One of the highlights of Affiliate Summit East Day 3 was the session entitled Affiliate Compliance – Best Practices, Issues and Options. This was a panel discussion with moderator David Naffziger of Brandverity, and panelists Pat Grady of Rhino Fish Media, Marty Marion of Deluxe Corp, and Matt Wool of Acceleration Partners. The session was a frank discussion of the challenges of managing affiliate compliance. At the conclusion of the session there was an increased understanding of the blackhat techniques some employed and the red flags that indicate something is amiss.
After the introductions, the panelists moved onto defining compliance and talking about some of the points merchants need to consider. Pat stated that compliance begins with having clear rules; clear and solid terms and conditions are necessary to establish the rules. It is important to have an affiliate manager who is knowledgeable and understands affiliate marketing and the techniques used. The affiliate manager also needs to utilize tools inside of the network interface as well as outside tools and services such as Brandverity or Affiliate Fair Play.
Marty who manages the Deluxe family of programs added that he applies a cohesive set of terms and conditions across all his programs. Consistency of rules and enforcing them is critical to maintain the integrity and success of his programs. Terms and conditions set the rules that protect the merchant. Merchants can be held responsible for the actions of their affiliates. An example would be if an affiliate makes exaggerated or false claims for a merchants product or violates FTC regulation, the merchant can be fined or held accountable.
Matt stated that the terms and conditions must be comprehensive to reflect the goals of the program. For example, his terms for the Tiny Prints program includes terms that are designed to protect the core of his program; for him the core are his “mommy bloggers”. Having read through their terms and conditions, I have to agree that the Tiny Prints terms are comprehensive; including rules regarding the cookie stream – what happens if a second affiliate comes into the cookie stream and the investigation process. By having clear and comprehensive rules, affiliates will have an understanding of what they can expect.
The panel stated that the terms and condition should also set parameters for the process if there is a question about what the affiliate is doing. Set guidelines for the questioning process and the actions that are taken if violations are found. Determine ahead of time what the rules are and then, enforce them evenly and consistently. If questions arise, reach out to affiliate, they should be able to answer in a timely fashion.
David stated that it is important to know where traffic is coming from and how affiliates are getting it. Different types of affiliates use different techniques and there will be different compliance concerns. Knowing the type of affiliate they have is the merchant’s first step to knowing what they need to protect themselves against. Some networks are easier that others when it comes to monitoring affiliates.
The panel agreed that multiple tools are needed to monitor a program. Matty suggested the use of analytic program to monitor conversions. Matt agreed, adding that tools such as Brandverity are an aid. It is important that if you suspect something you look further and ask questions. Pat suggested that merchants also look at referral urls, conversion rates, sources of traffic and even the affiliate’s reputation. He reminded everyone to always have a healthy level of suspicion.
David discussed the importance of trusting your “spider sense”. If your spider sense starts tingling, check into your affiliate’s reputation. If the affiliate is cheating other merchants, save your energy – give the boot. Otherwise, program managers need to investigate and follow through to protect the merchant, the merchant’s reputation and the program. Know what your affiliates are doing. The panel agreed, saying as a merchant you should know what your top 50 are doing and then pick random 50 to monitor on a monthly basis.
Changing technology impacts monitoring affiliate compliance. Toolbars, mobile marketing and even pay per call raise additional issues. It is important to stay on top and be proactive. Adam Riemer (AdamRiemerMarketing ) was in the audience and participated in an interesting discussion of allowing sub-affiliates into a program. Adam made it clear that sub-affiliates greatly increase the risk on many levels. Besides making commission double dipping possible, sub-affiliates may unknowingly violate terms (they may never see merchant’s actual terms and conditions). Sub-affiliates can also add complexity to the traffic trail and hide violations and compliance issues. All of the panel felt that transparency is important and it goes back to the need to know what your affiliates are doing.
In addition to the moderator questions, there were questions from the audience. The session was very well received, it was filled with information and lively discussion. Be sure to catch the video when it becomes available.