Evan W. – that wasn’t the internet success that I wanted. There is no crest, it could always be higher, be better.
Meet Jerrod Maruyama, a freelance illustrator based in Sacramento, California specializing in character design and all things cute. In this exclusive video interview, Jerrod explains the key difference between art and illustration and how to find your own voice as a creative. Get inspired by Jerrod’s creative outlook as he shares what inspires and motivates him to keep growing and improving.
The guy asking questions is Dmitrii B. – founder of GRIN tech agency & holons.me...we’re building a marketplace for digital space, and initially we plan to focus on B2B. As a part of it, we want to make some transparent building blocks out of things involved in creating and promoting projects online.
I started in the late 1990s. I had a free auction website. It was like an eBay clone. And I had partners that sold antiques and all kinds of collectibles. They had a store, and they used to list a lot of stuff on eBay, so I helped them list items on eBay, and I had my site.
I did that for 2.5 years but that wasn’t the internet success that I wanted.
So a friend of mine was launching a dental insurance website for consumers – dentalplans.com. We grew the company to 60 employees and $20 million annual revenue from nothing. The problem was that I only owned 1% of the company. You know, I brought in all of the revenue but didn’t see all the profits.
So I left in 2007 and started my own agency to do affiliate marketing for companies because I knew they needed that desperately. It was easy for me to get the first clients because I knew a lot of people in the industry already from my time at dentalplans.com. I went to all the affiliate and internet marketing conferences in the U.S. and met people and networked… I built a big network, so, I could just pick up the phone, call a few people that I knew had CJ (commission junction) accounts, and say, “Hey, let me manage this for you.” Luckily, I always had a good reputation in the industry so people trusted me and that’s how I got my first clients.
Over the years, I’ve launched other surfaces: pay-per-click management, content writing…you know, we do everything.
Dmitrii: I think it is a tendency with a lot of agencies to become full-service, or at least try to be full-service because they want to fill whatever gaps are missing in clients’ projects.
Evan: Yeah, that’s true, but a lot of agencies can’t do full-service because they just can’t deliver well enough in different areas. The reason I did it was because I had a background in different channels, and I stay on the cutting edge of digital advertising. So I learned how to advertise on LinkedIn properly, how to use Facebook advertising, Google Ads, Bing Ads, SEO… Truly, I have the background to deliver on any of those channels. Now I’m not a huge agency, not as big as I want to be, but I’m getting there. It’s a process.
Dmitrii: I know it’s a dull question, but what are the challenges that may come up on the way of growing an agency?
Evan: There are challenges in prospecting lots of companies, running ads effectively, churning out content, getting referrals, just doing the things to acquire clients. I’ve never had a good person in sales that just signed clients. And that’s the only thing I regret – not having someone who would bring in clients all the time, every month.
Dmitrii: Yeah, I feel this pain because from what I see, most folks in sales, they can deliver only if you figure out the system before – how you do the prospects, where you get the data, profiles… People who are able to figure out these workflows themselves are quite rare.
Evan: Yeah, I’m having some good success these days using Lincoln Sales Navigator to prospect companies, so I haven’t really used that in the past. And it’s working really well, you know, getting into people’s inboxes, letting them know what we do… Takes time and effort, but little by little it gets there.
(4) best case studies-punchlines: numbers, brands, stories, fuck-ups
Dmitrii: when you get leads on affiliate marketing, what are the requirements or things you look at in people’s businesses?
Evan: Well, if the company just started, the first thing I tell them is that they are not ready for affiliates. Affiliates are never the first thing you do for a company to drive traffic to it. It’s like the fourth or fifth type of channel in a digital marketing strategy. And conversion rate matters. The company has to improve it by running campaigns, using different tools, CRO tools.
Dmitrii: Can you give some benchmarks, like where’s a good threshold of conversion rate optimization?
Evan: There is no crest, it could always be higher, be better. There will be a baseline of how poorly your website is converting right now, and then – everything else is above. So, what happens is, as the CRO tools are implemented and you start turning on traffic sources, then the CRO campaigns will improve the conversion rate over time as you launch more CRO campaigns. I just did a webinar on CRO strategies for e-commerce [link], so, you could check it out for a more in-depth explanation of how it goes down.
So, the company should be focused on the CRO strategy or be ready to work on it with me, otherwise, I won’t even take them on as a client. I’d tell them, “Forget it, it’s not going to work well enough. The affiliates aren’t going to make the money they need to make.” And most companies don’t argue with me on that. They know their website needs to convert better, it’s just a question of what tools and what timeline we’re going to use to improve it.
Dmitrii: So, if the company didn’t do CRO before they first do it with you, like some kind of audit and implementation, and then you have to use paid channels to test the conversion? So, how does the cost structure and budgeting look like?
Evan: It depends on the company and its industry, how much the traffic costs. Usually, it’s search traffic on the front end, pay-per-click search traffic is usually the way to go. Then there’s shopping fee traffic if they have a product catalog, that’s very inexpensive high-converting traffic. Then you have the retargeting ads on the backend that follow them around when they leave the website if they don’t convert and bring them back. So, that’s usually the frontend and repeat traffic loop right there, and within that, the conversion tools run on the site like pop-up boxes, spinning wheels, collecting emails, sending card abandonment follow-ups… There are many CRO campaigns that will get launched, but that’s usually the first ones. After doing that for a month or two, they should be ready for affiliates.
Dmitrii: And, can you give a high-level overview of how affiliate marketing starts when the CRO part is figured out?
Evan: Well, it depends on what the company wants to do. There are affiliate networks like CJ.com. That’s our main network for retailers in e-commerce where I know I can recruit affiliates and publishers quickly and start growing the channel relatively quickly.
Dmitrii: Are there cases when it makes sense to go with a self-hosted affiliate program?
Evan: Sometimes yes. It depends on the company. There are companies that don’t want to be a part of a network. And there are some companies that have both – in-house affiliate program and one or multiple networks.
But I’m not a big fan of putting an advertiser on multiple networks because I just don’t think it’s necessary. There is a good amount of overlap of the affiliates on the networks, and they each have their own databases… In my opinion, CJ has a big enough and high-quality database of affiliates. They’re more effective at recruiting the affiliates to connect with the company, and because of that it’s been my network of choice for 15 years and I don’t see it changing, to be honest.
B2B affiliate program
Dmitrii [24:00]: The default assumption with affiliate programs is that it’s tailored so that you see “products to consumers”, but there’s definitely a case for B2B affiliate products, right?
Even Weber [24:15]: Yeah, there is. Much harder to grow a B2B affiliate program.
Dmitrii [24:20]: What are the differences?
Even Weber [24:23]: Well, on the networks there more affiliates that specialize in B2C traffic – deal sites, coupon sites, bloggers…many different types of affiliates, but a lot of them are B2C oriented. There are some B2B, but it’s a much smaller amount.
The best affiliates in B2B in my opinion are other companies in B2B. You partner with another company that has a different product but might have the same audience, and you get them to advertise your company and vice versa. It’s called “reciprocal partnership”, so you partner with other companies in the B2B space that have the same audience and you become each other’s affiliates.
Dmitrii [25:32]: As I see it, for B2B it works more like classical sales where you go to other companies and try to offer them a partnership. It’s not as straightforward as listing them on CJ.com, right?
Even Weber [25:53]: It’s the same concept. It’s not as simple as listing the offer on Commission Junction, that’s an easier thing to do when it’s a B2C. In B2B, the partnerships of the affiliates have to be hand-created. They have to be gotten the old-fashioned way. A lot of outreach, a lot of partnerships, reciprocal marketing for each other… It’s a much different strategy to grow a B2B affiliate program than to build a B2C one. The concept is similar, but the approach is completely different.
Dmitrii [26:48]: But, you would pick up such a project, right? For B2B it would go down the same road: figuring out the conversion rate optimization…
Even Weber [27:00]: Well, it depends on the niche and on the company. If they are brand new and they don’t have any track record of success of advertising online and doing an acquisition, then – no, I wouldn’t recommend affiliates for them right away. I recommend that down the road when you’re able to drive sales for yourself, have a proven conversion rate, have a budget to go get affiliates with – to bring on an agency or someone who’s going to reach out and get you to be affiliates, but it’s a long-term strategy. The affiliate channel truly grows over time, not like Google where you can just crank it up, crank the faucet up right away. Affiliate growth over time – it grows annually. It grows annually, that’s what I tell companies. Year two it will far exceed what it did year one.
Dmitrii [28:12]: Is it just like a natural tendency of more affiliate marketers discovering the program?
Even Weber [28:20]: Yeah, it’s having more productive affiliates over time, it’s a numbers game. Year one, you might have 500 affiliates and 50 producers, year two you might have 2,000 affiliates and 100 producers, so you’re going to be doing twice as much revenue through the channel.
Dmitrii [41:04]: And about influencer marketing…
Even Weber [41:37]: Yeah, I can talk intelligently about that because I’ve recently started media buying for an influencer agency. I’m like the behind-the-scenes media buyer for all these brands that use influencers to create content. The influencer creates the content – videos or images with the product they recommend, they’re being paid to do that. Then we take the content and run ads with it on Facebook, Instagram, or Youtube to drive user acquisition.
Dmitrii [43:19]: Interesting. Would it work as a channel by itself without media buying on top of it?
Even Weber [43:30]: It depends heavily on who the influencer is, how big the audience is, and how compelling the offer is from the advertiser. So, there are many factors with whether their organic post could work. It’s a case-by-case basis, truly.
Media buying just helps ad campaigns to be more diverse, to utilize an influencer’s recommendation to create sales. They should be used hand-in-hand by people who know what they’re doing, of course. I think when you work with influencers you should absolutely be using their content to run ad campaigns with.
Dmitrii [50:01]: Is it important to have at least somewhat recognizable branding to get the most out of influencer campaigns?
Even Weber [50:16]: It’s not a must, but it helps. If you don’t have the brand recognition, you just have to crank up the reviews and the testimonials and the offer. You just have to crank up all the other factors that can be cracked up. The on-site conversion, the retargeting ads. It can be done if you’re doing all of those other things really well if you don’t have the brand recognition. It makes it harder, but it can still be done if a real strategy is used to make it work. If they’re just going to try some influencers to see what it does – it could be a colossal waste of money.
Dmitrii [51:54]: Do you use some existing databases of influencers?
Even Weber [52:02]: Yes, we do. We have databases. I subscribe to one of the largest databases of influencers out there, and then I have other tools that I use and that I recommend, other databases of influencers.
Dmitrii [52:20]: Right. Do you recommend any?
Even Weber [52:27]: Yeah, I’d recommend FindYourInfluencers.com.
About the industry
Dmitrii [28:42]: I also just have an interesting question about the industry in general. Amazon a few months ago cut the commissions again. How do you think, would it be a success for the industry? Like, my first thought was that it’s a nice opportunity for other retailers to jump on the train and say, “Hey, we might not have 11% conversion rate like Amazon, but we’re paying more,” instead of hunting down affiliates who participated in Amazon because it’s quite straightforward to figure out those websites like the whole industry is built on top of Amazon, probably.
Even Weber [29:42]: It sounds good in theory to do that, but you have to be able to know who their affiliates are, first of all, and then [broken audio]. I’m actually building a database of Amazon’s affiliates that could give access and contact them through the database, or hire us to do it, but first, you have to know who Amazon’s affiliates are so you can target the ones that might be a good fit.
That’s not easy in itself, convincing them to be an affiliate of whatever retailer it is. That’s very difficult. It takes a lot of tact, a lot of good approach, multiple contacts, the email has to be very good and from a reputable company. So, there are many factors involved in recruiting them like that. Not easy, but we do that. We contact known affiliates on the web and recruit them for various clients we represent that aren’t part of CJ. It works to a small extent, but the response rate is really only like 5-10%.
Dmitrii [32:26]: 5-10% is still pretty great.
Even Weber [32:29]: It can be. It depends on who the 5-10% are and if they can do anything, but yeah, you don’t need many to make it worthwhile.
Dmitrii [32:43]: Right. It sounds great. Are there any services or things you offer that are not commonly utilized and you think that you might have an interesting approach? I mean, what are those more exotic channels you work with?
Even Weber [33:26]: We do pretty much everything: influencer outreach, blogger outreach, PPC management, re-targeting ads management, sending emails, writing articles… I think there are no “exotic services” that we don’t do.
Dmitrii [34:04]: So, maybe there are some channels you think are often overlooked or are not so utilized…
Even Weber [34:14]: That’s a good question. I would say CRO is overlooked because it’s still very murky how to go about it. I use a tool called convertcart.com – it’s an Indian company that I discovered about two years ago. It has 16 CRO tools in one platform. This platform is my number one recommendation. I recommend it even without me involved, but with me, it just goes a lot better. It works as it should.
What I realized a while ago that there are many tools out there in e-commerce. There are multiple customer review tools, multiple pop-up tools, multiple retargeting tools… multiple everything. It’s all about choosing the best tools out there to do what you need them to do on your website.
Dmitrii [36:44]: Could you share any other recommendations of products or companies?
Even Weber [36:54]: Oh, so many possibilities. The best review tool, I recommend is Shopper Approved. I also really like a service called Ad Shoppers. It allows you to re-target your website visitors even if they don’t give you their emails – still it can send them a follow-up email. Not all of your visitors, but a percentage.
Dmitrii [37:19]: Yeah, really, there are numbers of web services on the internet. For example, for sales, I was always fascinated with databases of personal dialed numbers. I mean, there’s some magic going on there.
Even Weber [37:35]: Yeah, so Ad Shoppers is a great tool, and they do it as an affiliate, too. So, that’s a nice conversion-oriented affiliate that I’d recommend. I mean, I did a presentation recently on my ten favorite tools – it’s out there [link]. But It’s not just the tool, you have to have a strategy behind it. And that goes with every digital marketing channel: your SEO, your PPC, your retargeting, your affiliates, your whatever – all have to have a strategy of growth on a monthly basis. And if you do that, you will grow the channels, and over time, that will grow revenue. It’s something I’ve proven. It’s proven when I’m involved, I can’t say for anyone else…
Dmitrii [39:05]: Yeah, I think the power of synergy (?) is underestimated. When you have 200 factors or moving parts, even if you grew five percent from each of them – the total effect would be great.
Even Weber [39:32]: Yeah, and that’s the same with the CRO tools. As you launch more CRO campaigns on the site, and they succeed – they compound on each other. So ultimately if you have ten winning CRO campaigns on your site, your website just went from 1% to 4% instead of 1% to 2%…
Eventually, it gets there, but it doesn’t happen overnight. In order to arrive where you want to arrive, you have to have a good process and strategy for all the channels. And a company on its own may not have the capacity to grow all those channels at once. That’s just the reality of it unless they have a team of ten or twenty people, then yeah, you have some people on PPC, some on SEO…
Or you can just bring on an agency like mine and we can do it all with the right tools and the right strategy.