How to Protect Your Brand from Potential Damage from Affiliates

Becky Doles

How to Make Sure Your Affiliates Don’t Damage Your Brand.

Affiliate programs are one of the single greatest ways to connect with customers you’re not currently reaching through other advertising mediums. In case you’re thinking about starting an affiliate program, or have recently launched one, we’ve been discussing the basics of affiliate marketing for your business in my previous series. In this post, we’re going to cover the risks you need to consider to how your brand’s reputation can be impacted by affiliates. But don’t worry – we’ll help you manage those risks before they become problems.

Do you know your affiliates?

As your affiliate program is establishing itself, and later on when you start promoting it, you can end up with hundreds to thousands of affiliates. As this increases, you can lose control over which affiliates and sites are advertising your offers and indirectly your brand. If the proper precautions and measures aren’t taken into consideration, your brand can be seriously damaged, especially if it’s associated with adult, offensive, unapproved or misleading content.

You should be able to customize the affiliate sign up process within your tracking software, the sign up process should require mandatory fields that your affiliates must provide when applying for membership. At a minimum, this should include your affiliate’s physical address, personal contact information and consent to your terms and conditions. More sophisticated programs will require; website URL and description, newsletter name and sign up location, categorization of website content, monthly traffic estimates, description of promotional methods (e.g. link, banner, email, etc), currency and payment preferences, age certification and W9 or W-8BEN numbers.

Here’s a tip, add a CAPTCHA field to your sign up process to increase the quality of applications.

By creating a minimum barrier of entry, you’ll reduce the amount of resources needed to distinguish between the low quality applicants and the affiliates your program needs to be working with. Utilize this additional time to monitor the placements of your brand.

How can poor advertising affect my brand?

There are countless advantages of affiliate marketing, but a disadvantage can be the misuse of your brand through affiliate advertising methods. Tremendous resources are spent promoting, advertising, enhancing and monitoring your brand’s reputation, a rogue affiliate can tarnish this overnight.

About a year ago I received an email featuring a Fortune 500 retailer, promoting an offer that was clearly ‘too good to be true’. The company’s name was used in the subject line, along with several text-links within the body and a call-to-action at the bottom of the email, all misleading the recipient. There were countless misspellings, poor formatting, no imagery and no unsubscribe link.

This email was likely sent out to countless addresses, violating several CAN-SPAM regulations and putting this company’s brand at risk. Additionally, the misspellings, poor formatting and spammy content misled recipients to believe this company promoted advertising of this nature. This single email indirectly cost this Fortune 500 tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in rebuilding their brand and trust in the eyes of these customers.

Below are some additional examples of how affiliates can negatively impact the reputation of a brand:

  • Overpopulating their site with low quality ads
  • Promoting false products or sales specials
  • Cybersquatting, using a domain with a brand’s name in it
  • Ad Trademark Poaching, buying brand terms in PPC search campaigns
  • Over-stuffing content with links, creating an association of spam with the brand
  • CAN-SPAM violations, which puts the brand at fault for non-compliance
  • Fraudulent incentivized programs that never reward users

Awareness around brand abuse in affiliate marketing is the first step to maintaining your brand’s reputation. The next step is knowing what measures you can take to prevent affiliates from damaging your brand.

Protecting your Brand from Affiliates

How can I keep my brand reputable?

Let’s discuss steps you can take to avoid being burned by your affiliates and reduce wasted time and resources by correcting these violations. Remember, these are only some of the basic ways to prevent affiliate abuse, stay alert and constantly incorporate new strategies into your efforts.

  • Clearly spell out your T&Cs: Write your T&Cs so a 4 year old could interpret them, that may be exaggerated, but make it obvious to your affiliates what they can and can not do. Make sure they understand how they can promote your brand, what keywords they can bid on, what subject lines are approved, what type of content is prohibited, if they can use misspellings associated with your products or brand, if they can use your brand in a URL (e.g. www.Free<Brand>, www.Online<Brand>, etc.). Also, provide a list of negative keywords your affiliates must suppress against. Lastly, make sure to spell out what happens when violations take place.
  • Provide Brand Guidelines: Provide required on-site messaging, subject lines for emails, up-to-date creatives and all the information affiliates need to accurately represent your brand.
  • Reduce your affiliates: Having too many affiliates can make it costly and difficult to closely monitor. More than likely, 10 to 20% of your affiliates drive 70 to 90% of your volume, cleaning house isn’t always a bad thing, especially if your volume stays constant and your compliance violations are reduced.
  • Work with reputable affiliates: Do the appropriate due-diligence for each of your applicants; check out websites, do searches online and in forums, ask around the affiliate community, request referrals, etc. The upfront effort will reduce the work you’ll be doing when a rogue affiliate tarnishes your brand.
  • Monitor New Affiliates: Check out the referral URLs of new affiliates, review their sales methods. Keep an eye out for unusually high conversion rates, and consider other basic fraud metrics such as multiple transactions with the same IP address, click IP address not matching the conversion IP, even monitor the session duration for short time on site conversions.
  • Invest in education: A “welcome packet” can provide introductory material, bulleted do’s and don’ts from your T&Cs, target demographic data, approved marketing tactics and methods of effective selling. Taking the time to educate your affiliates will signal your appreciation and dedication to a successful partnership. This will keep your affiliates loyal and invested in enhancing your brand’s reputation.
  • Communication: Communicate with your affiliates, it’s as easy as that. Message revisions to your T&Cs, negative keywords, changes to approved marketing tactics or any other information that might impact how they promote your brand or products. Knowing how to consistently and effectively communicate with your affiliates is key.Protecting your Brand from Affiliates

Most of the time, affiliates are not intentionally trying to harm you. But keep in mind that they promote your brand for one reason; money. Your affiliate program needs to proactively monitor and prevent brand damage.

Stay tuned as we discuss further opportunities in affiliate marketing, and more ways that affiliate marketing can help your business.

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

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