In this installment of our ongoing interview series with industry experts, we speak with Sarah Bundy, founder and CEO of All Inclusive Marketing. She spoke with us about the ever-changing partnership landscape, her predictions for the future of affiliate, and also offered advice for those looking to get started in the channel.
Tell us about All Inclusive Marketing. You’ve been very successful — what are your key differentiators?
AIM was built on the foundation of always putting our clients first and acting in their best interest, DIGGing everyday (Delight, Innovate, Grow and Give Back) and striving to set the standard of excellence within our space, which includes the level of expertise we carry in-house. We genuinely care for the people we work with (clients, team, partners), and the results that we produce for them. We strive to push the boundaries of what has been done before to accomplish something new and better for our team and clients. We proactively put forward new ideas and test different strategies. We invest in our partnerships, R&D, technology and efficient operating systems to drive top and bottom-line growth. We create opportunities for our team and promote from within. We spend time learning and growing so that we can stay ahead of the curve and on top of what’s trending globally. In fact, we often speak at conferences, sharing insights and information. It’s no easy task to accomplish all of these things, but there is a certain amount of effort, commitment, and care that you find in all AIMers, and it’s helped us shine, give back to the industry, produce consistently strong results for our clients, and continue to drive growth within our industry.
Both AIM and Partnerize talk about a broader definition of partnership — one that includes, but is not limited to, affiliate. How do you help clients make a broader vision of partnership real?
I have always said, if they are not your direct competition, they have the potential to be your partner. In fact, even your competition can become a referral partner in some cases. I see opportunities everywhere. Anyone who can align to solve a problem together has the opportunity to partner together. Our industry is all about synergistic opportunities. If you can work with a partner in tech or that has AI and wants to work on a performance basis, they can be a perfect partner. If you can find and work with Influencers and Content Creators who are trying to earn a more passive income with affiliate marketing, you have a perfect affiliate partner opportunity.
I believe that a lot of companies get caught up in the coupon and loyalty space because it drives sales, and those partnerships are important. That said, there are dozens of other partnership types and added benefits with AI, other merchants, online and offline magazines, radio shows, Influencers, YouTubers, consultants, mobile app developers, shopping comparison sites, review sites, and so on. All of these can produce both top-of-funnel exposure that drives new customer acquisitions and increased sales when looking at it from a multi-channel contribution perspective. There are several KPIs and success metrics that affiliate programs and partnership programs deliver that benefit brands, such as brand and product exposure, increased consumer engagement, targeted traffic generation, third party endorsements, repeat purchases, increased average order or booking values, improved life time value of a customer, and so on. This is the incrementality that everyone is talking about, and partnerships such as those within the performance marketing space contribute to all of those metrics.
In some companies, partnership plays a central role in company growth strategy. In others, it’s viewed as a niche. What advice do you give partner marketers lobbying for a “seat at the table”? How can they elevate the importance of the channel in their own companies?
I think the first piece of this is to to champion how affiliate and partnership marketing contributes to the KPIs and metrics that every organization is striving for: revenue growth, new customer acquisition, market share, exposure, loyalty, buyer retention, etc. The second thing to understand about this strategy for growth and retention is that every touchpoint of the customer’s journey can be measured with proper attribution. This is part of multi-channel and omni-channel attribution, which allow flexibility with regard to how and when partners are rewarded for particular actions. This also provides full transparency into how buyers shop. This often overlooked or misunderstood component is an essential part of high ROI growth and program valuation. Right off the bat, this is something we help alleviate for brands and remove the potential complications of how, why, when, and where this should be set up to give each brand the insights and strategic guidance they are looking for.
I would also suggest that partner marketers have a clear strategic growth and contribution plan for your partnership program. Not every partner will be able to drive high volume sales, however that doesn’t mean they don’t carry significant value to the overall marketing mix, the conversion funnel, or in contributing to new market share. Further, many partnerships can contribute to other marketing channel objectives and even more broad company objectives. It’s vital to sit down and understand who, why, where, and how to work with the right partners for a brand, and then come to the table with defined measurement metrics to report on success for different partner types. One of the ways we help our clients is by looking at where and how they should be expanding their partnerships, and even how they could be better optimizing their existing partnerships. Sometimes the best approach to program growth is not new partner recruitment, but rather, existing partner optimization with new eyes and a strategic growth plan tied to desired metrics.
As you look further into 2019, what major changes do you expect to see in our space? What key trends do we need to anticipate and respond to?
Privacy of consumers will continue to be a concern, as well as being able to efficiently identify placements of partners to ensure brand alignment and compliance. There is no quick and easy way to identify these things at the moment, and that needs to be solved as an industry.
Technology advancements in the past 18 months have created new levels of partnership opportunities on a local and global scale that we haven’t seen before, and I expect to see more companies leveraging targeted local and global expansion partnerships more robustly in the coming year. We’ve also seen a lot more companies open to testing advanced API integrations and AI types of partnerships in the past year in order to improve personalization and the overall buyer experience, and we are looking forward to continuing our tests with these types of partnerships to deliver a better user experience and increased revenue growth for brands.
What advice do you have for brands who may be hesitant to start an affiliate program, or skeptical of this channel?
Performance marketing today is completely different from what affiliate marketing was 10 years ago. It’s not at all the same industry. The value, transparency, capabilities and contribution of performance and partnership marketing strategies for growth is continuing to expand rapidly. If a brand is not looking at an affiliate program or performance-based partnership program as part of their marketing mix, they are at risk of being left behind. Their competition will happily take their place and keep the partnerships with third party marketers, content writers, influencers and affiliate sites to themselves.
We like to help companies navigate this channel, which can be overwhelming. Companies like Partnerize, who have the expertise, existing relationships, a commitment to excellence, and the drive to act in our clients’ best interest can also help. For companies that have struggled with, and abandoned the channel, much has changed over just the past 18 months. It might be time to revisit the strategy with a new set of eyes.
Years ago, we used to talk about the affiliate plateau: you launch a program and sales climb quickly, but eventually level off. Without revealing too much of your secret sauce, what would you tell a veteran about whether growth is possible after years of relatively stable sales?
A few years ago, we were all asking, “is affiliate marketing dead?” Affiliate marketing has evolved significantly over the past few years, especially over the past 18 months. Whereas two years ago, Influencers would flee from affiliate marketing, now it’s in high demand in their circles as they try to learn more about how to expand their passive earning opportunities and add a new layer of monetization to their revenue streams. A few years ago, technology didn’t allow for the granularity and transparency in data and attribution that’s possible today. We didn’t have cross-device tracking or app-to-app tracking capabilities, and mobile shopping was not the norm as it is today. AI didn’t exist and there was a limited understanding of how social networks and content creators could contribute to a buyer’s journey within the performance marketing space. Revenue growth a few years ago meant “more sales”, whereas today, there are metrics and KPIs that can be optimized resulting in more sales by default.
There are strategies today that some savvy affiliate marketers use that no one has ever heard of, and they are incredibly targeted, sophisticated, intelligent, and best of all, ethical and strategic.
Unless a business is declining as a whole, an affiliate marketing or partnership marketing program should not be stagnant or on the decline. There is much to optimize and ample opportunities for most brands out there to drive continued growth. It’s just a matter of knowing where and how to look.
More About Sarah
Sarah is the founder and CEO of All Inclusive Marketing, a leading performance marketing agency. AIM won the Global Excellence Award in Performance Marketing at the 2018 PMA Awards in London. AIM’s clients range from e-commerce and retail brands to leading travel and hospitality companies. Sarah is also an award-winning business and digital marketing thought leader, ranked in the Top 40 Under 40, Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in Canada, Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs in Canada, and Top 50 Industry Players and Most Influential Affiliate Marketers of 2018.