Holiday preparation in Q3 is the key to winning Q4, and with Q3 only about a week away, the time to start thinking about it is now. Apogee is looking for a repeat of a great 2015, and we’re not procrastinating.
August of 2015 was probably the busiest month ever for our team. We had a great lineup of clients heading into the Q4 holiday season and we optimized every program to be ready for the crush. Clients that are heavy with gift products, such as games, subscriptions, and gourmet food & drink, need a healthy infrastructure in order to succeed.
Apogee clients had record breaking holiday sales in 2015, including: The California Wine Club, Snake River Farms, Marbles: The Brain Store, Music Box Attic, Flirty Aprons and TruDog. Each worked with us in Q3 to outline a strategy for growth heading into the gift giving season. We had aggressive deals, bonuses, updated creative, and current datafeeds.
It wasn’t all roses. Our point-of-contact at one client learned a hard lesson. He contacted us on November 15th and demanded intense weekly conferences until New Year’s Eve to strategize. We had to remind him that he had ignored our calls and messages during Q3 and the prime opportunities were gone. The program finished the season successfully, but it could have been better. Holiday preparation is important. In the end, poor planning cost him his job.
First, the Foundation
This summer I have been conducting free audits for merchants with existing programs and I keep finding the same situations. So many of them launch and set up random rules with no follow-up or monitoring. They have poor foundations. Cindy made a great point in an Apogee Slack channel this morning. “Cleaning up those programs and convincing affiliates that it will be better is harder than starting a program fresh and convincing affiliates it’s great.” Digging out of a hole, especially with super affiliates, is a huge challenge.
I study the basics of each program to make sure everything is up-to-date and competitive. I log into a dummy affiliate account and look at it from that point of view. That is a trick from my podcasting days on how to window dress for recruitment. I am looking for program descriptions, terms of service, commissions, cookie duration, EPC, autoresponder emails, bonuses and newsletters. I am looking for the foundation.
With the foundation in place, holiday preparation can begin.
Holiday Preparation Checklist
Of all the normal program management and foundation concerns, merchants must give extra attention to the following specifics in Q3 to set up for Q4 success:
- Profitable Commissions – We pay different commission levels based on the model of promotion. For example, we pay some content affiliates more than the default commission because they put more effort into reviews, blog posts, videos and social media sharing. We pay other affiliates less than default because all they do is post lists of coupon codes. They add some small value in closing the sale but even if you paid them 150% commission, they wouldn’t change what they do or work any harder; the nature of the model doesn’t allow for that. We avoid overpaying when we use model-targeted commission levels; we also have more wiggle room to offer stronger customer discounts.
- Bonuses – We give bonuses to content affiliates based on both effort and volume. We incentivize those that show a willingness to go above and beyond standard promotions to keep them away from the competition. Some affiliates are even on a private bonus level. Well structured and communicated bonuses help us find super affiliates.
- Deals – Customers want deals. They scour the planet for the best deal. In ShareASale, we can see the affiliates in the clickstream and we can easily identify the deal finders because we see them go from site to site triggering cookies until they find what they want. Merchants that put out aggressive, affiliates-only coupon codes see strong results. We also encourage our content affiliates to promote these deals. If a merchant cannot afford to create sitewide or product specific deals, affiliates won’t spend that extra time promoting your products. Most of the time, they prefer stronger discounts over higher commissions. The deeper the discount, the better the chance to be found by impulse buyers on the big deal sites, such as SlickDeals.
- Paid Search Monitoring – BrandVerity monitors paid search for all of our clients. We ensure affiliates are not violating our clients’ strict Terms of Service. We only invite two paid search affiliates to participate in some of our programs. Active management means monitoring and policing everyone else on a daily basis; we void sales from violators and remove them from the programs immediately. There are no paid search accidents anymore. Paid search affiliates know exactly what they are doing. Unmanaged merchants have no idea violations occur daily.
- Communication – Talk to your affiliates. Use newsletters. Send them personal messages. Meet them online. Understand how they want to receive information. Follow them on social media so they follow you. Update your affiliates with news they can use immediately to better promote your products. They know how to be affiliates but they don’t know the best practices or details about your brand or specific SKUs.