The affiliate marketing industry is a multi-billion dollar industry here in the United States and in the U.K. By “affiliate marketing” we mean when one website (called an “affiliate” – example, Mary Smith’s blog) markets the products or services of another (called a “merchant” – example Amazon.com) in exchange for receiving a commission. The commission could be based on X$ per completed lead form, X$ per completed sale, or similar metric.
The affiliate industry consists of some huge players — companies like Amazon, Dell, Apple and Staples are just a few of the large merchants that offer affiliate programs.
But the affiliate industry is especially key to small businesses. Many small companies offer affiliate programs — it’s an important sales channel for many involved in eCommerce and even for those that market information products. And the affiliate industry is heavily populated by Internet entrepreneurs … the hundreds of thousands of small websites that act as affiliate sales arms of merchants. That is why when you go looking for information online about affiliate marketing, or look for conferences to attend, what you find is usually targeting the affiliates who place affiliate links on their websites in order to make sales — because there are so many out there.
Yet the merchants that offer affiliate programs need information and learning opportunities, too. Up until now, the conference pickings have been slim for the affiliate managers who work for the merchants. All of that, however, is about to change.
March 8 – 9, 2012 will see the kick-off of the first national-level conference devoted exclusively to educating managers who work for merchants offering affiliate programs. Called “Affiliate Management Days,” this conference will focus solely on helping merchants learn how to make their affiliate programs more successful, recruit and support their affiliates better, and sell more through affiliates.
The conference organizer is Geno Prussakov , a well known figure in the field of affiliate management. In early March we’ll be bringing you selected coverage of news that you can use from this conference to run your affiliate program better, or help you decide whether to offer an affiliate program to increase your online sales. Here’s an interview I conducted recently with Geno, to give you a sneak peek of what to expect:
Q: Why has there never been a conference exclusively for affiliate managers before? How did affiliate managers get their information in the past?
Prussakov: Very good question, Anita. The need for this conference has arisen precisely from the fact that, while they could get their information from forums, blogs, podcasts, and some sessions at the existing affiliate and broader digital marketing conferences, there has never been a conference for affiliate managers specifically. With Affiliate Management Days (AM Days) I’m seeking to fulfill the need for:
(a) regular face-to-face affiliate management education, and
(b) a professional forum where affiliate management problems and challenges could be discussed in a very targeted and solutions-oriented manner.
In part the lack of such a conference before AM Days can be explained by the relatively young age of the affiliate marketing industry. Now that it has grown to the size of what it is today, structured, up-to-date and regular conferences for affiliate managers must be held. We’ll start from two in the U.S. (the first of which is coming up on March 8-9, 2012 in San Francisco), but hope to grow to more than two, as well as expand internationally.
Q: How big is the affiliate industry?
Prussakov: According to Forrester , in the U.S. alone we are nearing $4 billion in affiliate marketing spend. In the UK, on the other hand, the value of the affiliate marketing industry has crossed £5 billion mark. According to the Performance Marketing Association, in the U.S. this multi-billion marketing channel “comprises more than 200,000 businesses and individuals”. Nearly every Internet Retailer Top 500  merchant has an affiliate program; and while it differs from one merchant to another, affiliate-referred sales tend to range from 10% to 40% of all their sales.
Q: Seeing your conference preview document is like examining some of the latest trends. If you had to highlight just 3 trends on the minds of merchants today, what are the trends and which speakers will cover them?
Prussakov: Mobile and social are on the rise; yet both of these areas are either being mis-used or under-used by the majority of online merchants. We’ll have Marc Phillips of Skumatic talk about F-Commerce; Ali Pasha of Google will share case studies on successful utilization of these trends; Peter Hamilton of HasOffers will talk about the effective use of mobile apps; and, finally, an affiliate marketing veteran, Sam Harrelson, will cover some of the practical tips on how to integrate mobile and social media campaigns into existing traditional affiliate programs.
Secondly, attribution modeling and employment of web analytics for the betterment of affiliate marketing is another area that’s quickly gaining popularity. Again, in the course of two days both these topics will be covered in great detail by such savvy affiliate marketers as Todd Crawford, Kevin Webster, and Jared Saunders.
Finally, compliance is a big issue. Some merchants are having as much as 50% to 60% of “affiliate”-referred orders originate via violations of their program’s TOS, or through plain fraud, or are in violation of various rules themselves — without even knowing it. We will have the world-famous affiliate fraud detective, Ben Edelman of Harvard Business School, cover some of the newest affiliate marketing abuses. David Naffziger, CEO of BrandVerity, is going to give us a glimpse into the increasingly sophisticated “tricks, traps and techniques” that “black affiliates are using to cheat your affiliate program.” There is an array of tools (from free to paid) that affiliate managers can use to identify abusing affiliates, and safeguard their affiliate programs effectively.
You’ve asked me to limit it to “just 3 trends”, but then there’s also online video, new payment solutions, and much more. It’s all on the agenda; and it’s going to be one great learning experience.
Q: You have several sessions on optimization: why so many? Is there room for improvement in the industry? And what can optimization do for your affiliate program?
Prussakov: There can never be too much optimization. The sessions at AM Days San Francisco 2012 will cover different aspects of it: Tim Ash and Chris Goward will talk about landing page elements, Linda Bustos will address checkout optimization, while Lena Siara Huang (who has contributed to the online success of giants like JC Penney and Marriott) will talk about optimizing customer experience and engagement.
Amazon, the merchant that gets 25 cents of every e-commerce dollar collected in the U.S., constantly tweaks things and improves them with one goal — to optimize for better results. So should we be! A countless number of times merchants have complained to me about low affiliate conversions. Yet, when we went in and analyzed things, the affiliate-referred traffic appeared to be targeted, and the problems were on the merchant’s side (poorly-worded copy, clumsy website navigation, flimsy calls to action, etc). I always say that the responsibility for conversion is mutual: the affiliate is to send you targeted and interested traffic, yet you, as a merchant, should do everything possible to convert that traffic. The latter is impossible without proper testing, analysis, and ongoing optimization.
Q: You have some interesting keynote presentations planned — tell us a little about those?
Prussakov: I’ve already mentioned Ben Edelman’s keynote on affiliate adware and abuses. That one I, personally, am looking forward to the most. Besides Ben, we’ll have 3 more keynotes — all by stellar digital marketers: the already-legendary Tim Ash will talk about the importance of landing pages, Jason Spievak of RingRevenue will address the subject of leveraging the “offline” channels (which can also be tracked via performance-based models), and, finally, John Greathouse will help us apply the science of influence and persuasion in various affiliate management contexts (from an affiliate manager working with affiliates, to an OPM working with prospective clients).
More information about Affiliate Management Days being held in San Francisco, can be found here. Or follow the hashtag #AMDays on Twitter. And do check back here for online coverage during the event.