My first memory of affiliate marketing is from 2002, right after the dot com crash. I was head of internet marketing at a 100-year-old direct marketer of auto accessories, which sold every possible car add-on you could imagine across every make, model, and year. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to work on every side of the performance marketing industry, with the biggest players in the space, through each evolution of thought and technology. That’s why I’m excited and honored to host a panel on direct partner management at Postback 2018, where we’ll discuss where the industry is going in the future. To prepare, I’ve been thinking about my part in helping the industry evolve into what it is today.
Back in 2002, my “affiliate” channel was by far the best-performing acquisition channel, as compared to my SEM, display, and comparison shopping channels. It drove the most sales, at the highest AOV (average order value), and the best ROI (return on investment). I could hardly believe it at the time, but with affiliate marketing, I could acquire a customer and collect their sales revenue before I had to pay for an acquisition. Absolutely brilliant.
This was my aha moment.
However, as most in this space can attest, the affiliate channel was difficult to figure out. During this time, it was complex and messy, with little standards or transparency. It housed affiliate publishers who used every conceivable method of acquiring traffic and redirecting it to my website. This included search arbitrageurs, coupon sites, loyalty sites, and content sites — affiliate publishers ran the gamut. And to handle it all, I had an affiliate “team of one” to manage two affiliate networks that I had inherited from my successor. These programs included Commission Junction and Performics, two of the early retail affiliate networks founded in the late 90’s. Thanks to these networks, we were able to work with thousands of affiliate publishers to drive tons of valuable traffic to our website on a pay-for-performance basis. Strange world, indeed!
Truth is, I was hooked. I liked the space so much that in 2004 I joined Performics, initially to lead the publisher development team… and then later to lead the advertiser account teams. Performics was known both for managing the top retail affiliate programs and for powering the tracking, reporting and payment infrastructure behind them. Such programs included companies like Target, Citibank, Kohl’s, and CapOne. Performics flipped my relationship with affiliate marketing on its head: working with publishers as a network, instead of through one, provided me a new outlook on the ecosystem at large. I also got an inside look at the technology that ran the system, and how it could be improved. I began to take notes.
In 2008, Google acquired Performics. I was part of the leadership team that helped re-launch the network under the Google moniker as Google Affiliate Network (GAN). As GAN, we continued to grow our network in scale to drive billions of dollars worth of goods and services to advertisers. We did that as a two-sided network with publishers and advertisers. The network acted as a matchmaker between these two parties, facilitating connections so they could work better together. My team’s job was to streamline the process of recruiting affiliates, trafficking offers, optimizing traffic, tracking results, invoicing advertisers, and paying publishers. I watched more and more advertisers join each year, discovering that affiliate networks gave them access to scale they could not achieve on their own.
This familiar-but-new gig with GAN only fed my passion for the space. And after more than eight years with the team, in 2012 I decided to go even deeper into affiliate marketing by joining eBay to help grow its own network of affiliates, the eBay Partner Network (EPN). I figured I had already worked as an advertiser, and then as a network — it was time to see what a publisher network was all about.
Much like Amazon, eBay’s network housed a seemingly endless supply of product offers for its affiliate publishers, who “pre-sold” customers looking for new or hard-to-find items. Usually, the publisher intercepted these consumers as they were searching for a product by placing an offer for that product in places they were likely to visit, like product review lists and coupon message boards. Interested customers were redirected to eBay, where they were presented with the best offer(s) across its seller-base. Thousands upon thousands of affiliate entrepreneurs were born on eBay; many made their livelihood there.
EPN was my first real taste of direct partner management — but no one called it that. It was at eBay I realized that with the right technology, the right data, and the right partner incentives, it was possible for companies to own the process of building deeper business development relationships based on performance. Call it affiliate marketing, call it business development, call it partner management, it was working closely with partners to help them help you better market your business.
Fast forward to today. Now, I lead global marketing for TUNE, a company that provides the technology infrastructure for networks and advertisers to grow their businesses through marketing partnerships. It’s another perspective change, and an inspiring one. As the ecosystem of marketing partners continues to evolve, I believe demand will flourish for solutions that help advertisers and networks manage their partnerships in new ways. And I believe there is a wide spectrum of partnerships that advertisers and networks are choosing to build as they contemplate ways to scale.
All of it starts with great measurement. You cannot manage relationships unless you can measure them. From there, you can choose to expand the scope by which you play a role in managing relationships. In some cases, you may want to simply evaluate your best sources of traffic. In others, you may need the attribution logic to be able to credit the right sources of traffic. And on the other end of the spectrum, you may want to directly manage your best relationships — the ones that drive the majority of your traffic, or whatever your main goal may be.
These are the cases where you reach deep to build lasting, valuable, synergistic relationships with your partners … or stick with the status quo. Thanks to innovations in affordable technology, that choice is now yours to make.
On July 20th at Postback, the mobile event of the summer, it is my great honor to host a panel of experts from both leading brands that manage their own direct relationships and agencies that guide those decisions. Click here to learn more about other topics we’ll be discussing, but even better … come join us. The performance marketing world gets more interesting with every passing year. Join the conversation — it may just give you the ideas (or the courage) you need to take partnerships into your own hands.
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Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.