Season 02 / Episode 023
A Deep and Technical Dive into Affiliate Marketing with Samantha Morris
With Samantha Morris - Sr. Affiliate Manager, JEBCommerce
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It is with great pleasure that we showcase one of our very own today: Samantha Morris. Samantha leads one of our affiliate management teams as a Sr. Affiliate Manager and comes to us with over 20 years of experience working for brands like Gap, Priceline, and more. She has also worked for affiliate networks, agencies, and ran her own agency for a time.
This conversation dives deep into the day-to-day of affiliate management. Some of what we cover includes:
- How important it is to truly understand your client
- How vital her in-house experience with some major retailers has been to managing clients now
- Interesting and useful network technology that is available
- Last click vs. first click
- Preferred publisher technologies
- Media and Commerce Affiliates
- Card-linked offers
- Commission Splitting
- And more!
About Our Guest
As a senior manager for JEBCommerce, Samantha is responsible for the strategic management of a number of the company’s largest brand partners. After starting her career in the performance marketing industry with one of the most recognizable travel brands, she has had the opportunity to work at several agencies and even a network. By way of acquisition, Samantha’s boutique management agency was acquired in 2015 by Pepperjam where she resided as a Senior Director for several years.
With over 20 years in the industry, Samantha has continued to have a passion for building relationships and ensuring brand success. Her experience in the industry has resulted in life-long friendships with many colleagues and clients alike.
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[00:00:49] JB: Hello, everyone. This is Jamie Birch with the Profitable Performance Marketing podcast. Welcome to the show today. Again, I’m Jamie Birch, your host, and the founder and CEO of JEB Commerce, an award-winning affiliate management agency.
Super excited for today’s guest. So, we’re going to just dive right into who she is. We have Samantha Morris, our Senior Affiliate Manager at JEB Commerce. Joined us this year. I have worked with Samantha for a number of years. I mean, we worked together at another agency a long time ago. And I’ve always admired her. She’s always been one of the best affiliate managers and digital marketers on the planet.
She started her career at Priceline and has worked with some phenomenal brands since then, GAP, Old Navy. She has worked on the network side. She has worked on the agency side. She’s run her own agency. And now, she works for JEB Commerce managing one of our teams and some of our best and brightest affiliate programs.
And I’m super excited to have her on this call. We talk about a ton of affiliate marketing. If you are looking for a podcast that dives deep into a bunch of different things about affiliate marketing, this is that podcast. Samantha is incredibly adept at affiliate technology, recruitment, everything, every aspect about affiliate marketing. I’m super stoked to have her on our team. And she has lived up to and surpassed every expectation we have had. She truly is one of the best affiliate managers, affiliate marketers out there. And now she’s on our team.
So, we talk about a whole lot of stuff. We talk about network tech. We talk about different types of affiliates. We talk about where the industry was, where it’s heading, where it is now, and a whole bunch of stuff. So, I’m going to get out of the way so you guys can enjoy and listen to my conversation with Samantha Morris.
[00:02:55] Jamie Birch: All right, Samantha. Thank you so much for joining us on the Profitable Performance Marketing podcast. You need no introduction. You’ve been in the space a whole long time. I think maybe even longer than I have. So, welcome to our show.
[00:03:09] Samantha Morris: Thank you so much. Happy to be here. And yes, definitely a long time, which is a better way than saying I’m old.
[00:03:16] JB: Yeah. Well, we’re all getting to that age now where it’s hard to avoid. I celebrate 48 years this year. And I’m feeling at times every damn year of that age. But you’re dialing in a way. Now, let’s expose how old we are with that phrase from probably the oldest home anyone’s ever dialed into the podcast. I love the house. 1792 it was built?
[00:03:43] SM: 1792, yes. Yes. I fell in love with the house just living in the area for quite some time. And when it finally went up for sale, I just jumped at the chance. And from the moment I walked in I knew it was going to be my home.
[00:03:59] JB: That’s awesome. And are you doing a full remodel on that now? It looks like a lot of work is going on.
[00:04:05] SM: A ton of work. What we’re doing is bits and pieces at a time. Trying to keep kind of the history to it while upgrading things like windows has certainly been a challenge. Just had the outside of the home repainted, which was pretty interesting seeing them with a lift and trying to fix old bricks and things like that. So, yeah, it’s been quite the ride so far this summer. Always something going on here.
[00:04:31] JB: When I saw you post a picture to our team Slack of the house without shutters, I thought of a movie with Tom Hanks and –
[00:04:42] SM: Oh gosh! Is that Money Pit?
[00:04:44] JB: It was Money Pit. I was going to share a picture of the scene of the front of the building because they looked a lot similar. But I can imagine all the effort goes into bringing something up to a little bit more modern that was several hundred years old.
[00:05:03] SM: For sure. And we did actually remodel our upstairs bathroom a little over a year ago. And thankfully, in the first tub fill, the tub did not go through the ceiling.
[00:05:16] JB: That movie is hard to watch. We are going through a little bit of a remodel over time. So, we’re spending maybe the next five years upgrading our home. And I don’t know why, but I hate that stuff. I don’t enjoy any part of it. But it looks awesome. Great to have you here as I said in the intro.
You joined our team earlier this year. We’re super excited. And you and I have worked together in the past, a long time ago, in a previous agency life. So, I know kind of how you came to the space, but for our listeners who don’t know you, tell us how you found affiliate marketing. What’s your origin story?
[00:05:55] SM: Sure thing. I was living in Massachusetts. Had ended up relocating to Connecticut for my fiancé’s job at the time and was just kind of surfing around for the next thing for myself. And I had been a marketing coordinator for a company based in Massachusetts and had touched radio and newspaper, some online things for them.
And as I was surfing around, landed on priceline.com. And they had this role. They weren’t even too clear of what in the world that role was going to do. They knew there was this system and it was called LinkShare at the time. And they knew that they received sales, and airline bookings and hotel bookings from it and from supposedly people who they weren’t even sure who those folks were. And they knew that that was all happening with the system, but they weren’t exactly sure how, or why or any of those backend types of details.
I actually took on the role, gosh, probably 2001. Maybe late 2000, early 2001. Took on that role. Went down to New York City. Sat with the LinkShare folks. Some of the you know old school folks within the space, Denton and Messer. And I learned all things affiliate marketing at the time. And very quickly, the company and Priceline and myself came to the realization that our top two partners within the space were URL hijacking and paid search, which obviously we have lots of ways to monitor that these days. But at the time, it was so many folks could kind of fly under the radar and do that and make hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. And they were generating that revenue. The brand wasn’t sure how.
And so, yeah, it was quite an interesting play. And that was my first role within the space. And I worked directly at that company for a number of years until I moved to the West Coast.
[00:07:56] JB: That’s awesome. So, 20 years ago in the travel space. And yeah, people now – Again, it’s the whole – I feel like we’re going to go into – Back in my day, we used to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow. But that’s a really good example of where the industry has gone now, right? We have such a better toolkit to watch for that.
The example I always give for me was we had a couple affiliates kind of doing the same thing, but they would geo-target all their paid search ads around my travel. So, they knew I was at Coldwater Creek in Idaho. They knew I traveled to LinkShare’s events in New York. And I also went to Affiliate Summit. And then one time I traveled somewhere out of the norm and decided to check, and all they were doing was adhering to the rules in those areas they knew I was going to and completely blasting paid search against our terms and conditions everywhere else. That was the first time I had exposure to geo-targeting.
So, talk to me about your path since then. You’ve worked both for large advertisers, networks and agencies. Sort of all the spaces, all the places and organizations that touch affiliate marketing. After Priceline, what did your path look like?
[00:09:18] SM: I moved out to the West Coast and got a job. I was actually still working for Priceline remotely, ironically, as we all are these days. But I was working for Priceline remotely for almost a year before I landed at GAP Inc. Direct. And at the time, they had Old Navy, Banana Republic and GAP. And I oversaw the affiliate program for those three, which at the time, for those folks who have been in the space for a while, will remember the name BeeFree. At the time, they were on BeeFree, which was just kind of almost like an app instead of an actual web network that you logged into.
[00:09:57] JB: Yeah, that was like a downloadable tracking system, right? It was on your server-side?
[00:10:02] SM: Yeah, it was pretty interesting. They actually, though, had some pretty cool features that I wish some networks would bring back to this day when it came to their messaging functionality. It’s pretty neat stuff. And I was there for, gosh, a number of years. And again, a move brought me back to the East Coast. Moved back to the East Coast in about 2004.
[00:10:25] JB: Awesome. Awesome. And so, then you spent some time on the network side and with several other agencies. How does that – So, that broad experience, how does that help you now? What’s unique about seeing the channel from all those different perspectives? How’s that changed [how] you manage programs and how you’re doing that now?
[00:10:48] SM: It really gave me a chance. Being directly at a brand as my first experience within the space. Really gave me an appreciation for all of the things that the brand was ultimately concerned about. And protecting the brand. Making sure that they’re – Are these customers new or repeat? And at the time we had no idea how to tell that. There were definitely some antiquated pixels, if there were, within the space.
As I went from there to an agency, it was my first role outside of a direct company, I became the director of client services at that agency. I feel like because of my desire to make sure that we were putting the client first as opposed to just looking at agency numbers and how many clients we had in the door. I was looking more so at those clients as just an extension of our agency and making sure we were always putting our best foot forward and have their best interest in mind. That certainly has been kind of my go-to-market from a management perspective since I started within the space. It was just even if from an agency or a network perspective, it might be something that’s driving a ton of revenue for the agency if there’s performance fees involved. I always look at the brand and think, “If this was my own company, is this how I would want to run it?”
I think, again, a lot of folks that we see come into this space these days are coming into an agency or coming into a network for the first time. So, they don’t get that direct brand experience. And I feel like that’s certainly helped me throughout the years just look at things a little bit differently.
[00:12:34] JB: I always felt the same for me, too. It’s hard to – We can empathize and put ourselves in other people’s shoes. But it’s hard to really do that if you haven’t actually spent the time in there and knowing what our clients are dealing with because we have dealt with that is I think a huge advantage.
Now, you’ve worked with some enormous retailers like GAP and some other brands. How has retail changed since then in relation to affiliate marketing and shopping online for clothes? I mean, I remember when I went to Coldwater Creek, even though I was managing their affiliate program and paid search, at the time I was like I never buy clothes online. I have to go try them out. So, I know for me, a lot has changed. But how has the retail experience really changed?
[00:13:20] SM: It was never even that question of online versus offline at the time with GAP. It was just, “Okay, these are online.” And that was solely the end-all and be-all of the channel. There were new card-linked offer partners. There were no kind of in-store apps if you will. There are a lot of folks like Ibotta and Dosh. And then, of course, any of the card-linked offer partner. They just didn’t exist. They were very siloed with that online/offline piece.
And if there was a conversation of, “Well, I prefer to go try my jeans in-person to the brand.” That was fine. And that was somebody that would go purchase that way. There were, at the time, Ebates. Now, Rakuten, obviously. They did not have an in-store offering or in-store cashback. It was all very much reliant on a pixel as opposed to any other technologies.
So, seeing that change over the years, seeing things like buy now pay later apps come into play. Those were never even a blip on the radar. And if we could go back now and travel back and kind of create those and be the founders of those types of companies, worlds and paths would be a lot different. But it was very interesting.
And to be honest, there was never even that conversation of how is the affiliate channel possibly cannibalizing these other channels? That wasn’t even a concern.
[00:14:58] JB: In the beginning, yeah.
[00:14:59] SM: Yeah. I feel like brands have become a lot smarter. Spending dollars where it’s going to make the most sense for them. And everyone’s more focused on that incrementality question, as well as how do we get more new customers. And then it’s obviously the brand’s job to retain them. But yeah, there were so many pieces. It was sometimes you wish you could go back to those days when it was so simple and cut and dry and there weren’t all those complex questions. But it’s just amazing to have seen it make these changes throughout the years, because I feel like some folks who still have that misconception of the person in their pajamas hijack bidding on trademark terms, and they have those misconceptions still, there was certainly a ton of that going on back in the day without all of those technologies. And not a lot of folks had those eyes on the affiliate channel. And now, it’s really come to the forefront. And some of the bigger editorial partners within the space are starting to have commerce plays. Like, it’s certainly finally getting the eyes on it and the recognition it deserves.
[00:16:08] JB: Yeah. And we just saw, I think, the Wall Street Journal yesterday put out a release and announced their commerce section. I forget what it’s called. But that happened. I think that was yesterday. That’s gone out. You talked about a couple things that maybe some of our people, our listeners, won’t know exactly what they are. So, card-linked offer … tell our listeners what that is.
[00:16:29] SM: Sure. A card-linked offer is let’s say in the world that you are going into a store, you are using a certain credit card. It can even be a debit card. And you’re one of those customers who you’re either that coupon clipper or your regular shopper through mileage reward sites or cashback sites, where even if it’s 1% back for your dollar, darn it, you’re going to get that 1%.
There are lots of partners within the space, from financial institutions to even just your loyalty partners where you can either go into an app or go into their website, kind of show that intent on making that purchase and link said credit card to the technology. So, whether it’d be Rakuten, or American Express as a great example, you basically kind of opt into an offer or even just the brand itself. And then you can make that purchase in-store. And the brand has a specific merchant ID that’s tied to your card, whether it’d be a Visa, a Mastercard, an American Express. And then the partner who is tracking that knows that merchant ID. And when it sees that intent, when it sees that connection, it knows to give you your X% back on your purchase.
Or I actually just recently did an American Express one that was, gosh, I think it was something like, gosh, get %25 back maybe when you purchased over $150 or more at Ray-Ban. And that was internally within the American Express system. As long as I opted into that within my little dashboard and portfolio when I did X thing, it then put the $25 … instead of into a cash back situation, it just added it as a credit to my credit card statement. So, it’s definitely an interesting way to make sure that you’re still, as a customer, getting a chance to take advantage of all these cost savings opportunities that have presented themselves today while still having that chance to go into a store.
[00:18:39] JB: Yeah. And so, now there’s a way to track wherever that customer purchases with those types of affiliates. And I think we have next week on the show, we have someone from Figg who does this that will be on the show. We’ll be talking quite a lot about that.
But you also mentioned media and commerce. And so, for those listeners who don’t know what you’re talking about or what we’re talking about with Wall Street Journal, talk to me about what those are and how those have emerged in importance, especially through the pandemic.
[00:19:11] SM: Sure. We heard from – I actually went to a performance live conference in, gosh, was it April or May? All my months are rolling together. And heard from actually Meredith, and Buzzfeed and a lot of those media partners where, traditionally, it was the PR team that was knocking on doors, speaking to editors, sending out product. And all of these folks would kind of talk about whether it’s a product review. Or those wrap-ups we’re probably all used to seeing on Buzzfeed as an example. Top 30+ gifts for dad would be relevant these days.
While that used to take a lot of folks to kind of make that come to fruition and oftentimes would take PR really pushing an editor, as well as product in hand and maybe even flat dollar amounts committed to from a brand on their side. Now, a lot of these larger, more traditional, even magazines … you mentioned Wall Street Journal is a perfect example. New York post I’m chatting with next week. They all have these commerce or shop areas of the site where they’re really taking a chance to monetize the content on their site. They have all these great articles and reviews. They’re ranking really strongly for some great, great keywords. And they’re taking that chance to monetize by either working directly with a brand or using an aggregator within the space. And they’re willing to take that chance from a performance standpoint.
Because as we saw during the pandemic, like you mentioned, all these marketing budgets were getting cut left and right. And they weren’t selling these $20,000, $50,000, $100,000 packages like they used to because things were just put back so much. Stores were closing. All these things. And moving pieces made them really take a step back and look and say, “Well, how can we still make sure that we are making money when we can’t sell these packages.” And that’s where a lot of them really started to get their feet wet within the affiliate space and see that they could actually earn money by writing relevant articles and sending folks to brands to make a purchase, or at least to consider a purchase.
[00:21:31] JB: Yeah, do you think it’s the reduced friction that the affiliate model provides? Like, it’s very easy to have a relationship with an advertiser as opposed to, like, you worked through before to get something like that out in old-school ways. PR is involved, products in hand. Like, there’s a lot of work. But now they can simply join those networks, find the advertisers they want to work with and join, get approved, get access to all that and it just happens. Has that happened? Is it [that] consumer behavior has shifted? The need? Or is it like all those things including the need for revenue for those organizations?
[00:22:10] SM: Yeah, I think it’s all those things. Inter folks like Skimlinks and Sovrn within the space. Skimlinks, notably, works with a lot of those top editorial partners. You’re thinking of yourself as the editor and wanted to write about something and possibly make sure that you’re proving your worth to your publication if you will.
Well, instead of those particular placements being sold, and they weren’t being sold during Covid. Instead of that being sold, they could know that they were linking out and somehow still making the brand money. And like I said, inter folks like Skimlinks who just made it so exponentially easier for that editor without maybe necessarily knowing the ins and outs of an affiliate network. They’re not having to get product in hand oftentimes. Or they couldn’t.
I know Buzzfeed, again, perfect example during the pandemic. Instead of sending stuff to their office, they were asking people to send to their editors’ homes. And by the way, they wouldn’t tell you the editor’s name. You had to send it to Buzzfeed editor and then that person’s personal mailing address. They weren’t having to sign insertion orders, get commitment from the brand unpaid dollars, all these other things that used to have to come into play. It’s literally as simple for them as thinking of what that content is going to be. Most relevant now, it’s Father’s Day this coming weekend. Top gifts for dad. Unique gifts for dad. Whatever it might happen to be. You name it, there’s probably some type of a Father’s Day gift guide out there. They can literally just be knowing in their head as the experts for gear with Gear Patrol, as the experts for maybe some more luxury things like tap watches or something. They know which ones are their top and which ones are their go-to’s for their customers. So, they can just link directly to the brand’s website and never have to worry about signing up for multiple networks, getting approved for that brands’ program, waiting to get approved. They’re on deadlines, too.
I think within that affiliate space and all of these different partners that we do have today, they’re really helping to put a bow on it and make it as easy as possible for them to keep earning money without a brand kind of pre-committing to some pretty hefty paid marketing spend.
[00:24:31] JB: Yeah, that’s great. And we’re seeing a ton of success with those things.
[00:24:38] JB: Are you enjoying the show thus far? We cover so many different strategies and stories on the podcast, sometimes it can be difficult to keep up. We get it. It’s why my team and I compiled the very best strategies, and we counted 20 of them, in affiliate marketing programs and put them together for you so you can assess the health of your affiliate program and be able to optimize it for the best possible results. You can get that guide at jebcommerce.com/strategies.
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[00:25:40] JB: Samantha, we just talked about this, and kind of there’s a little bit of thread going through. We talked about geo-targeting. We talked about hijacking links. And we talked about working in their pajamas. And there’s this thread of maybe how the industry started and things that were going on. But you and I have been in the space for the same amount of time. And we’ve been consistently dealing with this from advertisers and some may be listening. And they just trust the channel.
Talk to me about where you think that comes from and how our industry has handled it. How have you handled it? But how have we as a channel kind of targeted the distrust that some of the advertisers may have?
[00:26:23] SM: For me, it’s really been relying on and making sure that the brands I’m working with either directly from an employee standpoint or more so that agency standpoint, right? Because they have all these questions and maybe not necessarily understanding the affiliate channel as a whole. They’re kind of putting that trust in the agency or even oftentimes in the network to manage the program for them.
I definitely ruffled some feathers a few times when I was at a network, who as most people do know, but for those who do not, oftentimes, the more traditional networks that have been in the space for quite some time. Any revenue that’s driven through the network. That network does take a small portion of that revenue. So, it definitely behooves the network to be driving as much revenue as possible through their system because that is a money maker for them.
So, again going back to that wanting to be the person who is doing things with the client’s best interest in mind. I think for myself and a lot of folks that I know within the space and yourself and even Blagica who’s with our team who’s also been in the space for just years and years. Making sure that we’re asking all of those hard questions up front and thinking as the brand to know, “Okay, great. You’re a new partner within the space.” But making sure we’re doing our due diligence when a new potential partner for the brand comes to the forefront and is introduced to us. Making sure that we’re getting on a call with them. Understanding who they are that there’s somebody behind that name in that email and even a face to these days, right? As Zoom calls and all those become super important.
I mean, there were times when I was first in the space that – And I’m thinking of one gal in particular who was with National Geographic. I think we knew each other for probably seven years before we ever knew what one another looked like or ever – And there’s folks in the space that I have not met to this day that I still speak with on a regular basis and I’ve just never met with them. But I’ve had those conversations. I’ve had difficult conversations with publishers, partners, affiliates. We all use those interchangeably. Have those difficult conversations and ask those questions from […] a brand perspective or a brand concern. So that the brand at the end of the day can go back and think, “Wow! Like, they really are making sure that this is somebody we would want to work with.”
I think I had the question – actually it was from a current client – I had the question not that long ago. We declined an application, and that individual – and who knows if it was a real person or not, to be honest with you – but that individual replied back and did the standard, “we rank strongly for SEO. And we want to be with your brand, etc.” And to the naked eye the site looked completely fine.
But as you – Definitely, it was a coupon site. And the brand was okay with coupon sites. Theoretically, the partner, the brand when they looked at that partner site thought, “Well, why in the world isn’t JEB approving these folks? And what’s going on?” And what we were able to show them using all of the things that we have within […] our toolbox, we were able to show them and Semrush that, by the way, they had – Weren’t even ranking in SEMrush at all. They’re tracked far too low. We were doing those extra steps of clicking on their social links and seeing that they were posting nothing relevant, nor did they have much of a following. Nor, of that following, using yet another tool that we have, were any of their followers engaged.
And by the way, of the – Gosh, I think it was maybe 15,000 followers, which seems decent. Of those 15,000, one of our other tools told us that over 75% of them were fake. We kind of uncover all those things that the brand doesn’t necessarily have that time, nor do oftentimes they’re wearing so many different hats from a marketing manager or marketing director perspective these days and being asked to do so many things. They don’t necessarily have the time to dig into those details.
And often, they also don’t have those years upon years of experience where a lot of the agencies with some of the folks who have been in the space for quite some time, a.k.a. old people, we can share that with them.
[00:30:58] JB: Mature.
[00:30:58] SM: Mature. I love mature experience. We can say, “Oh, yeah, [that] does look great. But here, let me show you why this isn’t wonderful.” And that just kind of solidifies to them. Initially, they’re thinking, “Oh, gosh. They’re not doing XYZ, and they’re not approving these partners.” That then goes hand in hand with ensuring them that we are doing what’s best for them. Because now they know that we’ve done all this due diligence on the backend instead of just staring in a network and approving or disapproving somebody.
[00:31:30] JB: Yeah. And it’s sort of the opposite. It’s the other side of the coin of reducing friction. On one side, it allows these media companies and great publishers to do things quickly with multiple partners and little red tape. But on the other side, it does allow others to come into the space and try to work their way around the rules and drive sales, or take credit for sales, or hijack sales. So, you really do have to be diligent. And what you just said is a lot for someone to do when an affiliate doesn’t pass the sniff test. And how do you know that? It takes a lot of time. I appreciate the –
[00:32:13] SM: And knowing what tools to go to as well. And again, all the way, way back when, it was trying to do detective work to find out what half of these folks were doing. Not necessarily knowing what resources you needed to answer these questions or to prove that somebody wasn’t who they were.
I’ve had instances where there’s been – I’m thinking of them right off the top of my head. And it was a really great blogger. And she was wonderful. And little did she know that there was a site out there who was completely copying her site. We’re talking word for word. Like, mirroring it. She was on a network. And I had only ever found them on one network. I was with an agency at the time. So, we were completely network agnostic as we are today. Was looking for them on all these other networks and just never found them. And thought, “What in the world are these folks doing?” And all that was happening was it was a name in which of Southern Curls & Pearls. And there was another version that was Southern Curls & Pearls. Just one little letter. And one person was copying everything the other person was doing. And then you had these brands who weren’t necessarily digging in and uncovering why.
And I remember when I first looked at the fake site, I thought, “Wow! This looks great. Yep, this is perfect. And there’s our banner right there. So, that must be how they’re generating all of this revenue.” And we weren’t necessarily armed with everything on the backend like IP reports, and click referral reports and things like that that these awesome networks give us to this day to understand that all they were doing was kind of showing a great front from a website perspective. But on the backend, all they were doing was fitting on the trademark.
[00:34:01] JB: Yeah, lots of stuff to navigate through a modern day affiliate program, for sure. And one of the things I’ve come to lean on you a lot lately, especially with client launches, but in general is your technical aptitude and your knowledge of the networks. And you alluded to this a couple times that the technology has really changed. And the tool sets that we have are so different. But what are some of the most intriguing tech features from the networks right now that you’re excited about that you’re using?
[00:34:30] SM: Gosh. They have changed so much. And being the resident nerd at JEB, I absolutely love talking about tech things. We recently did a launch with a client where you have things within the lead space, which was to be completely transparent, never a huge piece of what my experience was and have definitely dove into that a lot more within the past, I would say, 10 years, which still seems like a lot. I was always retail.
But seeing things within it. And this didn’t even exist within networks at the time. But seeing a type of brand where somebody creates an account and then they start a free trial. And then that trial after a certain time frame turns into a subscription. And then it turns into a second month’s worth of subscription. All of those types of pieces within that customer journey was never something that could pretty easily be mapped out within a network.
And now, I would say almost every network supports it in one-way shape or form. I love the way impact supports it. And I believe Partnerize does as well. But the one that we just set up was an impact piece. But having the APIs and working with the brand to get that data into the network so that you’re able to make better decisions on not so much a click to an account creation. But ultimately, a click to customer creating an account. Then they started a trial. And then they moved into a paid subscription. That becomes way more valuable for the brand than just somebody who created an account and then never even started a trial.
So, having that within the space, having things like attribution within a lot of the networks where simple things like crediting in your affiliate channel on first click rather than last click, where just for a lot of brands, they still aren’t even thinking about.
A lot of networks now, too, have types of preferred types of publishers where you’re saying, “By the way, of LTK,” which formally RewardStyle and influencer network, “if a click comes in from them, but then a click comes in from anywhere else kind of after that, let’s have LTK be the preferred publisher. Because that’s an influencer. And they’re probably introducing said customer to the brand for the first time. And there’s often brands that find that as the most valuable.”
You can actually split it across multiple types of partners these days where, “Okay, let’s give a little bit of credit to the person where the customer came in first.” And then let’s give a little credit in that middle. And then whoever actually closed the deal, that last click, I think Impact calls them the closer.” There’s an introducer, an influencer in the sense of a broader spectrum across all the categories and the verticals. Not necessarily an individual. I think there’s the introducer, the influencer and the closer. And you can kind of split it across the map.
Now, granted you then muddy the water when you’re working with some of the loyalty partners. Because that customer ultimately is going to want their cash back. But even that’s one of just the cool pieces within the space that I love introducing to brands who maybe they don’t want to work with coupon and deal, or loyalty and they’re laser-focused on that influencer in the sense of an individual. Or they’re focused on a traditional content partner and they really want to see how they’re moving the needle. That, too.
Gosh! There are so many pieces. Even coupon, coupon code recognition within the pixel. Like, that was never a thing. You had no idea how a particular coupon code was doing. And now, knowing the performance on that. Because, obviously, it’s in the pixel. And then being able to do actionable things on it. We have a brand now who they’ll send out on their SMS list and they’ll send out text messages with certain exclusive promotions and they don’t want the affiliates to promote those. They want to try to get a clean read on how it’s performing.
And we can do our best to keep it off of partner and affiliate sites. But ultimately, we can exclude that coupon within all of the networks to this day, to be honest. We can exclude that coupon so at least we know not only are we telling the partner, “Hey, don’t promote code SMS 10.” But we can say, “By the way, you’re not going to get a commission if you allow that on your site.” It’s probably in your best interest to not put it up anyway. But we then have some of those little tools on our backend. We can do that. Or we can do the inverse. We can, “Jamie, this awesome influencer, who’s talking about the best saddle out there within the space.”
[00:39:25] JB: Hey, I know this guy.
[00:39:27] SM: Yeah, I know this guy. The horse-riding enthusiast. His code is Jamie10. And he can put that out there. But even if he doesn’t actually use a tracking link within his Instagram bio or his YouTube video and he just mentions the code, we can tie that to a partner these days, which […] just blows my mind that we can track where it came from.
[00:39:46] JB: Yeah. That’s an actual example we did with SmartPak. One of the things that I get excited about is the non-traditional tracking, because it opens up. Now, your affiliate pool changes dramatically. So, the example with horses. So, yep, that’s me. I’m a horse enthusiast. We worked with a horse retailer. And if you look at how those consumers shop. And that’s like the first thing you got to look at, right? What’s the audience doing?
Well, horse people follow horse trainers. And when you go to a clinic, or you have a lesson or you see someone at the show and they’re using this stick and string, or this supplement, or this boot, or whatever they’re using, the people who follow them, they’ll go out and buy that stuff.
Right now, or in the past, you didn’t have that offline/online. You didn’t have the ability to really get some of these – I wouldn’t call them affiliates. They’re horse trainers. Or whatever they are. They’re an influencer of sorts. But they’re not using a website. We use that coupon code tracking. And they were able to say in their clinics and their lessons, “Hey, and if you want this X and Y thing, just go to SmartPak and use coupon code Danny. And that’ll get it. And if you go to SmartPak/danny, you’ll see all the items I use.” And it opens up a whole new world of partners you get to go after.
And I did that with a medical e-commerce company before any of it happened. And we worked with med school fraternities. And they’re always trying to raise money. And so, we set it up as an affiliate. We had to do our own tracking. But now that’s […] frictionless. It’s very easy to do. It just exposes you. It gets people – Like, when they want to buy something – And I’ll tell you, in this example, as a horse enthusiast, like, if I see the trainer that I’m working with and he’s using the thing and I can buy it while I’m watching on the phone, I’m buying the thing. And if I know he’s making money, that actually makes me want to buy it more. That opens up a whole lot.
The other thing that you said earlier was the protection of a preferred publisher. I’m sure you know this, too. We had a huge push of wanting content affiliates and influencers maybe five years ago, six years ago. And it didn’t realize the potential we all thought it had. And I think part of that is the last click versus first click. So, you’d see a lot of awareness. But then someone else would close it a week later and they wouldn’t get credit for that sale.
And so, what I love about that technology is you’re able to credit for what you want, but also credit the affiliates along the way, whether they started it or stopped. And if you value the initiation and the awareness, you get to reward for that.
[00:42:50] SM: Yeah, you’re rewarding like who you truly feel like was the most valuable. I’m the most horrific customer when it comes to shopping. Like, you do not want to see my journey. I can’t even imagine how many touch points I have. Because if I find out about a brand from, say, an influencer that I’m following, or even a perfect example, a gal that owns my workout studio. She introduced me to a brand that had no idea who they were about. And all she had to say was, “Their swimmer is just amazingly fit. And the fabric is like butter.” That’s what she said to me. So, I went and investigated them. And then, of course, me being knowledgeable within the space, I’m like, “Well, is there a coupon code? And are they on rakuten.com? Okay, they’re not there. So, are they on Mr. Rebates? No. Are they on Pay Frugal? No. Are they on American Advantage e-shopping? No. Darn! All right. I’m going to have to pay full price. I’m not going to get any rewards.” So, you take the nightmare customer, like myself, who’s always telling people about how they can just get a little bit more. And then you [would] have said, “Poor gal, like, she introduced me to them.” And she’s actually an influencer for Lululemon, too. She has a code where, yeah, oftentimes I will shop with her code. But more often than not, poor thing. American Airlines will do an accelerated miles thing. And if I’m going to be making a big purchase, I’ll go the mileage route because I’m like, “Wow! I want those miles.” But they don’t get to see – Poor brands don’t get to see truly what an article on good Housekeeping did for them because they’re doing that last click.
[00:44:34] JB: Yeah. And now we have so much technology. When we go back to advertisers distrusting the channel, I feel like all of those things have been taken into account and addressed through really good technology, whether it’s the stuff you talked about. Or I know ShareASale has really cool cart sniping. Link Connector has the naked coupons. Pepperjam, and now Ascend, and others have the preferred customer. Many of them, you’re able to split commissions. And I think even Impact, you’re able to bring in data from other channels and credit the affiliate. Yeah, talk to me a little bit about that.
[00:45:13] SM: I’ve never used it. And I’ve always wanted to, though, to be honest with you. I’ve never had a brand – A lot of the brands that I’ve managed on Impact have been your everyday names within the space. And they’ve never wanted to utilize – What is this called? Is it optimized? I feel like it might be –
[00:45:33] JB: I think so. Yeah.
[00:45:34] SM: Yeah. They never wanted to kind of pull in. They were like, “Oh, we don’t want to give them that full picture. Gosh. No. What is Impact possibly going to do with it?” I’ve never had someone –
[00:45:45] JB: Outside of allowing them to make better decisions on their digital marketing budget, right?
[00:45:49] SM: Yeah, exactly. They were like, “Oh!” They thought they were going to do. I’ve actually had clients who have said, “Oh, I’m never going to put the pixel on my order confirmation page. Then they’re going to know everything.”
Yeah, I’ve never had anyone use it. But to my understanding, it really – It’s not necessarily like you – I think Rakuten was going to roll something out similar. Like, you can’t actually do some actionable things on it. But you still have to perform that action. But it at least gives you that full path so you can see what’s going on, as opposed to the brand who – A lot of brands can’t afford to engage with Convertro or Measured or Rockerbox or some of those attribution softwares. They’re just cross-prohibitive. And they haven’t gone down that route. And so, the network, certainly, by plugging that in. And I’ve pieced together some things with Google Analytics at times to see just kind of how many test points for certain things. But it’s definitely not as cut and dry as some of the tools the network’s rolling out where you can kind of get that bigger picture of all worlds.
[00:46:58] JB: Yeah. And that’s visibility. And really, what I’ve always seen is we may want the consumer to behave a certain way. But if they really are utilizing every channel, and then their journey, they’re getting a catalog, they’re visiting a store, they’re clicking on a paid search ad and they’re visiting for affiliates, and they close at their rewards mall or their miles mall. That’s how they’re behaving. And now you have visibility in that to make decisions to optimize your spend, and to optimize the ROI and the results that you’re getting. That’s really some pretty exciting things.
You talked about influencers a little bit. So, definitely through the pandemic and now, we’re seeing a resurgence in influencers and PR come into the space. Talk to me a little bit about this trend.
[00:47:50] SM: So, touch influencers first. I’ve had so many brands come to me and say, “We have a couple of folks that we know love the brand. And we’re just not sure what to do with them.” And they’re not sure whether to have a full-on, almost like an influencer or a brand ambassador program. Or, “Hey, we’re only going to pay them. We’re giving them product and we’re going to pay them a little bit of commission. Here, our affiliate team can manage those.”
What they don’t see knowing that they kind of already maybe […] have those folks within their wheelhouse already and already kind of receiving product, what they don’t see is it is wonderful. But is the juice really worth the squeeze I think is the saying. It takes a lot of effort, which we’ve had brands [tell us], “Have more influencers. More influencers.”
Thinking of an influencer, and I’m thinking of a couple of instances where you’ve found the person you’ve reached out to them, finding the person. Now we have the right tools to try to find the right person, except there’s still much you don’t necessarily know how said brand is going to perform. You just know how maybe similar brands have performed. But once you find the right person and you’ve reached out to them, well, picture yourself reaching out to even some of the traditional affiliate partners or the editorial.
But by the time they get back to you and think of an influencer as that individual person, maybe they’re on vacation and they never saw your email. And then you’re reaching out to them again. And then when you finally hear back from them, that negotiation piece happens, and you’re going back and forth on commission. Or maybe they want a flat fee. And then, “Okay, we’re going to give you X in product.” Well, then they’re trying to pick the product. Then you’re shipping the product. Like, there’s so many pieces within that influencer realm that it’s almost a full-time job. It’s at least a full-time job if you want a robust influencer program.
That being said, it can all get tracked through the affiliate network to these days. And then enter some of the influencer networks that can kind of turn your existing customers into brand advocates. And they play a role within the space. But when you’re asking your affiliate team to concentrate solely on influencers, you’re taking away some time from them where it might be a bigger win to go ahead and invest whatever flat fee it might happen to be from an integration standpoint to work with – I don’t know. Go with Lyst if it’s a kind of a luxury fashion brand. Maybe it’s more worth it to do that than for an affiliate team to turn around, and at the end of two months, they’ve gotten product into three people’s hands and you saw a handful of clicks. It’s very much I’ll look at influencers and that’s how I find out about new brands, for sure. But it’s not as cut and dry as let’s add 10 influencers and the revenue – Each one of them is going to drive X in revenue. There’s really no way to tell except spend that time and that investment –
I mean, I had an influencer. We sent product in June. And then she had a series of tragedies. And she wasn’t able to end up posting for the brand until October. You’ve got these personalities. Like, they’re humans. Stuff is going to happen within their life as opposed to – At Rakuten, if X person is out of the office, they’ve got somebody to cover for them. These are actual people with feelings. And a lot of times, too, the brands have to understand, like, if you’re asking for them to give a review – And a lot of influencers won’t commit to coverage even from a straight if it’s just a performance aspect. They’re okay, “Send it to me. And if she likes it –” Or from their manager’s mouth, right? “If she likes it, I’m sure she’ll talk about it. But if you want to guarantee she’s going to talk about it, that’s going to be $5,000 for an Instagram story.” So, you can get pretty pricey within that space, first of all.
[00:51:57] JB: Yeah. And one thing we show clients, we have this graphic that shows its sort of velocity or time. And with traditional affiliates, we can move very quickly. You can go from you know identifying a partner to generating sales in a very short amount of time with traditional affiliates. But the time frame expectations need to be different for influencers in that. It can be successful. But there’s a lot of testing that is involved. Again, you’re dealing with individuals with their own schedules and things like that. So, the expectation needs to be set that’s different. And to know how much time you want dedicated to that sort of market.
And then I always say, if you don’t have – Put a blog post. If your program isn’t structured in a way to incentivize those partners, and there are things like your commission rate for one. But are they a preferred partner? Are you protecting that first click? And then of return days. So, an influencer is an awareness play. In a lot of ways, top-of-funnel. And if they’re closer to the original intent, you’re going to need to give them more time to close that sale, because there’s research. The customer journey is much different.
So, we have a few minutes left. You’ve managed clients for you know almost 20 years, been in the space for a long time. Worked with so many different types of clients. What should your clients be asking you? What should they be asking a seasoned affiliate manager right now?
[00:53:38] SM: What should they be asking? For me, what I ask them is: they’re hiring us to manage a full channel. And it oftentimes is one of the most profitable channels. But what I appreciate from a client asking us are things like, “What are you seeing are newest, latest and greatest trends within the space? How can I make sure –” Like, making sure that all of their concerns are voiced to us and not just kind of sitting on kind of what they’re looking at internally.
If we’re kicking off your affiliate program, I’m going to ask every question under the sun that I can possibly imagine. But if they know that their CEO is laser-focused on new customer [acquisition], that’s certainly something that the client should make sure that they’re sharing out of the gate.
I like to ask just a ridiculous amount of questions. How do we say that? I like to ask a ton of questions of the client. Because as we’re working as an extension of them, the last thing I want to be doing is going to them every other moment, whether it’d be on Slack, or in an email, or teams, “Oh, Jamie, so-and-so wants to do this. Can we give that product away? So-and-so wants to do that. Can we do this?” Or, “Can we afford x dollars in this particular placement? Or what is my budget for the month?”
Knowing that a client you know has said budget, which we often do going into it. Knowing that maybe there is that flexibility if there is a healthy ROAS for the channel and the client can say, “Okay. You know what? We told you our budget for this month was $25,000. But, wow! The sale is really killing it. And we love that. Keep going,” is music to our ears. As opposed to – I actually had a time way back when our budget was very set. And I can’t remember who it was. Old Navy or GAP. It was one of them. And it was mid-November and we had to make some really tough decisions about the channel because they had a set budget and we couldn’t spend more.
We made a lot of decisions way back when. And it was as opposed to making sure that all the powers that be understand that at its core it’s a performance marketing channel. So, while we certainly will bring to the table some flat fee opportunities and opportunities to work with all types of different partners within the space, our goal is to make sure that this is one of the most profitable channels for them. So, ensuring that the client is asking us like all of their invoicing, all of their major concerns to us out of the gate.
And if they do all of a sudden change from, “Okay, we need to hit at least a row as of –” I don’t know. Random numbers. Of five. But then three months later, they have an internal meeting and they’re told that new customers are the thing to do. And they’re even fine with getting a new customer at a two as an example. Making sure that they’re being super transparent with us and will be as transparent with them.
I love having access to a client’s GA as much as sometimes they’re thinking, “Oh, gosh. What are they doing with this?” I like to see that the whole brand is growing. I like to see the affiliate channel growing as a portion of that whole as well. And then all of a sudden, if the brand is down from a month-over-month perspective by, say, 5%, and the affiliate channel is down 5%, well, that changes that conversation because it’s not, “Oh, wow! You’re down.” We can then say, “Okay. Well, I notice the brand is down, too. How can we help you with this? What is going on from a brand perspective? Or what challenges are you having?” And just having that open conversation and that just fluid back and forth and just ensuring that the client knows […] where to make them look amazing.
But I love [that] the client is […] asking about, “Well, how does this card-linked offer thing work? How does buy now pay later work?” If we do want influencers, realistically, how long is that going to take? And just understanding – If they don’t know how to actually do the thing, which now I sound like […] Blagica, but they should have – I like arming them with a general idea of how long something’s going to take, or mostly works within the space.
I mean, I think at the end of the day, what can the client ask me is anything. Literally anything they want to ask me. I’m usually an open book, as most folks within the space know. I mean, I’ve even engaged and taken on some pieces where it’s been a smaller brand. They had no idea how to set up the program. They ultimately knew that they wanted to hire someone in-house. And I’ve literally – After six months of working with them, brought somebody aboard and trained them soup to nuts on the network and said, “I understand outsource is not for you. It’s not for everyone.” So, here’s how I can set them up. And are they going to know the years upon years upon years and the people that we know within the space? No. But that’s what they’re gonna get out of working with a team of super experienced folks, folks within the space. It’s going to be a much different approach than somebody who just sat in on a little, I don’t know, LinkedIn or Udemy webinar about affiliate marketing. You get the brains uh behind our team and the years of experience when you do outsource to somebody.
[00:59:22] JB: Awesome. Yes, definitely. Ask all the questions. I don’t know about your dog. But my dog is letting me know it’s time to let her back into the room. And that puts us right at time as well. So, Samantha, thank you so much for taking some time out of what I know is a very busy schedule this week to spend some time on the podcast. Lots of like really good deep dive information into so many different things about affiliate marketing. I think this is probably one of the meatiest podcast episodes that we’ve had. So, thank you. I’m not surprised at all.
[00:59:59] SM: Thank you so much. Mine’s in his puppy pool. So, I’m going to go bring him in, too.
[01:00:03] JB: All right. Thanks, Samantha.
[01:00:05] SM: Thank you.
[01:00:09] JB: Samantha, thank you for taking time out. I know we are really busy. It is getting to be the end of Q2. We’re gearing up for Q3, back to school, and the Q4 getting all those plans underway. So, I know you’re busy. Thank you for joining me today.
I really enjoyed this episode. And man, we covered a lot of stuff. We talked about media, affiliate commerce, affiliate card-linked offers. Really, dove into a lot of the network tech that’s available. So, definitely go back and listen to that about preferred publishers. The ability to track your customer through their journey and all the affiliates. Being able to split commissions, coupon code recognition in the pixel coupon exclusion. Preferred publishers and protecting the right type of publishers. First click versus last click. And hey, every podcast that talks about horses is a good one for me.
So, we talk about really some unique examples of how you can, now, with technology that we have, empower non-traditional affiliates who are reaching your audience in different ways. Empower them to promote your products and earn money.
And then the last thing, what clients should be asking their affiliate managers? That was a great one. And especially with Samantha, you’ve got 20 […] odd years of experience there. Ask all the questions you want.
Samantha, again, thank you. I’m so glad and so excited you are on our team. Already seen some amazing things you’ve done with our clients. And excited to have you on the podcast again.
Now, if you are getting geared up for Q4, probably by the time that this is published, it’s getting to be hot and heavy with Q4 planning. And you need help to figure out. Maybe you need to figure out the influencer, affluencer, PR thing and what’s happening there. Maybe you just need to figure out what your strategy is for growth in Q4 and how you leverage all your tools and your budget most effectively to generate as much ROI and ROAS that you can. But you may need help. So you can get help two ways from us. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will set up a time for us to chat. Or you can go to calendly.com/jamiebirch and set up time with me directly. And I will go over. You can set up 15 minutes, half hour, even an hour. All that is no strings attached. No charge. And we’ll walk through what you got going on.
But we also offer an audit and roadmap products. If you would like us to take a deep dive into your program, every aspect of your program, and provide you with a plan for the next year, then just include “Audit” in the subject line when you email us at email@example.com.
I really appreciate you guys listening. I hope that you got as much out of this episode as I did. And if you liked the podcast, please share it with your friends. Go share it on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn. And leave us a five-star review, whether that is on Stitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or the podcast player that you choose. Leave us a five-star review. That helps us get the word out about this podcast.
And we’re always looking. Right now, we’re looking for guests for season three. So, if you would like to be on season three or you know someone that should be, please, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Guest” in the subject line.
Again, thank you for listening. If you have any other ideas or thoughts, just let us know.