I’m here in humid Orlando, Florida for the Affiliate Summit, along with over a thousand other people. I’ll be giving a presentation about blogging, talking both about how it can help companies with affiliate programs connect with their affiliates and how individual affiliates can try to stand out from the pack by blogging about the products or services for which they’re affiliates.
But one topic I am also going to raise that I believe is worth some serious discussion in the blogosphere is whether there’s ever any reason for someone to actually become an affiliate.
Ostensibly the answer’s easy: you can link to things and make a buck when someone follows your link and buys that product or service. I do it myself when I use an Amazon affiliate link to point to a book I’m citing, for example. I don’t really make any money from these links, frankly, maybe $30/month total, but at least when you read about a book, you can easily click on it and buy a copy if you’re so inclined.
I didn’t need to go to business school to learn, however, that real business is built around sustainable differentiators, about having a product or service that’s different and better than the competition. Not just today, but over time as the industry evolves and as competitors are inspired by your success. Think of the dual evolution of Windows and Mac OS X for a splendid example.
A good business, therefore, has to be different than its competitors, and that’s where I think there’s a fundamental flaw in the world of affiliate marketing: if you and I both sign up to be affiliates for, say, American Express, then we are trapped selling the same products for the same price, probably using the same creatives, banners, and graphics.
In that sort of space, how can you possibly differentiate?
Think of it in retail terms: how could you ever hope to compete with the local supermarket if you carried the same products at the same price. Would you organize them differently in the building? Have different hours of business? Have personal shoppers to aid people in finding what they seek?
I’m not arguing against affiliate programs completely, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be here at the Affiliate Summit at all, but I am curious how many successful affiliates consider their efforts to be a true business, versus just an opportunity to hawk wares until that market dries up and it’s time to move to another? This is doubly important if your affiliate scheme is to use something like Google AdWords as your primary channel for visibility, what some folk like to call an arbitrage play. You make $10,000 in affiliate sales, but paid $9,350 in advertising to get it.
Just to end this on a positive note, I think that the best place to hook affiliate marketing into your efforts is when the affiliate products or services are directly related to your existing Web site or online business. If I sold ebooks on working with gadgets, for example (which I will be doing in just a few days at my Ask Dave Taylor site), it would be quite logical to include “buy this gadget” links on those pages, and if they made me a few $$ on each sale, well, that’s just a smart way of monetizing my existing traffic.
Are you an affiliate of one or more companies? How’s it going for you, and do you consider it a proper business unto itself, or an adjunct to your existing efforts that help you monetize your traffic?