In episode 13 of Augurs on the Town, Josh is joined by Rick Gardiner, Founder and CEO of iAffiliate Management, a company that provides full-service affiliate program management.
A long time ago, “affiliate” was treated like a dirty word, but it’s come a long way. Learn how advances in the industry from a technology, anti-fraud and compliance perspective have completely changed how brands view affiliate marketing and how they’re fitting affiliate into the marketing mix.
Join Josh and Rick as they talk affiliate marketing.
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Josh Becerra: Hi, everybody. This is Josh Becerra from Augurian, and this is another episode of Augurs On The Town. I am here with Rick Gardiner, CEO of iAffiliate. Rick, how you doing?
Rick Gardiner: Good, Josh. How are you today?
Josh: Great. I appreciate you being here. Rick and I, we’ve known each other for quite a while. It goes all the way back to a time when we were each co-officing in a co-working space, downtown Minneapolis. Coco, you remember those days?
Rick: I do. I reminisce about those a lot. It’s a fun place to start, and it’s cool to see where we’re at today, but I think it was a good opportunity to get to know each other. Thanks again for having me on.
Josh: There was a great mix of people there. Sure, it was a lot of fun, but everybody’s business has grown up. I’m really anxious to get started talking with you a little bit about affiliate marketing. I know that’s your area of expertise and a lot of people don’t necessarily know that much about it. Why don’t you just tell us why brands should even care about affiliate marketing, how they shouldn’t think about it fitting into their marketing mix?
Rick: Sure. I think a lot’s changed with our businesses, a lot’s changed within our industry as well. Affiliate marketing back in the day, was pretty siloed. I think you had your traditional affiliates that consisted of coupon sites, cash-back, very early days, paid search, affiliates that were doing basically arbitrage paid search. Ultimately, when CMOs and brands started looking under the hood, they weren’t always happy to see what they found.
Now, especially with this shift to direct the consumer e-commerce and where the industry is at today and the types of partners that you can work with through the affiliate channel, people are starting to pay attention and really invest in the channel a lot more than they have in the past.
Josh: That’s awesome. I think, for a time, affiliate could have been considered a dirty word but it definitely, it has come a long way. Tell us a little bit about like that, why it had a bad rep and then what’s really changed structurally today that gives advertisers confidence?
Rick: I think one of the biggest things that’s changed in this industry is just the types of publishers that brands can work with. Now, a lot of the larger media publications, the Conde Nast, the Business Insider, Newsweek, historical media conglomerates are really leaning into the affiliate model as a publisher side just to diversify and monetize their content but also, brands are really leaning into this pay-for-performance model.
What’s cool about that from advertising perspective is that these affiliates and publishers live at various stages of the consumer journey. You’ll have your influencers and content sites that tend to be top of funnel really good for prospecting creating that awareness. Then you have all these different publishers along the way helping guide the consumer.
Hopefully, the messaging is consistent. The affiliate is representing the brand, sharing the brand story, the value and brand benefits but at the end of the day, we’re all working together to really achieve one thing and that’s driving incremental revenue.
Josh: For sure. I think probably there’s got to be some crazy changes in the technology as well, like brands that are really leaning in to these platforms, they probably have access to more of that data. It’s more tech-enabled, I would imagine today than it ever has been. Can you talk a little bit about how maybe the tech has changed or what you’re most excited about as far as things that you’re seeing in the industry?
Rick: I never answered this question, but one of the reasons it did have a– affiliate was a dirty word was because of the incrementality. What I have gotten these sales regardless if the affiliate was the last click. It opens up the door to attribution modeling. Traditionally, affiliate’s been a last click wins but a lot of brands have different attribution models that they’re using internally.
When you start really digging into the data and seeing how the consumers interacting across all of these channels, it started to poke some holes into the value that brands thought that affiliates were bringing now. Fortunately, with that technology, you can make more data-driven decisions and so how we work with these different publishers is evolved. Coupon sites probably get the biggest wrap of them all, especially with the premium brand. Nobody wants to be promotionally driven.
Whether we like it or not, they still play a role. I think it’s more important to ask ourselves how we work with them to drive the desired consumer behavior versus just throwing a 10% promo code out there for the world. Again, I think thoughtfulness in terms of the strategies and how you work with each of your publishers is really important. I think that’s what’s really where CMOs and brands are seeing the value in this channel is, it is incredibly efficient and these publishers and affiliates can help throughout the entire consumer journey.
Josh: I think it’s really cool when you can really get your message in front of the consumer right when they need it in the right part of that journey. I do think affiliate can really like play a key role in delivering on that.
One of the things that I wrote a blog on recently was on ad fraud. Fraud is happening in like the pay-per-click industry, of course. I imagine that it happens in the affiliate side of things as well. How are brands addressing ad fraud with affiliates these days?
Rick: There’s a lot of different ways this shows up when it comes direct to consumer e-commerce, obviously, having those checks and balances, being able to look at different data points to assess the risk and quality of that transaction. There’s vendors and platforms that have come into this space specific to affiliates where they’re looking at a dataset of 10, 15, 20 different pieces of information, looking at IP versus zip code and all these different data points and then ranking or assessing the risk of that transaction.
That’s really at the point of sale. Then, again, working with the e-commerce platform, whether that’s Shopify, whatever that is, making sure you have that tightened up. You can also address that more upstream and having the right technology to really assess and identify where traffic’s coming from. Where publishers are promoting your brands and again, not all traffic is good traffic and not all sales are good sales.
It’s really, again, using that data and using those tools to refine your strategy and make sure that the publishers that you’re working with are legitimate and ultimately, getting in front of your target audience.
Josh: Awesome. I know that when we were prepping for this interview, you mentioned compliance that that was pretty important. Can you tell viewers what they need to know about compliance when working with affiliates?
Rick: Compliance, we really look at it in three different buckets. You have FTC compliance, which most people are aware of today. It’s those disclosures that you see on MSN or other online publications saying, “Hey, we’re talking about a product, we’re talking about a brand. We may be earning commission.” Disclosing to the end users that there’s an incentivized relationship there.
Unfortunately, the FTC, if a publisher’s talking about your brand doesn’t necessarily go after the publisher as much as they go after the brand with the deeper pockets. Again, making sure that all of your publishers have the proper disclosures.
There’s also a trademark in brand compliance. Making sure and you can appreciate this doing paid media and paid search making sure that affiliates are fitting into your overall paid search strategy. If you want affiliates to help supplement what you’re doing internally, that’s great. If you don’t want affiliates bidding on any trademark terms, that’s okay too, but knowing without playing whack-a-mole being able to identify those both globally, desktop, mobile browsers, there’s different technologies that we use to help identify partners that may be doing that when they shouldn’t be doing those marketing activities.
Then there’s the third leg of compliance, which is more content. That is especially with regulated industries, like financial and healthcare wellness. There’s certain things that publishers and affiliates can say about products and there’s things that the FTC or a governing bod, they can’t make claims to. Making sure that, again, that messaging is consistent that they’re not making false claims that could potentially put your brand at risk.
Josh: That’s no good. You can’t have false claims out there on your behalf. You are obviously a plethora of information about affiliates and you own a company called iAffiliate. Why don’t you tell us just quick, like if somebody is watching this and they’re really interested in dabbling in affiliate or really going full bore in, what are some of the services that iAffiliate can provide or what would you want them to do?
Rick: Any brands that are looking to launch a program, our team can certainly assist with that. Everything from doing a network, a request for proposal and finding the best affiliate network or tracking solution. You can think of that as your tracking, reporting, and payment platform but our bread and butter is really helping brands take their affiliate channel to the next level.
We offer a full suite of managed services to help assist brands with that. Oftentimes, we’re working collaboratively with internal marketing teams or even other agencies, whether that’s PR influence or whatever. Again, just to make sure that we’re all working together and getting the word out there the right way.
Josh: Well, that’s awesome. I know that when I have questions about affiliate, I turned to Rick. Your the guy in town that I think knows it all about this and it’s been a great partnership, agency-partnership. I want to thank you for being here.
We could go on for days about affiliates, but I appreciate your time. I appreciate sharing the knowledge and if anybody has more questions about affiliate, you got to look up, look Rick Gardiner up at iAffiliate. Thanks, Rick. That’s it for this edition of Augurs On The Town.