This month, we take a look at dedicated trainer content website The Sole Supplier who grown significantly over the last 12 months. They’ve started to monetise content using an affiliate marketing strategy, leading them to become the largest trainer content site in Europe.
Entering the affiliate space
The Sole Supplier offers users the latest news and release dates of new trainers in the market. Since launching in 2014, the business has gone from strength to strength. The publisher released an app late last year, allowing users to build a tailored experience on mobile and receive bite-sized news and info on the go.
With traffic continuing to grow, the publisher explored a number of different routes to monetise the site. After almost a year of being live, the founders decided to take the plunge into the affiliate marketing space and try out an array of affiliate links.
“We started as a content site, being run during free time, often over lunch and during the evenings, it was a total labour of love. Our initial focus was entirely on getting content up and out to our audience and building a dedicated user base,” said George Sullivan, founder and CEO of The Sole Supplier.
During the first three to six months, Sullivan and his team had little to no affiliate industry experience but knowing the potential rewards, sought advice and bit the bullet. Their first step was to sign up to a network (AWIN) and add a few links to content to test performance. Soon after, revenue started coming in, first as a trickle and then, (with more links being added), at a steady rate. This was the proof of concept needed to ensure the affiliate space was able to provide a viable commercial opportunity for the publisher.
After proving viability, more focus was understandably given to affiliate - including joining other affiliate networks and adding affiliate links where possible. The team retains an unwavering focus on the end user, so it’s essential that the site delivered quality content, never filled with inappropriate links or overloaded with ads.
With a passion for their market and user and a commitment to exceptional content, the future looks bright for The Sole Supplier.
Lessons learnt about the industry
Whilst things were looking good for The Sole Supplier, there were some key lessons learnt from using affiliate marketing as a commercial model for the business. According to Sullivan, even though the industry is based around transaction, real success is establishing long-term partnerships and not quick wins.
“If you focus too much on getting users in and out too quickly (something The Sole Supplier has never done) then user experience is compromised. Equally, if you sell advertising to a merchant based on making a quick buck, then you will very quickly stop getting budgets,” he added; “The real lesson here has been to focus on adding value - if you add value for the user then they will come back. If you add value for the merchant - then you will have a long term commercial partner.”
Other factors Sullivan outlined include:
Reputation - it’s important to deliver what you promise. The affiliate industry is becoming more crowded and more competitive by the day, so it is worth taking the time to build relationships with the people that are important to your business. This is important both on a personal level (so people feel comfortable picking the phone up to you) but also professionally (as they know you will always focus on delivering results)
The commercial model - affiliate can often be seen as an easy target for cost-cutting, which is a shame and doesn’t benefit anyone in the long run. Some merchants are worse than others, and some merchants really do understand the true value of the partnership. The frustration comes when a brand turns around and 'needs to cut costs this quarter' - this isn't sensible for anyone. Yes, the affiliate channel can be tactical and is flexible but it's so important to remember that it's often the most cost-effective channel for brands and will deliver the biggest 'bang for buck'. I would always argue that the affiliate channel should be the last place to look for cost-cutting.
Fast-forward to today and with the publisher barely four years old, the company has grown to become the largest sneakers and content site in Western Europe, expanding now to 16 employees with growth entirely powered by affiliate marketing.
“We’ve just launched The Sole Supplier app - giving users a tailored trainer experience - and we’re seeing really great engagement rates. Our other big focus for 2019 is building deeper partnerships with merchants. Last year we began a long term strategic partnership with The Foot Locker and the results have exceeded our expectations - 60% year-on-year growth. Equally, we’ll be offering a whole raft of new ways to get their latest products and promotions to our hugely engaged and passionate users,” Sullivan concluded.