Following the encouragingly warm reception of the first interview in our new “Affiliate Marketing Legends” series, I am excited to bring you the transcript of the conversation I’ve had with my newest guest. If you are in affiliate marketing, but haven’t heard his name or seen him talk, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Todd Crawford is a truly legendary figure to this industry. It is always great to catch up with him and learn from him. Somehow amazingly, in nearly every conversation that we’ve ever had – including chats about photography and whiskey – the question of data and its value came up. The below talk did not become an exception. Hence, the résumé that you now see as the title of this post.
Without further ado, though, let me introduce my guest (and bring you the interview itself):
GP: When and how did you get into affiliate marketing?
TC: It was during the Summer of 1998. My father and uncle were raising money to fund Commission Junction. I got introduced to Lex Sisney (original CEO) in August and by early December we launched the company – the rest they say is history.
GP: If there was no affiliate marketing, what would you likely focus your efforts on?
TC: I have been doing this for 20 years which makes it hard to imagine what I would have done instead. If it happened today, I guess I would become a consultant or retire.
GP: So, you’ve been in this industry for pretty much as long as the industry has been around. What issues, in your opinion, have never (really) been fully resolved and still represent “open questions”?
TC: I think there is still a big data analysis gap for most marketing channels but particularly the partner marketing channel. I speak to a lot of brands that struggle with understanding the true value of each partner beyond how much revenue they are driving. Expanded data that measures other marketing KPIs like new vs returning, revenue contribution, margin, customer lifetime value, etc. greatly expands how we can measure the value of each partnership and then optimize commission rates and placement fees appropriately to drive even more value to the brand.
GP: What do you think can help resolve this data analysis gap problem?
TC: At Impact we’ve always focused on providing actionable data as well as the tools to leverage that data to optimize partnerships. We work with brands to capture and align KPIs that matter to each brand to give them the data to make intelligent, objective decisions about their partnerships. Our dynamic payout capabilities then allow brands to pay partners for what they value most – beyond just revenues.
GP: What are the top 3 hottest areas of affiliate marketing that we should keep an eye on in 2019?
TC: I think the hottest topic for affiliate marketing is renaming/rebranding the channel to partner marketing and expanding the types of partnerships that can be managed within it. We are seeing brands leverage this channel to bring on new, unique partnerships that are driving more value and revenues. These new marketing partnerships are energizing the industry and giving brands more opportunities beyond the traditional affiliate type partnerships we have been working with for the past 20 years. I have never been more excited for this industry than now and these expanded partnerships are growing the whole industry and making the channel far more valuable to brands.
A second hot topic would be expanding partnership terms with partners. Brands are beginning to realize that they can set up their terms with partners to pay the most for what they value the most and to pay less for what they value least – and that this can be done at the partner level vs a one size fits all approach. The results are both brands and partners get more out of the partnership.
The third hot topic is (you guessed it) data. If you do not have cross-channel, cross-device data for your performance marketing channel you are driving blindfolded. It is such an eye opener once you have it and it helps give you a much better perspective on the channel vis-à-vis the whole marketing ecosystem. Once you have it, you’ll never want to live without it.
GP: What is the “number one” thing that you wish every brand with an affiliate program did or did better?
TC: I can’t stop talking about the value that data brings to a channel. Marketers struggle to:
a) Get data they trust
b) Get data that they can access in real-time
So many brands are at the mercy of BI teams to provide them with static data that can take days or weeks to produce. When we work with a brand to capture and align their KPIs it transforms the channel and the team’s ability to execute and grow the channel.
GP: What 3 ingredients of affiliate marketing success can no affiliate succeed without?
TC: The top three are:
Success doesn’t come easily so you need the ability to stick with it until it does.
Copying what others are doing is short sighted and the best partners are the ones that create a unique value proposition for brands.
You need to know what is working and what isn’t so you can leverage opportunities quickly, optimize ones that haven’t met their potential, and walk away from those that failed.
GP: What 3 things does every brand/advertiser need to do to have success through affiliate programs/marketing?
Brands are often reluctant to invest in the performance marketing channel – whether they use internal, agency resources, or both, they tend to invest after they see results which means they are chronically under-investing in the channel and never get to the full potential.
This channel doesn’t happen overnight like paid search. It requires time to build and optimize the partnerships. It takes longer to use allocated budget but once it gets up and running it is very cost effective and a reliable contributor.
Let data drive your decisions on the value of each partnership and optimize accordingly.
GP: Todd, I’ve known you for many years and your dedication to the affiliate marketing industry is exemplary. What would you like to see the industry look like a five years from now? Ten years?
TC: I know what it will look like in 5-10 years. It will be 5-10 times bigger than it is today. The partnerships and revenue opportunities will be dramatically expanded beyond the traditional affiliate partners of today and the performance channel will be the top channel for brands.
GP: If you the chance start everything all over again, what would you do differently?
TC: Wow, that’s a heavy question – the chance to start everything all over… I guess I’ll just focus on Impact and what would I have done differently if I could do it all over again. In the beginning (2009-2011) we also went after offline (TV, radio, print) marketing which in hindsight was a mistake – so I would have only focused on the online performance marketing space. In the first year, I would have given away our technology to a dozen or so early adopter types to test and give actual user feedback on instead of trying to get companies to buy it. I think it would have made selling it later to customers easier and accelerated our growth. We build a tag management solution in 2013 to compliment our partner marketing solution which also was a mistake in hindsight and distracted us from our main focus. It worked great but the whole industry quickly became commoditized and it just wasn’t what we wanted to be focus on.