MarTech Interview with Waleed Al-Atraqchi, President at CJ Affiliate

MarTech Interview with Waleed Al-Atraqchi, President, CJ Affiliate

“Affiliate is constantly evolving, and if you look at its impact on customer value and incrementality, the channel is underrepresented in terms of advertising investment..”

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Tell us about your role and journey into Marketing. What inspired you to be part of CJ Affiliate?

I always wanted to be in business since I was a kid. I was living in New York when I bought and ran a Bagel shop—it was doing well but I wanted to do more, so I eventually sold it. Running my own business taught me that success is driven by the products you sell and how you market them. I believe Product and Marketing are the core drivers of the business, so that’s what captured my imagination. A few years later, I did my MBA and was focusing on Marketing, before journeying into technology. I joined CJ Affiliate because Technology and Data are transforming the Marketing industry and I was inspired by the opportunity to lead the world’s largest affiliate network during this transformation.

How does CJ Affiliate fit into a modern Marketing technology stack?

From a Digital standpoint, Affiliate typically represents 15% of e-commerce sales for U.S. companies. The health of the Affiliate channel is strong and growing at a rate that’s similar or even higher than e-commerce growth in general.

The success of the channel is largely due to the fact that Affiliate Marketing is highly effective at reaching customers wherever they are in their purchase journey and lifecycle. The variety of affiliates/publishers that exist today—from content to loyalty to coupon/deal—are a focus on meeting a myriad of customer needs and creating unique value. Whether a shopper is simply doing research and perusing product reviews or is ready to purchase from a deal site they trust, affiliate’s performance-based model is a low-risk, high-reward approach to reaching and converting customers.

Not only that, but our data shows that affiliate is likely undervalued in the overall marketing mix. Affiliate is constantly evolving, and if you look at its impact on customer value and incrementality, the channel is underrepresented in terms of advertising investment.

CJ Affiliate is particularly well-positioned in the space. We’re growing globally and making strategic investments to meet the evolving and ever-changing needs within the industry.

What advice do you have for marketers to better prepare for automation and Data-driven Commerce?

More aspects of the business are automating which, from a career perspective, means that Marketing jobs are becoming more about creativity, strategy, and interaction with people.

Data is central to running an effective business. So, while you need the data, marketers also need to be able to analyze it. Analyticalskills and expertise are becoming a pre-requisite to any marketing position because it’s the actionable, smart decisions that derive from data that make the difference.

How do your Affiliate Marketing services benefit marketing teams?

Our goal is to deliver scalable growth for our clients, which requires having a deep understanding of their overall business needs—not just within the Affiliate channel.

As a full-service affiliate network, CJ Affiliate is like a “swiss army knife” for Affiliate marketers. We either fill gaps in clients’ in-house resources or complement their existing marketing efforts. Regardless of the type of partnership, we build mutually beneficial, performance-based relationships between advertisers and publishers that drive measurable growth.

While we tailor our approach based on clients’ growth KPIs, CJ’s philosophy is more about leading rather than pleasing. For example, an advertiser may want to drive new customers, but might be overlooking the fact that their return customers have a higher AOV (average order value). In that scenario, CJ Affiliate uses data to highlight the importance of focusing on both new and returning customers, along with the strategies and solutions to grow revenue in those areas.

We also help our clients achieve greater efficiency in their marketing spend by making the most effective use of their investment in the Affiliate channel. 

What are the core principles driving your product roadmap?

Our product roadmap is grounded in a commitment to innovation and excellence for the primary purpose of addressing client needs. We are focused on staying ahead of any industry headwinds of market pressures that may affect our clients and remain as agile as possible to address those dynamics. Recently, with the introduction of GDPR and ITP and an increased focus on consumer privacy, CJ Affiliate is the first-to-market with solutions to help clients navigate regulations and ensure compliance.

CJ Affiliate’s Product and Engineering teams—and the company as a whole—believe in collaborative innovation. We bring clients in early and often to ensure we’re creating value in the solutions we develop.

How do you identify the biggest advantages and challenges in Digital Commerce? What role does CJ Affiliate play in overcoming these challenges?

It’s about paying attention to what our clients are saying. Digital is a quickly evolving space. It’s incredibly high stakes for everyone, so there’s no lack of ideas. We stay really close to our clients to get that fodder and understand the challenges they are facing.

One of the biggest advantages – or you can argue, the biggest opportunities – is the use of data to make smarter decisions. CJ Affiliate has invested in building more data assets and making them available and actionable. Today, we can move beyond the simple notion of a making sale, to know what kind of customer it is (new, returning, lapsed, etc.), we can compare publisher performance, provide personalization within the channel, and we can measure incrementality of Affiliate compared to other channels. All because we were able to harness the challenge of big data and use it as an advantage.

How do you help your customers scale and achieve their revenue goals?

We do this in multiple ways, but one critical part of advertiser success is ongoing Strategic Publisher recruitment. We know that it is important to continue to nurture your true publishers, but long-term growth depends on continually recruiting new publishers into the mix. Our data shows that on average, 63% of advertiser program revenue comes from publishers who are recruited into an advertiser’s Affiliate program after the first year. In other words, while publishers that were in the program in the first year still contribute a meaningful percentage of advertiser program revenue, most program revenue comes directly from newly recruited publisher partnerships.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions caused by Data Intelligence and Analytics technology for Affiliate Marketing in 2019-2020?

I see disruption coming from a few areas.

Multi-touch attribution and insights. We are at a point where marketers have the capability to match customers to their different devices, understand how customers shop and research their purchases, and ensure every interaction a customer has with an affiliate can be tied to their future purchases and decisions. Multi-touch insights, such as customer journey analysis and CRM insights, will change the game as they provide a more holistic view of customers and full transparency into all affiliates involved in a customer’s path to conversion. They will change how marketers think about investment, ROI and how to influence the customer journey.

Personalization. Consumers are presented with an abundance of offers online, but not all of them are personally and individually relevant. According to Epsilon research, 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences. CJ recently introduced Affiliate Personalization to drive more personalized messaging in the affiliate channel. Whether the focus is on customer acquisition or retention, personalization is proving to improve conversion rates and bring more efficiency to the marketing spend.

Global expansion. We’re seeing that online shoppers are increasingly buying from global e-commerce sites outside their own country. Nearly all of the retailers in our network have seen website visitors from other countries this year. The affiliate channel is a strategic way for advertisers to enter a new market and introduce their product or services to a new consumer, particularly through global affiliates who understand shoppers in different markets and can help engage them in the way they prefer.

Privacy. Lastly, the ongoing evolution of the way businesses require to handle consumer data in light of privacy regulations will continue to have an effect across all of the marketing, not just affiliate. This is a key focus for our business and we’re invested in ensuring our clients are set up for long-term success.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

The true potential of AI will only unleash by hiring the types of people who know how to apply it to solve problems. It’s not something that happens magically overnight. As a business leader, you need to invest in those competencies.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

I believe in creating an environment where people can be open and honest and empowered to work together to solve problems. We want every role across the organization to feel valued and impactful.

One word that best describes how you work.


What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Microsoft Excel.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

Go talk to people instead of sending an email, especially if it’s something that can be easily discussed in person.

What are you currently reading?

How-to material related to architecture and design.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

If you work hard and don’t give up, you can achieve anything.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

Optimism and Persistence. I also hire really smart people.

Thank you, Waleed! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Waleed is a Entrepreneurial leader with a successive track record of growing companies at multiple stages. He is passionate about developing high-performance organizations, fostering collaborative and creative cultures, and building businesses that lead through innovation and dynamic growth strategies.

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CJ Affiliate by Conversant (formerly Commission Junction) is the leading affiliate marketing network, specializing in pay-for-performance programs that drive results for businesses around the world. The CJ Network helps to reach and connect with millions of online consumers every day by facilitating productive partnerships between advertisers and publishers. Drive more sales and expand your reach – experience the network effect with CJ.

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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.

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