Our success is a direct result of knowing how to market a brand and having the right people representing the brand. –  Greg Norman, golfer 

Lost among all the well known conferences going on in Vegas right now is the Affiliate Summit, a marketing conference for online affiliates and their networks.  So while on the other side of the highway, the Consumer Electronics Show, the Adult Video Network Consumer Show, and Internext take place, we are quietly having our annual meeting.

What is affiliate marketing?  Affiliate marketing is an Internet-based marketing practice in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer by paying them some kind of bounty or revenue share based upon performance.  Its the same as a large company hiring a bunch of sales people to get paid for selling their product and they will get a commission. 

I have been in this business since the late 1990s when I first left my comfortable consulting position to join the wild and fast internet retail industry.  I joined a company called Reel.com which 6 months later was bought by Hollywood Video.  When I first started, one of the key investors, a venture fund, asked if I could start an affiliate program similar to what Amazon.com did.  Brashly I said sure.  If they could do it for books, we could do it for VHS tapes and these new things called DVDs.  I rapidly built into the 4th largest program on the Web behind Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and CDNow.  With over 250,000 affiliates it was like being the sales manager of over 250,000 sales people.  Each had their own quirks.  Some wanted more money, some wanted more hand holding, some had problems with other affiliates creeping into their territory, etc.  In the physical world it is similar to managing an army of Mary Kay or Avon door to door salespeople or those who used to have Tupperware parties.

The main difference is that almost anyone can set up as an affiliate.  most people do this as a side hobby to collect a little cash, but the people at this concference are mostly professionals who make a living at it.  There are many kinds of organizations who are affiliates.  Coupon sites, Loyalty companies, Shopping sites, fan sites, donation sites, etc.

The big deal these days is how to capitalize on social media and turn your blogs and personal social media pages into pages of casual affiliation.  Affiliate arketing has always been about B2B2C (Business to business to consumer) or B2C (Business to consumer).  I think with social media it is about to change to B2B2C2C or B2C2C in such that you the consumer are hlping to virally sell to other consumers.  How’s that?  Well just think for example how you buy things today.  If you want to go see a movie or a a record or a book.  Many of you might read a review in the news or a magazine, but there are many who buy that record or book at the advice of a friend.  Our job is to find those affiliates who are tastemakers and pay them for their heartfelt recommendations. 

Well that at least is my personal take on where things are going.  The key is building the right technology and processes for making that happen in the online world.  The conference that I am attending does rev up my juices each year and helps to reenergize my batteries to keep pushing forward in a much forgotten and sometimes ignred part of the online advertising world.

This conference is led by two individuals, Missy Ward and Shawn Collins who act as stewards for awareness of the industry.  Missy is also an activist in the fight against breast cancer awareness and has a site to make sure people in our industry support the cause.  It is called Affiliate Marketers Give Back.  Each conference ends with a little fundraiser for a fight to “Save the boobies” as Missy likes to call it.