Do You Make Proper Use of Affiliate Marketing?

A friend of mine came to me recently for advice. He runs several websites and even gets lots of traffic, but not a lot in terms of monetary returns. He isn’t selling anything on his sites but he does have banner ads and a few other revenue sharing streams of potential income.

screen shot showing a representative sample of the site's content

He asked me to take a look at a couple of his sites. The first one I looked at is a recipe site about ethnic cooking. It gives lots of recipes and cooking tips for local dishes from all over the world.

I like the concept but it took me about 1/10th of a second to recognize two potential opportunities that he isn’t currently taking advantage of.

The first problem is one of positioning. The site targets mainly immigrants, helping them to find recipes to make dishes from their homeland. I could be completely wrong but that seems a bit to me like putting up a site to teach Americans how to make a burger.

Even if I am wrong and immigrants really do need a resource to find these recipes from their homeland (and don’t already have relatives still there who they can contact for such recipes), the real key is that lots of non-immigrant Americans enjoy ethnic food. This site completely ignores that demographic. I think proper marketing to what I’ll blanketly call “white America” could yield a nice little spike in traffic if done well.

That’s all well and good for generating additional traffic but if it’s traffic that still isn’t generating income then it’s just more people.

Which leads me to my second observation.

Many of the ingredients used to make the recipes featured on this site are not easily obtainable at your average grocery store in “white America”. So I suggested to my friend that he find sources to buy the ingredients, specialized cooking utensils and anything else featured on the site. Especially the hard-to-find stuff.

Once he’s found those sources, forge an affiliate relationship with them. Then lace the recipes with hyperlinks connecting readers with the resources they need to actually make the recipes.

Just looking at the one screen shot above, there is the potential to embed many affiliate links.

Multiply that by the 7,000 or so (and growing) recipes featured and he has the potential to start earning a tidy little income.

I told him that he doesn’t need to find a few people to hand over thousands of dollars. He could be just as happy with many thousands of people each giving him a nickel here and a few pennies there (in affiliate commissions).

Mind you, these two observations took me literally less than one second. I didn’t even explore beyond the first page of his website.

How much better could you be doing if you had a true marketing professional help you figure out alternate ways of leveraging what you have to offer?

A Trip Down Memory Lane — Cha-ching!

I’m sure you’ve heard of They wanted to be Facebook and LinkedIn before either of those sites existed.

Although I joined Classmates early on, I never paid for the service and always had a really sour opinion of them because of their business model.

Classmates has the proverbial plate glass window. You can join for free and see all those people from your misspent youth that you could connect with… if only you’ll pony up a few bucks for their premium service.

Unless you pay for a premium membership, there is essentially nothing useful you can do on Classmates. Not only has this always hampered their growth and success but it crippled them when Facebook and LinkedIn came along. Both those sites let you connect with the very same people from your misspent youth for free. (Both sites are also quite profitable, I might add.)

But this article isn’t a slam on Quite the opposite. I’m writing to applaud a brilliant move they made recently.

I received an email from them. No big deal, I’ve always gotten lots of emails from them. I think the only saving grace of the whole site is that they’re such savvy marketers.

The email I got the other day was different though. It included a graphic of a two-page spread from my yearbook. Not just a yearbook, but from my yearbook.

Classmates apparently has been going around and collecting up yearbooks from all the graduating classes and all the high schools all over the country. (I have no idea how complete their collection is.) They’ve digitized the ones they’ve got and now you can flip through the online pages of the yearbook for your own graduating class.

Not just that, but you can tag photos, identifying the people in them and linking to their Classmates profiles.

In a rare turn, all of this seems to be free.

So how do they hope to capitalize on and monetize this?

The most obvious thing I’ve seen so far are offers to sell you reprints of your yearbook in case you lost yours. Or just want another copy, I guess.

Now, I’m not one of those people whose glory days were when I was roaming the halls on my way to gym class. Those never were my best years even when I was in them. I remember all the people I knew back then and I’m sure that most of them are terrific people. I might even be friends with many of them if we met up somewhere.

The thing is, I now live something like 2,000 miles away from where I went to school. I haven’t been in touch with any of those people in more than 25 years. There’s only one person from high school I am still in touch with and we’ve been friends since before high school.

Still, for many people, the past was where all their best memories were made. And high school was the best of the best. So for Classmates to offer such a personalized trip down memory lane is simply brilliant.

Strike While the Buying Iron is Hot

Photo credit: Bing Ramos "bingbing, on Flickr"

My family and I went snow tubing recently. Less than a mile from the ski resort, we stopped in at a quaint little family-run convenience store and deli.

The girls there were so nice. To their credit, they were talking up their lunch specials and contrasting the affordability of their deli-made sandwiches with the captive audience pricing at the ski resort. They even offered us a business card and said we could call ahead to place an order and it would be freshly made and ready to pick up when we arrived.

Photo credit: Carl Lender, on Flickr

That was their big mistake.

We were interested in their lunch offerings. Both because they looked delicious and because we knew, without even getting to the ski resort yet, that it would be better and cheaper than anything we’d find on the mountain.

They had us.

And then they let us go.

With nothing but a business card.

We did not go back there for lunch. Although it was only a mile away, leaving the ski area seemed like such a hassle. In all honesty, I actually would have made the trip but for one big concern: we did not have a menu and no one in our family could decide what they wanted without one.

On our way home we did stop in and buy dinner. While we were there, I offered the owner some free marketing advice. (I wasn’t being pushy. I offered to share my insights and she was grateful to hear them.)

  1. Offer delivery. No one wants to leave the resort to save $10 on lunch, even if it is better and healthier. But most would pay a couple of dollars to have it delivered to them. By combining multiple orders into one trip (only offer delivery at preset times — 11:00, 11:30, 12:00, 12:30, 1:00, 1:30) delivery could prove profitable.
  2. Don’t hand out a business card, give a take-out menu instead. If I can see what my choices are (or in my case, if my three indecisive teenagers can see what their choices are) it becomes much more likely that we’ll place an order.
  3. Better than either of the above, strike while the iron is hot. The ski resort allows skiers and tubers to bring their own food in. (Not everyone realizes this, especially if they haven’t been there before.) So the women should educate them as part of the sales pitch. The resort also has lockers where clothing and, importantly, food can be stored. In fact, the lockers are in the food court area. For anyone who buys lunch in the morning and takes it with them (like we would have) offer to pay for the cost of the locker ($0.50) with the purchase of lunch for four or more people.

Any one of those items would have spurred us to buy lunch. We probably still would have bought dinner there as well. They could have doubled their sales for the cost of… well, essentially nothing.

Bob’s Deli, Muffler Shop and Nail Salon

Photo credit: Adam (army.arch on Flickr)

“Oh you’re a freelancer… Do you have a specialty?”

“No. I didn’t want to limit myself. I pretty much do it all.”

[Alarm bells going off] Ding! Ding! Ding! Red flag. This person is either just starting out or is just a dreamer and isn’t even doing freelance work yet. Bottom line: not successful.

Rewind. Try this again.

“Oh you’re a freelancer… Do you have a specialty?”

“I deal with small local businesses.”

“What kind of businesses? What industries?”

“Any industry. I can handle whatever.”

[Alarm bells going off] Ding! Ding! Ding!

…you get the picture.

To someone having just hung out their shingle and being freshly opened for business, it seems not just counter-intuitive but actually counter-productive to limit yourself. This is especially true when you’re still vying for that first customer, or first few customers.

The irony is that you can establish yourself faster by specializing.

After all, can you really do equally well representing a fruit stand, a clothing boutique, a welder’s supply store and a Fortune 500 conglomerate?

Marketing and sales is the life and death of any business. When you’re dealing with a life and death situation yourself, you look for a specialist. Say you had some terrible disease like liver cancer. Would you keep going to your family doctor who was just a general practitioner or would you seek out a doctor who specialized in treating your specific disease?

By choosing a specialty, you make that your primary business focus. That’s not to say you couldn’t take on other assignments if they came your way. However by specializing, those businesses that fall into your area of specialization are more likely to find you and be willing to hire you than if you were a general practitioner.

“Keeping my options open” is how most newly-minted entrepreneurs like to think of it. “Not the guy to entrust the lifeblood of my business to” is how most seasoned business people will more likely interpret it.

The first move in any creative process is to introduce constraints. (The Art of Looking Sideways, p.270)

There is a sound scientific basis for this, as illustrated by a further quote from Alan Fletcher in The Art of Looking Sideways, “…I could, the client said, do whatever I liked. Bad news. Open-ended problems need boundaries to avoid any unnecessary excursions…”

Think of a home. Have you ever walked on a cleared area that was to become the foundation for a house? Or one where a house once stood? Have you also been inside that house when it was standing on that foundation? Looking at the cleared land, it seems much too small for a proper home. It is the walls and “confining” features that give it space.

Adding impact to this whole idea of specialization as a business building strategy is the fact that even a relatively small city has many thousands of businesses. When you fail to specialize,  you lose focus trying to chase down anyone who will hire you. With a well-chosen niche or sub-niche specialty, you should find no more than a couple hundred potential business customers. This gives you a more definite target on which to focus your efforts. Even landing 10% or 20% of those clients will yield more work than you can realistically handle.

Now that’s a high quality problem to have.

Do you engage in “coopetition”? You should!

The way that many companies keep their customer lists, they have the names and assorted contact information for everyone who’s ever bought from them and gave them such information. That’s about it.

And this is those companies that even bother to keep customer lists at all.

Of course the really good companies keep much more. Why do you suppose large retailers and service companies have loyalty programs? Frequent flyer programs, frequent buyer programs, grocery store discount cards… you name it.

Those programs serve two very important purposes:

  1. By making customers fill out an “application” to sign up for their program, they are getting those customers to give them a great deal of information: full name, address, email, phone number and sometimes more.
  2. Every time a customer uses his card or account number, the company logs what was purchased. (Yes, even your two foot long grocery store receipt with 133 items on it.) In that way, they can build up a very detailed history of exactly what any given customer likes, as opposed the customer seated across the aisle or the guy in the room down the hall.

Savvy companies milk this information for all it’s worth and extend custom-tailored offers to each customer. Naturally, by offering what you’ve already demonstrated you like and will purchase frequently, it greatly increases the odds of making another sale.

Or perhaps they make a special offer on somethingyou don’t normally buy. Most likely something complementary to what you usually buy. Only stay in the hotel on weekdays but never on weekends? By offering to extend your stay for a reduced price, perhaps they can induce you into longer stays that include weekends. Always buy the name brand cookies but the store brand of lots of other items? If they can convince you to give their store-brand cookies a try, they stand to make more profit. (Even though the price is lower, the margins are typically higher.)

But that’s about as far as it goes.

So what’s missing?

A lot, as it turns out.

How many companies distinguish between current and former customers? When customers stop buying from you, there will rarely be an announcement. There’s just a change in buying behavior and you may never know why.

Perhaps that salesman who flew three out of every four weeks is now an executive who hardly travels. Or the family of five who bought groceries every week was lured away by a new store. Or moved to another state.

How do you even define a former customer? How long do they have to go without making a purchase before they make it into that category? Is there hope of rescuing the business relationship before it comes to that?

And what of prospects who gave you their information but then never actually became customers at all? Do you save that information? What do you do with it?

Most companies will try for some time to lure those prospects into becoming customers. (Some keep trying indefinitely.) They may change the offers around a little, dangle a different carrot, so to speak, but that’s really about the extent of it.

Here’s a radically different idea: what about giving those prospects and stale former customers to one of your direct competitors?

Of course I’m not talking about some kind of twisted professionally self-destructive altruism. Instead I’m talking about a trade. You give one of your competitors “x” number of prospects who never converted plus former customers who obviously aren’t coming back and, in return, they give you the same number of their unconverted prospects and former customers.


If these prospects gave you their information, it was most likely because they needed or wanted what you have to offer. They were interested in becoming customers but then something happened. It could be that they changed their mind, or that your price was too high, or they heard or read something about you that they didn’t like, or they had a negative interaction with someone at your company, or decided to buy from a competitor instead.

The reason doesn’t really matter all that much.

What matters is that, unless this was a one-time only need that’s already been satisfied, these prospects have selected themselves as potentially good customers for someone in your industry. Just not for you. (If that were the case, you would already have converted them into customers.)

The same is true of your competitor’s unconverted prospect list; those are potentially great customers for someone but not for them.

So you’re both sitting on lists that have tremendous potential value to some company in your industry. It only makes sense then to exchange lists. They stand to wring some value from yours while you stand to wring some value from theirs.

This combination of cooperation and competition is called “coopetition”.

This is not collusion. You’re still competitors, you’re just engaging in a more enlightened form of cooperative competition.

Of course there is the possibility that many of the prospects you get from your competitor may already be your customers. They run the same risk with your list. That’s just part of the cost of this kind of transaction.

Another major consideration is concern over privacy. One of the things you can most easily do is to not actually exchange lists but each merely send out a solicitation on behalf of the other. If trust is a concern, you could mutually agree on a third party mailer who will process both lists. That way, the information never actually changes hands.

The only way you get your competitor’s prospect information (and vice versa) is if one of those prospects responds to the mailing and you collect it from him directly.


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Retweet this passage Do you engage in “coopetition”? You should!

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Retweet this passage Savvy companies milk this information for all it’s worth.

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