Meet Hunter Boyle , a multichannel marketer and content strategist, who is now Senior Business Development Manager at Aweber . At Affiliate Management Days SF 2013  (April 16-17), Hunter will be revealing ways in which affiliate managers and advertisers may effectively maximize affiliate relationships with email.
* * * * *
Question: If you were to emphasize one important area that every affiliate manager should be paying more attention to, what would it be and why?
Hunter Boyle: Engagement. That applies to long-time affiliates just as much as the new faces joining your crew. The channels you’re using – email, social media, webcasts, the offers and tools you’re presenting – have to capture the attention of your affiliates and get them excited to promote you.
So if you’re not focusing on, measuring and testing ways to improve engagement, you’re leaving a ton of money on the table.
Question: What do you see as the main areas of opportunity for online marketers in 2013 – 2014?
Hunter Boyle: There’s a surge happening these days around content marketing. If that’s not the buzzword of the year, I don’t know what is. But aside from the hype, there’s enormous value in the ability to consistently create and deliver exceptional content. Particularly as a marketing tool for affiliates.
The best affiliate marketers are those who use trust, authenticity and authority to build up their networks. They succeed because their recommendations carry real weight online. Can affiliates cultivate those circles with an endless cycle of overt sales pitches? Only in rare instances, such as deals sites, does that work. And that’s a whole separate topic.
That’s why, all the buzz aside, an effective content marketing strategy is essential for affiliate marketers. Same goes for affiliate managers. Developing the messaging, goals, process, tools, metrics, a testing plan and training affiliates to succeed with them is a major opportunity for affiliate managers.
Question: What do you believe to be the top 3 present day challenges that online oriented small businesses should be aware of? And where can solutions be found?
Hunter Boyle: Judging by the small businesses I know and work with, the top three challenges don’t really change that much:
That’s the trifecta that most small businesses struggle with in marketing and beyond. In most cases, they’re very passionate about their work and business. They have clear goals in mind. Where it gets tricky is trying to keep up with the pace of change in marketing. Often because they’ve got a small team or are doing most of it themselves without the bandwidth to become experts in content, email, social, SEO (search engine optimization), PPC (pay per click), affiliate marketing and so on.
I wish I could say that’s likely to change. But the “small” part of small businesses is why it rarely does. Small business leaders really need to focus on what’s legitimately going to drive business growth and minimize the distractions, latest fads and initiatives that don’t support the growth goals.
How do you determine where to draw those lines?
I think the best place to find solutions is right from your prospects and customers themselves. That means putting some real thought into assessing your marketing analytics (site, email, social) and test results. Supplementing that with qualitative data such as customer polls, email queries and responses, blog comments and good old-fashioned jawboning, like phone calls, site visits, live events or online chats like Google Hangouts.
This approach reflects the customer first mentality behind the lean product development model, usability design, listening with social media, and so on. And rightly so because these days, customers and prospects play a critical role in your business development process. That’s especially true of small and independent businesses.
Question: As an email marketing expert, what do you view as the number one overlooked component of a healthy email marketing campaign?
Hunter Boyle: The welcome series. Hands down. I like to compare it to first impressions when you meet someone in real life. Even though the website and email sign-up form are technically first impressions, let’s be honest, that first email or two that we get when subscribing really sets the tone for the entire lifecycle, right?
I dread signing up for yet another email. I work in the industry. We all do these days. We all get too much of it and we decry our overflowing email inboxes. So think of what the emails you actually love to get have in common: They often “wow” you. Whether it’s because the content is funny or personable or makes you think or helps you discover cool sites and ideas or offers great deals. We want to be impressed by that diamond in the rough of dozens of subject lines.
Welcome messages can do that. An unexpected 15% coupon or a high quality ebook or video bonus – these are pretty standard. But a welcome series, spread out over the first few weeks, that’s designed to familiarize readers with actually using your product or service, isn’t as common.
Content that delivers awesome value and an engaging experience, is coordinated with social channels and is timed to get an optimal response rather than annoy readers? That’s mighty rare. Testing a series like this should be a priority for all digital marketers this year.
Question: Can you give us one piece of advice regarding how to increase email open rates and two tips on how we can improve click through rates?
Hunter Boyle: You can increase open rates with subject line and timing tests. But those tend to be incremental, one-off gains that are hard to replicate or maintain. That said, we ran a timing experiment, not a test by the purist definition, and doubled our click through rate with a send to our affiliates on Saturday morning.
One tip would be to keep experimenting. Even if it doesn’t fit all of the official testing criteria. I know that makes some of my optimization friends cringe. But we’re not robots. People send emails and people receive emails. I’m not suggesting anyone replace serious testing with experiments like the one above. In fact, doubling the clicks absolutely made us want to set up a formal test to explore further.
That’s the benefit of experimenting: It can lead you to new ideas and surprises and help you formulate more exacting tests.
Another tip for click through is ensuring your emails and links in particular, are mobile-friendly. Video is getting more and more popular. If you’re using the standard screen capture with play button image, with alt text (alternative text), that’s going to render nicely in mobile and could be a click magnet.
Whereas, if you’re using embedded text links and just one or two words are linked or it’s not clear that an image is a live link or you have way too many links – you’re going to see lower response rates from the growing smartphone population.
So make sure you’re testing mobile compatibility and usability before you hit send. And keep checking your analytics.
* * * * *
The upcoming Affiliate Management Days conference  takes place April 16-17, 2013. Follow @AMDays  or #AMDays on Twitter. When registering , make sure to use the code SBTAM250 to receive an additional $250.00 off your two-day (or combo) pass. Early bird rates are valid through March 1, 2013.
The rest of the interview series from #AMDays may be found here .