Marketing your small business involves creating campaigns, testing, tweaking, optimizing your website and getting your customers to act, all while maintaining a strong return on investment. One simple way to scale your marketing efforts is with affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is the process of you choosing and working with other people and businesses that market your products and send traffic to your site. You pay those people or businesses, called affiliates, a commission on each conversion. It's a great marketing tactic for small businesses because you only pay commissions for sales after they occur. Here are some other points to consider:
U.S. affiliate marketing spending is expected to top $6.8 billion by 2020.
Sixteen percent of all online orders are generated through affiliate marketing.
Eighty-one percent of brands and 84 percent of publishers leverage affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is one of the most ROI-positive ways for a small business to market online. While using affiliate marketing for your website has the power to increase your revenue, there are several other benefits that come with using this selling technique.
Here are eight reasons your small business should use affiliate marketing.
1. Track your progress
Most affiliate marketing programs offer real-time tracking, which lets you know exactly when a link is clicked and a visitor goes to your site. Affiliate platforms also provide metrics on impressions, clicks, sales, and custom conversions like form submissions or email signups. Everything is trackable, and you can clearly understand the effect of your marketing campaigns.
2. Enhance promotions
Affiliate marketing lets you supplement your promotions with affiliate links. For example, if you have a product launch coming up just before Christmas, send that product information to your affiliates so they can ignite buzz around the product.
Your online promotional campaign may include a product launch countdown where you offer a discount on a different product each day until launch. Perhaps you're giving a behind-the-scenes look in a Facebook Live video of how the product was developed or a live Q&A. Whatever your promotion plan is, affiliate marketing can enhance your efforts.
3. Provide social proof
Affiliate marketing is one of the strongest ways to incorporate social proof into your online business. What is social proof?
Social proof is the idea that customers will conform to the actions of others if they believe it is the right choice. Social proof exists all around us, but it's especially powerful considering your customers' reliance on product reviews, suggestions and testimonials.
Nearly 95 percent of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase.
Sixty percent of consumers have been influenced by a social media post or a blog review.
Seventy percent of millennial consumers are influenced by the recommendations of their peers in buying decisions.
4. Performance-based payment structures
Affiliate marketing differs from traditional promotions or marketing in that you only pay your affiliate when a sale is made. If the affiliate's work is not producing sales, not only do you not pay for the marketing, but you also have the opportunity to shift your focus to other affiliates. With most e-commerce affiliate commission rates around 5 to 15 percent, you can enjoy a return on ad spend (ROAS) of 10:1 or higher. This is a highly cost-effective marketing tactic that guarantees a return, because you are the one that sets your commission rates.
5. Scale your online business
By incorporating affiliate marketing into your online business, you partner with bloggers, businesses and influencers who engage with their audience daily. Your affiliates are an indirect sales team, able to promote your products on their own websites and generate more revenue for your small business. To scale your affiliate's reach and create more revenue:
Diversify your affiliates: No one affiliate should bring in more than 25 percent of your affiliate revenue. Use coupon sites, customer loyalty sites and a number of other content sites to ensure you don't become too reliant on one affiliate.
Know your competition: Do your due diligence to know which affiliate programs or influencers your competitors are using and their commission rates. When you make your brand easier to work with and offer a solid commission, affiliate bloggers and businesses may be more inclined to work with you.
6. Website sustainability
Ecommerce websites have about an 80 percent failure rate, which makes enlisting the power of affiliate marketing even more crucial.
One of the top reasons websites fail is lack of traffic. Using affiliates to create brand awareness and supplementing that with strong social media engagement will help build your traffic and launch you into the 20 percent margin of success stories.
Twenty-one percent higher average order value (AOV)
Thirty-one percent higher per customer order average
Fifty-eight percent higher average customer revenue
8. Increase sales
Over the past two years, sales revenue driven by content publishers has risen 240 percent. Building relationships with strong affiliates takes time and guidance, but if you're committed to putting in the work, your time will pay off.
Affiliate marketing accounts for 16 percent of all online orders. If you're not utilizing this inexpensive, effective way to increase revenue for your small business website, you're leaving cash on the table. It takes a lot of time and capital to market your small business, so enlist the help of a few trusted affiliates and get ready for more sales with a strong return on investment.
In Part 1 of this series, we explored the early stages of designing the communcations plan around your organization's Open Enrollment campaign. In Part 2, we look at executing and measuring the Open Enrollment campaign.
Now that you and your team are well organized, it's time to start rolling out the Open Enrollment campaign to your employees. Here are eight important steps to ensure that your team extracts the most value and engagement during this process.
1. Create awareness.
One to two weeks before the official open date, get open enrollment on people’s calendars. This ‘Get Ready’ email should include the ability to add calendar items for not only deadlines, but events prior to deadlines—like online information sessions.
2. Open the gates.
When open enrollment begins, send out your general announcement messages to each of your segments, new participants, experienced participants and non-participants. Tailor each message to fit the segment, but primarily stick to process and expectations. Let recipients know what to expect, provide links to detailed content pages and repeat the calendar item options.
3. Invite the family.
Shortly after the initial announcement, provide appropriate segments with the ability to opt-in family members to receive upcoming messages. This is simply a headline and link to an opt-in form. The family member will generally need to complete an email loop to be added to the list.
4. Provide education.
A couple of days after the general announcement, start your education process. Your employees generally don’t want to read dense packets of information in an email or wade through five file attachments. Distill benefits options into crisp, descriptive sentences and short lists of key bullet points (with links to details).
Tell stories about why an employee might select one plan over another. You will have different messages for different segments, such as a “Discover your new and different benefits options,” for more experienced personnel and perhaps, “How do I decide which plan is right for me?” for newbies. You can increase engagement by using more visuals and keeping messages to less than 500 words. If that means sending more than one message each day, that’s more effective than cramming 1,500 words into one email.
5. Respect employees' time.
It’s impolite to send campaign messages after an employee has completed the enrollment process. Take care to send a thank you note as soon as they complete the process and remove them from the campaign. If they still have the option to make changes prior to the deadline, let them know in the thank you message.
6. Send smart reminders.
You should pre-program three general reminders: a "mid-point" reminder, and "two days left" reminder and a "morning of" reminder. You can increase motivation by providing data within those messages, such as, "37 percent of employees completed open enrollment with the first three days." Depending on your tools, if you measure open enrollment engagement and track metrics, you may be able to customize reminders by linking to the next step (based on the recipient’s campaign behavior or feedback).
7. Provide situation-specific recommendations.
At this point in the campaign, the HR and Communications teams may see patterns of feedback and frequently asked questions. For any employees who have not completed the process, send out a message addressing these specific issues. You can generally assume that there are more silent people who have the same questions.
Use this same approach for any webinars, discussion groups or other Q&A activity. Don’t expect that just because the discussion and Q&A are on the intranet that employees will seek them out. It’s safer to send a proactive email with the answers to the three most common questions and link back to the full content.
8. Deadline push.
If employees haven’t made a decision by a certain date, follow up based on behavioral information. If you don’t know what action your employees have taken, you’re relegated to sending blanket reminders. This can waste time and irritate people.
For continuous improvement, you will want to run post-campaign surveys, analyze all your data, and compile a report complete with recommendations for what to change or do differently next year.
It’s useful to look at your data to see which campaign steps produced the most engagement and when certain groups of employees completed the process. You will likely discover additional segmentation and education opportunities.
The goal of an open enrollment campaign is not simply to get employees signed-up. It’s an opportunity to help employees become more satisfied with their benefits and feel good about the company. It’s an employee engagement opportunity you should make the most of.
When you think of digital agility, “retail” might not be the first sector that comes to mind. But, in fact, technology spending in the retail sector has ballooned in recent years, and according to Gartner, it is expected to reach $203.6 billion in 2019.
Companies such as Nordstrom, Best Buy, and Bonobos have strategically prioritized key digital capabilities — from analytics and e-commerce tools to mobile and emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning — in order to avoid displacement in the new digital economy and find new opportunities with customers.
The following three principles, curated from recent research and insights published in MIT SMR, demonstrate how successful retailers are responding to digital disruption and using insights to improve customer experience.
1. Leading with a small footprint and high experience. It should come as no shock that the age of customer experience is already upon us. Being competitive in the retail market today means being able to learn and adapt more quickly to the experiences that customers want. And while customers want great online experiences, this does not mean that brick-and-mortar will be a thing of the past any time soon.
As noted in the aptly titled article “The Store Is Dead — Long Live the Store,” while some aspects of the typical off-line or in-store experience are eroding, others are now thriving. The article highlights online-first companies such as Warby Parker and Amazon, which have already led successful efforts in the “showrooming” experience for customers.
As the authors point out, “Showroom experiences create better customers: Customers are exposed to the brand in a more meaningful and immersive way, and they are better able to resolve any uncertainty about the nondigital attributes of the retailer’s products. Likewise, showrooms create better retailers: When customers are physically present in the retail environment, observation of their behaviors can lead to meaningful insights. Salespeople can anticipate and respond to customer needs, provide exceptional service, recommend additional items, look for signs of customer discomfort, and so on.”
This shift in strategy for off-line efforts is backed up by the fact that despite digital disruption, people are still shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, according to the 2018 Global Consumer Insights Survey conducted by PWC, over the past three years, the percentage of weekly brick-and-mortar shoppers has risen “from 40% in 2015 to 44% in 2018,” and this increase may be attributed to consumers’ “desire for a more sensory and social experience.”
2. Embracing immersive technology. Voice technologies and AI are already starting to play a major role in the day-to-day life of consumers, and digital supply chains can also benefit from these emerging technologies. As the authors of “Can Your Supply Chain Hear Me Now?” wrote, “In the future, the conversational digital supply chain will use technologies such as machine learning and internet of things (IoT) sensors to improve market responsiveness and agility. Its implications will go far beyond the convenience of placing orders via voice commands.”
For customers, this enables faster shipments at reduced costs, and for retailers, this helps strengthen their resilience against disruption. As the authors noted, embracing immersive technologies in the supply chain involves “rethinking networking design, planning for information centralization, and building inventory and pricing into order-fulfillment decisions.”
3. Investing in digitally savvy talent. In an age where competing on digital is a chief priority, retailers must ensure their investments in talent are aligned. This certainly pertains to store associates, customer service teams, digital marketing, and other key contributors, who will need to gain fluency in technology and tools to delight their customers, but one of the most important talent questions for retailers in fact relates to management.
Today’s digital environment means that the retail C-suite must complement traditional skill sets such as merchandising and store networking with technology savvy, in order to continue to meet the needs of customers when it comes to omnichannel, digital, and supply chain and operations strategies.
When it comes to hiring and engaging digital talent, organizations should recognize four talent management models. As Kristine Dery and Ina Sebastian wrote, when it comes to cultivating talent within companies, two design levers matter most: “(1) enabling employee connectivity and (2) facilitating a responsive, evidence-based leadership. High-performing companies focus on the digital capabilities to connect people with each other, with ideas, and with the broader world. At the same time, these companies are deploying very different leadership capabilities — actively building test-and-learn environments.”
While the current environment presents many risks for digital disruption, there are just as many opportunities for organizations to embrace digital platforms and tools for training talent, and identify key areas for growth.
A recent Navigant survey found that U.S. hospitals and health systems experienced an average 39% reduction in their operating margins from 2015 to 2017. This was because their expenses grew faster than their revenues, despite cost-cutting initiatives. As I speak with industry executives, a common refrain is “I’ve done all the easy stuff.” Clearly, more is needed. Cost reduction requires an honest and thorough reassessment of everything the health system does and ultimately, a change in the organization’s operating culture.
When people talk about having done “the easy stuff,” they mean they haven’t filled vacant positions and have eliminated some corporate staff, frozen or cut travel and board education, frozen capital spending and consulting, postponed upgrades of their IT infrastructure, and, in some cases, launched buyouts for the older members of their workforces, hoping to reduce their benefits costs.
These actions certainly save money, but typically less than 5% of their total expense base. They also do not represent sustainable, long-term change. Here are some examples of what will be required to change the operating culture:
Contract rationalization. Contracted services account for significant fractions of all hospitals’ operating expenses. The sheer sprawl of these outsourced services is bewildering, even at medium-size organizations: housekeeping, food services, materials management, IT, and clinical staffing, including temporary nursing and also physician coverage for the ER, ICU and hospitalists. More recently, it has come in the form of the swarms of “apps” sold to individual departments to solve scheduling and care-coordination problems and to “bond” with “consumers.” There is great dispersion of responsibility for signing and supervising these contracts, and there is often an unmanaged gap between promise and performance.
An investor-owned hospital executive whose company had acquired major nonprofit health care enterprises compared the proliferation of contracts to the growth of barnacles on the bottom of a freighter. One of his company’s first transition actions after the closure of an acquisition is to put its new entity in “drydock” and scrape them off (i.e., cancel or rebid them). Contractors offer millions in concessions to keep the contracts, he said. Barnacle removal is a key element of serious cost control. For the contracts that remain, and also consulting contracts that are typically of shorter duration, there should be an explicit target return on investment, and the contractor should bear some financial risk for achieving that return. The clinical-services contracts for coverage of hospital units such as the ER and ICU are a special problem, which I’ll discuss below.
Eliminating layers of management. One thing that distinguishes the typical nonprofit from a comparably-sized investor-owned hospital is the number of layers of management. Investor-owned hospitals rarely have more than three or four layers of supervision between the nurse that touches patients and the CEO. In some larger nonprofit hospitals, there may be six. The middle layers spend their entire days in meetings or on conference calls, traveling to meetings outside the hospital, or negotiating contracts with vendors.
In large nonprofit multi-hospital systems, there is an additional problem: Which decisions should be made at the hospital, multi-facility regional, and corporate levels are poorly defined, and as a consequence, there is costly functional overlap. This results in “title bloat” (e.g., “CFOs” that don’t manage investments and negotiate payer or supply contracts but merely supervise revenue cycle activities, do budgeting, etc.). One large nonprofit system that has been struggling with its costs had a “president of strategy,” prima facie evidence of a serious culture problem!
Since direct caregivers are often alienated from corporate bureaucracy, reducing the number of layers that separate clinicians from leadership — reducing the ratio of meeting goers to caregivers — is not only a promising source of operating savings but also a way of letting some sunshine and senior-management attention reach the factory floor.
However, doing this with blanket eliminations of layers carries a risk: inadvertently pruning away the next generation of leadership talent. To avoid this danger requires a discerning talent-management capacity in the human resources department.
Pruning the portfolio of facilities and services. Many current health enterprises are combinations of individual facilities that, over time, found it convenient or essential to their survival to combine into multi-hospital systems. Roughly two-thirds of all hospitals are part of these systems. Yet whether economies of scale truly exist in hospital operations remains questionable. Modest reductions in the cost of borrowing and in supply costs achieved in mergers are often washed out by higher executive compensation, more layers of management, and information technology outlays, leading to higher, rather than lower, operating expenses.
A key question that must be addressed by a larger system is how many facilities that could not have survived on their own can it manage without damaging its financial position? As the U.S. savings and loan industry crisis in the 1980s and 1990s showed us, enough marginal franchises added to a healthy portfolio can swamp the enterprise. In my view, this factor — a larger-than-sustainable number of marginal hospital franchises — may have contributed to the disproportionate negative operating performance of many multi-regional Catholic health systems from 2015 to 2017.
In addition to this problem, many regional systems comprised of multiple hospitals that serve overlapping geographies continue to support multiple, competing, and underutilized clinical programs (e.g., obstetrics, orthopedics, cardiac care) that could benefit from consolidation. In larger facilities, there is often an astonishing proliferation of special care units, ICUs, and quasi-ICUs that are expensive to staff and have high fixed cost profiles.
Rationalizing clinical service lines, reducing duplication, and consolidating special care units is another major cost-reduction opportunity, which, in turn, makes possible reductions in clinical and support personnel. The political costs and disruption involved in getting clinicians to collaborate successfully across facilities sometimes causes leaders to postpone addressing the duplication and results in sub-optimal performance.
Clinical staffing and variation. It is essential to address how the health system manages its clinicians, particularly physicians. This has been an area of explosive cost growth in the past 15 years as the number of physicians employed by hospitals has nearly doubled. In addition to paying physicians the salaries stipulated in their contracts, hospitals have been augmenting their compensation (e.g., by paying them extra for part-time administrative work and being on call after hours and by giving them dividends from joint ventures in areas such as imaging and outpatient surgery where the hospital bears most of the risk).
The growth of these costs rivals those of specialty pharmaceuticals and the maintenance and updating of electronic health record systems. Fixing this problem is politically challenging because it involves reducing physician numbers, physician incomes, or both. As physician employment contracts come up for renewal, health systems will have to ask the “why are we in this business” and “what can we legitimately afford to pay” questions about each one of them. Sustaining losses based on hazy visions of “integration” or unproven theories about employment leading to clinical discipline can no longer be justified.
But this is not the deepest layer of avoidable physician-related cost. As I discussed in this HBR article, hospitals’ losses from treating Medicare patients are soaring because the cost of treating Medicare patient admission is effectively uncontrolled while the Medicare DRG payment is fixed and not growing at the rate of inflation. The result: hospitals lost $49 billion in 2016 treating Medicare patients, a number that’s surely higher now.
The root cause of these losses is a failure to “blueprint,” or create protocols for, routine patient care decisions, resulting in absurd variations in the consumption of resources (operating room time; length of stay, particularly in the ICU; lab and imaging exams per admissions, etc.).
The fact that hospitals have outsourced the staffing of the crucial resource-consuming units such as the ICU and ER makes this task more difficult. Patients need to flow through them efficiently or the hospital loses money, often in large amounts. How many of those contracts obligate the contractual caregivers to take responsibility for managing down the delivered cost of the DRG and reward them for doing so? Is compensation in these contracts contingent on the profit (or loss avoidance) impact of their clinical supervision?
These are all difficult issues, but until they are addressed, many health systems will continue to have suboptimal operating results. While I am not arguing that health systems abandon efforts to grow, unless those efforts are executed with strategic and operational discipline, financial performance will continue to suffer. A colleague once said to me that when he hears about someone having picked all the low-hanging fruit, it is really a comment on his or her height. Given the escalating operating challenges many health systems face, it may be past time for senior management to find a ladder.
In a recent article, The Guardian newspaper called for the National Health Service to turn to universities as a key resource, arguing that the research ecosystem in the UK is fragmented and more partnerships that align expertise with the goal of improving public health are needed.
The recommendation was echoed in a recent U.S. research study, which observed that 30–40 percent of patients in the United States “do not receive care complying with current research evidence.” It suggested that collaboration in research, education, and clinical practice too often remain unexplored in many developed countries across the world.
A case study for what such collaboration can look like is the healthcare sector in Qatar. In a decade, it has advanced from being ranked 27th in the world to 13th, and now stands as the highest in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Education Doesn’t End With Graduation
Higher education plays a key role in advancing national and regional public health in Qatar since the work of developing and personalizing cutting-edge treatment interventions is firmly implanted in academic institutions.
Qatar Foundation (QF), a non-profit organization supporting Qatar’s development, works to ensure that education lends itself to practice in ways that make it inseparable from the process of diagnosis and treatment. For instance, Sidra Medicine, the country’s premier hospital for women and children, benefits from the academic scholarship of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q), a medical university just across the street from its fellow QF entity, by having WCM-Q’s professors serve as physicians within its various departments. Sidra academicians, by the same token, hold faculty positions and professorships at WCM-Q, further boosting interprofessional training for medical students and professionals.
“Sidra is introducing innovative education and training programs for medical students, trainees, and physicians in various specialties, which has never been done in this region before,” said Dr. Muhammad Waqar Azeem, Chair of Psychiatry at Sidra and Professor of Psychiatry at WCM-Q. “Ultimately, our research is improving our interventions. It is not undertaken for the sake of research, but to improve people’s lives.”
Through such programs, QF ensures practicing doctors are equipped with the theoretical knowledge of academics that they might otherwise leave behind after their graduation.
Learning Environments Can Be Integrated
Sidra and WCM-Q are joined by specialized schools for children with autism and other learning challenges, all of which are part of a larger learning ecosystem built by QF—known as Education City— which features dozens of academic, research, and community centers. Located in a 3,000-acre campus, Education City benefits the national healthcare sector by ensuring that the results of research are swiftly translated into patient care.
Within this integrated learning environment, QF has also established the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), an initiative that gathers a global community of health experts, innovators, and policymakers to capture and transmit the best evidence-based ideas and practices in the health industry.
In 2016, WISH published a report titled ‘Autism: A Global Framework for Action’—compiled by 11 thought-leaders from five continents—that emerged through this unique ecosystem.
“One day, while having breakfast with the then-CEO of WISH, he asked me how we could address autism for the 2016 WISH summit,” said Dr. Azeem, who then organized a panel of specialists in this area to explore the possibilities of this project. The result of this association was an evidence-based report recommending best practices in autism services for developing and middle-income countries. “In less than one year, we were able to see an idea born out of a breakfast meeting come to life,” he said.
The example illustrates how cross-functional work between various health-related organizations ensures that innovation is not bogged down by the bureaucracies that often accompany formal partnerships. As Dr. Azeem’s experience shows, projects in Education City capable of setting local and international standards can begin with a simple meeting with an entity next door.
Stakeholders Can Help Address Industry Gaps
In a typical university-hospital association, one party takes the initiative and offers incentives to the other to enter into a mutually beneficial pact. In Qatar, however, QF acts as the driving force for bringing different organizations to the table, pushing them to use their expertise to fill existing gaps in the health system.
“Many countries take for granted the potential of having all stakeholders around the table, mainly because, for some, this can be very hard to do,” said Dr. Azeem. “Due to the size, resources, and commitment available in Qatar, what can be achieved in the US at the state level can be accomplished here at the national level.”
A key example of this is Qatar’s National Autism Plan. Since the Ministry of Public Health launched the plan in 2017, Dr. Azeem has been instrumental in foregrounding the benefits of involving stakeholders from the private and public sector.
“Qatar is the only country that has such a plan in the whole region,” he explains. “It was only possible due to the support shown by the country’s top leadership, the presence of stakeholders from across the country on the table, and the active participation of families. Everyone involved met for about two years to put the plan together successfully.”
Sidra may have only opened its main hospital building earlier this year, but the medical network through which it interacts with other educational and research entities within QF is already bearing fruit. In October, Sidra performed the country’s first separation surgery of conjoined twins, paving the way for complex pediatric surgeries and eliminating the local need to travel abroad for rare and complex conditions. Sidra also ushered in an era of medical tourism in Qatar when a prematurely-born baby was flown to Qatar from Kuwait for an emergency operation to correct a heart defect, at just 29 days old.
Such examples outline how connecting hospitals with universities, and research institutes with public health centers, has all the signs of being the most efficient way forward for revolutionizing ailing healthcare systems around the world.
To learn more about Qatar Foundation and its various initiatives, visit www.qf.org.qa.
Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page. Email your questions about your workplace dilemmas to Dan and Alison at firstname.lastname@example.org
From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:
HBR: The Three Pillars of a Teaming Culture by Amy Edmondson — “When you join an unfamiliar team or start a challenging new project, self-protection is a natural ins tinct. It’s not possible to look good or be right all the time when collaborating on an endeavor with uncertain outcomes. But when you’re concerned about yourself, you tend to be less interested in others, less passionate about your shared cause, and unable to understand different points of view. So it takes conscious work to shift the culture.”
HBR: Too Much Team Harmony Can Kill Creativity by Darko Lovric and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic — “Consistent with these famous case studies, scientific research shows that creativity and innovation can be enhanced by reducing team harmony. For instance, a recent study of 100 product development teams found that two common disruptors of team harmony, namely diversity and task uncertainty, were positively associated with creative performance.”
HBR: Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams by Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson — “Our study showed that a number of skills were crucial: appreciating others, being able to engage in purposeful conversations, productively and creatively resolving conflicts, and program management. By training employees in those areas, a company’s human resources or corporate learning department can make an important difference in team performance.”
HBR: The Secrets of Great Teamwork by Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen — “Team assignments should be designed with equal care. Not every task has to be highly creative or inspiring; many require a certain amount of drudgery. But leaders can make any task more motivating by ensuring that the team is responsible for a significant piece of work from beginning to end, that the team members have a lot of autonomy in managing that work, and that the team receives performance feedback on it.”