March 8, 2016

New to the Industry: Thoughts on Affiliate Marketing

John Bleecker

While the average PartnerCentric Affiliate Manager has ten years of experience in the performance marketing space, every once in a while we find a candidate so great they are worth bringing on despite a lack of industry-specific experience. John Bleecker is one of those individuals, and today we're sharing his story of breaking into the affiliate marketing industry and what he has learned about performance marketing in his time here.

Entering the performance marketing industry as a novice, I wasn’t quite sure what I would encounter. I only knew that entering a new industry after the military would likely present me with an array of unknown unknowns. The world of affiliate marketing has not disappointed. In the short time that I have been in the industry, I have learned way more than I could have ever anticipated. The learning curve was much steeper than I expected, too.

I was only a casual user of the Internet when I started here at PartnerCentric. “But,” I thought, “how hard could it be, right?” Build a website, slap up a banner ad and watch the money roll in. All we need to do is find a suitable website, match them with the right advertiser and stop the fraud. Not so much. This is a complex machine.

I failed to appreciate how many wizards were behind the curtain making this multi-billion dollar industry happen. Once I saw how the sausage is made, I realized how little I knew, how wrong my assumptions were and ended up with more questions than answers. I would love to say that’s improved, but only by a little. I guess that’s how we learn.

What I have learned is affiliate marketing is as strategically and tactically as challenging as warfighting--thank goodness no one is shooting at us here! I knew marketing was all about influencing a decision and enticing a purchaser to act. I never assumed that would be easy. I did not foresee, though, the additional planes on which the affiliate world operates. We’re not merely attempting to influence purchasers; we’re working with our advertising partners and our publisher partners in a very elaborate dance. We have to keep a lot of people happy, even if they may be working at cross-purposes. The beauty of that challenge, however, is that we’re all in it for the same thing. We can all have our fair share if we want to. This isn’t a zero-sum game. And it’s actually a lot easier--and a lot less headache!--if we work together towards that end.

I feel very fortunate and grateful to have encountered so many helpful and cooperative minds already in the affiliate world, both inside and outside of PC. As Aristotle said, "Individually we cannot help but fail, but when we pool our understanding we have a chance."

Strong relationships are essential. This may seem an obvious point, but is so much easier said than done. It is a delicate balance of wants and abilities, and personalities. “Quid pro quo” may have seemed a simple proposition to Hannibal Lector, but not everyone is in it for mutual benefit or operating in good faith. After observing some patterns, and studying some industry history, I’m seeing that the cream truly does rise to the top. Those who do the best are those willing to operate with a cooperative spirit. Sometimes that can be as simple as merely not stepping on toes.

As the compliance officer here, it's worth noting that I have been exposed to the unfortunate dark side of the affiliate world. The Internet is still the Wild West and can present some hostile terrain. I have had a few encounters that have made dealing with Afghan tribal elders seem easy by comparison. Needless to say, those folks will not be getting their “fair share.” This has only proven to me how necessary it really is to build meaningful relationships.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned so far is how imperative it is to be on the same page as your partners. The affiliate landscape is fertile ground for so many opportunities and advancements. We can maximize these best when we have those strong relationships that provide the know-how to envision and actualize these ends. And while we’re busy doing that here at PartnerCentric, bad guys beware, I’m watching you…