Brand Protection for Affiliate Marketing

Today, brands have the balancing act of maintaining brand protection whilst utilising the multiple sources and channels available to them. 24/7. For luxury retailers in particular, this poses a conundrum: how can I move with the times AND protect the brand? Is this even possible?

Since the 21st century, there have been so many changes in the digital industry. In the early 2000s, Twitter was not even invented. Uploading photos to Instagram? No chance – most phones did not even have a camera. Back in the day, Brand Protection at the hands of social media was something luxury retailers and brands just did not have to consider.

Fast forward to 2019, and it’s all change. The influx of more and more social media platforms has propelled your everyday Instagram user into a brand influencer and advocate. Self-made, self-published and self-promoting bloggers are on every corner of the web, and the power of social promotion has never been stronger.

But, as they say, with great power comes greater responsibility.

So settle in and prepare yourself for a lesson in Brand Protection. I’ve focused on luxury retailers specifically for this post, however the principles covered can be applied to most industries, as let’s face it: we’ve all got a rep to protect.

Myth 1: “I can’t police the whole internet!”

I’ve heard variations of this statement many a time – and on a whole, yes the statement is true, you physically can’t keep a check on everything and anything to do with your brand online.

BUT, what you can do, is make sure that the affiliate/partners/influencers that you choose to work with are appropriate, on brand and are an audience match.

Sounds easy, hey? You’d be surprised.

Brand protection begins at home…

A great place to start is your affiliate recruitment and subsequent approval processes.

With the latter, you may find that you have a plethora of affiliates applying to join your program. Be very clear on your network merchant pages or website affiliate page as to the types of affiliate you wish to work with and be clear on your brand guidelines. Stick to this when you are approving or declining any applications.

If you are declining an affiliate, where possible offer an explanation as to why. This will give the affiliate a right to reply, and perhaps they can show you how they plan to promote you. You might just unearth a little gem from this approach.

Similarly, if you are accepting an affiliate, drop them a personal email or call to welcome them and see how you can work together- this well set expectations right from the start.

Affiliates want to feel wanted and ultimately part of your marketing efforts. This initial reach out will stand you in good stead for building a strong relationship. Take the time to read the affiliate site or blog – see what they’ve been up to and add some of your observations to your personal email or conversation with them. If you have taken the time and effort to do this, the affiliate is therefore going to be more engaged and more willing to working with your brand appropriately.

In relation to your affiliate recruitment, utilise your customer knowledge. What types of sites are your customers likely to browse and spend time on – can you find a similar match with a specific group of affiliates? Where are your competitors currently promoted, and should you be there too?

Use your chosen network or agency to share information on GAP analysis of competitors – all of which will help towards a strong brand match. This in turn should leave you confident that you are focusing on the right group of publishers – those who will support your brand vision.

Myth 2: “I can’t trust others to truly represent the brand”

If you collaborate with the right affiliates you can.

Collaborate with like-minded influencers and you’ll be on your way.

One of the most effective ways to put your brand in front of your target audience (and therefore ensure that your brand is upheld), is to gift influencers and bloggers with your products – ideally pieces from your new collection or in advance of the next one. If gifting is not an option due to budget restrictions, open up larger collaboration plans to create really great content supported by quality imagery – exclusively given to specific influencers or content sites.

You may think initially that your PR team are the first point of call for this – but any affiliate marketing agency worth its salt will also offer this type of service as added value to clients – we sure as heck do!

Indeed, we effectively become a part of your PR team, given that so many influencers now monetise their sites and look to earn revenue themselves from the traffic they refer, and PR is not as black and white as it used to be.

There is huge crossover here, and Silverbean have honed a plan which ensures limited confusion and optimum performance, for luxury retailers and others alike.

Operating with the likes of Charlotte Tilbury (across the UK, US, Canada and Australia) and MONNIER Frères (across their global program), we effectively and successfully work alongside each brands’ PR team.

It is a pretty simple process let’s face it, but it works…

We create a list of content-creators we would like to target, and, based on their following/engagement, categorise these as either Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze. Based on the category, appropriate gifting amounts are then allocated and the list is then signed off by the client and cross-referenced with the PR team to ensure no overlap. The Silverbean team then reach out to those that have been approved to organise gift supply, agree online coverage and follow up until said coverage is complete. Like I say – pretty simple but effective…

Read here how we impacted Charlotte Tilbury’s US affiliate program within three months of implementing our blogger outreach plan.

All of the above is of course great for brand reach, exposure and potential revenue. But, both influencers and brands must be sure that any exposure is kept in line with recent guidelines set by both the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Adhering to these guidelines will ensure that it is always transparent when there is a commercial connection between both brand and influencer, and protects the brand representation.

In addition to the above, offer bloggers an opportunity to create some amazing bespoke content and imagery coverage by arranging product launch events or one on one evenings with buyers/in-store. Work with your PR agency and your affiliate agency to set this up – and make it compelling.

By inviting the right types of bloggers, those with which you already have relationships and those which you would like to foster an online partnership, you can be in control of your brand and how it is represented – after all, you will be driving the theme and the tone of the event.

We ran such an evening with our client OKA at their Chelsea store. We invited bloggers to an evening with one of their designers, and the agenda included:

  • An introduction to new collections
  • A competition to dress a room with pieces from the new collection to win a voucher to spend in-store
  • A goody bag which contained some fab pieces from the OKA collection
  • The opportunity to take as many photos as possible to support the content
  • Interviews with OKA’s designers to get some first-hand information

And it was a great success, with lots of social coverage on the evening and subsequent blog posts covering the event. As mentioned above, because OKA and Silverbean worked together to plan the theme of the event, the tone which the affiliate would take away and also the environment in which the photography took place, we were able ensure the brand was ultimately represented correctly within our group of publishers (albeit with a personal twist from said blogger).

And because of our approach, this control was perceived across numerous channels, filtering down to similar bloggers who follow their counterparts on line – this all added to the growing perception of HOW to promote OKA via content and strong imagery.

Myth 3: “Our brand guidelines are enough to protect the brand”

Ah, sadly not. Fear not though.

Firstly, you need to make sure that you stick to your own brand guidelines in any communication you send out to your mass affiliate group. Newsletters absolutely should represent the brand correctly, not only in tone but also in look and feel. You want your affiliates to A) promote your products, and B) do this in a way which is in keeping with your own voice – so make it easy for them to do so.

Throughout all campaigns for luxury retailers, we really take this seriously. Newsletters are designed to complement brand guidelines, whilst also offering affiliates all the information and tools they need (which includes, but is not limited to, strong content, imagery and appropriate deep links).

Once you have done this, it’s really important that you aim to keep a strong eye on what copy your affiliates are promoting and with which imagery.

Check, check and check again.

As we said, it is not feasible to police the whole internet, but you can focus on your key click and sale generating affiliates to ensure they are covering your brand guidelines correctly.

Carry out (at minimum) weekly blogger/influencer/affiliate “sweeps” to check on either your merchant page or agreed blog/social coverage. This will ensure you can easily spot any changes which need to be made, or praise any affiliates for their efforts in promoting you.

This will help foster a positive relationship with your publishers – and with that, they are then more likely to promote you in the future. And if they are representing the brand in a good light, why wouldn’t you want them to?

Myth 4: “A luxury brand can’t work with voucher code & cashback affiliates”

Think again, we have a way.

You can use them effectively in the luxury space without compromising brand protection, contrary to popular belief!

I’ve long thought that, if used correctly, voucher code and cashback sites can have a place in your luxury affiliate marketing strategy and affiliate mix. I often go back to this 2016 article from Econsultancy, which highlights that “offering deals and vouchering is not regarded as damaging to luxury brands’ reputation by consumers”. This is backed up by the fact that for key luxury brands, such as NET-A-PORTER, Black Friday and similar peak discount periods are often their biggest revenue drivers with luxury consumers “four times more likely to be searching for deals on Black Friday” than non-luxury customers.

In fact, whenever we work with luxury retailers, it’s often a case of “if Net-a-Porter are doing it, we should be doing it”. But, you have to work with these types of affiliates strategically. If you do decide start up a relationship in this area, bear in mind a couple of points:

Work with only a few. By working with just a small number you can consistently check messaging and therefore protect your brand perception within this huge online audience. Carry out offer sweeps to ensure all content is correct and sound – and build a relationship with your affiliate contact to ensure any changes can be made quickly and effectively.

Look at strategic offers. Discount the service rather than the brand. If you are looking for an extra push with this audience, offer free delivery with or without a spend threshold. Or look towards a free gift with purchase strategy or a tiered spend and save promotion. Again, this protects a luxury brand as the offer is not seen as typically “sale” or “discount”, but will allow access to more online coverage within this sector.

So, avoiding the myths, here are the facts…

Agreed, it is no easy feat nowadays to protect your brand online, but the potential “threat” is overshadowed by the opportunity that the changes in the online space presents to us.

So, with all the above in mind, here are the simple takeaways to help luxury retailers protect their brand via an affiliate program:

  1. Share your brand guidelines with your agency and affiliates alike and make sure (specific to your agency) that they know these guidelines inside and out
  2. Be clear with your affiliates from the outset on what is expected when promoting your brand.
  3. Help to drive your brand awareness across complementary sites though the adoption of an appropriate gifting strategy and unique content supply
  4. Offer your bloggers/affiliates the chance to experience the brand first hand, within your own tone and environment. This ultimately leads to the production of strong and, more importantly, on-brand content
  5. Perform regular content and/or offer sweeps on your key affiliate or influencer sites – being aware of what is being published and when is key
  6. If you are to work with voucher code and cashback sites, do so in a small, controlled group. It is important you can easily spot and control the messages presented to this audience
  7. Ensure communication with affiliates reflects the brand at all touch points – whether that be newsletter, emails or personal conversations- it should be at the heart of everything you do

We realise this blog post is packed with information on luxury retailers, affiliate programs and influencer relations, and, admittedly, it is a lot to get your head around. If you are looking to kick-start a program that needs careful consideration towards Brand Protection and identifying the right affiliates and influencers, we believe our 15+ years in the affiliate marketing space can do your brand justice. If this sounds good to you, find out more about our Affiliate Marketing service and get in touch!

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Lucy Williams

Lucy Williams
28 Nov 2019