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What do all these messages have in common? They’re all examples of direct response marketing.

Read my blog post on How Direct Response Marketing Can Help Your Online Business.

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What do these three messages have in common? They are all examples of indirect response marketing.

Which approach is better for affiliate marketers trying to generate sales?

The difference between direct and indirect response marketing

In order to better compare and contrast direct and indirect response marketing, first we need to set down definitions of these two different marketing approaches. Although there is some disagreement, direct marketing involves the creation of sales pieces that encourage customer action, while indirect marketing involves building value through customer engagement.

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A customer action might include dialing a phone number, texting a code or just buying a product outright. Customer engagement could include attending a webinar, downloading a white paper or sharing a social media post.

In sales parlance, direct marketing is usually performed towards the narrower portion of the sales funnel, following a lengthy process of prospect qualification. At this point in time, the potential customer is primed to make a purchase very soon. Indirect marketing is typically performed at the broader end of the funnel, when prospecting is just beginning. Here, the potential customer is still gathering information and trying to make up her mind about the product or service offered.

The advantages and disadvantages of going direct

Surf around the Web and you’ll find that everyone, especially those folks in the sales world, have their eyes focused on direct marketing. AdWords ads, landing pages, marketing automation software, A/B testing…these items were primarily designed with direct marketing in mind. Why is there so much focus on direct marketing?

It’s easy to measure. A, affiliate sale either occurs or it doesn’t. Opt-in clicks can be easily tracked. Click-through rates and email opens are a yes/no outcome.

It’s directly tied to revenue. A click-through on an ad leads to affiliate product sales- and instant money for you.

What’s not so savory about direct marketing?

It’s often viewed as spam. Most direct marketing content is discarded or even reported as spam. There is extremely low tolerance to pushy, highlight-ridden exclamation-pointed ads.

Revenue clicks are far and few between. You have to do a lot of pushing and prodding to get those few purchase clicks. In fact, most ad click-through rates are deemed high when they’re at 1-2%.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Most notably, direct marketing’s focus is the here and now. There is no long-term plan for customers who have gone through the sales cycle and purchased the product or service. Once the customers have traveled through and exited the funnel, they’re gone…at least until the next sale.

Indirect marketing: advantages and disadvantages

At the other end of the spectrum lies indirect marketing, which is harder to quantify in terms of revenue generation. Until Google’s Hummingbird update started rewarding websites that had been quietly building useful content, indirect marketing was something you did because it was expected. However, the approach still carried a lot of merit. Why?

It builds long-term value. Pillar articles, podcasts, white papers, etc. are all part of what makes up a credible, authority site.

It engages customers. Website visitors are more likely to stay on an affiliate site longer, and return to it, if it features quality content. A steady flow of traffic creates a “primed” audience that is receptive to purchasing an affiliate product, as well as other future affiliate products.

It produces ideas and feedback. Social media especially has allowed for continuous dialog between affiliate marketers and their customers. Product promotions become more likely to succeed when the site audience is aware of and on board with affiliate marketing campaigns.

Of course, there is also the flip side of indirect marketing:

It’s  hard to measure. Success or failure as a result of indirect response marketing is hard to pinpoint. Even when metrics like Facebook likes or email opens are analyzed, it’s challenging to determine what exactly has been achieved.

It’s time-consuming. Those 5,000-word pillar articles and YouTube video projects don’t make themselves. Creating engaging content takes a lot of time and effort- or outsourcing dollars.

It doesn’t generate sales. When it comes to directly affecting the bottom line, indirect marketing doesn’t. You could produce quality content for the next 10 years and never see a sale if you don’t list some kind of ad or offer.

So, what’s an affiliate marketer to do?

About 10 years ago, many affiliate marketers started out with the idea that direct marketing was the end-all and be-all of getting their products sold. A plethora of spammy, highlighted and flashing websites became the result- at least until Google came along and took most of these eyesores off the search map grid.

Then, quality content sites starting rising to the top…but due to a lack of sales revenue, many of these sites were abandoned or shut down.

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What survived?

Savvy affiliate marketers populated their websites with good quality content that retained and grew search traffic over time. However, every now and then, they would also launch direct response marketing campaigns via emails, product reviews, article series and ebooks. These direct marketing campaigns were not overtly advertised on the websites and would only launch if a visitor clicked on or requested a particular content piece.

In this way, these affiliate sites maintained their non-promotional images while still promoting products. This approach also helped generate a steady stream of traffic and affiliate product sales from both new and returning customers.

Given the success of such websites, affiliate marketing “best practices” involve mixing both direct and indirect response marketing efforts while keeping most direct marketing “behind the scenes.” Growing an audience of loyal followers and subscribers through indirect marketing is critical for the long-term success of an affiliate site. However, direct marketing must also happen if the affiliate site is to generate money and be profitable long-term.

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Join the Discussion

  • Chris

    A very comprehensive and informative post. Thanks for putting this together.

  • Katie Markey McLaughlin
    Katie Markey McLaughlin

    It makes sense to me that the most effective technique isn’t one way or the other but a delicate balance of the two.

  • Lori Mauger
    Lori Mauger

    Great explanation for would-be marketers who have no clue where to begin!

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