Your Input Needed: Should Local Businesses use Affiliate Marketing?

Image of Screen about Competitive DifferenceReady to brainstorm with me?

What are your thoughts about offline businesses running affiliate promotions in their email campaigns?

Savvy?

Scammy?

Affiliate marketing, the marketing and selling of products that you didn’t create (the popular choice being a digital product over physical), is perhaps one of the fastest ways to generate money online these days.

But is it a blanket “good idea” for everyone?

Let’s take a look at an example.

The pet store owner

Let’s say Happy Pets, Inc. is your friendly neighborhood pet store.

Sandra, the owner, decides she wants to build a website for her pet store. She sells pet hygiene products, pet toys, pet food and the usual crates for dogs, doggy day beds and hamster cages. Super cool pet stuff yadda yadda.

Sandra realizes she should also build an email subscriber list for Happy Pets, Inc from her site traffic (and walk-in customers). Having a subscriber list would allow her to email regular customers about special promotions she’s having in the store or about pet events that her store organizes and hosts.

She gets right to work signing up for Aweber (affiliate link) and starts building her list.

So, she’s driving traffic to her site and sees her subscriber count go up. Life is good! Now what? Sandra doesn’t have any noteworthy sales happening over the next several weeks nor are there any events on the books.

But she also doesn’t want her email list to go unattended and she wouldn’t mind seeing an influx of cash.

Questions

Would it be appropriate for her to email her list to promote a dog training book she found on Amazon? She doesn’t sell books at her small store so her customers likely wouldn’t expect an email like this.

What about promoting a pet accessory she doesn’t (or can’t stock) at her store?

Do you think an affiliate promotion like this would come across as desperate to the pet store subscribers?

You’d agree that all of Sandra’s promotions should be tightly focused on the pet industry, right? But would there by any exceptions to this?

Your feedback

Let’s open discussion on this topic in the comments.

First, what has your experience been with affiliate marketing?

Second, please answer the questions posed in the above section. I look forward to reading your feedback on this.

Photo: betsyweber


34 Responses to Your Input Needed: Should Local Businesses use Affiliate Marketing?
  1. Sarah Russell
    May 9, 2011 | 2:53 pm

    I think that as long as the business owner is providing good value, she should go for it!

    Obviously, it’s not realistic to expect that brick and mortar business owners will be able to carry every type of product in their stores, as the cost of inventory would be overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean her clients wouldn’t benefit from some of these other product lines.

    She could even use her email autoresponder to test product lines before carrying them in her store – like, if she sees a lot of sales of one particular affiliate product, she could carry it in store where she’d get better margins than by selling it as an affiliate product.

    • Jon
      May 10, 2011 | 10:25 pm

      Sarah,

      Good points. Hey I like that idea about testing via email autoresponder before stocking the physical product. What a great concept there! Thanks for the tip.

  2. Jk Allen
    May 10, 2011 | 11:27 am

    Hey Jon – as you know, I have no experience with Affiliate Marketing. But still, I understand business well enough to answer the questions.

    I think it’s fair game for the biz owner to promote a product via email. I don’t see any problem with the Dog Store promoting a dog training book.

    It’s one thing if she just does it to make a buck. It’s another if she does it because she feels like it will provide value.

    She sales products in her store, so I don’t see a problem with her selling products online or via her list. For that reason, it doesn’t come across as spammy at all.

    That’s just my take!

    PEACE

    • Jon
      May 10, 2011 | 10:35 pm

      Hi Jk!

      Right. It makes sense to advertise relevant products to the list. Some of this stuff is common sense or opinion based so I’m glad you chimed in even though you aren’t active in the affiliate marketing space.

  3. Adrienne
    May 10, 2011 | 11:51 am

    I would think that if it’s a business owner and they want their return customers to keep coming back, they will be more cautious in what they promote to their already faithful following. Just like people should do online, don’t promote products that really aren’t worth it. Always provide value to your existing customers and provide only useful and value information/products/services to them. I would hope they wouldn’t just be in this for the money.

    Thanks Jon, I think the rest of us are on the same page with this one. Hope that helps!

    Adrienne

    • Jon
      May 10, 2011 | 10:36 pm

      Adrienne,

      That makes sense to me. Sounds like you’d take a cautious approach to contacting your list this way. Even if the products were relevant to what you sell in-store, I get the feeling you’d still exercise an added layer of discretion, yes?

  4. Danny @ Firepole Marketing
    May 10, 2011 | 12:56 pm

    Very good question, Jon. I was talking to Robert Dempsey (IntinerantEntrepreneur.com) about that this morning/evening (he’s in Thailand, so many timezones off).

    I think a lot of business owners might be asking this question the wrong way; it’s not just a question of “is it acceptable” (i.e. can they get away with it without getting in trouble), but also of “is it worth it”.

    There’s a certain amount of cost, and opportunity cost, to any action. So it comes down to “how much money is it likely to generate” and “what is it going to cost in terms of time and risk”. The risks may be small, but I wonder if the benefit is there to justify the time and risk.

    In other words, if there are hundreds or thousands of dollars to be made with affiliate offers, then great – go for it. But if there are dozens of dollars to be made, then it isn’t worth the trouble.

    Going further, even if there are hundreds or thousands of dollars to be made, doing so will take usually take work – and in that case, isn’t that time and effort better invested in the core business?

    • Jon
      May 10, 2011 | 10:43 pm

      Danny,

      There are certainly some risks and time involved standing up a promotional newsletter. While I think it’s acceptable to promote relevant products, I see your point of taking it a step further. Is it worth it…what are the risks…how much time is required to invest in the promotion…and so forth. Each business type will carry a unique balance of these risks/investments.

      I like what Sarah said about using email as a testing ground. You could use it to identify products your customers show interest in seeing at your physical location.

  5. Marlee
    May 10, 2011 | 2:26 pm

    Hey Jon!
    This is an interesting question that has a ton of merit. Personally, I think it’s a great idea. In fact, I think it’s a way of providing value to your offline clients that your competitors don’t.

    Your offer products that they might not find otherwise. That said, Danny makes a great point. If an offline business owner is looking to generate substantial revenue from their affiliate marketing than they need to factor in the opportunity cost of attempting to do so.

    Personally, I think simply making the offers with full disclosure doesn’t take much time or effort if you’re already marketing to your list online, so why not got for it!?

    Love this discussion. :)

    • Jon
      May 10, 2011 | 10:48 pm

      Marlee,

      Yea I mean there’s no reason to rule out some newsletter promotions if you’re already building a list. But as Danny said and Adrienne was hinting at, perhaps a watchful eye on the true value-add, risk, and ROI would be in order. One should consider their brand’s image before sending a tacky email push for a $50 product that you really don’t believe in.

      But I support trying it.

  6. Hector Avellaneda
    May 10, 2011 | 8:11 pm

    Jon – I personally think that this is an excellent idea.

    I’ll revert back the example you used since this is what I based my opinion on.

    In your example you asked if it would be a good idea for the store owner to recommend a product in her industry via her subscribers list, like a book or an animal product, that she could not physically carry in her stores, earning her an affiliate commission should she make any sales.

    Personally, I believe that this demonstrates that the business owner is thinking about her customers and is willing to do the research to offer them a product that she cannot offer personally.

    Of course, we are assuming that she is doing this and has her customers best interest in mind.

    Why would it be wrong for her to get an affiliate commission?

    If she in fact took the time to research and offer her customers a product that she believed was the best in the market, there is nothing wrong with her getting compensated for her time.

    • Jon
      May 10, 2011 | 10:54 pm

      Hi Hector,

      Doing it with the right intentions counts for something, I agree. If the business owner is pushing product through email just to score a few dollars, then they’re missing the boat. So, finding the balance of sourcing a product of genuine value, weighing the opportunity cost to the company, and using the information to consider future items to stock should be considered.

      Taking the time to research the product is a must. Thanks!

  7. Oliver Tausend
    May 11, 2011 | 4:13 am

    Hi Jon,

    if it’s for the sake of complementing the store’s offers, it sounds like a good idea. If it’s simply for the sake of making money because nobody wants to buy our original products, it’s merely a cloak for weaknesses in the business model.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Take care

    Oliver

    • Jon
      May 11, 2011 | 8:19 pm

      Oliver – a cloak for weaknesses in the business model. That’s bold, I like it. I agree it should be about complementing the existing offer not simply shoving our hands in the subscribers’ pockets.

    • GOOD point, Oliver!! So she should think that over before deciding. As should we all.

  8. Jayne Kopp
    May 11, 2011 | 8:52 pm

    Jon, personally I think promoting affiliate products is an excellent idea. I think as long as she chooses wisely and selects products that her customers would realistically be interested in… why not?

    Naturally as a Pet store owner, she wouldn’t send an email out promoting lipstick… but a book or a specific product… sure!

    I think affiliate marketing is an excellent business. I have not done a lot of it, but since I went through those courses I mentioned on my blog… I have done quite well.

    Thanks Jon

    Jayne

    • Jon
      May 11, 2011 | 8:59 pm

      So, relevance and genuine interest are important to you. Nice. Also, I’m glad to hear you’ve had success with affiliate marketing – that’s great news.

  9. Hi Jon! Interesting question. Well, I am not a local biz but I do have an affiliate program I promote and have had some success with it.

    Should the pet store owner email subscribers about affiliate products? Yes, and here’s what I would suggest…

    Create a newsletter that has news related to the store and maybe at the end offers something else like “look what I found” and there’s the affiliate promotion.

    • Jon
      May 12, 2011 | 10:52 pm

      Simple. Relevant. Direct. I like it! Thanks for the example, Jeanine.

  10. Dev
    May 12, 2011 | 12:49 am

    Hi Jon,

    Interesting Post. I think this a good idea. If it providing quality then one should go for it.

    Affiliate marketing is excellent for any business. I’m doing it from a year now and i’ve great success with it. I’m already making a good amount of money from Affiliate Marketing.

    ~Dev

    • Jon
      May 12, 2011 | 10:54 pm

      Cool, so as long as there’s quality then you think it’s a “go.” I’m glad you’re having a good experience with it, Dev.

  11. Rowena Bolo
    May 12, 2011 | 3:46 am

    Hi Jon,

    Very interesting post and discussion here. I also enjoyed reading all the brilliant comments. I too, am not involved with affiliate marketing, but I know that affiliate marketing is one of the most clever ways to offer well-researched products and to potentially earn additional income. All the factors mentioned in the comments have to be weighed in, but it all boils down to sincerity to offer value.

    This brick and mortar example you gave, I think is a perfect candidate for an affiliate marketing business on the side. They are using online strategies anyway, so why not offer something more to their loyal customers?

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Jon.

    - Rowena

    • Jon
      May 12, 2011 | 11:03 pm

      You’re welcome, Rowena. Definitely quality comments here. It seems that sincerity and commitment to offering value is most popular here. Using the example, I’d agree that offering a promotion isn’t too far-stretched of a strategy considering the store owner is already building a list.

  12. Bojan
    May 12, 2011 | 9:09 am

    I don’t see why not. If you are recommending high quality products, that are helping people out, while you are earning a buck on the site, it can only help you foster relationship with your clients.

    Best regards

    • Jon
      May 12, 2011 | 11:07 pm

      Hi Bojan and thanks for chiming in. High quality products that help…that sounds perfect to me. I don’t mind the occasional promotional offer from restaurants and so forth; I’ve even purchased due to a few emails.

  13. Janet @ The Natural Networker
    May 12, 2011 | 6:10 pm

    Jon, aloha. Interesting question and I love the way you are opening this idea for suggestions.

    Personally, Jon, I believe Sandra can use affiliate marketing without irritating her customers. It is all in her initial contacts.

    Her initial Aweber contacts would be a welcome and then whatever pet news she supplied. Depending on the frequency with which she sends such info, after she has sent 4-6 value packed newsletters, she can send another newsletter that says something along the lines of:

    “From time to time Happy Pets finds books or products which we believe may be of interest to pet owners. If you would like to be included on a list to receive information on these items since they will not be carried in Happy Pets, please click on the link to receive these Special Offerings.

    Here at Happy Pets, we value your business and respect your e-mail box. We would never violate that privilege. Therefore, if you want the Special Offerings please click on the link and we will include you. If you do not click the link, as per our agreement, this is the only newsletter you will receive from us.

    Happy Pets appreciates you and your business.”

    In other words, Jon, if you ask permission, I believe you can send it to them and, in fact, make it so they look forward to receiving this Members’ Special Offering–or whatever you choose to call it.

    Jon, this will be quite an interesting thread to follow. Again, I love your idea of opening up the discussion. Aloha. Janet

    • Jon
      May 12, 2011 | 11:18 pm

      Janet,

      Thanks for mapping this out, this is great! Now, you suggest she takes the current subscribers and asks permission to send Special Offerings. I know that I have subscribed to updates and newsletters and later received promotions. It never bothered me but, you know, the approach you’ve outlined here is solid. It offers that community feeling, the belonging to a special group, that we are all hard-wired to gravitate toward on and offline.

  14. Dr. Bob Clarke
    May 12, 2011 | 7:45 pm

    Hi Jon,

    I find no problem at all with your pet store owner expanding her income sources by promoting affiliate products to her list. Why not?

    But as with everything else, she’ll get much better results and less unsubscribes if she uses the 80/20 rule here — give free content that her clients find useful 80% of the time, and then maybe mention a product or book as an affiliate link in 20% of the emails.

    Otherwise, if she hasn’ built a strong relationship with her list, she may indeed appear a bit spammy.

    Thanks for making us put on our thinking caps, Jon!

    • Jon
      May 22, 2011 | 5:14 pm

      Bob,

      Good point. The balance of content-to-pitch should lean far more on the content side of the scale.

  15. Mavis Nong @ Online Business Tools
    May 13, 2011 | 4:38 am

    Hey Jon,

    I also think she will do well by promoting good quality affiliate products and increase her income.

    Affiliate marketing is a powerful and profitable strategy if executed properly.

    Thanks for bringing this topic up!

    All the best,
    Mavis

    • Jon
      May 22, 2011 | 5:15 pm

      Hi Mavis,

      Affiliate marketing has its place. As long as there’s more useful information (zero pitch) being shared with the subscribers than pitching then I’d say she’s in the clear. Thanks, Mavis.

  16. Jon,

    The way I look at it…

    If I went out to dinner and really enjoyed the food. It was the best night out, awesome service and the food was top shelf!

    I recommended it to friends by talking about it on Facebook.

    It ended up that 10 people ended up going their for dinner and really enjoying themselves.

    Did I receive a commission? No, but it probably would of been nice to receive one for referring so many people, right?

    If you are a business and you believe in a product that carries an affiliate, then why not, I would :)!

    Thanks for sharing this!
    Tommy d.

    • Jon
      May 22, 2011 | 5:19 pm

      Hey Tommy,

      Nothing wrong with earning a few dollars for referring a reputable product or service! If we think about it we’ve all likely referred plenty of business to companies we trust without compensation. Money sometimes seems to “dirty” the premise, hence the way subscribers lash out at list owners for promoting products at times.

  17. Terje Sannarnes
    May 23, 2011 | 6:51 am

    I think that affiliate program can be effectively used for any type of online business – local or global. If you manage generate additional targeted audience and sales acting in such a way, so why not to use this method?

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