Affiliate Summit West – Day 1 Recap

Hey, kids. Now that I’ve been an affiliate marketer for almost a whole week, Rae sent me to Vegas to attend Affiliate Summit West to pick up some skillz and report back to her what I learned.

And since liveblogging is punishable by death in the Sugarrae household, below you’ll find a thought out recap of the sessions I attended for your reading pleasure.

May you go in peace.

Here were my top takeaways.

Your success will depend on your ability to locate the right opportunity.

In this morning’s Affiliate Strategies for Traffic Generation and Monetization session, speakers Andrew Wee, Miles Baker, Geordie Carswell and Nick Koscianski helped attendees learn to spot profitable affiliate opportunities. Each speaker agreed that you can’t just assume you know what’s going to be successful, because many times you’ll be completely wrong. You have to throw everything you can against the wall and see what sticks. You never know what will actually net you money until you try. Werd.

Nick, in particular, commented that his process for discovering successful affiliate ventures is to pick 5-10 things he thinks WON’T be successful…and then go after them full steam ahead. (It seems Nick has really bad judgment). Miles encouraged looking for situations where you can create a relationship with the vendor and to go after larger, less competitive areas. Don’t simply focus in on smaller niches assuming they’ll be easier to tackle. Often, they’re not. Geordie recommended using Google Insights to help you keep track of trends and to discover new areas on the verge of being hot.

Affiliate marketing is nothing more than building relationships with people.

The most important lesson being drilled into attendees today was that affiliate marketing is all about relationships. Without that personal connection, you have nothing.

It makes sense. As Andy Rodriguez said in his presentation during the Developing the Right Merchant Mindset panel, affiliate marketing is based on freedom. It’s the set your own hours, report to yourself business model that the Web always promised us. In the world of affiliate marketing, these affiliates are not your employees. They don’t work for you; they with you. And they can leave at any time and decide to send business to a competitor. In order to prevent them from doing that, you need to make yourself available to them and establish that close relationship.

Something else that struck me today was the idea that just because you sell shoes, doesn’t mean you’re only competing against other shoe merchants. You’re not. You’re competing against all merchants with an affiliate program. And what’s going to make you stand out and make you the person people keep want to interact with? The relationships you form from the very beginning. That means when you send out that initial approval letter, make sure it’s customized and that it promotes the goals you’re after. Give them multiple ways of contacting you.

You can’t force or buy these relationships. They have to be developed over the course of time, but once they’re established, they’re very often lifelong. Invest in building the relationship and the sales will follow. Remember, you need them more than they need you.

There are different ways to be successful.

During the Monetization panel, many of the panelists argued that the way to be successful was to be unique. What do you offer that your competition doesn’t? Why would someone want to do business with you?

Geordie commented that he tries to make himself unique by writing his own content. If you want to stand out, trying straying away from text-based content and play around with video and audio. Be the one who’s being copied instead of the one copying. There’s a certain amount of best practices that everyone will follow – strong calls to action, using good color layouts, etc. – but after that, you can’t copy results because you don’t know what’s really working for someone else. That AdWord’s page you see your competition using could be the one they just split tested and found out performs worse than their others. You don’t know. Be original.

Or….don’t. Nick joked that he knows a lot of people who make great livings off of having no original thought and simply copying other people’s stuff. Geordie calls those people rat bastards. ;)

….but your pitch is everything.

When you’re an affiliate trying to get your brand or site exposure, your pitch is everything. The Ultimate Pitching Guide session had speakers Peter Shankman, Anita Campbell, Jim Kukral and Lisa Picarille detailing what goes into to creating a really great pitch.

  • Get To The Point: A good pitch is about two things – brevity and relevance. If a blogger or journalist doesn’t know what the email is about in the first 5 seconds, they’re either going to delete it or ignore it. Don’t give them that chance. Show them why it’s important in the first few sentences. If you can establish yourself as someone who doesn’t waste time, it will help you create great relationships for the future.
  • Know Who You’re Pitching To: For God’s sake, customize your pitch. Know the magazine or the blog you’re going after. Who is their readership? What’s their angle? What types of stories do they normally cover? By spinning things the right way you show them why it’s appropriate to them. Don’t make them have to figure out why your story would be good for them. In most cases, they won’t invest that much time.
  • Treat People A Little Better Than Crap: Peter identified himself as the cynical bastard of the group and hailed that people expect to be treated like crap. According to Peter, if you treat people a little above crap, they’ll be grateful. If you treat them good, they’ll be lifelong fans. You don’t have to be great, you just have to be better than everyone else. Read what the reporter wants and give it to them in under three paragraphs. That will get you above the crap and into the news.
  • Present Yourself As An Expert: Create a niche for yourself. Be the go-to person for X-related stories. Engage with the blogs/news outlets in that niche. Before you ask them to write about you, name drop them in your own blog. Many times they’ll have a Google Alert set up for their name and they’ll spot it. This puts you in their top of mind recall.

When you make a pitch, have a specific story in mind. It’s easier to get into blogs than mainstream journalist (were the bloggers just insulted?) because it’s more relationship-based and that can be easier to form. Go to their blog and start leaving comments there. Get involved in the community. Then, when you send an email to that blogger, they’ll recognize who you are and you’ll have the door open a little ways. Invest in the relationships before you need them.

Recognize the value of social media and use it to your advantage. Social media lets you screw up to a much broader group of people. You should be trying social media and letting people interact with you. Try uStream. Try Twitter. Be on LinkedIn and Facebook. These sites let the masses issue your press release for you.

The struggles affiliate marketers face

During the Affiliate Strategies for Traffic Generation and Monetization panel, the speakers were asked to share the biggest problem they’re currently facing and what they’re doing to overcome it. The audience was treated to some pretty awesome answers.

Miles shared that his biggest concern is scaling and growing his business. He noted to compensate for that he outsources a lot of his work and hires virtual employees. This, of course, creates another problem of having to manage people so he tries to create a system for everything that they do in order to eliminate any extra work and help streamline things.

Nick’s biggest concern is always trying to stay ahead of the curve. There are so many new people getting into affiliate marketing that there’s always more and more competition. To stay ahead you have to stay motivated. That’s the biggest thing – putting in more effort than anyone else. Most of the people in this stuff are lazy. Keep testing. Keep innovating. Nothing lasts forever. Always be trying new things.

Geordie is struggling with time management. It’s hard to balance the stuff that makes lots of money with the stuff that’s at all fun to work on. It’s usually the boring stuff that makes a lot of money. A big part of this is to try and find out what’s worth your time and how you want to live. He thinks there’s a lot of blog reading that goes on. Hell, you can be a professional blog reader and never do anything if you wanted to. But while you’re doing that and trying to learn, someone else is acting and making money.

Put together, I think these gentlemen just described my three biggest problems in life! And that’s it from Affiliate Summit on Day 1. We’ll be back tomorrow with Day 2’s highlights.

About Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone is the Co-Founder and CBO of Outspoken Media, an Internet marketing firm that specializes in helping brands get heard on the web via various services such as SEO consulting and social media marketing. In her spare time, she enjoys avidly neglecting LisaBarone.com.

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