Affiliate Summit West 18 (ASW18) Reflections

The famous Affiliate Summit held another round at the famous Paris Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The event occurred in January from the 7th to the 9th.  At the time of the conference, I was able to speak with my then Advertiser Aceable.   My life went through a lot of changes immediately after I returned to Austin. 

One month later I finally have the time I needed to reflect.  Here are my thoughts on the popular performance marketing conference.

Affiliate Marketing is Growing:

The general mood around affiliate marketing at ASW18 was one of excitement.  Affiliate marketing in general seems to be growing at a very quick rate.  It’s likely growing much faster than it was when I entered it just five years ago.

 Shawn Collins, the co-founder of Affiliate Summit, told me that the conference was bigger than it had ever been on the west coast.  Not only was the publishing side of attendance well represented, the conference was littered with new social media Influencers, direct advertisers, and network representatives. 

Affiliate Summit West 2018 was the most complete turnout I’d seen at a summit to date.  Everyone from porn to education was well represented.

Collins and I had a laugh together because the success feels unreal at times.  I felt the digital marketing summit was smaller just a few years ago.  Shawn has an entirely different perception of it.  He’s grown it from just a few attendees in it’s infancy.  He’s also seen the industry change repeatedly and grow into what it is now. 

With over 6,000 attendees, Affiliate Summit was another sellout.  The conference used to take place on a cruise ship.  When you do the math, a cruise ship would barely hold 1,000 of us.  That’s incredible to think about.  Affiliate marketing, the 20 million dollar industry it is set to be by 2020, used to fit on a cruise ship.

You could joke that Collins was likely hedging his bet.  To make light of recent viral news, Carnival Cruise Line is the modern-day equivalent of WWE.   I’m not sure stuffing a crowd of money hungry affiliate marketers on a cruise ship would have given us a different result.  We would have been that family off the coast of Australia, only much bigger.  We also would have made money passively while we fought.

I’ll have to ask Shawn Collins the next time I’m on AffiliateTip if there were any brawls on the intimal summits.  Affiliate Tinder goes all access people!

Affiliate Marketing Reputation is Changing

The success of Affiliate Summit and some of its top speakers have brought it to the mainstream.   The popularity and growth isn’t surprising to me.   

Top names such as Gary Vaynerchuk spoke at the conference as recently as 2009.  Vaynerchuck has become an affiliate industry icon widely known for his motivational tendencies.  Others like John Chow and the acclaimed “Points Guy” took place in this year’s summit. They brought the star power to match the growth numbers seen in attendance.  These affiliate marketing icons have worked hard in SEO, social media, PPC, and other acquisition measures.  They are giving the digital marketing practice a much better reputation.

My mentor Craig Barrett came up with a great comparison for Affiliate Summit and Internet Marketing Party which is based here in Austin.  Both used to resemble Mos Eisley in Star Wars.  You walk into a party atmosphere.  There is no shortage of drinks, smokes, drugs, or trouble in this environment.  That’s to be expected when you’re in the #1 money making industry in the world. 

In this environment though, you can find hero’s like Han Solo.

…and you can find zeros like Greedo. 

Back in the wild west days of Affiliate Summit and Internet Marketing Party, it was much easier to find zero’s than hero’s.  It’s still possible now, but in that day,  it was a commonality.  Toolbar fraud was rampant.  Bot nets were capable of defrauding Cost Per Click campaigns.  The industry was a mess.  Most of our bounty hunters were only out for themselves.  This is where they “gray” reputation of affiliate marketing comes from.

That reputation needs to stop, and it finally is.  Finally. 

Times are changing.  No longer is the industry fraud based.  The techniques that hurt the industry’s reputation have largely exchanged themselves. Disciplined practices in constant content, SEO, AdWords, Email marketing, and other mainstream practices have improved our look.   We’ve been given a new identity as a community.  The industry is now seen as a healthily and effective way to influence sales funnels through third parties.    

I spoke for the first time at affiliate summit back in 2017.  It was my hope then that advertisers would begin to realize the great value that third parties could harness.  At the time I had achieved what I thought were huge things because I was inclusive of my publishing partners.  They were family.

I saw that affiliate publishers extend sales messaging to a wider audience than an advertiser ever can, and in a much different fashion.  At the time, it was my viewpoint that advertisers were restraining because of their mistrust.  My assumptions seem to have been misguided. 

After attending Affiliate Summit West 2018, it’s clear that advertisers were not speaking because they didn’t completely understand the opportunity for growth in the space.  What a difference 2018 made. 

Advertisers are Starting to Desire in House Relationship Management Strategies

Over the past years of affiliate summit, publishers were the main form of sharing.  Occasionally a network would present, but Advertisers were allergic to speaking at the revenue sharing conference.

 For a while I was one of the few direct advertisers that would speak at Affiliate Summit.  It turns out I was just ahead of realizing the true value in affiliate marketing as Uber, AirBNB, Levi’s and Adidas all have.

I attended many sessions that I will recall fondly at the summit.  The one below may have been the most fascinating I’ve ever seen.  Here's who sat in on this all-star session

Favorite Session

Session 2A: Affiliate to Partnerships: How Large Brands are Innovating 

Ashlee Vega, Adidas, Senior Marketing Manager – Affiliates, Performance, Display, & Paid Social

Ashlee Vega Bio

Keith Posehn, UBER, Head of Performance Partnerships & Affiliate Marketing

Keith Posehn Bio

Coady Demuri, Levi's, Affiliate Marketing Co-Ordinator

Coady Demuri Bio

Todd Crawford, CEO, ImpactRadius 

Todd Crawford Bio

There has never been a panel quite like this before at Affiliate Summit, and it is a giant bull flag for the industry.  Four of the largest companies on the planet decided to sit together and talk about the best practices they were implementing for growth in their Affiliate and performance marketing channels.

Their viewpoints were spot on.  Each of the four were looking to create a more transparent process between affiliates and publishers.    

Three of the four had taken approaches of hybrid affiliate programs.  Half of their implementations were being managed in house by the parties listed.  The other portion of acquisition was being managed by established agency partners. 

Partial Attribution Sees Adoption in Enterprise Solutions in 2018

Impact Radius hopes to see adoption of a partial attribution model in 2018.

The entire major advertiser presentation was unheard of, shocking, and validating.  It is the most valuable session I’ve ever been to. 

Of all the things I learned at this affiliate summit, the one insight I found most surprising is this.  Three of the four companies presenting had ambitions for partial affiliate sales attribution by the end of the year TO BE LIVE. 

Partial attribution is the process of paying incrementally for a sale that is touched by multiple affiliate or acquisition efforts.  It is new in the space.  Prior to 2015/2016, no solution could figure out how to pay models outside of first click or last click. First click refers to the first click onto an advertiser page prior to purchase.  Last click refers to the last click onto an advertiser page prior to purchase.  

Impact Radius, Cake, HasOffers, and other services have since come out with their own solution to this problem.  Using redirect technology, they can cache all touchpoints in a sales process.  Their new solutions streamline the payouts of this process enabling adoption.

Up to today, no one has really had the guts to launch partial attribution at scale.  Simply put, omni-channel and partial attribution threaten a well-established way of life for affiliates.  They are used to large bounties provided by last click. 

The fact that major advertisers are pushing for this model suggests a shift in the industry.  The powers are looking to set a new standard, even if it puts relationships at risk by killing the old way of affiliate life.

Summation

I can’t wait for Affiliate Summit East 2018 (ASE18).  With the growth and ambition seen at ASW18, it will be interesting to see where we are in terms of omni-channel and partial attribution amongst large advertisers seen on the Impact Radius panel.  More importantly, I want to see what publisher reaction is like.

The recent changes to google chrome may also shake the industry, this time for the better.  60% of pop ups are expected to be nixed by the popular search engine.  As a result, content marketing and third party digital publishers are now more important than ever.  Check out more on that here.

If you are thinking of getting into an affiliate marketing career, there is no better time than now.  Advertisers are sharing.  Affiliate technologies are budding and becoming adoptable products.  The next few years will make many millionaires.  For more information on affiliate basics, check out our blog or sign up for our Email list on the home page!