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Friday, August 1, 2008

This is an axiom in politics: "If you're explaining, you're losing."

Internet Marketers can learn a lot from politicians. If a candidate for office is linked with an unsavory character, for example, the candidate gets stuck in wheel-spinning mode. Reporters ask tough questions. The "explanation" for the questionable behavior requires mental energy best used elsewhere and takes the candidate off-message.

Few human beings have greater sensitivity for Public Relations than politicians. Their electability -- their ability to marshal the forces necessary to advance an agenda -- depends on public perceptions.

And yet time after time, one politician after another finds himself or herself in full explanation mode. Many of them are good at it. Some have a Teflon quality: Nothing seems to stick. One of the reasons is because politicians, in general, are professional communicators or have access to a team of professional communicators.

Sometimes, however, no amount of "explaining" can make a problem go away. Accountability begins and ends with voters. Break their hearts too many times and you become a failed politician. The phrase "crooked as a politician" wasn't coined in a vacuum. Voters always are willing to paint with a very wide brush when they've had their fill of "explanations" and double-talk.

Customers are the "voters" of Internet Marketing. Most customers are rational, fair-minded people. Meet their value expectations and treat them fairly, and you might just have a customer for life.

Even though customers generally are fair, this is the electronic age. Customers' computers and Blogs and access to video sites give them the power once reserved exclusively for reporters. Customers can ask some tough questions. And because they have instant access to search engines such as Google and Yahoo, they easily can find the "dirt" or suggestions of unsavory conduct by Internet Marketers.

Unlike many politicians, many Internet Marketers aren't Public Relations specialists. Marketers often devote most of their focus to creating products and building websites from which to sell them. Affiliate marketers devote much of their time looking for products from which they can earn commissions. Marketers often discount (or are completely ignorant) of the customer's end in the value equation. As long as money is rolling in, they presume all is well.

But what if all is not well?

What if you're an Affiliate marketer and the company for which you're selling isn't providing adequate customer support? What if legions of unsatisfied customers are making Blog posts and forum posts complaining about the product and the treatment they're receiving from the Help Desk?

What if the company doesn't even have a Help Desk and is choosing to ignore customer emails or not addressing them in a timely fashion?

Information travels at lightning speed these days. Unhappy customers turn to the Internet to see if other customers are similarly situated. A Blog is a powerful tool. Electrons are the ink of the modern day, and are available in unlimited quantities. Everybody buys ink by the barrel these days. Not one second passes during any 24-hour period in which someone isn't publishing something.

If you're an Affiliate marketer, a program sponsor half a world away could be creating a Public Relations problem for you. If you've made Blog posts and written articles to promote the product, the search engines likely have established a tie between your name and the name of the marketer who is causing the problem by ignoring or alienating customers.

If your name is Jane Q. Public and you're a proud online merchant operating out of Smalltown, U.S.A., a program sponsor in Big City, Europe, could become your worst nightmare. The marketer's actions can reflect poorly on you, even if you had the best of intentions all along in promoting and recommending the product.

It's not uncommon for customers enraged by the conduct of a company to mention an Affiliate's name in Blog posts. It might be unfair, it might even tilt toward being thoughtless and reckless, but unhappy customers have their own definition of fairness.

So, do you have the Public Relations skills to provide the necessary explanation? What's more, what if the program sponsor lacks core these essential skills and is making matters worse by the way he or she is responding to criticism from customers? What if the sponsor is picking fights with people who buy ink by the barrel?

It pays to do some research up front when you're an Affiliate marketer. If you find things during cursory Web searches that cause you to ask if your name could be sullied by promoting a product, take a step back and think things through clearly.

Have you found evidence of a program sponsor addressing customers in a manner that makes you feel uncomfortable? Is there a history of unresolved complaints or chronic issues with support? Is the owner's brand being advertised in a fashion worthy of embracing or are other affiliates using objectionable advertising methods?

What kind of words are you seeing in organic search-engine results for the product? What kind of words are you seeing in Adwords and other PPC ads? Are affiliates showing the product in the best possible light or are they using language that suggests the product is defective or the program sponsor might be playing fast and loose with the truth?

Some Internet Marketers specialize in creating controversy where none exists. Even if the product is perfectly serviceable and delivers exceptional value, some marketers use unfortunate terms when advertising the product. They might suggest a negative as a means of creating curiosity, for example.

Ever see an Adwords ad that reads like this:

[Prominent Marketer's Name]: Is He A [Negative Word?]

Advertising approaches such as this create marketplace confusion, dilute brands and have the potential to injure innocent people. At the same time, such approaches might actually provide cover for Internet Marketers who don't provide adequate support and real value to customers.

Their excuse is ready-made: Hey, it's just advertising. Marketers talk that way about everybody because it drives website traffic.

One of the strangest truths about Internet Marketing is that some people want to create the appearance all is not well -- even if all truly is well.

If you're an Affiliate marketer -- and if your fellow affiliates are engaging in negative sales tactics and using unfortunate words to bring attention to a product -- you might find yourself in the middle of a Public Relations nightmare. What if your neighbors in Smalltown, U.S.A., see your name in search-engine results? And what if your name is attached to a negative through no fault of your own?

Just as voters hold politicians accountable, customers hold Internet Marketers and affiliates accountable. You could find yourself in full explanation mode because of the actions of others. The outcome could be the Internet Marketing equivalent of getting tossed out of office.

Where will you go to get your reputation back? How much time will you spend "explaining" things?

"If you're explaining, you're losing."

It's even worse if you find yourself defending your honor because of trouble other people caused. You can be entirely innocent -- and still find yourself in full explanation mode.

Internet Marketing truly is a lot like politics. Some people play dirty, never contemplating the effects their actions have on other people.

Choose your Affiliate opportunities carefully. Look for potential trouble spots. Put yourself in the position of customers, and recognize they have the power of voters and reporters.

Kundan Ghanekar


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