Tough question, though a good one, because the successful publisher program doesn’t happen by accident. In fact, there are many factors contributing to a publisher program’s ability to rise above its competition and become truly profitable. One factor is the level of investment by a company in the longevity and growth of that publisher program; another is the relative experience of the publisher manager/team.
The Achilles’ heel of many publisher programs is their hasty, uninformed choice regarding who they’ll select as their publisher solution provider. Although there are any number of decisions that must be made when launching a publisher program, the choice of a publisher solution is one that must be given the most weight.
The key is conducting your due diligence. Do your research and make the right decision the first time. Not only are contracts tough to break, but in the meantime, you’re losing money. For you, that’s a lose-lose proposition. In a recent poll, nearly 40 percent of publisher managers said they would select a different provider if they could ‘turn back time’ and do it all over again.
Freedom of choice?
The choices in publisher solutions are numerous. According to researchers, solution providers are categorized as:
- Commission-based ASPs (application service providers)
- Fee-based ASPs
- CGI programs
- E-commerce programs
- In-house custom applications
So…what do you do?
The (multi) million-dollar question for companies interested in publisher marketing is, quite simply and bluntly, “Which publisher solution provider is best?” Add two words to that question… “Which publisher solution provider is best for me?” and you’ll understand that one size doesn’t fit all and that what your needs are (besides ROI) are essentially different than the company down the street.
The reality is the best publisher solution for you depends on your budget; your need for technology, support and publisher recruiting; and whether exclusivity is a factor.
Most often, budget is the biggest factor. Some programs can get by with the bare-bones lower end budgets, while Fortune 500 companies gravitate toward higher-end commission-based ASPs.
If you plan to sign with one of the commission-based ASPs, you’ve got to work the numbers to ensure it is going to be within your means. Map out your projected publisher program impressions, click-throughs and transactions for the next year. Then tie in the costs for working with the various companies. Don’t let your program implode because it is ‘too successful’ (too expensive to fulfill on the back end).
The level and quality of technology and support vary among ASPs. What one merchant deems to be mission-critical can be seen as superfluous by another. Before signing anything, figure out what you need and which are necessary for your publisher program. Then begin your recruitment process.
Support encompasses technical assistance to the merchant as well as access to a ‘living, breathing’ account representative as well as consultation for industry best practices. These services are standard for commission-based ASPs and are available from some of the fee-based ASPs.
Similarly, the higher-end ASPs actively recruit publishers into their network for the benefit of their merchants. However, it’s up to the merchant to proactively recruit its most desired publishers.
Let’s talk about exclusivity
There is a lot of talk (one-to-one, blogs, podcasts, webinars and more) about exclusivity among ASPs. Though it’s nice to have options, I wonder how many companies would actually work with multiple publisher solution providers, even if they could. Let’s face it, it’s a lot of work, and you’d have to re-train a new ASP in your products and processes.
Do your due diligence
To find out what merchants and publishers think of particular ASPs (especially those you may be considering), check out the publisher chat rooms and message boards. Although you’re likely to get a variety of opinions, consider them your personal focus groups and learn what you can to find out what you need to know. After a week or so, you can get an idea about which people post useful messages and which are not worth your time.
Don’t be afraid to ask your prospective publisher solution provider(s) to provide references. Give a time and date by which they’re expected, and consider it a red flag if you ask and they’re not furnished in a timely manner.
The choice of your ASP is important because it can dictate the success or failure of your program. Because few, if any, publisher programs have switched publisher solution providers and have subsequently managed to sustain success.
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