In his new book titled Performance Partnerships, Robert Glazer tackles the complex world of performance marketing. Using his experience as a founder and MD of Acceleration Partners and a customer acquisition specialist, he investigates the roots and evolution of the channel, explaining the most intricate issues and offering practical tips on how to leverage it.

We caught up with Robert to find out where the inspiration to write the book came from, what he aimed to achieve by writing it and what the key message for his readers is.

Performance Partnerships is an in-depth look at the performance marketing industry – not an area that tends to be tackled very much in literature. What was the motivation behind it?

Robert Glazer: It really was inspired by listening – listening to our clients, prospects, those within the industry, and those on the outside looking in who are trying to understand it. I also felt some frustration in not really being able to explain how our agency’s approach to affiliate programme management is very different from the “affiliate marketing” that many have come to know.

There’s no question that the day-to-day management and inner workings of affiliate marketing can be complex. What is very simple, at least in my eyes, is the value that the Performance Partnership framework brings to every type of company and every type of business relationship.

But to have that value be understood, I felt it was important to take a step back and look at where the industry has been, where it is today, and where it’s headed – because Performance Partnerships helps resolve those issues that have plagued the industry for so long and puts companies on the best foot toward a successful future. Many people had a bad first experience in the industry and I thought it was important to “own it” and explain why so we can move forward.  

That was a primary motivation, as was the fact that there has never been a book written that tells the story of affiliate marketing; that airs some of the industry’s dirty laundry while also providing insight into how we can learn from those mistakes and come together as an industry to make Performance Partnerships the go-to model that companies use to successfully grow their business over the next five to ten years.

In the book, you address affiliate’s “checkered past and “land grab days”. Are these days behind the industry now, or is there a way to go in shaking this association?

RG: For the most part, yes. With that said, there are definitely some elements that have woven their way into the affiliate marketing tapestry. What I think will unravel those problem areas (conflicts of interest, payments to partners that are not based on performance, the lack of transparency about who is doing what and how) is all players within the industry – primarily affiliates, merchants, networks/SaaS platforms, and agencies— agree to play by the same set of rules and coming together to work transparently with measurable outcomes and better industry standards.

The status quo affiliate model is not partnership-focused. For the most part, each individual player is focused on what’s best for them. And that’s not sustainable.

For the industry to move forward and do what those of us in the space know it’s capable of, then we all need to start seeing things differently and interacting with each other differently. As I discuss in my book, brands need to see affiliates as partners and vice versa; networks need to see agencies as partners, not adversaries.

We need to shed our Gen One and Gen Two glasses and start looking towards Gen Three and helping this incredible industry get the respect, attention and budget it deserves. When everyone is out for themselves, it doesn’t make it a safe place for the CMO suite to want to spend their money.

Recurring themes of the book include the power of relationships and the value of transparency; how has the success you’ve witnessed, both personally and among other individuals and companies, been based on these notions?

RG: I’ve seen first-hand – both in serving our clients and from paying attention to other successful relationships – that the more open, honest, and transparent the relationships, the more successful and rewarding it is. Transparent partnerships are more profitable, productive, satisfying, and collaborative.

Why hide what you’re doing? That’s not reflective of having your partner’s best interest in mind. And who wants to be in that kind of relationship?

That’s what has vexed me about so many affiliate marketing relationships in Gen One and Gen Two – and throughout digital marketing in general, quite frankly. And I’m committed to working tirelessly to ensure that Gen Three is different – by speaking out, by leading a company that prides itself on being transparent with our clients, team members, and partners, and by lauding those affiliates, agencies, technology platforms and merchants who are transparent, partnerships-focused, and committed to helping advance the industry as much as their own cause.

Highly esteemed companies are also speaking out about this and demanding transparency from their partners. I give the example of Proctor and Gamble in my book. They’ve drawn the line in the sand and are saying “no more,” [to giving digital marketing a free pass] which is commendable. The stance they are taking and the changes they are making is something that every marketing professional in the world should pay attention to.

Essentially they are saying, “You want to work with us? You want us to give you money? Then you need to be able to show us exactly what you’re doing and there must be a clear connection between what we’re paying you and the results you’re driving.”

And guess what? That is what the affiliate model excels at. Could it be even better at doing so? Absolutely. But at its core, that is how the affiliate model is structured. Performance Partnerships get it to the level that companies like Proctor and Gamble want and need it to be.

Are there any perspectives in the book that might surprise readers familiar with either yourself or the affiliate marketing industry?

RG: Perhaps that I was once an affiliate too. I had a product review and deal site and sent out a regular newsletter that included a selection of “best picks” and Amazon affiliate links. I was what we refer to today as a content affiliate. It was a great perspective from which to learn the industry. It gave me priceless perspective for what it means to be an affiliate, the challenges they face, and what they look for from merchants.

I guess another tidbit would be that Ed Han of Tiny Prints is who actually gave me my start in the programme management side of the business. Had you told me back in 2006 that my one client consulting business would evolve into one of the largest affiliate programme management agencies in the US, I’d have probably laughed at you. But here we are. It’s been an incredible journey – one that continues!

One of the reviews praises the way you show that even as technology gets better and consumers become more sophisticated, it’s the trust in customer-brand relationships that creates success. Could you tell us more about this? 

RG: This goes back to transparency and brand alignment. The more transparency there is between an affiliate partner and a brand about what the partner is doing to promote them, the more willing a brand is going to be to provide that partner with unique, customised promotional opportunities and attractive incentives.

As such, the partner is more inclined to promote the merchant in an authentic, compelling way that aligns with the brand’s messaging, strategy, and unique attributes. And they’ll do so in an above-board fashion because they won’t get paid if is not successful. If they feel that the brand is really seeing them as a partner – not just another marketing tool in their toolbox – and is invested in helping them be a successful affiliate, they will return that goodwill through their content.

In turn, the customer wins because they are getting access to great deals and information and are learning more about the benefits and value that the brand offers.

A former eBay CMO called it “a must-read for CMO’s and digital marketers”. What would you personally hope readers get out of it?

RG: Quite a few things actually, including:

  • An understanding that every company in every type of industry can benefit from Performance Partnerships.
  • Clarity about what the affiliate industry is all about, how it works, who the players are, and the unparalleled value it offers to companies.
  • An understanding of how to leverage the power of the Performance Partnership model, communicate those benefits to their colleagues and build a performance-driven programme that will truly deliver results.

An increased awareness for the marketing C-suite of the affiliate/performance model works and how to leverage it more strategically and integrate it into the overall marketing strategy. As an example, we help several of our clients use the affiliate model as a product liquidation tool by working closely with merchandising team. This can only come with better visibility for the channel at the CMO level.  

You mentioned to us that many have fed back that this book is the perfect way to explain performance marketing to friends and family! Why do you think people find this industry so complex from the outside? 

RG: Partly because there are so many different players and moving parts. Partly because certain players have intentionally tried to make it complex. And partly because the world of digital and online marketing is rather confusing to those who are not involved with it on a day-to-day basis.

At its most fundamental, affiliate (performance) marketing is a way to pay partners. It’s a framework that rewards partners – affiliates – who bring business to the brands they work with.

While a straightforward concept, it can be hard for some outside of the industry to embrace the fact that their favorite YouTuber or blogger or loyalty site is getting paid a commission for promoting certain brands. And the whole concept of how they get paid and by whom often requires a visual flowchart.

No one has really ever brought it together in one place. Most of the books in the industry are about making money as an affiliate and have a “get rich quick” vibe. This has been one of the unexpected surprises as several partners have told members that they are buying the book in bulk to be used as part of their employee onboarding process. And I have received inquiries from around the world asking about the same.

How long did you plan writing this book, and how much of a challenge was it to put everything down on paper? 

RG: I actually write a bit about this in one of my recent Friday Forward posts. Writing a book has been a goal of mine for many years. It wasn’t until I attended a leadership programme in 2016 that I committed to doing it.

One thing’s for sure: writing a book is not a solo endeavor. For myself and most people I know, writing something – especially a complex topic – in a way that’s digestible and interesting to a wide-ranging audience is extremely challenging. It takes many different eyeballs and perspectives and lots and lots of editing and discussion.

For me that included colleagues, family, friends, people in the industry whom I respect, business leaders, and professional editors.

As I mentioned in my Friday Forward blog post, one of the things I did was chunk each section of the book and focus on it piece by piece.

There’s a famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote that applies to the approach I took, which is “you don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” And that’s what I did. Day by day, section by section, chapter by chapter, I wrote it. I also used that process to edit it, as did my amazing team.

In regards to affiliate’s “exciting future”. What do you see as the next wave of innovation?

RG: For affiliate partners specifically, I think they’ll be a lot of innovation in the area of mobile.  In retail, the affiliate channel has also been comparatively late coming to the mobile party. Smartphones are increasingly used to make purchases, but the process of purchasing is still a challenge. Early mobile commerce has skewed toward merchants where customers already have a stored account and payment info and transact frequently, such as zulily, Amazon, and eBay. For customers, returning to an app where they already have an account and making a purchase is much easier than buying something through an app for the first time.

With mobile traffic forming an increasing percentage of internet usage, connecting with prospects via mobile and apps is becoming an indispensable tool in the affiliate marketer’s armory. Plus, of course, resolving the ever-present challenge of managing attribution in a fair and accurate way continues to be a priority.

Resolving the technical and logistical hurdles that currently hold back mobile commerce has the potential to transform the affiliate industry radically. In my book, I share examples of some companies that are already innovating in this area and doing some very exciting things.

I’d also say that another area of innovation, specifically with regards to affiliates, is whom the term applies to.  The term “affiliate” is just that – a term. What I hope more people will come to comprehend after reading my book is that the concept of being an affiliate can and should be applied to any type of partner who adds value.  

In Gen One and early Gen Two of the industry, affiliates were considered to be bloggers, coupon sites, deal sites, and loyalty sites. Today, it’s clear that any person, company, or organisation can be an affiliate. Many, however, are either not familiar or comfortable with that designation, which is why the term “partner” is much more appropriate.

For example, Red Ventures, a large, fast-growing, yet relatively unknown company, has developed its own marketing teams, call center, and lead scoring technology. What’s more is that the company works on a very integrated basis with large brands to take over entire portions of the brands’ online marketing portfolios. The company is paid to deliver new clients and incremental revenue, purely on a performance basis. Red Ventures may soon become the largest de facto affiliate in the world.

Finally, if you were to write a Performance Partnerships’ sequel, what would you cover next?

RG: I would probably expand on Gen Three of affiliate marketing as it gets underway over the next few years and follows the most successful programmes.

Outside of affiliate marketing, my next book will be a curation of the inspirational Friday Forwards that I publish each Friday. So look for that later this year! 

Learn more about Robert’s book in the US and in the UK, and download the first chapter free.