It can be disheartening when you see your affiliate products offered on sites like Amazon or Ebay for significantly less money or with free shipping or other incentives. How can you, a small time affiliate marketer, hope to compete against these giants and their deep pockets, undeniable name recognition, etc? It’s like a Mom-and-Pop store going against Wal-Mart.

More than likely, you will never win on price with such behemoths. However, the good news is that price need not be the only deciding factor on whether or not your garner customers. Various specialty boutiques and local grocery stores aren’t the cheapest when compared to their bigger cousins- and yet, the customers never stop coming and buying.

Why? Because these specialty retailers offer something unique to the buying experience that can’t be found at the bigger markets.

And that’s exactly what you’ll need to do online with your own affiliate website and products. Here’s how.

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1. Recruit the experts

Regardless of the affiliate products you are trying to sell, there is always an expert or two out there whom you can snag for an online or even in-person interview. Sometimes, these product experts come from your pool of existing customers or readers. Quite often, however, you’ll find your experts through their own, and maybe even competing, product websites.

Customers love having tradespeople or other knowledgeable professionals help them out with their purchasing decisions, especially if those decisions involve high-end and expensive merchandise. Therefore, it may be worth your while to form a collaboration with a product expert and have her “on call” for customer inquiries and issues. In exchange for providing this service, the product expert could receive a certain percent commission on every sale.

2. Create brand ambassadors

Research your current email list and find out what your subscribers do in their spare time. Perhaps some of these subscribers operate their own blogs or affiliate websites. They might even be selling the same line of products as you. Rather than viewing them as competitors, consider approaching them and asking if they’d do a product review or joint promotion on their site in exchange for a similar action from you. Alternately, offer up a set commission or other incentive.

You can also put out a call to your current subscribers via email, asking if they’d consider becoming brand ambassadors and referring people that they know to your affiliate site. You could reward your ambassadors with special product discounts, unique giveaways, etc. to make them feel appreciated.

3. Feature your customers.

Everyone likes to feel special, and this is also true of your customers. Have you noticed that one or two of your customers buys quite a bit of your product or several different products periodically? Approach that customer and ask if he’d be willing to be featured on your website or blog. Obtain a first-person account of how this customer found your affiliate products, what drew him in to make a purchase, and what he thinks of the product thus far.

Make the feature story as personal as possible, especially if there is an underlying reason for the purchase. For example, your star customer might be having issues with his health and this is why he is purchasing vitamins and other nutritional supplements from your page. In such a case, it may be better to talk about his health struggles more and focus less on the products.

4. Try out experiential e-commerce

Marketers everywhere are touting the value of inserting experiential e-commerce into your product pages and marketing messages. What exactly is experiential e-commerce? It’s the art of product storytelling, which aims to target the emotional side of the product buying experience.

Consider the experience of a fiance buying an engagement ring. Many customers can relate to the emotional aspects of such an experience, instantly feeling the excitement and nervousness involved. Not too many customers, however, will empathize with the marketing message used on that fiance or the price discount that was offered.

Unfortunately, too many affiliate marketers market products as if only other affiliate marketers were buying their products. Instead of going on and on about the features of a blender, for example, try seeing the product- especially its benefits- from the customer’s perspective. Your customer might want to make healthy shakes with that blender, so why not offer quick and easy shake recipes?

Alternately, if there are product cross-sells like different blades, why not suggest what dinner items can be made in addition to those healthy shakes- and the specific blades that work best at chopping or dicing?

Speaking of cross-sells, retailers like Express and IKEA are successful at getting their customers to make additional (an unplanned) purchases by showcasing their products in context to each other. For example, plates are never showcased alone but in context to an entire dinnerware set. That dinner set, in turn, is showcased in context to a kitchen table and chairs. Using this tactic, retailers tell their customers a story about how their ideal kitchens, plates included, should look.

5. Create an online community.

Online forums and discussion boards are well-known to generate additional web traffic, gauge customer interest, and resolve questions and product issues. They can be used to find product experts, brand ambassadors and featured customers. They can even generate additional sales and product referrals for you.

Setting up an online community is not hard; WordPress plugins like Forum Server enable you to quickly and easily create a separate area for your website visitors to hang out. There are also online forum vendors like Yuku and Proboards; they offer free hosted forums on their own websites.

6. Offer a (occasional) discount

If you are selling affiliate products that reward your sales efforts with 50% or even higher commissions, consider shaving off a part of your commission and offering that money to your customers in the form of a product or shipping credit. This is an especially useful tactic to use during the holidays, when your commission losses are likely to be made up by an increased sales volume.

You can get really creative with promotional discounts too. For example, consider increasing your discount for customers who buy your products and leave a review on your site. Post a game, like a scavenger hunt, to get customers involved and clicking on your product pages, with the winning contestants getting the discount.

You can beat the e-commerce giants.

Small time affiliate marketers, such as yourself, may not have all the advantages of e-commerce sites like Amazon and Ebay. However, instead of focusing on what “they” have and you don’t, consider what you actually do have at your disposal: agility and personality.

In other words, you have the ability to try out a quick promotion and tank it if it doesn’t work, then try out another promotion or sale. You also know your customers far better than most e-commerce giants do; as a result, you can work with them directly to promote your products or even the customers themselves.

All it takes is some creativity and outreach.

Have you gone up against the e-commerce giants? If so, how did things work out? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

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