Founded in 2000, Blue Chip Vacations has grown to become one of the fastest growing holiday accommodation providers in the UK.
Originally set up with a handful of luxury self catering holiday apartments it now boasts a portfolio of over 600 properties including holiday apartments, cottages, barn conversions, bungalows, lodges and holiday lets across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.
As a largely web-based business, affiliate marketing has been part of Blue Chip Vacation’s marketing strategy since 2007 and now brings in a significant percentage of the company’s revenues.
Elise Newman, affiliate marketing manager explains, “I inherited the affiliate marketing programme from my predecessor who had realised it represented an innovative and yet low risk opportunity to expand Blue Chip’s presence online.”
The impact was immediate, with the affiliate base doubling year on year, leading eventually to a quarter of the firm’s online bookings being sourced via its affiliate partners.
“We quickly identified that although we were growing and our customer base was thriving there was still an untapped opportunity to use the affiliate channel to secure additional sales. It was clear how important affiliate marketing was for our business and we were also keen to continue to grow this marketing strategy by looking for new and innovative methods of working with our partners,” explained Newman.
“My predecessor had done a fantastic job of building our affiliate marketing programme and had established a strong relationship with Affiliate Window and I needed to make sure this was still the most effective approach.
It became clear from the outset that it was the perfect partner for introducing us to a highly motivated affiliate base. It has also proved invaluable to my team by giving us access to a fantastic toolset and user interface, massive knowledge resources and helping to come up with and implement new and innovative campaign ideas.”
One of the most successful adaptions made to the campaign followed a review of how it rewarded its partners. The initial structure was based around a flat commission payment for every sale achieved. With the help of Affiliate Window, the company began reviewing how its competitors worked with its affiliates to make sure that it was ahead of the game.
“Initially our biggest problem was that not many of our direct competitors actually did this type of marketing so we decided to broaden the research by looking at other players in the accommodation sector such as larger hotels and holiday groups. We wanted to drive more traffic to our site and to achieve this we needed to better understand what motivated our affiliates.”
Newman’s research led to two conclusions: affiliates value two-way communication with merchants and a more attractive commission structure. “For them to be able to drive traffic to the site they needed a constant flow of information, including regular updates on new properties available, the latest product feeds for their sites.
“We also set up an affiliate blog and now use Twitter to help proliferate news and information to our network. A large number of our affiliates are niche sites such as Newquaynet.com or Englishriviera.co.uk so we realised the importance of speaking to them directly to ensure that they had the customised tools required to drive highly motivated and targeted traffic our way,” explained Newman.
Based upon our research, we also reviewed the current commission fee structure and decided to increase this to five per cent of the booking value to incentivise our affiliates” comments Newman. “Revenues from affiliate sales smashed the £1 million mark for 2009 by the end of June. This is more than we achieved in the whole of 2008.”
As well as reviewing the communication and commission structures in place, Newman looked to see what other tools Blue Chip Vacation’s customers would benefit from. The company worked with Affiliate Window to review this and see how it could best make use of voucher codes.
“Our site enables the use of voucher codes, so this promotional method seemed like a natural progression for us although one which we have approached with caution. The market has grown markedly with a new voucher code site launching almost daily.
“The danger for us was that our affiliates would lose revenues as people would click away to look for codes so we continue to work closely with the team at Affiliate Window to ensure that we rolled this promotional tool out successfully.
“Together we have developed a separate attribution model for sales from voucher code sites – with the aim of presenting a value proposition to our customers without damaging any of our hard earned affiliate relationships.”
Blue Chip Vacations implemented an online chat facility to stop affiliates losing sales to the telephone channel which proved to be a popular feature with customers and affiliates alike. Affiliate Window assured the company that this was a good idea and offered advice based upon its experience of running such a service.
This facility is available on the Blue Chip Vacations website and means if an affiliate directs potential customers to the site and they have a question about the booking, they can ask via the live online chat facility. Previously, if customers had a query upon arrival at the site they phoned Blue Chip Vacations directly and if satisfied with the answer, subsequently booked and paid for their holiday while on the phone, losing the affiliate a sale.
Affiliate Window knew from its experience that customers prefer the ease of live online chat rather than phoning a company. “Since we implemented this service our affiliates have told us that they have seen a higher conversion rate and are more inclined to direct traffic to us than before,” explains Newman.
The success of these changes to its digital marketing programme demonstrated to Blue Chip Vacations the need to continue to work closely with Affiliate Window, to implement innovative new campaigns.
“We have some exciting plans in the pipeline such as providing a white label solution which would enable our partners to have their own online holiday store using their own brand. This will help make our affiliates feel like an extension of the Blue Chip Vacations team and hopefully make them more inclined to drive visitors to our site.
Moving forward, Newman is using Affiliate Window’s AWin Analytics tool and product and voucher code tracking; all of which will provide her with a plethora of information relating to affiliate traffic, including number of visits, page views, pages viewed per visit, bounce rate, time on site and the percentage of new visitors.
“I am very excited about this next stage in our work together as it will provide me with a better understanding of our visitors from different affiliates, and subsequently allow me to make changes to our promotional campaigns and landing pages to get more out of our partners. It should also help us to spot trends or opportunities that will improve the effectiveness of a campaign in the blink of an eye,” says Newman.
Blue Chip Vacations affiliate marketing strategy has helped to increase sales to a quarter of the company’s total sales.
“Our affiliate programme provides us with a real transparency of results, a range of promotional tools, a diverse and growing audience and proven levels of high user engagement. For all these reasons, our strategy is to continue to work closely with Affiliate Window to continue to build on our successes achieved so far,” concludes Newman.
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