More than a year ago, Todd Crawford created quite a stir in the affiliate community when he departed Commission Junction, a company he helped found in 1998. He emerged at Digital River’s oneNetworkDirect as its vice president of sales and business development, where he oversees affiliate recruitment and development, has profit and loss responsibility, and develops the technology road map and overall strategic direction for the company.
Although Digital River is headquartered in Minnesota, Crawford lives and works just south of Santa Barbara in Ventura, California, where he can ride his motorcycles and drink the local wine in Southern California’s year-round sunshine.
During his tenure at CJ, he was the vice president of sales. His main responsibility was new advertiser acquisition, but he also handled other business initiatives including industry relations and CJ’s international expansion in Europe and Asia.
Revenue’s Senior Writer Alexandra Wharton asked Crawford about a variety of topics including why an affiliate program for the software industry makes sense, the constantly evolving affiliate industry and the making of industry legends.
Alexandra Wharton: oneNetworkDirect is part of Digital River. How do the two entities fit together?
Todd Crawford: oneNetworkDirect is Digital River’s online affiliate network – a network that specializes in providing Digital River software publishing clients with affiliate marketing services and technologies as well as access to a channel of more than 70,000 affiliates.
AW: What is the reason to start an affiliate network for only software products?
TC: Since 1994, Digital River has focused on e-commerce and the digital delivery of software products, so it was a logical progression to launch an affiliate network focusing on these types of products to help our clients drive more sales.
AW: Has this been a long-standing opportunity or is it the result of changes in the marketplace?
TC: With broadband penetration where it is today, more and more consumers are opting to download their software purchases, and I believe this trend is only going to continue to increase. Affiliates can benefit several ways from offering digital downloads: 1) When sold online, downloads have a lower cost of goods than physical products, which means there are more margins to pay affiliates higher commissions; 2) software is a natural fit for affiliates to promote since the computers consumers are using to shop online run on software; and 3) consumers can begin using the software as soon as the download is complete, so affiliates do not have to wait for physical products to ship before receiving their commissions.
AW: During the eight years that you’ve been in the industry, what are some of the most significant changes that happened in affiliate marketing?
TC: The first thing that comes to mind is how much the entire industry has matured. In 1998, affiliate marketing was a great idea but did not generate significant revenue because most companies did not take it seriously. From 1998 to 2002, it seemed like affiliate marketing was trying to earn its wings as a legitimate marketing channel. Fortunately, the dot-com bomb accelerated this shift as it forced companies to make smarter decisions on how to spend their marketing budgets and eventually moved affiliate marketing to the front of the line.
The next big change was the emergence of search arbitrage. I remember the day we were doing some networkwide analysis on recent unexplained growth trends and saw a lot of referring URLs coming from Google and Overture. We looked into it deeper and figured out what was going on. It seemed like such a simple idea that obviously was working very well. Today of course, search arbitrage is a huge part of affiliate marketing. I believe that the success and popularity of paid search today is due to the early innovators in affiliate marketing.
AW: Over the next year, what are some of the biggest challenges facing oneNetworkDirect?
TC: The greatest challenge is taking advantage of all the opportunities in front of us. We have been growing at a tremendous rate since we launched in November 2005. During the past six months, we have made great progress on the affiliate interface, reporting and tool set. Prior to Affiliate Summit in Las Vegas, we re-branded and launched a new home page at www.oneNetworkDirect. com. We have a road map of new features and functionality and have been doing regular releases. During the past year, we have created more affiliate mindshare, which is also attracting more attention and interest in oneNetworkDirect. Some of our affiliates have found great success as part of our network and we are hoping that their success stories will drive even more interest in the industry.
AW: How many merchants are in your network?
TC: Currently there are more than 50 programs in oneNetworkDirect, including programs from leading publishers of digital products and software applications. We typically add several new programs each month.
AW: How many affiliates are in your network?
TC: More than 70,000 affiliates have signed up to participate in oneNetworkDirect.
AW: Can you talk about how you will focus on recruiting and developing affiliate relationships?
TC: Affiliate recruitment and development is our primary focus at oneNetworkDirect. We have a dedicated affiliate development team. Half of the team is responsible for recruiting new affiliates, and the other half of the team is responsible for managing top-performing af- filiate relationships. I recognized years ago that world-class affiliate service is the key to growing a network. We are very active at trade shows where we attract new affiliates and further develop our relationships with existing affiliates. This year we will be exhibiting at the Af- filiate Summit conferences in Las Vegas, Miami and London; Ad:Tech in Paris, London, San Francisco, Chicago and New York; eComXpo; SES; and at Digital River-hosted client events around the world.
AW: Can you explain what oneNetworkDirect’s product, trialTracker, does?
TC: trialTracker is a new conversion-monitoring technology that allows affiliates to promote “try before you buy” versions of software titles by integrating the affiliate ID dynamically into the download. Because the affiliate ID is actually in the software trial, any subsequent upgrades to paid versions will be credited to the affiliate that initiated the trial download. It is a great product offering because many software titles offer free virus or security scans that require the consumer to pay for the product to resolve any identified issues. Affiliates can offer something valuable and free for their users to try out and benefit from the eventual paid upgrades. trialTracker is exclusive to oneNetworkDirect.
AW: What are some of the incentives oneNetworkDirect has in place to attract top affiliates?
TC: oneNetworkDirect has several incentives that are designed to both attract and retain affiliates. Like most affiliate networks, we encourage all of our merchants to offer coupons and promotions to affiliates, including exclusive coupons for select affiliates. These coupon links can be accessed when searching for creative by type through the af- filiate interface. We also list promotions and other program-specific opportunities on our blog, which can be accessed at our website. Affiliates also can find a list of current coupons from top programs on the oneNetworkDirect site. In addition, we offer networkwide promotions on a regular basis. Currently we are offering the oneNetworkDirect Rewards Program that pays up to an additional 2.5 percent when affiliates achieve certain goals or thresholds. For more details, affiliates should visit our site.
AW: Can you tell me about oneNetworkDirect’s Achievers’ program?
TC: The oneNetworkDirect Achievers Program is targeted to our topperforming and high-potential affiliates. Through the Achievers program, affiliates are offered dedicated account management resources to help them gain access to special creative, offers, promotions and custom landing pages as well as receive help obtaining approvals for certain promotional opportunities, such as email or paid search. The Achievers Program also provides affiliates with special perks and opportunities tailored for this exclusive group, including VIP passes to conferences, free software and dedicated marketing dollars for individual bonuses and promotions. Affiliates can learn more about how to become a member and benefit from all the perks of the oneNetworkDirect Achievers Program on our website.
AW: What are some of the long-term goals for the company?
TC: To further increase the value we provide our clients, two important areas of focus for Digital River will be the continued expansion of our global footprint and strategic marketing services. In the end, we are committed to driving pay-for-performance results for our clients.
AW: In three years, what will the performance marketing space look like?
TC: What makes affiliate marketing interesting is the constant innovation and change. Just like with paid search, affiliates are eager to explore and take advantage of new opportunities. Right now, Web 2.0 is the big trend. Three years from now it will be something else.
AW: At CJ you were sort of the face and voice of the company in the affiliate space. Do you feel you have the same level of influence over the community in your role at oneNetwork Direct?
TC: I continue to play a very active role in the industry. I have a network of people that I interact with on a regular basis and we all influence each other. At oneNetworkDirect, we have an active trade show schedule, we frequently participate on panels and speak at industry events, contribute to blogs like ReveNews and ABestWeb and regularly meet face-to-face with affiliates, technology providers and marketers in the affiliate community.
AW: At January’s Affiliate Summit, you won the 3rd Annual Wayne Porter Affiliate Marketing Legend award. Rumor has it that you won because you are always willing to share your knowledge. Why do you think that’s important in this industry?
TC: If you want a young industry to grow, you can’t keep a lot of secrets. I like to talk to people about things I feel passionate about – and affiliate marketing is something I feel very passionate about. I’ve found that some of the best ideas come from open dialogue and conversations with other people. It’s by working together that we can build and develop the best ideas and solutions.
AW: In your opinion who else is a legend in the affiliate space?
TC: That is a tough question because there are so many people who have contributed to this industry to get it where it is today. I know developers, program managers, affiliates and other network executives who have worked very hard while keeping their heads down and consequently have not been in the industry spotlight to get the recognition they deserve.