Inspiring Women In The Affiliate Industry
What made you want to be part of affiliate marketing?
I joined this industry to use all the great lessons I learned on how to use data to be more effective and efficient with marketing dollars as well as creating a valuable, personalized experience for the consumer. It can be done without disintermediation, commoditization, or creepiness…and we’re doing just that as we evolve the Affiliate channel to be more data-driven and personalized.
How has affiliate marketing changed over the past few years?
The most meaningful changes I’ve seen are two-fold. The first is the influx of influencers and content publishers that have allowed advertisers to diversify their programs to include both upper and lower funnel consumer touchpoints. This has granted us far greater insight into the holistic consumer journey and the important impact that the affiliate channel holistically has on conversions. The second biggest change is the move to use both dynamic commissioning and personalized offers to better align publisher incentives with the actual business objectives of a brand or retailer. Additionally, being able to both provide different offers to and commission publisher partners differently on a new to file customer verses an already loyal one is a fundamental shift in how we are leveraging data to execute affiliate campaigns.
How will the COVID-19 situation impact the industry in the long run?
In general, affiliate has fared well, given the advertisers have stock and distribution, as one of the only paid channels that remains funded, given its direct link to outcomes. The industry has been on a path for a while now to move away from vanity metrics and tie all spend back to sales. Given the increase in upper funnel publishers mixed with the eventual death of the cookie, I think advertisers are looking at the affiliate channel with increased excitement and vigor with regard to how it can grow their brand penetration and sale. I would also say that with an increase in shopping online, brands that would otherwise rely heavily on an in-store experience are having to get creative. We’re witness to the creation and reinforcement of new consumer behaviors that will no doubt remain and continue to evolve into the brave new world.
What are your expectations for the industry within the next 12 months?
As the supply chain begins to recover we will see advertisers who paused or limited their affiliate programs come back full force and let’s be clear, people are shopping. Our data shows that the week ending 4/18 ecom retail sales were up 74% YoY. But while people are shopping, the state of the economy and the job market will have people looking for value. The affiliate channel will be a brilliant place to bring said value to consumers, especially as we look forward to the holiday season.
What do you see as the main challenges affiliates are going to have to overcome this year?
Affiliate publishers, who range in definition from influencers (big and micro), to content publishers, to loyalty/coupon will all need to evolve to meet the changing demands of advertisers. Advertisers want to be able to incentivize their publishers according to their business objectives as well as have the ability to serve the right/different offer to the right consumer at the right time. This is going to require technical advancements on behalf of the publisher community to share and match data, shift to more dynamic ad models vs. static HTML, and consider how we can evolve away from a last touch measurement methodology to help advertisers compensate all parties helping to drive a conversion.
What stand out thing have you seen a brand do in affiliate marketing which you would recommend to others?
There are a number of brands who have begun working with us in a model called Accelerate, which effectively is a fully-managed model that once an agreed upon list of publishers is set and we agree on success metrics, we run the show. We front the media spend and everything; a risk/reward model of sorts. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of success and significant performance increases across the board for our Accelerate partners, in many cases exceeding 50% YoY revenue growth. And while it certainly takes a level of trust in us as an extension of the brands, it is paying off in spade for those who are interested in working in this new way.
What stand out thing have you seen an affiliate do which you would recommend to others?
Especially during COVID-19, as content publishers have seen a dramatic increase in viewership, I’ve seen a number proactively reaching out to advertisers to brainstorm on more bespoke activations they can do together. I think this is brilliant and should be something we do more and, as the network, we are happy to help facilitate those conversations. I have also seen some loyalty/coupon sites contemplating a commission sharing program with more upper funnel publishers, which I find super interesting and would be of great value to their advertiser partners.
What are the most important personal qualities to being successful in digital marketing?
I think success comes from many of the same attributes no matter how you cut it: honesty, integrity, curiosity, a desire to both learn and educate, with a dash of good humor.
What are you especially proud of during your career?
I’m most proud of the trusted relationships I’ve built along the way. In any position and with any company, you’re faced with moments that will make or break trust with your clients and partners; COVID-19 is actually a great example of such a moment. Sometimes the right path or decision is not in the best interest of revenue or even partnership. I’m most proud of having made what I believe to be the truly right decision for all parties involved at every critical juncture and fundamentally believe that it has awarded me the ability to rise quickly in my career with the help of a trusted through line of clients, partners, and colleagues.
What’s your advice to women just starting out in affiliate marketing?
Stay true to yourself, stay true to your trusted contacts and clients (this is a small industry), learn as much as you can (there’s power in knowing more than the next guy or gal), make connections and build your personal brand from the start, find a good mentor (or two) – there will be distinct challenges you face and it’s vital to have a sounding board. Always be humble but shoot for the stars.
Julie Van Ullen is the Managing Director, US for Rakuten Advertising. In her role, Julie is responsible for overseeing the commercial organization selling and supporting the holistic suite of Rakuten Advertising's affiliate solutions for Advertisers and Publishers. Additionally, Julie drives the strategy and vision related to all aspects of go-to-market for Rakuten’s Affiliate+ (data, prospecting, retargeting, social, search) offerings.
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