In this insightful interview, we dive into the fascinating world of Affiliate Marketing with Jessica Luthi-Hertl, an industry expert who has witnessed its evolution since the late ’90s.
Starting as an affiliate manager for one of the first UK affiliate networks, Jessica shares her journey, experiences, and the challenges she faced in her career. Jessica also discuss the benefits and misconceptions surrounding Affiliate Marketing and offer advice for those looking to enter the field.
From managing innovative campaigns to promoting unique products, this interview provides an in-depth look into the dynamic and ever-evolving world of Affiliate Marketing.
- 1 What led you to the world of Affiliate Marketing, and what was your first impression of it?
- 2 Can you tell us about a time when you faced a significant challenge in your Affiliate Marketing career and how you overcame it?
- 3 As an affiliate marketer, you work with a wide range of products and brands. What’s been the most unusual product or brand you’ve marketed, and how did you approach it?
- 4 What would you say is the most significant benefit of Affiliate Marketing as a career path?
- 5 If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice about Affiliate Marketing, what would it be?
- 6 What’s been the most exciting campaign you’ve worked on as an affiliate marketer, and why was it so enjoyable?
- 7 Some people think that Affiliate Marketing is just a scam or a get-rich-quick scheme. What would you say to those people to convince them otherwise?
- 8 Can you tell us about a time when you exceeded your Affiliate Marketing goals? What was the key to your success?
- 9 Did you go to college? If so where did you go, and did your college experience help prepare you for a career in Affiliate Marketing?
- 10 Finally, would you recommend Affiliate Marketing as a career to someone just starting out in the industry? Why or why not?
- 11 And as a bonus fun question: If you could be an affiliate marketer for any fictional product or brand, what would it be and why?
- 12 Conclusion
What led you to the world of Affiliate Marketing, and what was your first impression of it?
I stumbled upon affiliate marketing in 1998 quite by accident. While living in London, UK, I had been working for Classic FM Radio’s Listeners’ Loyalty Club. The internet, or World Wide Web as it was called back then, was just emerging, and I had recently purchased an Apple iMac G3 computer, which came with a dial-up modem and connected to the World Wide Web via Compuserve.
It should be noted that affiliate marketing had already been established in the United States, with Amazon being the first to market, followed by Commission Junction.com (CJ.com), then AffiliateWindow.com (now AWIN), and UK Affiliates.com (now closed). These were the first affiliate networks in the UK in 1999.
By this time, I had been working for Classic FM for a year. At my appraisal, I was informed that my work was outstanding, but I would not be getting a promotion or pay increase anytime soon. As a single parent on wages that barely covered the bills, I started looking for another job.
As anyone who remembers the early days of the internet knows, it started out as community forums. It was there that I spotted a post titled “Affiliate Manager Wanted, loyalty marketing” by Fox Tucker. I had no clue what an affiliate manager was, but I was already doing loyalty marketing, so I reached out. He replied, and we ended up meeting.
He told me about this new thing called affiliate marketing coming to the UK and the launch of one of the first affiliate networks, UK Affiliates.com. They were looking for an affiliate manager, someone who could reach out to “webmasters” and promote the first UK brands to make the transition from offline to include online.
I believe William Hill Sports Betting was among the first to have an affiliate program. I explained to Fox Tucker that I had no experience in affiliate marketing, and he said, “No one does. It’s new”. It was like a light had switched on in my head. I saw the future and where it was going, and I wanted to be a part of it. Within six weeks, I had quit my job at Classic FM and began working for UK Affiliates.com.
My income doubled, and to this day, I still feel indebted to Fox Tucker for taking a chance on me. Once I got into the swing of things, it seemed like every day we were changing the way UK consumers shopped and adding new revenue streams for brands.
As word spread about this new way of marketing, the growth in affiliate marketing was almost viral. It was like a snowball going downhill, just growing and growing.
With this surge in attention, the visionary Matthew Wood set up the first UK affiliate marketing support group, called affiliates4u.co.uk. It would only be a matter of time before the UK and US affiliate marketing communities would be talking to each other, comparing notes, and ultimately helping e-commerce brands take their programs to an international level.
Can you tell us about a time when you faced a significant challenge in your Affiliate Marketing career and how you overcame it?
It’s very difficult to watch something you’ve invested blood, sweat, tears, and years into building, only to have it dismantled in eight weeks by someone who has no understanding of affiliate marketing. While transparency for online brands has improved dramatically since 1999, we still see an element of self-destruction among some brands.
This is partly due to a lack of understanding about the channel, the affiliates, and the cost of acquiring a new customer. I have worked with a few brands that have gone from a few thousand dollars in affiliate-referred sales to multi-millions in affiliate-referred sales, and the brands only ever paid a small commission when an affiliate referred a customer who made a purchase. No other advertising channel works this way.
Often, brands forget that affiliates are not a collective and not disposable, and that affiliates choose which brands to partner with. From time to time, I see derogatory comments about coupon sites diluting a brand or other affiliate types being called spammy. Do these brands know that they have a choice and don’t have to work with all affiliates?
These are significant challenges, and they come with the territory. My job, as I see it, is to educate brands and work with them so that they are not in conflict with their affiliates.
As an affiliate marketer, you work with a wide range of products and brands. What’s been the most unusual product or brand you’ve marketed, and how did you approach it?
We had a client called Astrobingo.co.uk, which was a successful online bingo company in the USA headed up by Willy Wong (still a good friend to this day) and wanted to open in the UK in 2005. Astrobingo.co.uk would be the first online bingo company to have an affiliate program in the UK via a mainstream affiliate network.
The challenge was to have the affiliate network create a tracking system that would track players’ net losses and assign commission to the affiliates who referred players, assign different commissions to affiliates introducing new players, and then see if affiliates had the right traffic to refer new players. Probably the biggest challenge was introducing an unknown brand into the UK bingo scene.
UK Bingo has a long, rich history, so how could we ever compete? The strategy was to see if we could track it, see if affiliates had the traffic, and see if we could get a slice of the UK Bingo players. PaidOnResults.com affiliate network had a tech wizard, Graeme Sandwell, who was able to create the tracking Astrobingo.co.uk needed. We created an affiliate program that was less marketed to casino players (predominantly male) but more focused on women who were online shoppers and were perfect demographics to become online bingo players (predominantly female).
This enabled many affiliates to promote to their own audience of female shoppers. We also lucked out as some of the affiliates were accustomed to promoting online casinos and were able to adapt their lead generation knowledge to online bingo. Affiliate commissions were strong: a bounty for introducing a new player and commission on a player’s net losses. We also added monthly affiliate incentives and, at its peak, we included offering a new car as a prize draw for the best-performing affiliate. The program was a huge success and possibly one of my favorite affiliate programs I have ever managed.
However, with the online gaming ban in the USA and not owning the proprietary software, Astrobingo.co.uk and USA had to close their doors. It had been a much-loved program by everyone who had been involved. This was truly loyalty marketing at its best.
What would you say is the most significant benefit of Affiliate Marketing as a career path?
Once I went independent, I was able to work from home and from anywhere in the world with internet access.
I could stay at home, watch my children grow, and witness the affiliate marketing industry evolve and continue to evolve.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice about Affiliate Marketing, what would it be?
There will always be critics in this industry with various motives and reasons to criticize affiliate marketing. Don’t get upset about the negative aspects; instead, continue to educate and persevere.
What’s been the most exciting campaign you’ve worked on as an affiliate marketer, and why was it so enjoyable?
Besides Astrobingo.co.uk, my recent work with KISS Beauty Brands has been highly enjoyable.
The reason is that these brands hired me for my expertise and allowed me to create and manage programs that work. They gave me the freedom to do what I do best and generate millions in affiliate-referred income, all while educating them as I work.
Some people think that Affiliate Marketing is just a scam or a get-rich-quick scheme. What would you say to those people to convince them otherwise?
From an affiliate’s perspective, it is by no means a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes months of creating content and then waiting for it to be picked up by search engines. As an affiliate or influencer, you can make money, but it will take a while.
My advice is to be unique, write about things that other people are not writing about, and the more niche, the better. For online brands, a successful affiliate program requires you to focus on your product demand, prices, competition, competitors’ affiliate programs, site conversions, and budget, and understand that an affiliate program is a long-term commitment.
Can you tell us about a time when you exceeded your Affiliate Marketing goals? What was the key to your success?
Most of the programs I’ve managed, both past and present, have exceeded the brands’ expectations. I do yearly projections based on a ton of my own research.
There have been a few programs that have exceeded my own expectations, and that has always come down to not giving affiliates enough credit for being able to adapt to changes online, such as cookie blockers and Google algorithm changes. Affiliates have to constantly evolve, which they do, and they are fantastic. I don’t think I can blow my own trumpet. It always comes down to teamwork.
Did you go to college? If so where did you go, and did your college experience help prepare you for a career in Affiliate Marketing?
I attended many UK colleges, but none in the USA where I now live, and I can say categorically that nothing I ever learned at school or college has had any real relevance to what I do now, except for teaching. When I took my teaching course, I had to write lesson plans and schemes of work—a great discipline to have that can be transferred into writing affiliate promotional offers, proposals, and to some extent, forecasting.
Overall, affiliate marketing may be one of the few industries that a college degree, even in marketing, does not cover in great depth. Much of what I do, I had to teach myself.
Finally, would you recommend Affiliate Marketing as a career to someone just starting out in the industry? Why or why not?
From an affiliate’s perspective, I would absolutely recommend affiliate marketing, especially for single parents, people with disabilities, or those on low incomes. It’s one of the few jobs you can do at home to earn extra income. There are so many free tools to use, including WordPress and Wix for blogging, as well as social media.
The only hard part is getting your head around how to set up affiliate links, but there is so much information out there. I have no clue why the government is not promoting this as a means to eventually get people off social benefits. That said, becoming an affiliate is one thing, but generating sustainable income is something else. It takes time, and you have to stick at it and, above all else, be unique. Most affiliates can remember when they made their first commission, and this gets you hooked.
From an affiliate manager’s perspective, you must have experience. You must know what you’re doing. The only way to get a job role within the industry is to start researching what we do, how we do it, how it relates to ecommerce, which affiliates will work with your brands, and which won’t.
It takes a few years to gather all the expertise, but it is one of the highest-paying marketing jobs because so few people truly know how to manage an affiliate program effectively.
And as a bonus fun question: If you could be an affiliate marketer for any fictional product or brand, what would it be and why?
Selfishly, I’d say chocolate brands, as I rarely get any free samples and I am a self-confessed chocoholic.
One of the affiliate programs that I manage provides free samples of cosmetics to influencers. If this were a chocolate brand, I might give up my day job and become a professional chocolate taster. But seriously, I love fashion and would promote a brand that is unique and daring in their clothing. The last fashion revolution I saw was during the punk era in the ’70s.
Jessica’s extensive experience in the world of affiliate marketing demonstrates the incredible growth and constant evolution of the industry since its inception. Throughout the interview, Jessica shares valuable insights, challenges faced, and the importance of adapting to an ever-changing landscape.
By highlighting her own career trajectory and offering advice to newcomers, she emphasizes the importance of education, perseverance, and teamwork in affiliate marketing success. As a testament to her unwavering dedication, Jessica has proven that with passion, adaptability, and hard work, one can achieve great heights in this dynamic field.
Whether you are an aspiring affiliate marketer, a brand looking to expand your reach, or simply curious about the industry, this interview provides an informative and inspiring look into the world of affiliate marketing from an expert’s perspective.
Need some Affiliate Marketing Advice? You can reach out to her at BoldDigitalVentures.com