AffiliateTraction founder Greg Shepard spoke to PerformanceIN about business expansion, UK market quirks, promoting publisher innovation and gave us his views on compliance and attribution.
Having worked within the performance marketing sector for nearly 20 years, the US-born and raised entrepreneur has had plenty of experience; not only within America, but globally.
The affiliate marketing agency, whose clients include Forever21, Jelly Belly, Fisher Price, Hello Kitty and Mattel, has an office in Santa Cruz, Toronto and London – but Shepard said he also has big plans to up his game; globally.
"After our successful launch in Canada in 2012, followed by the UK eight months ago, it’s now time to move further into Europe,” Shepard said.
“Since the move to London we have been getting a feeling for the space, sussing out the players and looking more closely at other European countries.”
As a result, Shepard revealed to PI that the company is expanding by opening a bigger UK office, and is taking on a further 10 new recruits, who will focus on fresh markets.
First on the hit list for this year are Germany and France. Then the company will seek to establish itself in Scandinavia, Italy and Spain. The new London-based staff will oversee the entry into these markets.
Details on the company’s presence in Australia are under wraps at the moment, but Shepard said the company will also ‘100%’ break into New Zealand and Japan in 2014.
New UK MD
Managing director (MD) of Canadian operations, Ian Francis, was previously heading up the UK operations, while Shepard sourced the right MD to take over the Covent Garden-based role.
But now new UK MD Greta Paa-Kerner, who has experience at the likes of Barclays, Publicis and Hewlett-Packard, is responsible for oversight of the account management and business development teams in the UK.
“Greta is doing a fantastic job and is the perfect fit to manage our UK operation and Ian, who is from Canada himself, has more than 12 years of experience in the affiliate marketing space and is really driving the Canadian side,” Shepard said.
“Canada is really growing into itself and there is a real hunger there. We are also seeing more and more publishers from the US and UK in this market.”
In terms of his background, San Francisco-based Shepard co-founded a website and software development company during the dotcom boom. It was not long before he began building a handful of web-based travel merchant businesses – which he subsequently sold.
After tuning into the huge possibilities and opportunities within affiliate marketing, in 1999 he launched ‘the first entirely in-house’ affiliate marketing and management firm.
After a company name change in 2004, to AffliateTraction, it was not long before the company began scooping top-tier online retailers, such as global shoe manufacturer and retailer, Sketchers.
AffiliateTraction, which was one of the first to work with Rakuten LinkShare without a requirement of exclusivity, now also has multiple network and brand compliance partners such as Webgains, Commission Junction, affilinet, Tradedoubler, Affiliate Window, CitizenHawk, The Search Monitor and AdComply.
“A lot has changed across the industry over the years and while markets differ, our company principle has stayed the same,” Shepard begins.
“The same things do work across different markets and a lot of it is about having the ‘basic principles’ – not strategies. Strategies vary, but principles stay the same.
“It’s about getting the basics right from the beginning. If you don’t build the modle right from the start and you try to fix it, it’s like trying to change the wheels on a car once it’s moving.”
Market Differences & Cashback Reliance
Shepard said he believes in ‘ultimate flexibility’ as an agency, in being open-minded and working to enhance publisher innovation. He also stressed that it is about building an agency for multiple networks and that some networks can stifle the industry by not focusing more on publisher innovation.
“A big difference between the US and the UK is that some of the UK networks are not as open to working with more and varied publishers,” Shepard said.
“The UK needs to focus more on publisher innovation. I think some get comfortable with current, high performing publishers, instead of opening themselves up to work with and help develop more publishers."
Shepard suggested that if some of the networks’ structures in the UK focused on incubating emerging publishers, perhaps there would not be that default reliance on some of the big discount publishers.
In market contrast, Shepard said affiliate channels in the US tend to be more restrictive on discount publishers, which creates opportunity for those other publishers to get more attention, thus driving innovation.
Attribution and Compliance Concerns
On the age-old debate of attribution implementation, Shepard, who also stressed that affiliate is not a channel, it is a ‘model’, said the answer lies in treating each client differently.
“Everyone is trying to come up with a simple automated solution, but an automated process based on historical data is not the way forward,” he said.
“You cannot drive the future with the past; you will only get more of the same. It’s about ultimate flexibility and attribution models need to be different for each client. What is best for the client is best for the agency.”
Just as you do not ‘do a delicate painting with a broom, or surgery with an axe’, Shepard said you cannot tackle something that you do not have the tools to do so, as not all attribution ‘solutions’ will apply to all clients, hence the need for bespoke tailoring.
Shepard, who said a big part of the company surrounds compliance and its many levels, said this is an area of huge focus for the business, and is something he feels needs to be focused on more across the industry.
“From fraud and managing content to keeping an eye on search and domain squatters, there are so many avenues for potential violations,” Shepard added.
“Just as the industry becomes more transparent and we are getting more visibility as to what is going on, comes the need for more control and complex technology to monitor it all.
“Compliance takes up a huge amount of our time and is something we are 100% focused on. What concerns me is there are a lot of company’s out there who ‘think’ they are on top of the wider issues of compliance, where in fact they are just getting away with only doing the basics.”
Do you agree with Shepard's views on compliance, attribution and the need for an increased focus on publisher innovation? Comment below and let us know...