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Bob Glazer is one of the most distinctive voices in performance marketing today. As Founder & Managing Director of Acceleration Partners, an affiliate and digital marketing agency, Glazer’s an ingenious thinker, entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and author of the 2017 book Performance Partnerships that sought to change perceptions commonly associated with affiliate marketing.

Through his book, Glazer seeks to demystify and elevate affiliate marketing — to view it through the broader lens of mutually beneficial partnerships. Glazer is also Founder and Managing Director, BrandCycle, a technology and services company that seeks to connect lifestyle retailers on a performance basis with content and influencer partners. In addition, he explores topics related to the nature of work, leadership, organizational development and change in his weekly newsletter Friday Forward.

We caught up with Bob earlier this month to find out what’s on his mind. The conversation was edited and condensed.   

Impact Radius: It’s been a year since you published your book, what’s changed in the performance marketing industry?

Bob Glazer: Change is slow. People who have read the book say it has helped change peoples’ perspectives of what affiliate marketing is and what it could be. People are buying it and using it for training, to understand what the industry is.

“Affiliate marketing has been misunderstood and underestimated.”

One of the problems is that affiliate marketing doesn’t operate as an industry, particularly in the U.S. I think the book has helped the discussion, it’s helped elevate performance partnerships. Affiliate marketing was something people didn’t want to talk about even though it can be 10% to 20% of sales.

The term affiliate marketing has been misunderstood and underestimated but at its core, affiliate marketing represents something overwhelmingly positive: paying only for marketing that delivers actual, quantifiable results.

IR: What specific changes need to occur in the affiliate space?

BG: The separation between platforms and services needs to continue. Everyone just needs to decide which side they’re on, it’s not a right or wrong. The largest brands increasingly want to run programs under their own brand. Whether that’s supplied by white label or SaaS, that’s the truth of the situation and people are reacting to the truth in different ways.

Brands want the technology but they don’t necessarily want the network component of it. Brands want to own the entire customer experience from end to end, so this is similar — they want to own the entire partner experience. When you’re talking about someone who’s bringing you their relationships, then one model makes sense. When you’re talking about doing this with the relationships you already have and you’re building a framework, then a different way of doing business is necessary.

“The growth will be from people seeing this as the digitization of business development.”

The growth will be from people seeing this as the digitization of business development and of partner development. But in order to do that, they have to think about it differently. This is a framework for how you can do business.

If you use the blockchain analogy — blockchain is a way people can trade with each other more securely without a centralized interface and it’s being applied in a whole lot of different ways. The affiliate framework of tracking, scaling, and paying relationships can also be applied in a lot of different ways other than how people are using it today.

IR: What are the big trends driving this business?

BG: I would say global, mobile, and attribution are the big trends. And e-commerce is giving way to consumer services.

“It’s really clear that brands want their programs to be global.”

It’s really clear that brands want their programs to be global and that will continue in 2018. Almost half of the clients we talk to have some sort of global or multi-market element to their programs. They’ve chosen a global platform or network, and they want help in different regions with their partner marketing programs. Global, on the services side of the business, doesn’t exist, though the perception of it does. The services world hasn’t kept up with the platform world in terms of global offerings. Acceleration Partners wants to work with large, complicated brands that are running truly global programs.

“A lot of our new clients are in the services and experiences space.”

With respect to e-commerce, millennials are buying experiences, not things — travel, food delivery, dating, financial services, etc. A lot of our new clients are in the services and experiences space. There are new types of insurance models, food delivery, experiences all across the board. A lot of e-commerce companies are struggling against Amazon, venture capital runs out, and it’s a tough war to win selling physical goods against Amazon. It’s not a game you want to play.

“We’re looking at voice search as a growth opportunity.”

With mobile, I think the majority of the publishers will have to have a mobile component or app publishers — so who we’re looking to work with on behalf of our programs changes. That’s what’s great about publishers — they innovate and evolve. I think there will be new types of publishing models. We’re looking at voice search as a growth opportunity — if you ask a voice device to buy you something, it’s going to offer you options and there could be an affiliate aspect behind that. 

On attribution, it’s a baseline assumption that not all affiliate sales are good sales. People are going to be looking at attribution and cross-channel [measurement] to try to determine the quality of revenue. They’ll make decisions on how the affiliate channel interacts with other channels. The affiliate channel isn’t going to be looked at in isolation.

IR: Looking back, what’s the one thing you wished you included in the book?

“This is a cash on delivery channel, you don’t need a budget with a fixed number.”

BG: I would have done a chapter on budgeting and financing for affiliate programs. Affiliate programs should have a cost of sale, not a budget. This is a cash on delivery channel, you don’t need a budget with a fixed number. But companies don’t know how to budget or plan for that, so they turn off their affiliate programs. The smartest clients see affiliate programs as a cash on delivery channel that you can’t budget for.

IR: What’s the plan for your next book?

BG: The next book will focus on the culture side of Acceleration Partners and building people up holistically, instead of just making people better at their jobs. Every business to me is two businesses and I think people are usually better at one or the other.

There’s your product, and how you run the business. A lot of people are so focused on the product but in doing that, they may not have a well-run company and eventually that becomes a problem — either the product doesn’t innovate or it becomes stale.

“Affiliate marketing is 50% people and relationships, and 50% technology.”

We’re really focused on having a great product but also being an operationally excellent place to work, a place where we develop leaders from within, where we drive innovation, and have a good culture. I think our ability to evolve our product is to attract good talent and leaders. Affiliate marketing is 50% people and relationships, and 50% technology.

IR: That’s a really interesting way to think about the business. What does that mean in practice?

BG: We’re trying to change the way people buy marketing and we’re also trying to change the way businesses operate. That’s always interested me. I think the industry has been very devoid of leadership. There haven’t been senior roles and little professional development. We’re trying to grow a company. My job is leading, it’s not managing and being tactical. I’m focused on next year’s business, Matt Wool, our General Manager, is focused on this year’s business. I’m focused on strategy and culture, planning, thought leadership and people, and the business of the business.

When you’re growing quickly as a company, you tend to break people and rather than having to constantly find new people, I’d rather find ways to grow the people we have to meet our needs. If a company is growing 40% to 50% a year, that means people have to get 50% better a year just to do their job well and that’s a really a hard thing to do when you think about it. And it breaks a lot of people. You can coach people to try and get better, you have to have those discussions, and you need to know who the types of people are who can grow with that, aren’t overwhelmed by that, and who want that.

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