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A Sort of Affiliate Homecoming

A Sort of Affiliate Homecoming Shawn Collins

In the beginning, I thought I had this great idea when I conceived the Affiliate Webinar. It was a free affiliate marketing conference that took place in December 2000.

It sounded sort of neat on paper -- a conference that would bring together affiliates from all across the world. There was a virtual exhibit floor and presentations (in the form of unmoderated chats) from five of the biggest names in affiliate marketing, including Brian Clark and Dan Gray

But the execution didn’t quite match the enthusiasm. The thing was a mess. While my featured speakers were trying to share their wisdom, random clowns would pop in and out of the chats posting non sequiturs. It was helter-skelter on a 28.8 connection.

Evolution Revolution in online conferences

In “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” Al Ries and Jack Trout explained The Law of the Category where “If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in.”

That seemed to be the objective of the organizers of eComXpo, an online tradeshow for the affiliate marketing industry that took place February 17-19. They’ve innovated and learned from conferences past, while applying current technology to carve out a whole new place for themselves.

"eComXpo's mission is to create a series of big tent events that bring together all the players in the performance marketing industry. The events will have all the benefits of a traditional trade show, including education, networking, marketing and fun,” commented John Grosshandler, Event Director of eComXpo

Grosshandler continued, “The difference is that by being a 100 percent online virtual event, these benefits are opened up to everyone in the channel, not just the heavy hitters who are accustomed to traveling to the excellent traditional trade events that already exist. The result will be a better educated, more profitable and broader base of effective performance marketers."

Come on, a virtual conference?

I know what you’re thinking; there is no way that an online conference could replicate the atmosphere of a dirt world conference.

Of course, there wasn’t the face-to-face networking that is customary at offline events. But eComXpo facilitated interactive chats among the speakers and attendees, as well as forums throughout the conference.

They are planning another eComXpo for next October, and one consideration for that show is to incorporate Skype  or VoIP to add to the interactivity.

And there was an exhibit floor with networks, merchants and vendors staffing “virtual” booths throughout the event, where attendees could gather information, ask questions by email or chat, and pick up or drop off their vCard.

But the thing that really struck me was the nature of the presentations. They ran over 100 educational sessions led by the leaders in the space, including yours truly. These presentations could be viewed at scheduled times or on demand after the scheduled run.

Industry luminaries like Declan Dunn of Dunn Direct Group, Daniel E. Hess, Senior Vice President of comScore, Doc Searls of IT Garage, John Battelle, and George Garrick of wine.com presented. Exhibitors included companies like Overstock, Lands’ End, Travelocity, Home Depot, 1-800-FLOWERS, Dell, Commission Junction, LinkShare, Performics, ArriveNet, and many more.

The keynote speaker for eComXpo was Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and he presented the Project’s most recent findings.

The presentations (see sample presentation) were traditional Power Points with narration converted into Macromedia Breeze. Throughout the presentations, there were poll questions with live results, and the ability to submit questions for the presenter to answer at the conclusion of the session.

Location, location, location

I’ll admit it, I was initially skeptical about the concept. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Most affiliates cannot make it out to affiliate marketing conferences, because of cost and time limitations.

After all, a great many affiliates are moonlighting in performance marketing while they tend to other careers, families and assorted obligations.

eComXpo addresses the needs of the majority of affiliates by running the event online with a low price-point of $89. It was the first (hopefully not the last) event of this magnitude in the industry, and as far as I was concerned, it was a great success. I managed to recruit some affiliates, share some ideas and learn a couple or three things.

History never repeats

As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The only duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.” So do me a favor, if you missed it this time around, pencil in eComXpo for next October. Then we can collectively bury the relic that was the Affiliate Webinar.

Shawn Collins is CEO of Shawn Collins Consulting, an affiliate program management agency, and an organizer of the Affiliate Summit 2005 conference, taking place June 13-14, 2005 in Las Vegas. He authored the book Successful Affiliate Marketing for Merchants and the AffStat affiliate marketing benchmark reports.

Visitors to Planters.com don't have many opportunities to interact with the dapper Mr. Peanut. You can't take a tour of his office. He won't sing you a song. You can't make him dance (which was actually an option up until a recent site update). In fact, Planter's lead pitchman doesn't do too much other than stand still and grin proudly. 
The monocled legume is so remarkably non-interactive when compared to some of his brand icon brethren, it would be easy to overlook the importance of his online existence. But, if you're visiting Planters.com, it's impossible to overlook Mr. Peanut. He's in the page header. He's in the page margins. In fact, there isn't a single page on the site that doesn't feature Mr. Peanut. He's everywhere and his silent-but-omnipresent existence helps make an important point regarding interactivity and traditional brand icons. 

For all the interactive bells and whistles available to marketers, the fundamental yet considerable power of brand recognition still applies in the online world. In his current form, Mr. Peanut is limited to GIFs and JPEGs, but his static presence hasn't lost any value just because he can't bust a Flash-animated move. The character's presence, while simple in the execution, still exudes decades upon decades of brand development.

It would be nice if everything were adorable. Adorable bosses. Adorable junk mail. Adorable lower back pain. In reality, there aren't too many things that are adorable, but the Pillsbury Doughboy certainly does make the list.
The "Doughboy Fun" area of Pillsbury.com features downloadable Doughboy ads, buddy icons, wallpapers and a branded desktop application. There's also the Dancin' Doughboy viral component that lets users share the videos they make of the Doughboy cutting a rug.

Pillsbury's use of the Doughboy online seems to follow some simple syllogistic reasoning: people want to surround themselves with cute things. The Pillsbury Doughboy is cute; therefore, people want to surround themselves with the Pillsbury Doughboy. The Pillsbury site makes cute ownership a convenient reality. People interested in the character get a little slice of digital delight, while Pillsbury is able to not so subtly insert a diminutive salesman onto consumers' computers.

Ronald McDonald has a posse. Less than a decade after his conception, McDonald's brand icon was already elevated to such a level of fame that in 1971 he was given a veritable Saturday morning cartoon's-worth of supporting characters, including Grimace and the Hamburglar. Few brand icons reach a level of fame where they earn a cast of friends, but McDonald's mascot has achieved a completely unique cultural status.
Astonishingly, not everyone is born with an immediate and intimate knowledge of Ronald and the company for which he is Chief Happiness Officer, but as one of the world's most pervasive brands, even toddlers seem to be aware of the iconic clown. Ronald.com is McDonald's effort to ensure the just-out-of diapers demographic gets an early education in the Ronald McDonald universe.

Intended for "3 to 7 year old children," Ronald.com is all about positioning the fast food clown as an ambassador of fun and learning. Parents are given an overview of how the site might aid in the child's development, and kids can play Ronald games, create music or even practice their ABCs.

What kids can't do at Ronald.com is learn more about a Big Mac or McNuggets because there's no mention of food anywhere on the site. The only connections to McDonald's Restaurants are a couple of fine-print links that take visitors to the company's corporate page and location finder.
Unfortunately for McDonald's, it's hard to disguise branding as altruism when the following text appears at the top of every page: "Hey kids, this is advertising!" Ronald may mean well, but McDonald's has blown his cover. The iconic clown is really just hanging out online in an effort to make an early connection with tomorrow's french fry consumers.

How does L'Oreal Paris maintain these pillars?

Active social listening
How does L'Oreal Paris learn about its audience? By keeping eyes and ears focused on its social platforms. Social listening is a huge way the brand stays connected with its audience and relevant with the topics it plans to cover. Getting real-time feedback from customers and responding to that feedback are critical touchpoints for a relevant and successful content marketing strategy.

Measuring success of content marketing strategies
While it varies from campaign to campaign, the basic idea remains; success for L'Oreal is defined by making sure it is seen as the most fashionable and approachable beauty brand on the market. For how-to videos and DIY, metrics such as time spent on page and viewer feedback (comments) are observed to provide realistic insight into the content's success. For larger strategies, such as for Project Runway, it gets trickier to define success. However, the basic philosophy is to set up a presence at the event that ensures the company is positioned as the main brand associated with beauty and fashion.

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