Robert Glazer is the founder and Managing Director of Acceleration Partners, founder and Chairman of BrandCycle and author of Performance Partnerships: The Checkered Past, Changing Present and Exciting Future of Affiliate Marketing. He is a serial entrepreneur with an exceptional track record and passion for growing revenue and profits for B2C-based companies, partnering with brands such as adidas, ModCloth, Reebok, Target, Tiny Prints, Gymboree, and Warby Parker.
How did you get into the industry?
I actually learned about the affiliate industry from both sides—as an affiliate and working on behalf of a company with an affiliate program. Around 2006, I left my full-time job to launch Acceleration Partners and also Bobby’s Best, which was a product review website and newsletter. This site offered deals and discounts to expectant parents, including a selection of “best picks”. I curated product reviews and deals and used Amazon affiliate links. In addition to being an Amazon affiliate, I also became the first unofficial affiliate of a growing company named Tiny Prints (they didn’t have a formal affiliate program with a tracking solution at that time). Working in this capacity as a publisher gave me insight into being an affiliate, connecting with retailers and monetizing my growing review site.
After working with Tiny Prints for some time and seeing its phenomenal growth first-hand, I reached out to its founder, Ed Han about creating a more formal affiliate program for the company. As he was too busy to invest the time and energy into it and knew that I had the understanding and experience of an affiliate, he asked me to build the program. This experience not only gave me the merchant’s perspective of working within the affiliate model, it also launched my consulting company, which ultimately evolved into Acceleration Partners.
Any emerging industry trends?
Over the coming years, I expect that affiliate programs will start to function within a framework that I refer to as Performance Partnerships™. In this framework, there will be much more focus on return on investment (ROI), deeper partnerships rooted in business development principles, greater transparency, and better brand alignment.
I also foresee advances in global, mobile, and attribution (GMA), which are already changing the entire online marketing world. With all the technological advances taking place, I believe that performance-based marketing will finally fulfill its huge potential in the mobile commerce field.
With the affiliate industry quickly evolving into one of the most effective and profitable marketing models that a company can leverage, another trend is that the performance fee model (currently standard in the affiliate industry) will change—or go away altogether – especially as more companies demand that the technological requirements of their program become “decoupled” from the management needs of their program.
Last, but not least, another trend is that the demand for applicable affiliate skillsets and experience will grow. Those sought after will have experience with a range of technologies and platforms; good data analysis; and know-how in the areas of recruitment, fraud management, event representation, daily program operation, and creative campaign development.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Many. While I cover them in great detail in my book Performance Partnerships, a few notable opportunities include:
• Expanding opportunities for customers to purchase products via affiliate channels. Their interactions with brands will likely increasingly come through publishers, as opposed to directly through brand-specific marketing channels.
• Better, brand-aligned partners for merchants. Brands will be able to make a clear connection between the results they’re getting and the amount of money they’re paying; they’ll have better clarity, understanding, and confidence about what their partners are doing to promote them; and affiliates will be seen more as partners.
• Brand-centric technology, specifically in the areas of software as a service solutions (SaaS). SaaS providers have the ability to contractually assure merchants that data from their own programs will not be shared or aggregated. This opens up opportunities to manage directly sourced partner and publisher relationships through these same SaaS platforms, because brands know that publishers they recruit directly will not be made available to their competitors.
• Huge opportunities for agencies that can develop a global service infrastructure that matches the global tech infrastructure. Presently, this opportunity is a challenge for the affiliate industry.
• Career opportunities. The affiliate industry offers significant opportunities for talented, dedicated people. Right now, finding talented people who have well-rounded affiliate marketing experience is a big challenge.
A few notable challenges include:
• Global service infrastructure. Currently, it’s relatively easy to find an agency that claims to have a global reach, but often they rely on contractors or short-term staff. Likewise, large agencies of record claim global affiliate capabilities by showcasing global office footprints and highlighting impressive-looking non-affiliate client rosters. In reality, however, they often manage programs by hiring inexperienced people to staff accounts or conducting swift staffing reshuffles to bring people from other areas into the affiliate channel.
• Talent supply. The affiliate industry probably trains no more than fifty to a hundred people per year on a formal basis, which is not enough to meet demand. The majority of this training takes place at networks, where the training is understandably focused on the functionality of a particular network. There is a real shortage of raw talent in the industry. Our clients often ask for help in finding their next in-house manager; in some ways, we are actually competing against them for talent.
• Lack of understanding about what the affiliate marketing model is, how it works, and its value. This is one thing I hope my book will help remedy.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Since I first learned what it meant to be an affiliate, I always felt that there was something very valuable about what the affiliate marketing industry could be, and about the core tenets of the performance model. I thought then, and I believe now, that the principle of rewarding partners for their marketing performance will eventually become the primary method of digital marketing. The key is how we do that. This is my vision for the industry and for my company, Acceleration Partners.
We got our foothold in the affiliate market by creating a “white glove” affiliate management service that was more like a consulting firm than a marketing agency. We assisted clients in developing strategic plans and put experienced and dedicated marketers in charge of program management. Foreseeing the continued entry of large brands into the affiliate space, we anticipated that they would seek out partners who offered them a high level of transparency, value, and professionalism and who understood the vital importance of brand integrity. In all honesty, however, we were a little ahead of our time. Although there were initially very few companies that truly understood the distinctions between the services we offered and the standard approach, we continued to invest in this strategy.
Today, we handle day-to-day program operations and interactions with publishers for the world’s leading brands. We also work closely with our clients to determine the direction and strategy of their program. We’re their partner, not just their affiliate program management agency. Early on, we adopted a model that owed more to consulting firms than traditional agencies, with the lowest program to manager ratio in the industry. Our managers are responsible for only a few programs. We don’t believe that it’s possible to build lasting success and create a successful channel without taking more time to work strategically on each program.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Our present and future focus at AP is on helping the industry and merchants understand the power and importance of Performance Partnerships™. We believe this framework will become the dominant way companies work with partners to grow their business and reach consumers. With this model, there will be much more focus on return on investment (ROI), deeper partnerships rooted in business development principles, greater transparency, and better brand alignment. We are also working to expand our global footprint and should have some exciting announcements on that front in the next few months.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
A key initiative right now is the launch of my book, Performance Partnerships. This is not only the first in-depth look at the past, present, and future of the affiliate industry, it’s also a guide for what Performance Partnerships™ are and how to leverage them in business. In a Performance Partnership™, brands only pay for revenue that is actually generated by their publisher partners. Publishers would know that, if they do a good job of occupying their niche, they will be rewarded for their efforts. We believe this is a framework that every company wants to work within; it’s just a matter of showing them how. The industry needs more high-level awareness.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
I talk about this in my book actually. Early in my introduction to the affiliate world, I attended my first affiliate marketing conference with the goal of meeting new partners for Tiny Prints’ budding affiliate program. I was astonished by what I saw. The affiliate marketing industry was bigger than life at the time, and the casino-style atmosphere of the room was palpable. People were making huge amounts of money very quickly.
While exciting, I vividly remember thinking that either I was one of the few people in the room who did not understand how great the industry was, or that the easy money people were making was a highly suspect illusion. It was clear that the majority of participants at that conference in 2006 believed that the good times would go on forever. For me, however, it was the moment I realized that the industry had been hijacked by an unrealistic fervor.
In the years that followed, I struggled to convince people that what seemed too good to be true probably was. During those boom years, it was difficult to tell people that they needed to put in place safeguards that would benefit them long-term, but slow their growth, or to recommend that they resisted the temptation to work with partners whose operating models were questionable or opaque.
While it’s never easy to be the one to question the majority or swim against the current, I learned to trust my gut. I made the decision – the right decision, as it turns out - that there would one day be a moment of reckoning and a real opportunity to do things a different way. That time has come and our company is now a key player in leading that charge.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
One of the most consistent messages I received from clients, partners and industry veterans alike is that they want more focus on actual performance. Not perceived performance – actual trackable, attributable performance. They want to get back to the original promise offered by performance marketing two decades ago, which is that they’d only pay when they get what they want, and leave both the tactics and illusions that plagued the early days of the industry far behind.
They want to create and nurture win-win partnerships with reputable, like-minded businesspeople. They wanted more control over their programs, better technology, and lower costs. This is what Performance Partnerships™ is all about. This framework includes everything that people want in their affiliate relationships and exclude everything undesirable.
How do you motivate others?
Over a year ago, I decided to e-mail my Acceleration Partners team each Friday morning with a leadership theme, quote and related tip/article around personal growth. It was designed to motivate and inspire them as they went into their weekend. The response was very positive; my posts were actually being shared far outside of the Acceleration Partners team. As a result, I decided to put these insights onto a more formal platform and created what is now the “Friday Forward” website, which can be found at http://www.fridayfwd.com.
Career advice to those in your industry?
This advice applies to anyone – not just those in the affiliate industry. My advice is, if you want to make real, lasting changes in your life – career, health, relationships, etc. -- then a few things need to happen.
First, you need to believe you are in control. Second, you need to stop thinking there is a quick fix and resolve to do the hard work. Third, instead of making short-term shifts in your life, resolve to figure out what you really want and commit to long- term sustainable change and happiness.
If you want to advance your career path, in the affiliate industry or otherwise, I recommend:
• Clarify your long-term goals and personal core values
• Identify key relationships and commitments that warrant your focus
• Stay aligned with your goals, core values and relationships on a daily and quarterly basis
I’m not saying this is easy, but it is worth the effort. To help myself prioritize my goals and life ambitions, I created something called the Whole Life Dashboard. It’s in beta form, but it’s been incredibly valuable tool in my life. You can learn more about it at http://www.fridayfwd.com/whole-life-dashboard/.