At the time of our first event in 2004, Affiliate Marketing was still a new and emerging channel. Our CEO and GM attended the very first Affiliate Summit aboard a Carnival cruise ship for a five day cruise from New York City to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We had been in business for four years and this was a great opportunity to put a face to the other players in the space.
When Affiliate Summit put this cruise together, I believe it was the first and only event of its kind. So everyone was really excited to participate to be able to have personal face-to-face conversations about this new advertising channel.
Since all of our business was and is still primarily done online, there is not a price you can put on making a human connection and talking to your partners in-person.
The Value of Interaction
In the beginning, ShareASale participated in conferences as an attendee rather than an exhibitor. During that Affiliate Summing aboard the cruise in 2004, our CEO had the opportunity to take over a piano that was on deck. A group of people just organically gathered around as he entertained the guests with an impromptu sing-a-long. This random turn of events and unique talent that Brian has, make a big impact. I remember one now client relying to me that at the time she thought, “I don’t know who this guy is or what he does, but I want to do business with them!” Point is, don’t underestimate the impact that your unique talents or interests may have on others when making an introduction. The very things that make you uniquely you are what help others to remember their interaction with you, and likewise, how you will remember them!
In 2006 I attended my first Affiliate Summit in Las Vegas with ShareASale. This was also the first year we hosted a party, while at the conference, in order to gain a bit more visibility.
We quickly realized how much added value there was when we were able to essentially multiply our manpower and outreach by adding more conference visibility. So, just like that, we started to take advantage of conference sponsorship opportunities.
When the partnership is right, we find sponsorships to be immensely valuable. In addition to the added visibility we receive on the exhibit floor, we really appreciate the opportunity to present or lead a session. Primarily our interest here is not to hard-sell our business. But rather, we want to be an ambassador for Affiliate Marketing.
Some tactics we have found to be effective in helping Bloggers learn more about how to leverage Affiliate Marketing are one-on-one consultations. Our Blogger Liaison will personally review the Blogger’s website and provide feedback on where and how they could use Affiliate Marketing in their sites to better monetize. We will also provide Merchant recommendations based on each individual Blog. We also come to each conference with a variety of resources and materials that can be reviewed and referenced after the fact.
Each year, we host our own Think Tank. We also participate in about a dozen other industry related events throughout the year including those specific to Affiliate Marketing, ecommerce, digital marketing, and blogging. The information for registration to Think Tank is posted on our blog at blog.ShareASale.com. Or, as the event nears, agenda and registration information will be posted to ShareASale.com/thinktank.
For Think Tank, we typically try to offset as much of the cost as possible so that this can be a very affordable event for Bloggers. We want to make a low barrier to entry so the Bloggers can really get the most out of the event without worrying about budgetary constraints.
Building Relationships to Help Grow Business
One of the biggest differentiators would probably be the way we design the event agenda. It is 100% focused on making connections, building relationships, and helping to grow business for all attendees.
We do this in a few ways. First, we keep the attendee list pretty limited for Think Tank by design. This allows us to have functions that let all the attendees genuinely get to know each other and make meaningful connections. Also, the size gives it a more intimate feel so it is easier for attendees to break the ice and strike up conversation.
Second, we try to keep Think Tank very affordable for Bloggers. Think Tank 2016, for example, was $100 to register. 50% of that registration fee was refunded once the Blogger checked in! Thank Tank 2016 also featured a new initiative where the Bloggers had a chance to earn prizes from Retailers by participating in an auction-like event where the “bids” were activity commitments. So affordable AND there was also the chance to win great prizes!
Third, a large part of the agenda of Think Tank is focused on setting up one-on-one meetings between the Blogger and the Retailers. This helps to ensure that the Blogger is able to make that personal connection and find the representative for the brand they most wanted to speak with.
Finally, we do offer educational sessions as well, but we survey the attendees ahead of time. Based off the responses and preferences outlined in the survey results, we craft the sessions accordingly. We also always include a “Things we need to fix” session at the end of the conference. This is an opportunity for our CEO to be in the hot seat and take any questions, concerns, and kindly worded complaints that our clients have about the platform. There is no better way to improve your product than by asking the clients directly!
Our whole goal and mission with Think Tank is to make it possible for every Blogger and Merchant to have the chance to connect and find ways to do business together in the future. We find that with this as our primary focus, it makes the event the most successful for everyone and is incredibly rewarding for us to see on a personal level. This is why we continue to bring Think Tank back each year.
From a Blogger perspective, the biggest game changer can be just meeting the Affiliate Program Managers in person. Brand contacts may change over time, but if you are able to connect with the manager, they will likely be able to provide you with VIP perks that are not available to all members of the program. They can also give the Blogger insider information about what’s going on and coming up for the brand. This could include insight on new product releases or best sellers. Having that kind of information from the brand can be a game changer for Bloggers in helping them to know when and what to focus on in their posts.