Affiliate Marketing: The New World


Learning of a New Digital World

Imagine I am John Smith and you are Pocahontas.  If you’re a cynic, we can even be Neytiri and Jake Sully from Avatar.

It’s the same story.  The only difference is that they rip you from a forest and put you into space.   I’ve always wanted to let that secret out of the bag.   Finally, I’ve done something worthwhile online!

Anyhow, we’ve been sailing this river together for some time now, Pocahontas.  We’ve seen the changing colors of the wind.  We’ve sung terrible show tunes and learned all sorts of nonsense.  It’s been great so far, but it’s time to buckle up.  I’m about to show you a whole new world. 

I call it the digital tree of life...

Where did I discover this awesome new world? 

Well, I stumbled up on it.  The truth is that I failed repeatedly in life.   When I thought I had no hope, affiliate marketing found me.   

Growing up with Nerdy Parents

I entered the digital marketing industry after college and quickly began to wonder where the real money was for me. 

My parents always taught me that true wealth was created and maintained in sales.  My mother was a descendant of a very successful business owner and a natural saleswoman.  My father cut his teeth making Smith Barney what it was on the stock exchange before everything collapsed.  Somehow this insanely brilliant man had majored in Latin. 

It’s abundantly clear now that I had some gifted role models.  I was a very unique and “weird” individual from the start.  It's because of how intelligent my family was.  Their style of parenting lead me to my curiosity around rhetoric and persuasion that defines me today.

I knew that the world was buyers and sellers.  My parents made it clear that there wasn’t much else to it.  It wasn’t the most romantic upbringing, but I’m glad they brought me up the way they did. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but their influence pushed me towards a and unconventional one journey through life.  College is an experience for all, but it was incredibly weird for me.  I was welcomed with odd looks when I disclosed my major to others.   For a short period, I was embarrassed to even study Rhetorical Theory with my persuasion mentor Larry Williamson. 

There were only a handful of kids in my classes.  No one could relate or understand to what I was interested in. 

I was commonly asked why would anyone study philosophy, influence, and the teachings of the Sophists in Greek philosophy?  An even better question, what relevancy would I have with this background in modern society? 

Bad Jobs

Did you expect me to have the answer?  I hate to disappoint you.  My parents weren’t that smart.  I was on my own in the dark, and I needed to figure out how to survive with way too much student loan debt.  I didn’t know it then, but I set forth on the opening stages of what I specialize in today. 

I began to test influential conditions.  Instead of websites and variations, the AB test was myself as the salesman.  I hopped from job to job, never lasting more than a year but taking the best practices from each spot and re-inventing myself. 

I started my career knocking on doors selling internet service to small businesses using T1 dedicated internet lines.  Looking back, it’s mind blowing to me that I had the resolve for a day at that job let alone six months.

The conditions were dismal and the micromanagement was non-stop.  We had to collect 75 business cards to prove we had done our jobs for the day.  I had to list numbers of land lines, contact point, and any relevant details on the card so my manager could scrub them. 

If we didn’t hit enough doors we were punished.  Some days you just didn’t want to do it.  I still remember the time I went on a boat for the day instead of working and somehow didn’t get fired.  I must have been good. 

Doors were often met with yelling or cussing.  It was so easy to feel inhumane on the job in door to door sales.  That distortion is still one of the biggest things that helps me today.  There is no telling how many donut shops or nail salons I had on the shortlist to pad my numbers.   Happy Nails and Dippity Doughnuts out in Dana Point, you are the best lead I’ve ever had!

The company and its strategy were completely impractical.  It ended up selling off and folding a few years after I departed.  None the less, it was an integral stop for me and it developed the early concepts behind my sales messaging. 

I made an average of 5 SaaS based sales per month, enough for top of the region.  I knew there was something to influence, even if this form of sales was antiquated and dying.  It was time to make the next move.

Tag Management – The Tree of Life

I stayed with sales but moved on to hammering phones and trying to make contacts with big wigs at large tech companies in late 2011.  Phone sales, while different, were a much more scalable way for me to generate leads. 

Efficiency through computer-based functions became the name of my game.  I could make several hundred calls and send several hundred emails a day if I relied on a series of tools to facilitate my reach.   This was really my first step in realizing the value of automation in influence. 

My goal was to convince enterprise level companies in the central and eastern regions of the United States to buy into a concept called “tag management.”  I even had a few accounts that were abroad at that time because of my work ethic. 

I worked non-stop on the west coast.  My company was sourced in San Diego which is where I grew up and got my education.  Given my territories, I had the fun activity of waking up at 4:30AM so I could be on the phone by 5:30.   This is when I had the best success of reaching decision at their desk.  Once a conversation was taking place, it was as good as sold.

The wake up call should have been my wake up call to the second largest value of digital marketing.  Digital and automated messages don’t really play by human schedules, do they?  Waking up at those times was a painful adjustment and again was completely impractical in terms of scaling. 

The world had been linear interactions to me up to that point:

I called someone.  They picked up or they didn’t. 

I e-mailed someone.  Maybe they forwarded me on.  Maybe I got a response. 

That was all there was to it in my consciousness.  My life had been based in one to one interactions.  Tag management was basically the tree of life that uncovered everything else because of its functionality. 

What is Tag Management

At its root, tag management is a layer of JavaScript that sits within the header of a webpage.  If you have a website, you’re likely familiar with a version of tag management.  Google makes a free product called Google Tag Manager. 

Because Google Tag Manager doesn’t cost anything, its functionality and customer service is limited.  Even so, it does give a great introductory feel for tag management as it easily governs multiple google based digital marketing efforts in one place.  Their console makes it easy and not much coding knowledge is required to figure it out. 

This solution and others began debuting around the time I graduated in 2010. Their owners figured out that the online marketplace was barreling out of control towards an adjustment that needed to be facilitated.  Marketers were beginning to flood their pages with new digital marketing tags and practices, but they weren’t necessarily understanding the consequences that would come with it.

Shifting to Digital Acquisition Strategies

It all traces back to the early advent of the internet.  A bunch of companies who were good at brick and mortar practices were suddenly faced with the big WWW and the crazy prospect of having to sell their goods on it. 

Companies like Amazon, flexible in their delivery, figured it out fast.  It’s no accident that Jeff Bazos is the richest man in the world (largely because affiliate marketers). 

There were also helpless companies like Sears.  These big box retailers were reliant on large mall spaces with even larger rents.  They’ve struggled the most.  Locked down contractually to their spaces and completely foreign to online technology and distribution, many of these businesses have gone out of business.  Amazon swallowed them whole.

Then there are those in the middle.  They survived but did so by piling their legacy domains with outdated code and tagging mechanisms in an effort to compete quickly.  They really didn’t build their systems to scale, and now they’re under the gun for it.

At Tealium, the more companies I talked to, the more I began to see patterns.   Powerhouses like CVS, Alex and Ani, General Electric, AT&T, and countless others began opening themselves up to change and it was consistent. 

It is normal to see upwards of 30 tags coded in without proprietary JavaScript.   If you want to have some fun, download a tool called Ghostery.  It’ll freak you out when you find out how many channels these companies participate in.  It’ll break down the individual marketing efforts.  All of these make multiple calls to CDNs, load useless cookie and tags, and otherwise slow the page down to kill a web experience.   Previously advertisers could ignore this, but Google recently has come out and penalized slow page load speed.

A Mess of Digital Marketing, but a Hidden Gem

The patterns of evolving advertisers extended past the mass use of digital marketing tags.  Through my talks with many successful companies, I discovered Affiliate Marketing out of the hundred of techniques out there and hung on for dear life. 

I will never forget the day I had my “a ha!” moment.  It was on my first solo sales call when I had complete control of my own questions.  The person I spoke too also has some irony to it.  I ended up earning credibility in my career through my success in Drivers Education.  It is only fitting that I learned of affiliates and their role through a large digital coursework provider in Texas, a place I now live.

It turns out that there is gold hidden in the 30 tag mess that many advertisers have.  It can be found in tag names like “CJ Pixel,” ShareASale, PepperJam, and Rakuten.  If you’re just hearing these for the first time, you’re in for a treat.

The online course provider was using CJ at the time, and a majority of its tag traffic came from there.   Being curious, I pepperedWhen the company divulged that the tag was integral to “paying third party publishers and providers of traffic,” I knew there was something there.  It turns out that that company was referring to what I know now as the Tree of life.

Affiliate Marketing – Far From A Scam

Affiliate marketing is real.  I repeat, the tree of life is real.  You’ve seen it and it’s always looked ridiculous, but it is far from the “scam” term that often gets thrown around about it. 

I know what I thought too.  The first time I saw a comment on saying, “I make $4,000 a month working from home on my computer and sitting on my ass,” I really didn’t think it was real either.  In fact, I grabbed my wallet to make sure it was still there. 

That messaging was beyond me at the time.  It threated what I knew and how hard I worked and in general was unfathomable.  It’s still beyond most people.  The fact is though, affiliate marketing is 100% genuine and real.  It makes millionaires every year.  It’s just not that easy to execute. 

It also takes a lot of risk and commitment.  The average time spend before getting any substantial traffic on google with CONSISTENT ARTICLE WRITING is 6 months.  That’s 6 months just to see a non-monetized click.  Most cannot find a way to work that out financially.  Even less have the mental fortitude to attack it every day without immediate results.  So how does performance marketing work?

The Basic Mechanics of an Affiliate Marketing/Performance Marketing Sale

The mechanics of affiliate marketing are simple.  I like to think of it in the context of a storefront, so it is easy to envision:

Referral Scenario A: Peer to Peer Verbal Marketing

Imagine you are recommending a friend to a store.  They are your friend, so you know them and can influence their decision for the better to improve their experience.  You really want them to go to a guitar place down the street because you know you’ve been taken good care of.  The store has encouraged you by offering a generous kick back if you refer a documented customer.  Because your friend Bob needs a new set of strings, you’re going to get $3 sent to you if he uses your name at purchase.  Awesome, you send him through and everyone’s happy.

The story above is just one example of old school 1 to 1 referral marketing.  Affiliate marketing is just another form of old verbal referrals.   The main changes are in the medium of communication, what is determined as a friend, and how we track.

Referral Scenario B: Affiliate Marketing

In today’s world, you are much more likely to trust google than you are your friend.  It’s sad, but totally true.  The medium of communication is no longer you two speaking about a guitar store, but instead your friend uses his smart phone or computer to get information on which store is best.  You are considered his friend and have legal ability to influence him when he reaches digital you, aka your website.  He clicks on “” for example purposes.  He’s now reading every bit of influence you have.

You’re in luck, you’ve sold him.  He’s ready to click.

Which leads us to tracking.  Odds are, whenever you click a small blue text link, a banner, an email, or even a Facebook post from your friend, that action is tracked.  We can see the website it came from.  We can see IP addresses.  We can even see what browser you’re using.  This may seem to expose you.  We don’t use 90% of the information for anything else but tying back where the click came from.  This click is compensated with either a flat amount or a revenue share amount if a successful action is taken.  For this example, the purchase a guitar is the success event.  Just like that, Bob got his $3 digitally and in real time using (hopefully) the very best in affiliate marketing tracking. 

Such a simple process has become one of the leading sources of revenue in digital marketing.  Performance marketing is also the fastest growing section of the digital universe.  By 2020 it is expected to be a 20-billion-dollar business.  Much of that money will go to the Neil Patel’s, John Chows, and independent media publishers of the world who have learned to efficiently drive customer.

The Moral of the Pocahontas Affiliate Story

Now that we’re some few thousand words into this, let’s get back to what is important: Pocahontas and Avatar.  What learnings did you find?  Moreover, what have I discovered?

Over time it has been a realization that I was extremely lucky. 

To fall into jobs like tag management that gave a crash course on the internet was very good fortune during my career maturation.  I also adapted quite well.  This led to my AB testing theories. 

I think anyone going into this space needs this skill of adapting.  I was smart to keep changing and not stay at a job like many of my elder’s generation did.  The scale of yesterday is not the scale of today and figuring that out wouldn’t have been possible by staying in one place.

It is my hope that you did not learn about the colors of the wind today.  You did not take away the cool color of my canoe or my satirical tone. 

What you hopefully take away is caution in looking at your world and the role you play in it.  This Pocahontas is not a musical or a boat ride, it is the story of a major shift in influence. 

Because you’re here, hopefully you will use my story as footnotes to greater meaning and craft your life for a successful digital future.

My advice is to stop trying to be a salesman on your landline phone much like I did.  After Tealium, I knew I had to get my first role in Affiliate Marketing.  I took the first opportunity I had when I joined I Drive Safely in what ended up being a Drivers Education legacy that found me. 

If you’re not available to it, you won’t get it.  You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.  Quit your job if it requires a one to one interaction like that to generate leads.  It’s not going to be there much longer no matter how good you are at it.

The point is to learn.  Learn things that are challenging and completely foreign and throw yourself into them completely.   You’ll find your niche if you refuse to fail.

Go learn for yourself how leads are being acquired in mass, and how you can truly make $4,000 a month working from home if you practice and refine and demand to survive. 

I’ll leave you with this:

We’re in a whole new world, one where the influence is no longer in person but online.  If you’re going to limit yourself to in person work, you’re going to limit yourself to in person income. 

Keep coming back or reach out to me at if you have a question.  There is more than enough room for us all to succeed in this brand new world.

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