In my running battles with the affiliate company we have lost and gained links on a weekly basis. The present state of affairs is that we had our last bastion of Direct Links (the mighty Barclays) pulled, but in tandem with that now can offer what is called ‘banner’ links that offer cards from Chase, US Bank, Citi, Barclays, Discover, Capital One and others. Sadly, we have no control over them regarding quality, and aren’t allowed to say ‘if you want the 70K Ink Offer click this link, it is on page 2’ (I can say it now because it isn’t anymore..). Other people who have a direct link can make up all sorts of stories to make you buy, but we can’t even put the word Chase on the same page as the link to the page that includes Chase. Compliance is a weird thing.
As I mull over this compliance discrepancy, I wonder if perhaps the reason for compliance is to produce A/B Testing sources. A/B Testing is the process of issuing two (or more) campaigns in tandem, with different offers to find which is most effective. Sometimes this comes down to the font/color used in the campaign, but additionally it could come down to other factors… one I am thinking of here is the location of the offer. Where is the customer, when they receive the offer?
I recently returned from an AA flight where I saw ads for the ‘new swanky’ American Airline Credit Card with 35,000 AAdvantage points… last night checking flights on AA.com I got an offer pop up for 40,000 AAdvantage Points, and meanwhile, for some reason we have an offer for 50,000 on our Credit Card page. However, often times we aren’t offering the best, and it changes without notice to me, for all I know the offer has already dropped to 20K they are ‘testing’ to see if I can convert at that level. This begs the question, why isn’t there just one offer? And why is it frequently the case that acquiring the card from a place of trust, such as when I’m sitting in my seat on American Airlines that there is an inferior offer presented?
You might imagine that Points and Miles offers are rebates to the consumer on their perceived value to the banks. If you consider customer acquisition and look at the signup bonus and affiliate payments as upfront costs (perhaps offset by an annual fee) then why isn’t black and white? Why not say, each AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard is worth $800 to the bank so they will kick back $600 of it to the acquisition channels? Could this strategy simply be denoting a conflict of interest? Does American Airlines not want people to have as many points as they could? Points outstanding are a liability to the airline, albeit one they can temper with ‘award program enhancements’.
This may be part of the puzzle, but another aspect to consider is trust and comfort. As a consumer, where would you feel most confident on applying for an AA co-branded credit card? Would it be when flying on the American Airlines flight, or perhaps when booking your ticket? Or would it be from a blogger who makes a commission on selling it? I’m starting to think that the more comfortable and confident you are with a brand, the more you blindly trust them, and the more that blind trust is abused.
Let’s extrapolate that to bloggers. Why is it that not all bloggers have the best offers? Why is it that many blogs like this one are not allowed to offer a direct application to Chase? The answer given is volume. But what does that mean? Simply put, it means that they want us to ‘push’ an inferior link hard enough to convert it into sales. If we do that, we become another proven channel for the marketing campaigns. Therefore, ‘blogs’ as a whole are not a single A/B channel, and the more that have the premier links will distort the A/B test data.
Where does ‘trust’ fit into this? Clearly, American Airlines is perfectly happy to promote an inferior link to its valued customers, and clearly, the bloggers who generate enough volume by promoting inferior links to their customers are both successfully converting business. So, is the trust now between the paymaster and the business promoting the links? If you can ‘push’ enough you gain the trust and are rewarded with the good stuff? It makes good business sense. For a big business, it’s not a smart long term play to sell your trust to a bank rather than your customer base. For a small business, I guess you take what you can get. Seems a shame to spend all those years building up trust only to ‘monetize’ it, and start jumping through A/B tests trying to scrape out a living.
I think it might be interesting to think about this notion of trust in the channel… are there sites out there that you trust, and feel comfortable with, thinking they are good people, but are really monetizing you?