sell them.

    That said, it would be worthwhile to try it again as we build out our affiliate network and drive harder at getting people to sign up for our newsletter so we're able to continue a dialogue with them.

    We're also considering Amazon, Art.com, and more specialized outlets. We really want to make sure that we roll out all these channels out carefully so that we don't devalue our brand. We've been carefully managing our growth and want to continue to do so. For example, it was only last year that we forged our first wholesale relationship when we began to sell our items through Room & Board (online and in their stores). The relationship has been great.

    Mark, thanks for the idea to post our preliminary datafeed ideas and review them. I'll do that because I agree, it will be an important part of helping affiliates sell.

  13. #13
    Full Member JCSupSvc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NicolasW
    We've experimented with keeping our sold out items "live" on our website. We found that when people found an item they really liked that was sold out, they were disappointed to find that these limited-edition items would not be available again. And they didn't buy something else instead. That broke the basic rule of don't show customers something you can't sell them.

    That said, it would be worthwhile to try it again as we build out our affiliate network and drive harder at getting people to sign up for our newsletter so we're able to continue a dialogue with them.
    Speaking for myself, if I send you a customer for an item you are don't have anymore, and they are disappointed and don't convert, it won't be long before I stop sending them. If you don't have it, don't advertise it.

    John

  14. #14
    http and a telephoto
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCSupSvc
    Speaking for myself, if I send you a customer for an item you are don't have anymore, and they are disappointed and don't convert, it won't be long before I stop sending them. If you don't have it, don't advertise it.

    John
    But you want that traffic to go *somewhere* if you have links to it, right? So a page with "Sold out but here's what else you might be interested in" is *much* better than pulling the page offline and sending the visitor to the home page or worse a 404 page.
    Deborah Carney
    TeamLoxly.com BookGoodies.com ABCsPlus.com

  15. #15
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    John, that's a good point. When we experimented with keeping sold out items on our website, we kept getting emails from customers asking for the sold out item. We even added language and links on the page showing other similar items. When we emailed and directed them to other items, they often said "but that's the one I really wanted". But they also often signed up for our newsletter.

    Our newsletter is where we announce new arrivals, and sometimes these are in very limited quantities and get sold out in a matter of hours. The eventual conversion rate on people who sign up for the newsletter is relatively high.

    That's why our program would reward affiliates who drive people to sign up for our newsletter. And we would provide an affiliate referral of 180 days (last referral rule, of course) on all sales. So hopefully an affiliate could double dip with a newsletter sign up and an eventual sale.

    Also, let me give a bit more information on our sold out pages. They are actually still on our website but they are not "active". So a person linking to it from a search engine will find the original page with a "sold out". These pages typically fall in search rankings because they are no longer "active". And we will certainly update our affiliates when an item is sold out and update it in our datafeed.

  16. #16
    http and a telephoto
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    The thing to remember is that affiliates will not always have the latest version of your datafeed on their sites. So items that sell out in hours probably shouldn't even make it into the datafeed.
    Deborah Carney
    TeamLoxly.com BookGoodies.com ABCsPlus.com

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