Learnings, Luck and Longshots from Affiliate Summit West 2018

We’ve all heard the saying. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Well friends, I’m about to break protocol and share some revealing, thrilling, edgy and even downright shocking dealings that went on during my recent trip to Las Vegas.

I had many “first-time” experiences.

For example, it was my first time travelling to Las Vegas with a few of my fellow AP colleagues and it was my first time attending Affiliate Summit West (ASW) 2018. But after experiencing what I experienced … it will not be my last.

The organizers of ASW do not mess around. The seminars were all engaging, the networking with other industry players was second to none and, of course, the learnings were so extensive, your brain felt bigger when they were over.

I took pages and pages of notes, scribbling furiously during each seminar so that I a) would not only retain some of the incredible wisdom being imparted but so that I could b) share it with you. Here are the highlights:

Buzzwords

A few key buzzwords kept freerolling their way into ASW sessions, including “ROAS”, “CLTV” and “Incrementality.” Now, if you’ve been in the affiliate space for a few years these keywords are old hat.
However, if you fairly new to the game, these terms stand for: Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) and Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV).

The term “incrementality” is a bit trickier to explain, but it’s essentially a conversion (lead, sale, new customer, etc.) that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise (i.e. without affiliate marketing, in our case). These buzzwords are noteworthy as they give a glimpse into what everybody is thinking in our industry.

The ROAS buzzword tells us that advertisers are continuing to focus on generating revenue that has a target profit margin throughout 2018. CLTV tells us that advertisers are also looking in to how customers behave over the long-haul. Are affiliates driving new customers that are only interested in one particular sale and never make another purchase again? Or are the new customers staying around and making repeat purchases? The latter being the best scenario for our advertisers.

Last is incrementality, which is important because we always want to show that our affiliate partners are earning the commissions paid out to them by driving incremental revenue and new customers – revenue and new customers the advertiser wouldn’t have received if it weren’t for the affiliate.

Poker Face

The value of face-to-face networking cannot be understated. From close friends to world leaders, I’ve consistently heard that networking is a critical skill. Needless to say, they’re right. It is easy to forget how valuable it is to meet someone in person, especially when shooting them a quick email is much easier.

In addition to experiencing this first-hand at ASW, our global colleagues have also shared that, when you’re trying to close a deal but can’t seem to get the decision-maker’s attention through email, a quick in-person meeting can be exactly what you need to move the dice down the craps table.

Be An Active Player

Conferences like ASW bring in huge talent from around the world. These experts love to share their knowledge, so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. At the end of each session I attended, the speakers always left time at the end for questions. Many of them even stayed around after the Q&A to answer questions one-on-one. These are great opportunities to ask the best-of-the-best about the challenges you’re facing.

Gamble With Gab

Talk to everybody. You’ll never know who you’ll make a connection with. One of my favorite experiences from ASW was riding down the elevator of the Paris and striking up a conversation with a fellow Affiliate Marketer. As lady luck would have it, they live 20 minutes away from my house in Raleigh, North Carolina. We’re even going to meet up for lunch to discuss opportunities to work together. Had we not struck up a conversation in the elevator, I would never have made this connection.

Net-Net

The affiliate model is not something you bet on. The proof of its value and importance are in the numbers. Not only is this evident in how big and popular affiliate-focused conferences are, such as Affiliate Summits, but also in the sheer results companies are getting from their programs.

Sandrine Thompson from Commission Junction gave a great presentation on why you should double your affiliate investment in 2018. Her presentation was also backed by some serious numbers. Here’s an infographic that shows how new customers from the affiliate channel tend to be more valuable than other channels.

Affiliates Are Lawyering Up

Affiliates are starting to become more involved with the contracts they sign with their advertisers and making terms more favorable for themselves. If done correctly, this creates a win-win scenario where both the affiliate and the advertiser are happy with the outcome and are clear on all requirements and terms of the partnership. However, this means that advertisers need to make sure their standard contracts don’t include any terms and requirements that hinder opportunity for their affiliate partners.

As program managers, we need to ensure that our affiliate partners are paid for every cent they are deserving of. This means we need to go back into our standard contracts and ensure there are no clauses that are overly prohibitive. Terms such as short cookie lengths, a long lock period for pending transactions before partners get paid and even pausing or removing a partner with little to no notice can be overly burdensome for partners to agree to and may cost you an otherwise valuable partnership.

That said, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect your brand. If there are terms an affiliate is demanding that simply aren’t in line with your brand, then stay firm and try to negotiate compromises in areas that matter less.

Taking Chances On China

China is a huge opportunity. The Chinese market is growing exponentially and opportunity is everywhere. That said, many brands struggle massively with expanding into this massive market. Here are a few reasons why that were shared at ASW:

Payment methods. Less than 1% of the Chinese people have international credit cards. That means merchants need to add a Chinese payment method such as Alipay, WeChat Pay, Union Pay or other Chinese payment providers in to your checkout flow to tap in to the other 99%.

Partners. Chinese people love cash-back and coupons/deals (as do Americans) and they frequently use Ebates, TopCashBack, 55Haitao and DealMoon to shop at US retailors. If you’re not partnering with these affiliates, you’ll likely struggle to tap into the Chinese market.

Terminology. In China, influencers aren’t called “influencers.” They’re referred to as K.O.L.’s or “Key Opinion Leaders.” If you want to work with them and have them promote your products, you must use the right terms and target the right KOL’s.

Similar to how influencer marketing works in the US, most small Chinese KOL’s will be happy to do “unboxing” videos or review your product in exchange for the free product plus a small commission. Medium to large KOL’s, however, are going to want a flat fee in addition to the free product with commission. Start small, find out what works and grow from there.

Get Your Geek On

After attending a session called “3 Geeky Habits of Affiliate Managers,” I knew I had found my tribe. The three geeky habits are:

  1. Train your clients: This means steering our clients in the right direction, even if it means getting down to the basics of what we do, how we do it and why. To do this, we need to have the data to support our assumptions and recommendations.
  2. Focus on emerging affiliates: Affiliate managers tend to focus a large amount of time on top partners. While not a bad thing, it can sometimes mean that emerging affiliates get overlooked. To help speed up the activation and optimization of smaller partners who have the potential to become bigger players, data is once again essential; it’ll help you to spot the upward trends of these newer guys. From there, it’s about reaching out and developing a plan for getting them optimized as quickly as possible.
  3. Look at how ROAS leads to CLTV: Most affiliate managers focus a lot on the ROAS of partnerships, but not nearly as much on the value of the customer that those partnerships are bringing. Looking more in-depth at the CLTV by affiliate segment or even by your individual affiliate partnerships might uncover new strategies that can lower short-term ROAS while driving large numbers of incremental new customers with a high CLTV.

Affiliate Summit West 2018 was an incredible conference with so much information on new strategies and best practices for program management. I was only able to attend about 25% of the sessions that were available. Based on some of the insights I just shared, that’ll give you a sense of the sheer amount of knowledge these conferences can impart.

And that wisdom shouldn’t stay in Vegas.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect upon my time in the desert, the rest of the year is clear. I’ll be working with my client’s to test these strategies, optimize their programs and up their game throughout 2018.

 

From customized program strategy and brand-aligned partner recruitment to affiliate technology platform management and in-depth insights and analytics, your dedicated AP account team will help ensure your affiliate program supports your big-picture business goals.

 

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