On Affiliate Marketing Technology
MTS: Tell us a little bit about your role at VigLink and how you got here? (What inspired you to start an affiliate marketing company)
Oliver: I was looking for a business to start and became interested in affiliate marketing, but after logging into an affiliate marketing platform, the process as it existed seemed remarkably complex. I reasoned that, even with two CS degrees, if I still had a hard time figuring it out, the average blogger and content publisher would struggle as well. In 2008, I wrote a crawler that looked for links to Amazon to see how many websites and content publishers were effectively using affiliate links, and I found that less than half of the commercial links were affiliated. At that moment, I knew there was a real opportunity to help both publishers and merchants gain the ability to effectively and profitably execute affiliate marketing strategies. In 2009, I founded VigLink, and have been running the company ever since.
MTS: Given how quickly automated affiliate marketing strategies have been accepted, how do you see this market evolving over the next few years?
Oliver: Over the next few years, the techniques used in programmatic display advertising will be applied to affiliate in a big way. From both display and search, most advertisers are familiar with a demand curve, where if you pay more, you’ll drive more traffic to your intended destination. Affiliate marketing is a weak representation of this characteristic. Whereas in search you can change your bids and see the effects immediately, changes in affiliate pricing usually take months and a trip to Affiliate Summit before seeing a change in traffic flow (particularly from content). This delay, comparative to other marketing and advertising technologies, is changing.
MTS: What do you see as the single most important technology trend or development that’s going to impact us?
Oliver: Content-driven commerce is on the same curve that display advertising was on over the last few decades. Hard-coded creative yielded to ad servers and onto the auction-driven demand-side, supply-side and data management platform eco-system are pushing the landscape to where it is today. Affiliate marketing is just starting to make the leap from hard-coded links to a render-time decision, and the ability to utilize data to drive performance is going to have a huge impact.
MTS: What’s the biggest challenge for startups to integrate with a platform like VigLink into their stack?
Oliver: At VigLink, we initially pitched ourselves as a “lights out” operation – install it once and forget about it, and just wait for the revenue to roll in. We focused on ease of installation and, if you want, you can still use VigLink that way. To really crank out the revenue, though, publishers and merchants both need to be watching their dashboards for what products are selling and trending via VigLink’s Trends Explorer. The challenge there can be that, to have the bandwidth and know-how to do so, it requires training and in some cases an editorial team incentivizing them to drive revenue.
MTS: What startups are you watching/keen on right now?
Oliver: I’m a huge fan of Cloudflare. It was started by some classmates of mine and has grown tremendously – at this stage, they proxy about 10% of all web traffic. They have an amazing platform to give publishers a menu of services they can add.
MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
Oliver: Intercom, Salesforce, Google Analytics, Hootsuite, and Looker.
MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
Oliver: You prepare by being first. The lesson isn’t just that jobs can be automated into nonexistence, it’s that well trained computer systems can typically do the job substantially better than humans. Tesla’s relatively crude Autopilot system already decreases accidents per road mile by 10%, relative to the baseline. Functions such as ad operations and media buying seem highly prone to not just automation, but automation whose performance dramatically exceeds the performance of the humans it replaces.
This Is How I Work
MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
MTS: What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Oliver: Gmail. 25 years later, email is still the core of how I communicate on the Internet.
MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
Oliver: Tripit is a great simple tool for managing travel. I simply forward my emails to their platform and they curate a master itinerary for all my travel.
MTS: What are you currently reading? (What do you read, and how do you consume information?)
Oliver: The Creator’s Code. It’s a smart book on what differentiates highly productive founders.
MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Oliver: Never list your cell phone number on documents you file with the SEC. This tip has saved me from countless unsolicited phone calls.
MTS: Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
Oliver: Having an engineering background helps a lot. It lends credibility when recruiting engineers and gives me a sense of what’s possible on certain projects and in certain contexts.
MTS: Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Oliver: Elon Musk.
MTS: Thank you Oliver! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
I am the founder / CEO of VigLink. We are making the web better by making every link intelligent and valuable.
VigLink technology instantly and automatically captures the value of content that drives commerce. We monetize ordinary links to over 40,000 retailers, whether they’re created by you or us. Our technology works across sites, apps, and social networks so you can focus on your business, earn more, and avoid the hassle of managing countless affiliate programs.
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.