Motivating Affiliates by Threat: Dead-End Strategy

Several times a month an affiliate receives e-mails where merchants are threatening to remove him/her from their affiliate programs if the affiliate does not become “active”. Another thread was started on this topic at ABestWeb [see it here] just today. And while I could write up a whole post on why I believe that affiliate activation is, first and foremost, the affiliate manager‘s responsibility, in this particular one I would like to address the problem from a different angle (maybe because it is one of the topics I am considering for my doctorate dissertation).

What is the main motive behind the removal threats sent to affiliates when they show little or no activity in an affiliate program? Motivation! That’s right… And in certain circumstances, you can motivate by fear. However, due to the very nature of the merchant-affiliate relationship, motivation by threat is nothing but a “dead-end strategy”. Back at the dawn of affiliate marketing, Alexander Hiam wrote about this in his “Streetwise Motivating & Rewarding Employees: New & Better Ways to Inspire Your People” (1999). No, he did not write about in the affiliate marketing context but discussed motivation and inspiration in traditional management. However, his ideas are directly applicable to the situation in question. Hiam wrote that “high motivation is commonplace where there is either great opportunity or great threat. People rise to either occasion, but are typically less motivated between these extremes” as the following figure illustrates.

Affiliate marketing context is very different from any traditional management situation; and mainly because affiliates are different from your traditional workforce. They love their independence, they are generally not tied by performance contracts, they are the ones that choose which affiliate programs to promote and which merchants to drop, without notifying the merchants themselves. In light of this, threats that could work in some of the traditional contexts, are absolutely out of place in the affiliate program management context. Haim emphasized that even in traditional management “threats are generally counterproductive” and “always demotivating”. Back in 1999 he arrived at a theory that “we can motivate people to their highest levels of potential by presenting them with opportunities to succeed instead of telling them what to do”. Yet, almost a decade later, in an industry where the workforce does not tolerate any expression of a directing, controlling, top-down management, we see the deadly mistake repeated time and again — get-active-or-I’ll-remove-you e-mails are sent out to those who are to be presented with opportunities, not threats.

Re-think your affiliate motivation strategy today. If you do not have one, pick that Hiam’s book up, and develop the right one!

9 thoughts on “Motivating Affiliates by Threat: Dead-End Strategy”

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  3. My pleasure, Noel. Your program looks like a very promising one. Should you ever need any help, feel free to e-mail me about it.

  4. Totally agree… I make it a point to NEVER away from negative consequences, instead always move TOWARDS positive outcomes. Negative consequences are a fact of life – positive outcomes are goals to achieve. Big-ass difference.

    1. Thank you for your comment. We should definitely motivate by opportunities, not threats. If we’re getting down to motivating by threat, it is a sure sing that (a) we cannot do/think better than that to get them to work with/for us, and (b) we do not understand them (independent marketers will never respond well to such methods of “motivation”)

  5. Pingback: 5 Worst Affiliate Management Nightmares And How to Avoid Them « Get Elastic Ecommerce Blog

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