Recent entrant into the UK's performance sector, AffiliateTraction, is no stranger to the global affiliate industry. CEO, Greg Shepard, founded the company in 1999, but he only decided to give the business an international presence this year.
We spoke to new MD of the UK operation, Nicky McShane, about why it took so long to make a move to Europe. She also discussed the challenge of being network agnostic, where AffiliateTraction hopes to be in 12 months’ time and how big data can potentially stifle creativity.
What differentiates AffiliateTraction from its competitors?
I have been selling and promoting affiliate marketing for over 12 years and most of my earlier days in the market were spent at the cutting edge, developing the channel, giving it credence in the industry and educating new advertisers to the delivery mechanism. I found it difficult to move over to agency side three years ago as having worked within some of the leading networks for over nine years, I was used to technology leading the way in affiliate marketing. The whole business model needs strong elements of tracking, reporting and tools to ensure volume and protection for all parties. Much of the agency offering in the UK is purely about resource and management. That’s not enough in my opinion!
Putting resource onto an affiliate programme is definitely what our clients expect from us at AffiliateTraction, but we have equally spent several years building tools that help eliminate common frustrations and obstacles that clients face. When I first took a deep look at the AffiliateTraction set-up, I will be honest and tell you that it took me a good while to really grasp the full extent of what we were able to offer. There are a lot of elements to what we do, but most importantly, I was glad to see that we do what we say on the tin! Yes, we have great people with real experience and we understand the channel and how it fits in with advertisers' other marketing channels, plus all that other sales chat that I hear all the time. But what really sets us apart is that we recognise there are elements of running affiliate programmes that can be overly resource intensive, and we've figured out what takes the time and built some of our own tools and integrated with third parties to eliminate these time consuming elements. Sounds simple – trust me, it’s not! This business has taken years to make this offering what it is today.
As you can imagine, one of my first questions to our CEO Greg Shepard was therefore why he had taken so long to launch the business in the UK. Now I've got completely immersed into the sheer cleverness of the system, I respect his decision to spend time internally concentrating on creating something this market has never seen before and not rushing to expand the business geographically. I take great comfort in the knowledge that no one is going to compete with us easily.
With all that said, we are still a service offering and it’s important that we know how to respond to market development and get the most from the technology. That’s why I have launched in the UK with a very experienced team who equally share my passion for the model we are offering. Performance marketing is not just what we do, it’s everything we do!
How does Greg’s industry knowledge aid AffiliateTraction’s management and growth?
NM: It goes without saying that much of the success of the business has been led by Greg’s deep understanding of what the common obstacles are in growing revenues through affiliate marketing. Greg has a genuine passion for the industry and remains heavily involved in the business today. He's an inspirational boss, one that listens and wants to build his business further with his team. For example, you can take a topic like 'brand oversight' and he can sit for hours discussing how we could do more with that part of our offering. Greg stays involved and still gets his teeth into day-to-day topics. His years of knowledge are definitely evident in what we do.
Why do you feel being network agnostic is important to honour and how do you decide on which network fits for your client?
NM: Networks do a great job and one of the first things that struck me with AffiliateTraction is that we promote networks. In fact, 100% of our clients are on one or more network. The reason advertisers should go to an agency is to get an unbiased view of the market. Most of the time when we talk to new clients they already work with, or have worked with, one or more network and have already formed their view based on direct experience. Of course we can influence that but I don’t like to get pre-occupied with this as I feel every client is different and needs to be treated as such. An advertiser's own experiences greatly influence how we work and this can sometimes be a challenge with a network's perception. On the flip side, sometimes we work across multiple networks with the same client and this is a strategy where we have experienced some fantastic results. I have worked at a network myself for many years and of course when you are in that position you think you have the best offering for your clients, but I think all networks have their own strengths and product offerings that make them unique. I am sure this will continue which means we cannot afford to favour one over another. We need to stay agnostic and work in the best interest of our clients.
Phew, I am glad that question is over!
What will be AffiliateTraction’s main aim over the next 12 months? How do you plan to meet it?
NM: We have obviously just launched so our main goal is to establish ourselves in the UK as a business who retailers work with when they are serious about growing their revenues through their performance channel. That’s a big ask, so I hope my CEO is not reading!! I don’t under-estimate the UK market though. Performance marketing is an established and trusted business model and a lot of retailers already have good performing programmes so I don’t see us simply focussed on launching lots of advertisers overnight. We are lucky to have launched with a number of US advertisers who have a retail presence in the UK, and this gives us proof of the pudding when talking to new clients. But our focus more is on doing this with excellence and building a name through this with networks and publishers. I think the best way to grow is to be genuine and do a great job. Then I hope we will gain new advertisers through reputation and word of mouth.
Your a4uexpo London panel will be debating whether performance marketing has over-engineered and over utilised technology. Are you concerned big data is stifling creativity?
NM: I think we are spending too much time considering what the data means and what measurement should be by channel. If there had been a science with marketing, then it would have been discovered before the internet. Just mentioning multi-attribution makes me roll my sleeves up. As you can see, I'm rather passionate about this subject! When it comes to technology the market is still too fragmented and the digital industry is in danger of complicating and therefore stifling growth. OK, the performance sector has seen new publishers emerge that require more complicated technical integration, but let's not get too hung up on this. We are going to be discussing this quite openly, and with a panel made up of every kind of partner in our food chain, this is a big topic this year and likely to be a lively session.