To say that my today’s interviewee is not a stranger to affiliate marketing would be to say nothing. Kerri Pollard is a major figure in this industry. As president of CJ Affiliate by Conversant, she oversees the operations of CJ’s affiliate network in the U.S. and Europe.

Kerri spoke at Affiliate Management Days for the first time in the spring of 2013. This year she is returning back with her Day 1 keynote on how affiliate network insights can help advertisers drive reach and results. She will also appear on our already-traditional Day 2 keynote panel with affiliate networks which in 2015 is devoted to “The Affiliate Industry Evolution.”

With Affiliate Management Days 2015 coming up in San Francisco in just over two months, catch a glimpse of the caliber of speakers we’ll bring together by reading the below interview with Kerri’s insights for advertisers and affiliate program managers.

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Kerri Pollard is the president of CJ Affiliate by Conversant. She has a proven track record of building partnerships between advertisers and publishers along with helping them grow revenue and increase profits through innovative technology plus strategic, analytical insights. Kerri’s thought leadership in the affiliate marketing space has earned CJ the recognition of the #1 affiliate marketing provider by Internet Retailer for the second year in a row.

Question: If you were to emphasize one important issue that every affiliate manager should be paying more attention to, what would it be and why?

Kerri Pollard: One important issue that every affiliate manager should be aware of and, more importantly, be a participant in the solving thereof, is the attribution challenge. Too often, we see affiliate managers reacting and responding to internal attribution decisions vs. having a seat at the table to ensure the affiliate channel is aligned with a company’s goals and objectives. In speaking with several attribution vendors, they do not understand affiliate or associated measurement and therefore, base their analysis on an impression-to-conversion basis, which doesn’t apply to affiliate – yet. At CJ Affiliate, we have been working with companies like Adometry and Visual IQ to help educate them and their customers. To this end, we encourage affiliates on behalf of their trusted, advertiser relationships to maintain – not eliminate – the impression code. We know value is being created throughout the customer decision journey and affiliates should get recognized as such. In short, grab your seat at the table and ensure affiliate is being represented appropriately!

Question: What do you see as the main areas of opportunity for online, in general, and for affiliate marketers, in particular in 2015 – 2016?

Kerri Pollard: Opportunities within affiliate have always been driven by the consumer and their associated decision journey. That journey has become less linear in nature and additional fragmentation has occurred. As affiliate marketers, it’s important that we support all consumer touchpoints by effectively guiding and tracking the consumer from end-to-end. We’ve seen many affiliates perfect their mobile presence, but there is much more opportunity to do so in the overall marketplace. In addition, according to a recent McKinsey report, “by the year 2020, 80% of all transactions will continue to occur within four walls.” The research and the evaluation phase may occur via a desktop or mobile device, but the transaction could be completed offline. We see additional opportunity for on-to-offline tracking beyond the printing/downloading of offers. Through the CJ Affiliate dataset, we can see the influence that affiliate has on offline conversions. We can leverage this data to enable additional tracking and compensation to further capitalize on such activity. Finally, we believe the next frontier will be a consumer’s home and leveraging such items as TVs and appliances in order to make a purchase. Where and how will affiliate participate? We have some ideas. 

Question: Between the fact that “affiliates are 7x more likely to be overwritten by another channel than another affiliate” and the fact that “30% of sales start on one device and finish on another” [source] how can an advertiser build a truly affiliate-friendly program, yet one that doesn’t cannibalize the merchant’s own marketing efforts?

Kerri Pollard: The best affiliate programs are those that support the principles of communication and transparency. This question references my earlier point of attribution and as affiliate managers, ensuring one has a seat at the table. Not only does such participation allow one to contribute to such discussions, but also communicate back to his/her affiliates as to why and when they are being credited – or not. There is no silver bullet in attribution as each advertiser has unique, consumer paths, but helping affiliates understand those paths and where they can add the most value is key.

Question: In which ways can affiliates be adding value for the merchants they promote? And where does the “value” reside?

Kerri Pollard: Are you maximizing an opportunity on behalf of an advertiser? Addressing a challenge? Solving a problem? If “yes” to any one of these questions, then you are adding value, which may or may not include new customer acquisition. As a network, we focus much time and effort on understanding the goals, objectives and challenges of the company overall – not just an advertiser’s affiliate program. By doing so, we recognized that personalizing the consumer experience across all channels was important to not just the CMO, but also the CEO. By leveraging the Conversant infrastructure and anonymous consumer profiles, we’ve been testing the concept of personalization within affiliate. We are able to recognize new customers on behalf of an advertiser via an affiliate site in order to showcase a unique and compelling offer in real-time to increase conversion rates. This solution has resulted in double-digit growth rates in new customers. In addition to personalizing the experience on behalf of new customers, we’ve been working with several of our clients as it relates to their “top shopper” persona. Using data from both the CJ Affiliate dataset and the advertiser, our affiliates can target such individuals and increase engagement. By offering these solutions, we ensure that affiliate is integrated into the overall marketing mix along with the associated messaging strategy and therefore, adding more value.

Question: What is the biggest challenge faced by affiliate managers and advertisers with affiliate programs today and what would you recommend doing to overcome it?

Kerri Pollard: Margin compression. With an ever-growing competitive marketplace and associated pricing pressure, one of the biggest challenges faced by marketers is margin compression. In retail, many marketers are struggling to compete on price and simultaneously, having the budget necessary to successfully promote their products and services. Although affiliate has always been a very cost-effective channel for marketers, we have been working with many of our clients to provide even greater insight to enable smarter and more targeted marketing within affiliate. For example, we can now show the percentage of new customers via affiliate versus all other marketing channels; average order value and repurchase rate of all affiliate consumers; and offline impact of said consumers. These stats compare affiliate with all other marketing channels and can also be viewed by publisher promotional method (i.e., deal, loyalty, content) and individual publisher. If a company is seeking to better monetize their offline presence, an affiliate manager can identify those publishers that drive the most offline consumers and incent them to do more. Smarter, more targeted marketing can expand margins and drive top-line revenue.

Question: Why do you think affiliate managers should attend Affiliate Management Days?

Kerri Pollard: As we’ve learned from our annual conference, CJU, Affiliate Management Days provides a great forum to network and learn from your peers. Time and time again, we hear from our clients their desire to connect in order to share best practices and discuss shared challenges in which one conversation could provide a solution.

Question: If you were to leave online advertisers, merchants and affiliate managers with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Kerri Pollard: Ensure that affiliate has a “seat at the table” and work – via data and transparency – with your responsible network and affiliates to ensure all parties are aligned for success.

Question: SNEAK PREVIEW: Please tell us a takeaway that you will provide during your presentation at Affiliate Management Days.

Kerri Pollard: Big data is all the rage, but what data is important to affiliate in order to provide actionable insights and results? How does one drive sales without cannibalizing margins? I will be speaking to our new consumer dataset at CJ Affiliate and how such data is being leveraged for smarter, more targeted marketing vs. a one-size fits all approach resulting in greater growth in both margins and revenue.

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Don’t miss Kerri’s participation in two keynotes of the upcoming Affiliate Management Days in San Francisco! Register while the Early Bird registration period is still open (through February 6, 2015).


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