As the CEO of TradeDoubler – a Swedish performance network with a vast European presence – William Cooper has his eye on global expansion. TradeDoubler, with its local offices in 15 countries across Europe, is known as the biggest affiliate marketing network in the U.K. Cooper was appointed president and CEO in March of 2007, riding a wave of first-quarter revenue for 2007, up 30 percent. Previously, Cooper, a six-year veteran of TradeDoubler, was COO of the company for a year. Before that, he oversaw the company’s U.K. operations. Currently, TradeDoubler claims a network of more than 100,000 website publishers and has more than 1,000 advertisers across Europe, including a mix of local and international companies such as Apple Store, Dell, TeliaSonera, eBay and Kelkoo. Revenue Senior Editor Eric Reyes asked Cooper about affiliate marketing in Europe and the rise of globalization in an ever-shrinking business world.
ERIC REYES: Since the Sweden-based parent company seemed to launch its affiliate network almost simultaneously across Europe in 2000, was affiliate marketing considered a risky business back then?
WILLIAM COOPER: It was risky from the perspective that it was untried and untested across Europe; it was a concept that was almost completely unheard of. However, it had clearly gained some notable success in the U.S., and this gave us the confidence to succeed in Europe.
ER: Compare the opportunities and volume of affiliate marketing in the U.K. with its popularity in the U.S.
WC: I think it would be foolish of me to think that I knew enough about the market in the U.S. to make a direct comparison. However, with regard to the U.K. it is a very competitive market, and affiliate marketing is generally perceived as one of the most valuable digital marketing channels, and definitely the most cost efficient. It is held in high regard by the majority of e-commerce players.
ER: Do you run a network in Europe differently than you would in the U.S.?
WC: There are many more complexities to running an affiliate network in Europe compared to the U.S. In Europe we have to deal with different languages, cultures, tax regulations, currencies and constantly changing rates of Internet, e-commerce and broadband penetration. All this means that the need for local people in all the markets in which we operate is essential.
ER: Tell us a little about the growth of TradeDoubler UK. Have you been surprised by the interest in the affiliate space in the U.K.?
WC: No, we haven’t been surprised. We believe that we have been part of the process of raising the level of awareness and the importance in this channel. We have positioned it as “premium” channel and not a mere commodity. Affiliate marketing, if performed correctly, can be a dominant driver of e-commerce for any advertiser, so it is right that it is so well-respected.
ER: As affiliate networks become more international, are you seeing competition from U.S. firms such as Commission Junction or LinkShare, and what are you doing to keep your lead?
WC: Commission Junction has always been present in the U.K. market since we have been here. They are a very good competitor and we hold them in high regard. At present we don’t see the presence of Link- Share in our markets to any great degree but they are clearly a ver y knowledgeable and successful player outside of Europe, so it will be interesting to see how they try to gain market share in this already- competitive market.
ER: Is TradeDoubler planning to enter the U.S. market, and what would the challenges be?
WC: There are no plans at this stage.
ER: What are the regulatory and legal challenges of setting up networks in so many different European countries?
WC: There are numerous regulatory and legal challenges of setting up in all these markets. I will not make it easier for our competition by naming them!
ER: Would you consider TradeDoubler more publisher-focused than your U.S. counterparts? Why is that better?
WC: It is too difficult for us to sense that. I believe that we are more publisher-focused than most of our competitors and I believe that this is one reason for our success.
ER: Are there U.S. competitors entering your market that give you cause for concern, and why or why not?
WC: At the moment they do not give us concern, as it is a very competitive market. I just hope that players entering this market respect where we have tried to position the product since 2000. This is not just a technology play; there is much greater value that we can add as network operators to ensure an affiliate program fulfills its potential and reaches the expectations of the advertisers.
ER: What are the concerns of your U.K. merchants? Do they worry about the same things U.S. merchants fret about – trademark bidding, brand management, quality affiliates, etc.?
WC: I think they all worry about very similar types of issues. I would like to think that TradeDoubler is very proactive in trying to address these concerns, many of which can be easily managed.
ER: Are there plans to enter the Asian and Indian markets?
WC: There are no specific plans at this stage.
ER: Do your U.K. affiliates do business outside of Europe, such as with America or China? What percentage? Is it encouraged or are there stumbling blocks?
WC: Some of our U.K. affiliates work outside the U.K. and in our other European networks. We actively encourage it and there are some great revenue opportunities for them in these emerging markets. We help them address any legal issues that they might face, but in general it is an easy process for publishers wanting to work in multiple markets.
ER: Do you think specializing in certain vertical markets in the U.S. would benefit a European network?
WC: There are various ways to approach a mature market like the U.S., and becoming a vertical specialist is definitely one of them. However, the ultimate aim for any network should be to cover as many sectors as possible. This is driven by the fact that we all have interests covering many different sectors, and therefore a publisher that can deliver good results in consumer electronics can also deliver effectively across other sectors as well.
ER: Is there special technology TradeDoubler uses to track and monitor transactions and affiliates? Does technology play a role in serving geographically specific content?
WC: We developed our own proprietary technology back in 1999 and we constantly update and refine that technology. We have separate affiliate networks in all the 18 markets in which we operate; therefore, we don’t need to rely only on technology to target a specific region.
ER: What qualities make up a really good publisher?
WC: A strong publisher in the affiliate world must have a well-defined target audience, i.e., one that is interested in a particular market sector such as travel or financial services. This is why credit card comparison sites, for instance, work well. The audience is visiting with a specific aim in mind and the site is fulfilling their expectations. A loyal user base is also essential – publishers will earn more if they don’t have to buy all of their traffic. They must also have good content to allow them to feature highly in the natural search rankings. The site owner obviously has to be Web-savvy, knowing what links will work well in what place, what affiliate links work better in some places than others and they should complement rather than compete with other advertising that they’re running. The best publishers have open minds and strong ideas of what they’re looking to achieve.
ER: What qualities make up a really good merchant?
WC: A good merchant is prepared to invest time and resources into their affiliate program. As well as ensuring that their website is functioning well with a clear customer journey and reasonable conversion rate before launching a program, there are many factors which will help to ensure that their program does well. A good merchant is committed to building longterm relationships and trust with publishers. They communicate regularly with their publishers to keep them informed about all upcoming activity and will often communicate directly with top performers. They will set commission rates at the right level to ensure publishers are incentivized to promote their program while still ensuring they receive cost-effective returns. They regularly update creative and ensure that it is engaging and sales-focused. They respect their publishers and pay them on time!
ER: While online gambling is a big no-no in the U.S., gambling sites in the U.K. are OK. What types of sites do TradeDoubler frown on and why?
WC: TradeDoubler does not work with any sites featuring dubious content such as violence or pornography.
ER: Are there any new ways to monetize performance marketing?
WC: One example of how the model has adapted in response to advertiser and publisher demands is demonstrated through the pay-per-call concept. At TradeDoubler we have developed a pay-per-call product called td Talk, which enables companies to advertise more complex products online, which may require a telephone conversation to complete the sale (insurance products for example), and pay for the telephone calls that are generated. This model is also appealing to smaller companies that may not have a website of their own but want the opportunity to use the reach of the Internet to market their products or services. On the publisher side, they can ensure that they receive commissions for calls that were generated as a result of advertising on their site.
ER: AOL’s recent attempt to buy TradeDoubler’s Swedish parent failed. Is this good for TradeDoubler UK or bad?
WC: This does not impact on the performance of TradeDoubler UK in any way.