If you’ve never heard of Missy Ward, then join the club. Most people in agencies have never heard of her, despite her being one of the most influential people in the world in one of the fastest growing segments of interactive advertising: Affiliate Marketing. She’s also the owner of Affiliate Summit, which has become the largest conference in the world for affiliate marketing and is the must-attend place for anyone in the industry to go. It’s grown so large, so fast that one major player in the told me that probably within a year or two it would overtake ADTECH as the largest conference in the industry– a claim which is hard to believe until you see the list of exhibitors which include everyone from EBAY to AMAZON, companies that don’t exhibit at ADTECH.
Yet, as mentioned, most of the interactive advertising industry hasn’t heard of Missy. They better shape up and start paying attention however to what she is saying. For some reason the interactive advertising industry has grown into two huge parts: the brand world and the Affiliate Marketing world. While many people call the Affiliate Marketing world the Direct Response world, the industry itself thinks of itself more and more as “Affiliate” or “Performance” marketing. These two worlds exist side by side, but for some reason there are very few people who cross the line and work in both – or very few that admit it. While more and more agencies are adopting CPA and performance marketing models, and hiring employees from companies like COPEAC, Azoogle and Commission junction, they are trying to keep this push somewhat secret.
However if you look at the attendance at Affiliate Summit, you’d never guess the two worlds are at odds. Over 30% of the attendeeship is from agencies, including the major agencies that only push the brand play. They aren’t willing to admit it, but they are to some degree desperate to understand this part of the industry, which often seems like a weird mix of word of mouth marketing , search and display. One agency head told me that it was not that they didn’t understand affiliate marketing, but that they didn’t know how to make it fit with their existing clients – which didn’t seem quite right. Amazon.com, one of the leading web properties in the world was one of the earlier adopters of Affiliate marketing, and still to this day has an active, vibrant affiliate marketing program that produces the majority of their new advertising traffic. If you sign up to any major affiliate marketing company, you will see a list of major brand companies including Dell and Microsoft.
I sincerely believe that brands actually do want to learn about affiliate marketing, that they are interested in having a conversation, but there are agencies out there that are scared of doing anything that changes their current dynamic. They’ve argued so long that brand marketing is only about eyeballs, that they can’t see that the two worlds don’t actually clash – that there are programs that can pay on a performance but also drive eyeballs and reach the audiences they want. Then again, just ten years ago there were brick-and-mortar ad houses that were arguing that interactive advertising would never provide the brand opportunities that television had, and that television networks would always dominate the advertising space.
Affiliate marketers, as a group are innovators. They are often seen by the brand media as no more than “get rich quick” people, despite long term, successful businesses. Yes, there are those segments in the affiliate marketing industry, just like the industry at a whole that is composed of adware scammers, get-rich DVD pushers, and the same – but even in this segment there are those who are engaged in innovative processes to gain attention to their clients. It’s too easy to group everyone together and ignore the real processes that occur in the affiliate marketing world, which includes the real ability of affiliate marketers to connect to consumers – to get them to listen and pay attention.
Another common excuse I hear is that brands are scared because they are worried about protecting their brand. This might have been an excuse during the start of the affiliate marketing world, but so much technology and fraud measures have been created in the last few years that any worry of rogue affiliates is less possible than ever. Affiliate companies live off of production and the reputable ones have compliance and monitoring teams working full time to discover even the slightest deviation from the norm in reporting. In fact, I would argue that the technology developed to detect fraud in the affiliate marketing industry far outweighs what most display ad networks and agencies have, and many display networks need to learn about policing from the affiliate industry. Having been involved in both discovering and helping prosecute impression fraudsters, I can tell you that the affiliate marketing industry examines their relationships considerably more than any display network I’ve ever seen.
Agencies need to take a better look at the Missy and listen to what she is talking about. I promise if they don’t they will slowly find more and more of their clients leaving and going to those companies that actually know who she is.