Interview: James Woods, Head of Performance Marketing, Bet365
Published 26th February 2015
You were successful in several categories at the recent iGB Affiliate Awards. How important is this kind of recognition to the team and the company?
We are very grateful to the industry to have been recognized for the ‘Best Affiliate Programme – Overall’ for the sixth year running. These awards are incredibly important to the team and the company. Everyone involved in the programme, so the affiliates, the business, and the Performance Marketing department, works incredibly all year round on all the aspects that make our affiliate programme possible. To again be recognised by the industry for an award at this level provides reassurance to all involved that the hard work has paid off.
Which factors do you see as having played the biggest part in your success this past year?
Building on the previous answer, at bet365, the entire company prides itself on its hard work, commitment, and dedication to the customer. It is through that overall effort that we are able to be so consistently successful as a programme. The culture at bet365 transcends all departments, and the Performance Marketing Department is dedicated not only to the business, but also to our affiliate partners. We also have a clear overall aim, and a set of eight supporting objectives, and continue to build on these year-on-year through the implementation of new approaches and strategies. Therefore, I would conclude it is a combination of the overall company culture and the focus of the department that are behind our ongoing success as a programme, rather than a shortlist of notable factors.
How will you look to build on this success in 2015?
There is no revelatory answer to this question. As an overall business, we will always keep front of mind the experiences of all those who use our services, including customers, affiliates, and any other external people or businesses we work with. Within the Performance Marketing department, we are reviewing in detail everything that we have done this past year and, even as I write this, considering what changes need to be implemented. These include the creation of new strategies, identifying new marketing channels that could be beneficial to the business, looking at the overall affiliate offering, how we currently manage the relationships and the manager-to-partner ratio, alongside many other aspects of the programme. From there, we may then completely restructure the department, recruit new personnel, and so forth. The key consideration for our department is ensuring that the needs of the overall bet365 business and those of our partners are met. For bet365 as a whole, we will continue to focus on the needs of our customers worldwide.
It’s been a transitional year for the UK market. What have been the major challenges arising from this from a performance marketing perspective?
For the industry in general, my personal opinion is that the main challenge involves new margins arising from the market changes this last year. Dependent on their main sources of traffic, some affiliates could be better off as a result of this, while some will be worse off, depending on who they promote.
A lack of new blood is often raised as a concern by affiliate managers at events. Is it really becoming harder to find strong affiliates?
With or without new blood, there is still a huge amount of untapped affiliate potential for all programmes. Affiliates strive to build their overall customer bases, and therefore new affiliates for brands do not necessarily need to be new affiliates for the industry. The key challenge within the industry nowadays is convincing affiliates to switch their traffic to our brand, rather than finding “brand new to the industry” affiliates. For brand new affiliates, it is becoming harder, but we still meet a considerable number of new partners at the various events that we attend. One only has to look at the newcomer awards to see that there are still new people coming into the industry and becoming really successful. New entrants with the end-to-end skills required for a successful affiliation (from technology to business development, for example), coupled with determination and commitment, tend to succeed eventually, based on the extent to which their business is able to attain traffic. Those that possess determination and commitment but lack some or all of the technological skills required, can also succeed should they have access to the necessary resources and the cash flow to fund such development. In my view, the key attributes to look out for when identifying suitable ‘new blood’ is whether or not they are committed, determined and dedicated. If these characteristics are apparent, then through application of their own resources together with time and assistance from operators such as bet365, they eventually will become strong partners. We have seen this happen time and time again over the years.
The UK market is increasingly crowded and competitive. What advice would you give to affiliates starting out today?
The market is competitive but there is always room for new affiliates to either create, or eventually take, market share. While I could write reams on this subject covering all manner of different approaches, I would offer the following general pieces of advice based on what has worked best over the years. First of all, always retain a clear initial focus. Whilst it is tempting to look at large affiliate sites that have been established for years, and want to reach that stage within months, many would-be top affiliates crash and burn by trying to achieve too much, too soon. Most affiliates started with a singular purpose, and then scaled over time as each stage of the business became successful. If a prospective affiliate has a preferred focus, they then need to research UK traffic levels for this proposition. This should be cross referenced with what already exists in the market place to cater for this area of the market. Spend time looking at all searchable inventory. Just because a particular focus is well catered for through website listings in Google (and nowhere else), it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a potential audience accessible via social media or an app store. If a prospective affiliate has no preferred focus, then it is a question of repeating the above, but for a longer list of brainstormed ideas related to any given online gambling proposition. Based on this research, there are then two options: either to try and better what others are doing, or keep going until a gap is discovered, always ensuring through the use of Google tools that adequate traffic levels exist. The prospective affiliate then needs to build and launch their business, catering for exactly the gap in the market that they have identified, and nothing more (yet). Think depth rather than breadth, whatever the focus may be. For ever more important reasons, I urge prospective affiliates to take branding very seriously as well. The long-term objective is to get prospects and existing users searching for your brand, not just through using generic queries, as this yields all manner of eventual benefits for their business. At risk of stating the obvious, write down an aim for your business, and create a fixed number of objectives to support that aim. Allow this to guide every decision you make, to a point at which you have sufficient data to ascertain whether the business in on the right track, and if it isn’t, adjust the objectives to ensure progress is always being made. The key measurements at this stage are traffic and onsite analytics, so ensure as much data as possible is being collected on the onsite user behaviour and the traffic sources. Conversions and commissions will follow. Once the affiliate is satisfied that the business as it stands is becoming successful, that is the point at which to scale the business carefully and considerately, using information already gathered on customer behaviour, traffic sources and, of course, well-thought-out and researched opinions. Repeating the steps again at each growth stage will ensure that the business develops efficiently and sensibly, with little risk of compromise to the successful foundations that have been laid at each stage.
In the absence of a major international football tournament this summer, what events will you be building your main affiliate campaigns around on the sports side?
Whilst we place a strong focus on largescale, high-profile events, we always ensure we are focusing on the regular sports schedule. For football, our focus will be on the Champions League, FA Cup, and the top leagues globally. Tennis will require a major push for Wimbledon, and of course the Opens (France, US, Australia). At the time of writing, with select partners, we are actively pushing the ICC World Cup for cricket, and will then be focused on the next big Test matches in April and May. For golf our main focus will be the US Masters and the Open in June, and then the two big championships in July and August. Horse racing, at the time of writing, we are pretty much finalized for Cheltenham, and then will be looking to Royal Ascot and Goodwood for the next big push. We avoid focusing too much on marketing around The Grand National for various reasons. Further to that there will be weekly endeavours for sports events (affiliates can be kept up to date with these by joining the programme and receiving our weekly allproduct news update), but the events listed above will form the backbone of our sports marketing strategy for 2015.
Which territories are growing and showing most promise for bet365 from a performance marketing perspective at the moment?
Our core focus at the moment is on certain markets where we hold licenses. In order to cater for non-native speakers of those markets, our website is available in 18 of the most popular languages based on our customer base. So I would always advise partners to focus on UK, Denmark, Spain, and Australia.
What challenges and opportunities is the move to mobile presenting to the affiliate space?
In brief, mobile user behaviour is different to desktop user behavior, so the main challenge/opportunity is adapting the experience to suit mobile browsing. The obvious first challenge is ensuring sites are fully optimised for mobile. This should be done prior to considering building an app. Mobile web has greater potential reach than apps, if the marketing is right. With the ongoing proliferation of mobile devices, in time, ever greater resource is going to be required to cover multiple devices, so focusing purely on web is no bad thing. Mobile web experiences have to be convenient for the end user. Context is more important where mobile sites are concerned, whereas within desktop websites, users have more freedom to establish their own context when browsing. Usability is key. Users need to be able to access the information or options that they require quickly and easily. Even with a smaller interface (and so a requirement to keep things simple), the level of content needn’t be forfeited. The challenge is including everything an affiliate would normally cover on desktop, without forfeiting ease of access to relevant information quickly. Affiliates should aim to personalise the experience for each user in any way possible. Finally, for a convenient and seamless end-user experience, there are opportunities to integrate more closely than ever before with operators. Whereas desktop integration was previously a ‘nice to have,’ at bet365 we place major importance on deeper integration for mobile sites to aid the end user experience and of course the affiliate conversion and retention rates.
“With or without new blood, there is still a huge amount of untapped affiliate potential for all programmes.”
“Whilst it’s tempting to look at large affiliate sites that have been established for years, and want to reach that stage within months, many would-be top affiliates crash and burn by trying to achieve too much, too soon.”
“Mobile web has greater potential reach than apps, if the marketing is right.”