6 Pieces Of (Seasonal) Affiliate Wisdom
Published 7th December 2015
For those of you who don’t know me, I’ll share with you that I have been in the affiliate industry for more than 15 years. Yes – I’m what could be considered as an iGaming veteran. Without giving away my age, that’s the majority of my adult working life. Most of my time has been spent building or growing successful affiliate programs for major iGaming (and retail) brands here in the UK. I have seen the giddy highs of pre-USA regulation when money was being thrown at digital channels faster than it could be minted. There have also been the lows of recession where my marketing skills were put to test with tight budgets and innovative strategies to deliver results. I’d say it’s been a wild ride and I’ve been fortunate enough to experience these opportunities, all of which left me with a deep understanding of this channel. In October, I collaborated with some of the industry’s finest iGaming professionals to create AffiliateFEST (www.affiliatefest. co.uk). This event focussed on helping up-and-coming affiliates get the support they need in a personal classroom setting, delivering the kind of knowledge and insight needed to take their business to the next level. Whilst the content of this day was incredibly insightful (the event was a success), the best information I garnered was from the pre-event survey and the workshop sessions, where conversations ran uncensored between affiliates, merchants, and the service providers who supported the initiative. In the spirit of being festive, I’d like to share some of the key learnings and just for fun; I thought I’d use my favourite seasonal song as a way of sharing: (It’s The Twelve Days of Christmas of course!)
On the first day of Christmas, my affiliate gave to me: An understanding of how hard affiliation can be!
Gone are the days when affiliates were geeky guys who knew a bit of code, had a love of gaming and could drive traffic via search engine marketing. Affiliates are now complex in nature and in business structure. The affiliates you typically work with these days are more likely to be SMEs with staff, budgets and deadlines. Whilst there may be one name listed in the affiliate account, don’t be fooled into thinking you are dealing with just one person who can miraculously action your request as soon as you ask. In addition to running their sites (some are quite technologically advanced), they have to be marketing and brand strategists, entrepreneurs, investment managers and also keep abreast of what each individual merchant is offering, changing, or expecting them to deliver. When you break it down, it’s a tough job with many different responsibilities, all requiring attention. Business coaching was one of the key features of this event, ensuring that affiliates could learn the skills needed to successfully manage and prioritise their time in order to build their business teams along with their brand or website. Every day is a busy day in the life of an affiliate and, as an affiliate manager, you need to understand and relate to your affiliate’s typical business day. Think about how you can share information in easily digestible formats and ensure that your partners are up to speed on what they need to be doing for you. The reality is that an affiliate simply doesn’t have the time to come to you, you need to make sure you stand out and are heard!
On the second day of Christmas, my affiliate gave to me: The truth about communicating efficiently!
With so much data being fed to us daily via iPhones, emails, online and other communication channels, it’s time to stop and think about how you (your program) can communicate what needs to be done in the most effective way. Following that push vs. pull communication strategy, as per the suggestion above, means you should consider if a regular monthly newsletter that few people read, is still the right channel for your mass communication? How about sending a digital post card – short, sweet and to the point? Most affiliates told me they work with around 10 merchants closely as their magic number. So, how do you ensure your brand is one of that lucky 10? Build your relationships; understand the best use of your affiliate’s time in relation to your brand, revenue and conversion rate while also handling communications efficiently. Be realistic – you are never going to get top position if you don’t pay for it or can demonstrate your conversion is at least twice as good as that of your nearest competitor. Create campaigns that are easy to run and understand. Cut through the noise with clear, simple instructions. Better that you control the messages going out on your affiliate sites than have affiliates try and keep up with your brand and product changes. Talk more, email less.
On the third day of Christmas, my affiliate gave to me: An understanding of their profitability!
Every day I hear merchants talk about profitability in the affiliate model. I hear affiliates speak about how hard it is to find traffic and continue to deliver new customers at a margin of profit. There appears to be a strong disconnect between what merchants feel they are giving away to affiliates in terms of their profit margin when giving them a commission payment. (Our survey revealed that 40% of full-time affiliates don’t just rely on SEO and search tactics to drive traffic - they are buying the same type of traffic you do and making a profit from it). Affiliates lower our fixedcost marketing budgets, and expand our brand reach. Operators no doubt have cost commitments around product and resource, which takes a majority of the profits to service and brand. However, the affiliate bears the costs upfront to acquire traffic and transfer it to their site in an attempt to deliver a profitable return. Both sides have the same tale about profitability being hard to manage. The survey also revealed that profitability (next to finding and sourcing traffic) was the second hardest part of an affiliate’s job. Search as a main traffic opportunity is changing constantly. The majority of successful affiliates are working to keep pace and adapt to this. Other sources of gambling traffic are drying up and it’s becoming harder for affiliates to make a profit from their own limited marketing budgets. We need to be thinking about this and looking at ways to help affiliates overcome these obstacles in order to develop relationships that add genuine value both sides.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my affiliate gave to me: Ideas on how creative should be!
Based on the survey results - a whopping 80% of affiliates still rely on banner advertising to convert traffic from their sites to yours (See Figure 1). This simply cannot be ignored, can it? Let’s face it, affiliates are living and breathing this stuff daily and more often than not, they are better at display marketing than some operators. When you take the time to chat to an affiliate about what would work best for their site and target audience, they will share valuable information about how you can benchmark against your competitors and how small tweaks to your creative and conversion funnel can increase sign ups and revenue overall. I’ve taken their advice and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the positive results. We are moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, as ad-serving and technology allows you to customise graphics, resulting in better conversion techniques. Take a bit of time and talk to your partners to see how you could increase and perfect your own marketing and creative assets to meet their site and audience objectives.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my affiliate said to me: Conversion tactics are the hardest skills to master!
Affiliate Managers, if you take nothing else from this article, remember JUST this verse: 60% of affiliates felt they needed the most help with improving their conversion techniques (See Figure 2). This means affiliates want you to share your marketing strategies with them so that they can help you deliver them. It’s not just about more commission and increased sign-ups – it’s about sharing expertise to achieve a common goal. Another affiliate comment revealed: “I need operators to tell truth about their advantages: dedicated support, retention team, promos, strongest markets etc.” This message is powerful, costs you nothing but time to implement and will help to build relationships and stimulate conversion for your product. It may even win you higher positions within their site without committing to more spend, simply because they know what to do to drive revenue to your brand!
On the sixth day of Christmas, my affiliate said to me: This is not going to get easy
One of the biggest things to come out of the survey and at AffiliateFEST is a realisation that this marketing channel is not going to get any easier for the affiliates who continue to operate in it. With search still being the main point of traffic generation and the fact that Google has been one of the biggest corporate sponsors of AI (artificial intelligence) for videos, speech, translation and now in search, it is clear that an affiliate’s job (driving traffic to your site) is not going to get any easier (or cheaper for that matter).
So what does this mean?
25% of affiliates who answered this survey believe that there will be fewer affiliates for you to work with in the next three years. 50% know it will be harder for them to make money from iGaming sectors. Whilst this outlook is pretty bleak, it does shed some light on how important relationshipbuilding and communication with your affiliates is. Get to know your affiliates, understand where their business is heading (and how you can work together to help progression) Take the time to educate via better communication methods to ensure they know where, how, and what your business is doing in terms of its own marketing strategies so they can support where needed. Communicate with them as if they are one of your team and an extension of your brand, not just a service provider you pay commission to.
Finally, on the last day of Christmas, my affiliate said to me: Technology and remunerations needs reviewing – if you please?
Technology is increasingly important to monitor your affiliate’s place in the overall marketing mix, especially for acquisition. As an operator, it’s likely that you have technology developers in house, so look for ways to utilise what you are developing for your own purpose and examine how that can be replicated with your affiliates. Things like automating reporting from your platform to them, enhancing your program’s ad-serving capabilities and creating automated affiliate alerts for player wins (or losses) that impact their revenue earnings could make a huge difference to an affiliate in terms of saving them time and money as well as giving them a better understanding of where to focus their resource to support your marketing goals. My parting point comes from one affiliate who added this comment at the end of our survey: “Maybe it’s time to gain safe access to our players’ behavioural data from operators. I believe affiliates (good quality affiliates) are better placed to help operators optimize retention and maximize player spend and therefore increase revenues and commissions – if we can find a way to work collaboratively together.” Interesting. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the way we work with and remunerate affiliates in the iGaming industry? We currently pay based on acquisition, but many are considering changing to attribution modelling. Could we consider paying for conversion and retention activities thus creating a new commission model outside of CPA, hybrid, fixed fee and revenue share? We already know there are lots of different types of affiliates, those that drive traffic and those that build relationships with their customers. Instead of just having affiliates acquire – could we use them to retain and stimulate as well? In doing so, can we work together to find solutions to reduce operation costs both sides and still meet revenue objectives? That might be too radical for right now, but it seems we are all thinking about it – who will be the first person brave enough to embrace it? My parting point is to remind you to be “A C E” in your relationships!
- Align your marketing tactics, strategies, and goals
- Collaborate your marketing strategies to to meet these goals
- Evolve the way you account manage your partners, promote your products, and reach your objectives together