Last week I was fortunate enough to attend my first ever Affiliate Management Days conference in San Francisco. I was thrilled to be there—everything from the location (I don’t get to visit the bay area enough!) to the expert-level content created a positive atmosphere for networking and learning. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience, I wanted to share some of the key themes and moments that I remember. I hope this recap will prove useful for you—whether you were at the conference or not!
It feels like transparency is really coming into the fore in the affiliate marketing industry as of late. As someone who recently pitched a panel for Affiliate Summit West on that very topic, it’s very encouraging to see this concept gaining support. After all, without transparency it’s very difficult to build trust. I think that holds true for all sides of the industry.
One thing that stuck with me was Affiliate Window’s $5 Sign Up Fee. Jeannine Crooks mentioned this in her talk on Combating Affiliate Fraud, and it seems like a very interesting strategy for turning away blackhat affiliates at the door. Although the fee is entirely refunded, it provides a way to confirm that the affiliate actually is who they say they are. Transparency-wise, it’s always good to know that a real human is on the other side of that application.
But transparency isn’t just a benefit for networks and advertisers. Honest affiliates can have their hard-earned commissions stolen away by bad actors, so it’s in their interest to increase transparency and prevent those commissions from being poached. In their session, Jeremy Palmer and Chuck Hamrick highlighted the importance of affiliate/advertiser transparency. They even provided an example of compliance where one affiliate helped the merchant maintain compliance. The affiliate knew that it would hurt their business whenever another affiliate broke the rules—and the result was a halo effect that helped keep the other affiliates honest and the channel productive.
Incentives and Consistency
Ben Edelman’s keynote was a great kick-start to the conference. His energy, enthusiasm, and sometimes controversial point of view sparked a continual conversation that resurfaced in discussions in the exhibit hall and even other panels and presentations.
Incentives are at the heart of Ben’s point. Certain incentives encourage certain behaviors (affiliates violating compliance rules, affiliate managers or networks not devoting a lot of resources to compliance). The key is to set up incentives and expectations in such a way that they reward the behavior you actually want. Of course, the question that comes next is “How do I set those incentives up?” Many of us started to consider some possible ideas after Ben's talk, but the industry doesn’t have a perfect answer yet.
Of course, we do have a good start in some areas. One of the takeaways relayed by Max Ciccotosto and Brook Schaaf in their session on “10 Key Takeaways from Scaling Affiliate Program to 25 Countries” was that it helps to have consistent policies and compliance enforcement across different programs and countries. When your rules are scattered, the bad actors will find ways to manipulate those inconsistencies for their benefit and to the detriment of your brand.
The Importance of Nuance
Finally, it’s important to maintain perspective when making any decision in affiliate marketing. Industry discussions can sometimes gravitate towards blanket statements about certain types of affiliates, advertisers or networks. We have to remember to assess each thing on its own merits. Statements like “coupon sites add no value” aren’t fair—the key is to use your own data and judgment.
That point really hit home in a few different sessions. Wade Tonkin and Robert Glazer both specifically mentioned coupon sites, and how we need to turn the page on thinking about them in a black and white manner. In another talk on managing trademark-plus affiliates, Marty Marion provided a nuanced perspective on the benefits and drawbacks of allowing affiliates to bid on certain brand terms. Once again, the key is to develop a nuanced strategy! It’s not a question of what’s categorically right or wrong.
What Do You Think?
Did you attend AM Days? If so, what were your reactions to the sessions? If you didn’t attend, how do these themes relate to your own experiences in the affiliate marketing industry? Let us know in the comments below!