Build Trust By Declaring Your Affiliate Relationship

When the US Federal Trade Commission shook up its marketing rules in late 2009 — requiring sellers to declare affiliate relationships with the suppliers of products they were promoting — you could feel the vibrations spread across the Web.

Marketers were understandably concerned that revealing that they were being paid to promote goods would affect their sales. Readers would lose trust, become more cynical about the quality of the products they were offering and require harder persuasion to make a purchase.

In practice, there’s little evidence that that happened. Affiliate marketing — either by email or online — didn’t stop at the end of 2009, and top sellers haven’t been driven out of business by the need to mention their commissions.

In part, that’s because many were doing it already. It might not have been required but many affiliate marketers had long been putting the letters “aff” in brackets after an affiliate link. They felt that letting people know that they received a fee for a purchase was just the right thing to do.

If They Trust The Sender, They’ll Consider Buying

But sales also haven’t disappeared because readers aren’t stupid. When they receive an email from a business that recommends someone else’s product, they understand that the person sending it is getting paid for that recommendation. They also assume that that pay is not going to be high enough to convince a marketer to offer a product he or she knows is poor. A continued relationship with members of an email list is always more valuable than any one-off affiliate commission.

That doesn’t mean they’ll rush out and buy the product. But as long as readers trust the sender, they’ll at least consider it and decide whether the product meets their needs.

But while declaring an affiliate relationship won’t necessarily harm sales, that still leaves the problem of how to make the declaration. For copywriters used to combining headlines with benefits, bullets and call-to-action copy, the addition of an affiliate confession is hardly welcome.

A Powerful Postscript

In email marketing, at least, that problem seems to have been solved.

Many top marketers are mentioning the relationship in a postscript at the bottom of the message, and they’re doing it in a particularly clever way. Rather than simply stating that they receive a fee for every sale, they’re using the postscript to reinforce trust. A line at end of the message that says:

“P.S. [Supplier] will reward me with a small affiliate fee if you choose to buy [product], but if I didn’t genuinely believe that it would save you time, money and effort, I wouldn’t be recommending it. You should buy [product] because it’s great.”

will always be more effective than just adding “(aff)” to your link.

Successful email marketing always comes down to the degree of trust that you can build with your readers. Marketers who take the effort to build a relationship with their audiences, check the products they promote and choose their items and their messages carefully have nothing to fear from an FTC declaration. They might even have sales to gain.

About the author
Dean Shanson is a professional marketing writer and a New York Times bestselling business book ghostwriter.