There are a few people in this industry that I love. Brian Littleton, Founder and President of Shareasale is one of them. Despite his incredibly hectic schedule, he allowed me time to ask him some questions to help us understand him more as a person and reflect on a few key issues faced by our industry today.
Q. Please tell us about the success of your last Think Tank. Was it as you expected? Better? Worse? What were your personal favorite parts?
Think Tank was a lot different than last year, for a number of reasons – the most of which was that last year we tried to “mix it up” and make it an open event for anyone to register. This year we went back to a little bit of the old formula in invitation only, and a little more stepped up on the amenities, etc.. We also shared a week with Affiliate Summit in Austin (their event, Affiliate Summit Central, took place a few days prior to ours) which brought a whole new element to our event and introduced a lot of people that would otherwise not have known about it. From a business perspective, it was a huge success as we had a number of wonderful presentations, great feedback, and I know a lot of Affiliates were introduced to some great Merchants while we were there. From a fun perspective it was one of my favourites especially with the Lake Travis day, boating, jet skis, etc… As you know, our event is about relaxed, casual networking which is how we feel so many of these bonds are formed between Merchants and Affiliates… I was extremely happy with how the event played out. A great new addition was the Affiliate Summit Party which was thrown on our “off night” by Shawn Collins and Missy Ward – it was a top notch event and really added a great element to our agenda… hopefully we can do that again!
Q. Attribution is a major topic these days and one that’s going to become more important over the years. What would you suggest to new and intermediate level merchants in order to understand this area more clearly?
From the Affiliate Marketing perspective, there are two important points to remember.
1. If you use Shareasale, attribution can be customized and is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Our tracking software allows you to segment groups of Affiliates, setup rules to commission them differently based on multiple click points (not just the last click), and allows you to commission differently if the traffic was touched or influenced by another marketing channel. I would highly recommend any ShareASale Merchant taking a long look at these capabilities to make sure that commissioning is happening just the way they want.
2. Affiliates are compensated on sales only, and those commissions can be taken away in the case of voids. This is unique to any other marketing channel being used… for example, you can’t call up a search company and ask for your PPC expenses back when an order is cancelled. This needs to be taken into consideration when dealing with the issue of attribution. I hear often that Merchants are concerned with Affiliates being commissioned on orders that actually came from somewhere else. This is certainly something to research and a legitimate concern, but there is also a lot of leakage as well as reversals that act as a balance.
Q: Shareasale has a reputation for being an "ethical" affiliate network, which comes with ensuring affiliate compliance as much as possible. What are some of the things you do to ensure affiliates are being as honest as possible?
To start out it is part of our mission to work to make the affiliate channel a valuable channel for Merchants. Once you set that as a true goal, it is easier to make decisions on what types of promotion fit within that goal set. I don’t use words like “ethical” to describe our business practices because it implies that others are unethical and that isn’t our position. We wish to setup our policies so that Merchants see value in our network, see that we are honestly trying to help them and grown their business, and see that we don’t put ourselves in positions where conflict of interest can complicate things. Affiliate compliance is a huge piece of affiliate marketing right now, and it takes a concerted effort between the Merchant and their Network to get it done.
Q: Who is your personal hero or someone you look up to?
I look up to dreamers – probably the simplest way to put that. Whether it is an athlete, artist, entrepreneur… whatever the dream might be. It takes courage, imagination, and a ton of work to be a dreamer and those are the people that I would say most inspire me when I hear their stories.
Q: What is your favorite thing about this industry and what would you like to see changed?
Favourite is definitely the amount of diversity and imagination in our industry. I’ve worked in the industry for some 12 years or so and still have conversations everyday that amaze me. The people who make up our industry have so much collective knowledge and creativity, it is truly great to watch and be a part of. The part I would like changed the most is definitely the apathy factor. Our industry faces a lot of collective challenges – the Affiliate Tax is the most obvious of these – and despite efforts from a lot of good people, we haven’t yet been able to really inspire industry involvement from the majority of the industry. That is Affiliates, Merchants – and others. There are so many common challenges that it would really be great to see our industry stand up a little for ourselves, as a group. It’s definitely something that I’ll be working on for the next few years quite a bit – so if you are reading this and want to get involved in trying to solve some industry issues, definitely shoot me an email! It isn’t something that can be accomplished by one group, but it is something that could benefit from any individuals participation.
If you'd like to contact Brian directly, he can be reached at brian(at)shareasale.com.
As always, thanks for your time Brian. It's always an absolute pleasure!