MAY 2009 – Affiliate conferences are always rife with a murmuring undercurrent of speculation on the state of the online gambling industry. The recent Amsterdam Affiliate Conference was no different, but from my point of view, there was a heightened mood of optimism in most every conversation I had in Western Europe’s Sin City.
Has a corner been turned in the iGaming affiliate world? Well, if the two days I spent at the RAI Centre were anything to go by, I would have to say yes. The key word has to be progression. Full marks to the guys at iGaming Business for this in my eyes. Having the conference outside of the city centre brought a more relaxed atmosphere and marginally fewer hangovers – in fact all my meetings happened on time!
One thing I have taken away from the latest conference – my first as an independent consultant – is the notion of an increasingly irrevocable role reversal in iGaming affiliate marketing. This touches on something that, in a roundabout way, I’ve been drumming up support for over the past year; essentially how affiliate marketing can dictate the course of gambling’s public reputation in sceptical markets.
At this stage I should probably elaborate on what I mean by a role reversal. What I’m beginning to see is a tangible education of the operator/affiliate program by, largely, super affiliates. Don’t get me wrong; there has always been a flow of information from affiliate to affiliate manager through to the operator’s board level, but in the past this has been somewhat transient and taken rather too sparsely by gaming operations, meaning that marketing strategies have not deviated from the accepted norm because of it.
Following a conversation with the guys at PokerStrategy.com, whose system is essentially ideal for operators looking to developing lapsed customer databases or wishing to cross sell to a poker product, my opinion is fixed that affiliates have the power not only to drive traffic and spark lapsed players in to helping the bottom line, but to change the focus of the bonus driven marketing that does so little to endear online gaming to the global public’s conscience.
That all being said, the PokerStrategy.com system allows speedy profit for both affiliate and poker room. Building the brand reputation of ‘online gambling’ using more critic friendly marketing strategies for most affiliates and programs will, generally speaking, not provide such immediate returns as this formula, or indeed existing practices, but will work to ensure the longevity of online gaming and establish an extended pattern of growth in the years to come. And it is the affiliate who can lead this.
“PokerStrategy.com has a phenomenal, unique system that includes a bonus offering”, I hear you say. Well – true, but the core focus of the site is on educating the player and the outbound link formats reflect this. This is something a lot of affiliate portals focus on, but at the end of the day, most banners and links on these sites focus on selling the product to a prospective customer using a bonus offer, normally with as yet unspecified wagering requirements. The aim of this piece is not to confront the possible deceit in this marketing tactic, but to address what the affiliate community can do to get away from this approach, which at some stage will stop being sustainable.
At present there are a lot of people making a shed load of money using bonuses to sell gaming products. The operators themselves are reaping the rewards, which goes a long way to substantiate why this strategy remains so popular. It’s been fantastic up until now, and will undoubtedly be so for another couple of years. With this debate in mind, affiliates have taken the view that profit sharing deals offer their business sustainability in the long term and that CPA payment options are very much the short term measures.
Certainly, this is a more than understandable approach to have taken, but the potential for affiliate marketing lies way beyond the prominent revenue share package available at almost every affiliate program. To hark back to my ongoing case study, the relationship that PokerStrategy.com has built with operators and poker networks puts this particular affiliate in a dominant position to mediate between operators encouraging them to demonstrate and promote a spirit of healthy competition, and to work to establish a balance in poker network ecology. In my eyes, PokerStrategy is working A2B (A=Affiliate!) to ensure that, along with their business, the future of B2C marketing is a bright one.
To define A2B marketing, the affiliate (or affiliate community) leads the operator (or operator community) to develop marketing strategy, encourage healthy competition and work on balancing market positions behind these strategies and ensuring they are interlinked rather than on top of one another. This will provide players with plenty of playing options to suit their needs and reduce the necessity for casinos and poker rooms to compete aggressively on bonus offers, if eventually at all. This would allow us to arrive at a position where the industry can ecologically grow as an entity and the affiliates can then promote differentiating products, selling them on a far more experiential level than a bonus-orientated flash banner ever could.
So how do affiliates construct this position? It’s all well and good lauding the direction that affiliates such as PokerStrategy and Casinomeister provide to operators. These are two of the most highly successful affiliate operations around, so naturally they’re more likely to be listened to than the average affiliate. On the immediate face of it, how would it be in the operator’s best interests to listen to every run of the mill affiliate and follow their lead?
As an initial step, affiliates need to focus more on their product and system. Many will have already taken the step to ensure that their site is differentiable from the next, but what they may not have done is focus on a new way to sell the products they are promoting. Writing page after page of content for players is all well and good, but if you’re simply going to sell a casino through a banner placement or listing its bonus offer, are you really providing the differentiation that many players are looking for? To be fair to you, players know what they know, and many are now well tuned in to the ‘fact’ that the poker room with the best bonus offer is the best choice for them. Selling a product like this doesn’t appeal to every player who hits an affiliate site, but more importantly, and with longevity in mind, the thought of even visiting the site doesn’t appeal to a hell of a lot more people thanks to the reputation online gambling commands, partly courtesy of this approach.
So what do you do as an affiliate? Pull down all those juicy bonus offer banners and remove those promo codes, no doubt reducing your next month’s revenue and causing you to drop down an affiliate program’s wine and dine list? As A2B marketing takes shape, the thought of doing precisely that may not be so farcical. However, this gradual thought development is the tricky bit and unquestionably requires some good old fashioned union work.
Naturally, I’m referring to our old friend, the affiliate community. This is also why the effects of the recent upheaval in and around the major affiliate forums and the eruption of new communities must be overcome. For the concept of A2B marketing to be successful, affiliates simply have to work together. If they are conversing on different forums and meeting at different trade shows, it will be nigh on impossible for a common goal to be agreed on, or even for a need for that goal to be realised.
Moreover, a unified affiliate community, brimmed full of super affiliates through to newbies, united by cohesive and constructive ideas is going to get the attention of a major operator, and subsequently the gaming community as a whole. And if a bandwagon is fully loaded, there is no reason why it shouldn’t ride roughshod over wider public notions of online gambling and change the way our industry is perceived internationally, meaning we can all continue to grow!
With the power that search engines give and courtesy of their SEO efforts, affiliates hold the gospel of information to spread to players, no matter the arguments and figures poker rooms, casinos and sportsbooks may front up. Affiliates must, as a community, look beyond what will eventually be unsustainable growth and step up as agents of change to lead operators (who let’s face it, have set-ups that would change direction like an cargo ship if left to their own devices – largely down to pure staff numbers and their insistence on pointing to past success) towards less self-consuming marketing strategies and a well-balanced industry that can grow in more diverse directions than promotional one-upmanship.
At some point in time, there will have to be an event that is stringently focused on formalising and carrying out this thought transition. It will, of course, be essential that the major players are singing from the same hymn sheet, which will never be easy to achieve, but why not give it a go?