Hey advertisers! Do you judge your traffic the right way? Are you using the right metrics? Do you know which ones really count? Are you choosing the right affiliates, networks, and distribution partners?

To use the metaphor of the TV show, The Voice, what makes you turn your chair around?

I usually don’t get into many shows on TV because I tend to be too involved in dealing with insertion orders, pixels, and subids. I just don’t have the time to commit to watching every episode of a series. I do enjoy a great talent show, however, and I especially become wrapped up in each season of The Voice. I think there are some lessons to be learned from it for performance marketers.

For those readers that haven’t seen it, The Voice is a competition between singers, in which the judges do not see the performers before making a judgement – they keep their chairs turned away until ready to give a verdict. The show has a purity to its process because the judges are not focused on
the bling, the look, the appearance or the window dressing that may surround each performer. Instead, each judge is just listening for a certain characteristic that will turn their chair. If I were a judge, I’d probably be Blake Shelton. Yes, I do wish that I had the abs of Adam Levine, but I like the honesty and simplicity that Blake represents.

We could take a few cues from that kind of simple, pure approach. We could learn to measure opportunities based on very targeted metrics.

How well do we do that in affiliate marketing? How often do we strip each opportunity down to the bare core of what we are looking for? If we we were able to parallel what is done on The Voice, we would ensure that we understood in advance what we were looking for when building our team. Once we had developed that visualization of a strong distribution team, we would go and find those potential team-members in a very targeted way and try to sell ourselves to compete against all the other advertiser opportunities that are out there. If we really focused on building our “ideal” team, we would ask
each affiliate that truly fitted to be a part of the team and we wouldn’t stop until they said yes.

Similarly, just as judges do in the later stages of The Voice, in affiliate marketing we need to keep an open mind to all the different aspects of an opportunity. Just as Christina Aguilera is this year actively looking for country singers because she has realized that they add value in certain situations for her team, as performance marketers we need maintain open minds and really investigate opportunities before we reject them.

As an example, quite recently we have had various advertisers insisting that they don’t want any toolbar traffic or promo codes, no email traffic or virtual currency, and so on. In that kind of situation, if we simply agreed and said, “Ok Mr./Mrs. Advertiser, you are the boss!” then we would be unable to test and evaluate potentially great opportunities when they present themselves.

If eBates called our team and offered our advertiser a top category position through Christmas if we could offer them a unique promotional code, it has to be right that we would fight for that opportunity so that we could drive significant traffic during the most important fourth quarter, even if the advertiser had a prior bias against promotional traffic. Advertisers need to be willing to suspend their judgment on potential traffic sources until they have all the relevant information and understand the size and nature of the opportunity.

In the same way, if we were a successful jewelry company that made a blanket decision not to allow affiliate email traffic because we felt it was not appropriate for our brand, we would miss out on working with Live Intent (just as an example), one of the top email publishers around, essentially running the newsletters for The Wall Street Journal. What jewelry advertiser wouldn’t want to reach the users of The Wall Street Journal, once the opportunity was explained to them?

The danger is that as advertisers and agencies we become so worried about compliance and brand protection and quality, that we end up requiring all our affiliates to fit into a box, advertising exactly the way we want them to. In other words, we end up stifling any real creativity. It’s like Blake Shelton
turning around on The Voice during a roof-raising country song and saying “Dang, I didn’t expect you to look like that. Where did you learn to sing like that?”

Sometimes we need to take time to recognize the creative publishers. The mavericks. The outside-the-box thinkers. Picture us learning that one of our traffic sources is from email, and then shutting it down because of our strict no-email policy. Then we learned that it was actually Conde Naste, powered by
Live Intent, selling our Caribbean Vacations to their readers.

Oops, and dang! I didn’t think she’d look like that!

So, advertisers. Get outside your comfort zone. Take a chance on creativity and don’t be defined by what you have heard or believe is the “ideal” affiliate. Of course, every brand wants to protect itself and we can all agree that we should only pay for valid traffic. But beyond that, why have so many hard and fast rules? Think of your affiliate recruitment as being similar to building a team on The Voice, and have a loose definition of what it is that you are looking for but don’t pass over talent just because it doesn’t quite fit your preconceptions. If an affiliate can sing and make you money, take them on.

For affiliates, the same argument applies. If an affiliate really wants to make their voice heard they need to set themselves apart by doing something different to everyone else. There is no point in being just another “me too” affiliate. I’ve often heard affiliate managers working for major advertisers say that they can’t bear to look at yet one more “look alike” affiliate. One even told me that if he got an application from another coupon site or banner farm that didn’t offer any added value, he was just going to hit the reject button. As an affiliate, you don’t want to find yourself as the victim in that situation. You need to differentiate yourself. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

Maybe at the next Affiliate Summit we could organize our own version of The Voice? Who do you think should play CeeLo Green? Just wondering. I already have the cowboy hat so I can play Blake, and I have some ideas of who might make a good Adam Levine. Let’s judge the talent based on their voice, not on their appearance, and maybe the best voice will rise to the top.

Some of the best affiliates have come out of nowhere, and not until we really listened to them did we understand the size of the opportunity. There is still massive innovation ahead in affiliate marketing. Don’t miss out on the opportunities that will be created by closing off your ears to what you are hearing.