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Affiliate network Awin interviews Nadeem Azam in their blog

On the 20th anniversary of our founding, Europe’s leading affiliate network Awin has interviewed our CEO, Nadeem Azam.

The interviewer asks Nadeem:

  • how affiliate marketing has evolved over the last two decades
  • the developments that have been pivotal to Azam Marketing’s success
  • the three most important lessons he’s learned during his career
  • the biggest challenges Azam Marketing faces
  • what a start-up publisher needs to do to succeed

Read the full, eye-opening interview below or a shortened version here on Awin’s site.

Azam Marketing is a publisher and full-service digital marketing and design company which is headquartered in Covent Garden in central London.

Azam Marketing started their affiliate journey in 1997 by building a network of niche websites promoting advertisers in the USA, UK and continental Europe, becoming an affiliate on the Awin network in 2001.

Having built up an expertise in online advertising and web design by working on their own websites, Azam Marketing went on to provide these services to other businesses. To date they have built 427 websites and helped 993 clients to grow their online presence.

We speak to CEO, Nadeem Azam about how the affiliate industry has evolved over the past two decades, lessons learnt from his career and the biggest challenges Azam Marketing faces within the industry.

Nadeem Azam at Awin's black-tie dinner event "An Elaborate Execution" in 2009Congratulations are in order as Azam Marketing celebrates 20 years within the affiliate marketing industry and 16 years on the Awin network. What was your opinion of the affiliate space when you founded the company in 1997?

Thank you. Affiliate marketing was all but non-existent in the UK and the rest of Europe and we started off by partnering with advertisers in the USA. This included the likes of book and magazine retailers, hardly any of which exist anymore either because, at some point or other, they went out of business or were snapped up by other companies.

When we started in 1997 there were a few American affiliate networks that had recently launched. We belonged to around a dozen affiliate programs, either working with advertisers directly or via the nascent affiliate networks.

When we applied to join advertisers’ affiliate programs, we would sometimes have to fax or post our details!

To receive payment, we would usually email or fax an invoice, and in most cases our affiliate commissions were paid to us by “check”, as they’re called in the USA.

Although the set-up, technologies and know-how was rudimentary in the early days, there was a tremendous sense of optimism about this new world that only a relatively few buccaneering entrepreneurs were trying to develop an understanding of and grow a presence in.

With its roots in the military and academia, the internet was not a particularly commercial environment in the mid-1990s and that meant there was a meaningful camaraderie and sense of community. For example, programmers on the other side of the world I hardly knew would see me post on a Usenet group about struggling with creating a script to add functionality to a website and, without even asking, spend an hour or two creating it and then sending it to me! In the same mode, I would spend hours on bulletin boards and Usenet groups assisting people to build and promote their websites.

Has this opinion changed two decades on?

Boy have things changed! Twenty years in internet marketing has probably involved more transformation than a hundred years in many professions like law, dentistry and high street retailing.

Whereas it was a struggle to find an affiliate program in the UK and around Europe, there are literally tens of thousands nowadays. Things have turned upside down and nowadays it’s a challenge to find a medium or large size retailer that doesn’t have an affiliate program!

Affiliate networks like Awin are now full of shiny, sophisticated tools and API solutions. Payments are automated and, on the whole, reliable: I can’t remember a single point in the last ten years when Awin has missed a payment to us.

Despite the brave new cyberworld that has come into being, we are still at the dawn of the internet revolution. Affiliate marketing is at an early stage of its evolution, and has a way to go to ensure, for instance, that tracking is robust and dependable.

Which key digital milestones have significantly shaped Azam Marketing’s business strategy to make it the company it is today?

Good question.

From a practical perspective, the shift first from high-cost and low-speed dial-up to low-cost and high-speed dial-up and then from dial-up to broadband, has been a key pillar in enabling Azam Marketing, our advertisers and their customers to enjoy the benefits of the internet.

If it takes you twenty seconds of screeching sounds to log onto the internet and then you have to pay an arm and a leg for a flaky 56k connection, you’re not going to use it very often!

In terms of improvements instigated internally, we pivoted to success when we started running Azam Marketing as a data-driven operation on every level rather than one where decisions were made using a more arbitrary, ‘creative’ approach let’s just say! Now the judgements my team and I make are based on pure logic, obsessively analysing relevant information and metrics.

To give an example, whenever we are hired to drive leads for a new advertiser, rather than rushing headlong into trying to flood them with traffic, we use a combination of tools and manual research to meticulously study every aspect of their competitor’s strategies and, if we are sending leads to landing pages, we will take the pages through several rounds of usability analysis and split-testing before we settle on the final, near-perfect one.

I suppose the fact that my nose is glued to a computer screen with the likes of Microsoft Excel and Google Analytics displayed on it much of the day makes Azam Marketing a less exciting enterprise than we used to be in the early days, but I have learned a lot over my decades in business, and the data-driven approach to decisions means ultimately less time and money is wasted in the long-term.

Name the three most important lessons you have learnt during your career as Founder and CEO of an award-winning global agency?

1. The Customer is King – after the startup enthusiasm wanes, the majority of unsuccessful businesses eventually begin to be run to service the egos of their staff and ensure they don’t have to take themselves too much outside of their comfort zones. The vast majority of successful businesses put the satisfaction of customers at front and centre of everything they do, even decades after starting out.

I am flabbergasted at how the management of hardly any small or medium-sized enterprise bothers to obtain feedback from their clients, customers and employees. It’s usually only when a client or colleague leaves that it dawns upon them they were disgruntled!

In my own company, at the end of every month every staff member has to give me feedback as their Manager and must include at least one thing I should improve about myself. I have also set-up mechanisms for staff and clients to send their opinions to me completely anonymously. This ensures I don’t have my head in the clouds and can live up to the mantra my staff are sick of hearing me proselytise, of the customer being king.

2. Time is Money – the world is full of people who want you to help them and their businesses for no remuneration, whereas they would seldom commit serious time, energy and money to assisting others on a pro bono basis themselves.

I have wasted thousands of hours over the years by foolishly getting sucked into working on other people’s initiatives to the detriment of my own progression. I have finally developed a nose for sussing out ‘users’ and ‘time-wasters’ and will not give them the time of day any more.

It’s saving me a lot of time, as, for instance, I get contacted by at least twenty so-called entrepreneurs every week who want me and my team to work on their new-fangled and usually ill-thought-out business ventures on a ‘revenue share’ – i.e. no payment – basis (tip: the best way to get rid of such people is to ask for their business plan – 99% of them can’t be bothered to create one and you’ll never hear from them again!).

3. Health is Wealth – if you are not physically, psychologically and spiritually balanced and healthy, unless you have an innate talent which most of us are not blessed with, you are unlikely to succeed in business in the long-term.

The online marketing industry we work in can combine the worst excesses that advertising is renowned for (the hard drinking culture and the like) with the dangers prevalent in the IT sector (long days sat on a chair, excessive snacking while on the computer). Among affiliates, we used to joke about the “affiliate belly” this would result in.

I’ve seen too many talented young people in affiliate marketing not live up to their potentials because they didn’t look after themselves. They have made very little progression with their careers over ten or fifteen years; others have left the industry because their unbalanced lifestyles eventually took their tolls on them.

On the other hand, I’ve witnessed individuals I’ve mentored who did look after themselves go on to tremendous success – earning six figure incomes in their early and mid-thirties – because not only did they work with exceptional strategy and focus, but they heeded my advice to prioritise their health too. These people do not turn up to the office boasting about having a hangover that impedes their performance.

I myself walk at least 10,000 steps four days a week, go to the gym three times a week, eat healthily, and practice mindfulness and pray every day; were it not for these I would almost certainly have burned up and been spat out by this demanding industry a long time ago.

I still spend way too much time with Marilyn (my PC) than is good for me and that penchant is a work in progress let’s just say!

What is the biggest challenge Azam Marketing faces within the industry?

The three biggest challenges we see as an affiliate are, firstly, the dominance of cashback and voucher code websites and browser plugins, secondly, the shift from desktop to mobile, and thirdly, ad and tracking blockers.

In terms of the former, Azam usually sits as the beginning of the funnel for purchasing decisions as we have a network of content-rich websites, with, for instance, book reviews. While we may encourage someone to buy a book, it can be the case that another affiliate receives the commission by claiming they have a voucher code for the bookshop (even though in most cases they don’t) and the ‘click-to-reveal’ feature on their website – banned by the IAB UK in 2010 – drops their cookie.

In terms of mobile devices, a significant ratio of advertisers still don’t have tracking installed that reliably tracks affiliate traffic on mobiles. Also, many larger retailers, gaming companies etc. are aggressively encouraging users to download their mobile apps, which means affiliates will have less of an opportunity to earn referral commissions going forward.

As for ad and tracking blockers, which are being installed in their millions by the month around the world, including being integrated into increasing numbers of browsers, these are obviously a threat to affiliates as they mean adverts are hidden and any clicks users make from an affiliate to an advertiser’s website is not tagged back to affiliate.

You are 20 years into your affiliate marketing career, but for startup publishers starting out within the channel, what is the future looking like and what advice can you give?

Despite what I have stated as my answer to your previous question, the opportunities to become a successful publisher are very much there.

When Azam Marketing launched, most people didn’t even know what the internet was and, even when people started going online, they were very hesitant to provide their credit card details to any website, as they were worried about being scammed.

Over the last twenty years internet shopping has become mainstream to such an extent that it is driving high street retailers out of business, and, even in mature markets, is expanding at such a rate that ecommerce was responsible for 41.6% of all retail sales growth in the USA last year (2017 US Department of Commerce figures)!

Therefore, the opportunity for start-up publishers to become profitable are tremendous. The formula is simple: a nose for where the opportunities will lie, the willingness to work in a focused and sagacious way, and… a little bit of pixie dust!

World's Earliest Surviving Digital Marketing and Design Agency Celebrates Landmark 20th Birthday

As part of the commemorations marking our twentieth anniversary this month, I serve for your delectation twenty of the most curious, odd and downright insane episodes I’ve experienced compèring The Azam Marketing Show over the last two decades.

This blog post features the first ten incidences, covering the decade from 1997 to 2007. This was our start up phase when, first as a one-man band and then with a burgeoning number of freelance staff (the inhouse bods would come later), I struggled to pan for gold in the Wild West that was the nascent world wide web.

Some dotcom entrepeneurs I knew did find gold, made millions and brilliantly exited before the dotcom crash; the vast majority (including myself in the early days) struggled to even make as much as the kid flipping burgers in their local McDonalds.

There were few rules and almost anything went. It was brutal and it was fun.

Behind the cool, calm and sane exterior that most people try to exude in business, in the early days of the internet it often felt the battle to become the Zeus of the cyber-world was akin to competing in the Wacky Races:

From one to ten, here goes:

1. When I was researching (fro  su er 1996 to su er 1997) and launching (on 4 August 1997) the business, believe it or not I often did so on a keyboard on which the ‘ ‘ key didn’t work!

At the ti e I was e ployed as a journalist (and doing about four other jobs) for a co unity agazine in We bley, north London. The organisation was in dire financial straits and ridiculously badly run, so they couldn’t afford to buy  e a fully functioning keyboard.

Whether it was writing articles for the agazine, progra ing  y websites, or scripting the content for  y web pages, I would farcically do so without an ‘ ‘ in anything. Whenever the Deputy Editor went on his lunch-break or left work for the day, I scrurried over to his co puter with a disc, loaded up whatever I had been coding or writing, and then would go through the copy line-by-line painstakingly adding all the  issing ‘ ‘s!

You may see my 1990-built Apple Macintosh Classic in the first row of pictures, on the right, in this video we have recently released showing twenty images from our twenty years in business:

2. I spent a long stretch juggling two balls – being a scribe for the magazine and rearing Baby Azam. I would churn out articles for the publication from 9am to 7pm, at such volume that the Editor used three nom de plumes for my output, and then remain in the office, after everyone had left, to use the one computer which had an internet connection (alongside, praise the Lord, a functioning ‘m’ key) to build my business. I would usually be tapping away on the keyboard until 1 am.

I had found a shabby old mattress in a cupboard in the office block where the magazine was based and would drag it into the middle of our office and drop it down. Surrounded by desks and computers and with press releases from around the world churning out of the fax machine which was positioned near my head, I would sleep from 1am until 6am-ish.

After breakfast and shaving in the toilets, I would then spend another couple of hours working on my venture until the staff waltzed into the office.

3. I eventually parted ways with the magazine and was able to work on the business during office hours as well. The biggest obstacle was I didn’t have an internet connection as I couldn’t afford the pricey per-minute dial-up connections there were at the time.

I owe a tremendous gratitude to a number of colleges and universites whose computer laboratories were a saving grace for me. I would enrol on the lowest cost course I could find, which would then grant me access to the institution’s PC rooms.

It wasn’t always the most salubrious of environments, but I would sit in the computer centre of colleges like Westminster Kingsway with teenagers playing rap music and flinging balls of paper to each other past my nose while I manically tapped on the keyboards at 90 words per minute to execute my World Conquest Plans until I’d be thrown out onto the streets at the closing times.

4. Ahhhh… the heady days of the dotcom boom. It’s all but impossible to describe what an electrifying time it was to anybody who didn’t experience it. At this point my programming skills were still rather “rudimentary” let’s just say and so Azam’s websites looked just hideous.

But that didn’t stop people hurling cheques at me paying at a rate of $70 CPMs (per thousand impression) to show their banner graphic advertisements on my websites. To give a benchmark of how golden those days were, if a website owner nets $2 CPM these days they are doing very well. It’s akin to somebody now earning a mere 2% of what they used to for doing the same task.

I can still smell those Dotcom boom time cheques.

Here’s some banner adverts we hosted on our websites around the turn of the millennium I’ve dug out from our archives: was a pioneering online book retailer. Barnes & Noble were very late off the mark in building a web presence, so they bought to try to catch-up with Amazon. The domain name now forwards to Barnes & Noble's website

Weren't web ads just plain ugly in those days? Many people would argue they still are

I have witnessed so many online retailers launch with fanfare and hype, and then close down a few years later. This was one of them

Amazon eventually launched a UK web store and here is one of the earliest banner ads for Amazon UK

5. As many people in my industry know, I am the polar opposite of Tim Ferris with his fabled “4-Hour Work Week” philosophy (Amazon UK, USA) and hail more from from the “100-Hour Work Week” School of Thought, as promulgated by… errrr… nobody.

As dial-up internet costs started reducing in the run-up to the millennium, I could afford to log on more frequently from my home desktop computer. To help pay that £80 / $100 a month dial-up internet and other bills, I took on flatmates for my little apartment.

One of them, Hector from Venezuela, would go out with his amigos and often return home at 2 or 3am. He would quietly unlock the front door and try to tip-toe towards his bedroom so as not to wake me up. As he walked past my room, almost every single time he would glance over and sat on the dining table in the far corner, in pitch black darkness with the bright white light of the computer monitor lighting up his face, was yours truly tapping away on a keyboard. I remember him screaming every single time, “Nadeeeeeeeeem… I can’t believe you’re still up at this time on the computer!”

Happy days.

Here’s the only picture from the era I’ve managed to find of me working on my computer. It’s from around 2002, and shows me in my bedroom in my pyjamas:

6. Remember the good ol’ “ezine”? It was a fairly well-known term in the early days of the web, referring to electronic magazines that were emailed to people. They held a position akin to today’s blogs.

By the early noughties Azam Marketing (aka moi and a handful of freelancers and consultants by this time) had built our own little web empire, with more than sixty websites.

Most of them were nothing to write home about, but one that stood out and became somewhat successful was 1Lit, an ezine. It was a literary publication, emailed to subscribers on the first of every month (hence the moniker 1Lit). You may see a screenshot from the mast of the 1 February, 2001 North American issue below and click on the image to read it. The 1 December, 2002 issue of the European edition is here.

A screenshot of the header of the 1 February, 2001 issue of Azam Marketing's literary ezine 1Lit. As George W. Bush had just become President, the issue included 1Lit's top four 'Bushisms'. Click here to read the publication at the Wayback Machine

I would spend days researching and writing the content (I can recall climbing up a hill in the village of Heptonstall in Yorkshire to take photographs of Sylvia Plath’s grave for the publication) and, after a while, it became increasingly popular. The subscriber list included many professors from the likes of Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge universities and well-known authors. was another website in our portfolio and was celebrated for a while in the early noughties in the UK. Despite its name, no it wasn’t a porn site (more on that subject further below), but featured film reviews, news, charts and all kinds of related information. It was one of the four most popular stand-alone movie websites in the country and we were regularly invited to the London premieres and previews of British and sometimes Hollywood films.

Particularly popular were the picture galleries of actors and actresses. When the site ranked number one for photos of Catherine Zeta-Jones, we were flooded with so much traffic – which, no matter what we tried, wouldn’t generate any income – that we had to deliberately de-SEO the webpage (for non-geeks that means making it less popular in the eyes of the search engines) as our web host kept asking us to pay more and more money for the bandwidth our website was devouring.

After many years of my team and I slaving over both 1Lit and, I eventually had to take the painful decision to leave them to rot. The vast amount of time and cost involved in running the operations and regularly publish high-quality content wasn’t justified by the low returns.

7. Traditional businesses finally woke-up and realised the internet was not a fad that would go the way of CB radios, so they began to use their muscle to try to crush the pure-play dotcoms that had built a robust online presence. Using the Wacky Races analogy, this was akin to Dick Dastardlys and Muttleys in colossal tanks trying to ram-raid little Azam ‘Penelope Pitstop’ Marketing off the road.

Therefore, in the noughties there was seldom a month when I didn’t receive a letter from some preeminent legal firm or other based in New York, London or Berlin. Needless to say these lawyers had all but a rudimentary understanding of the internet and the premisces on which they threatened to hurl us into Valhalla were often beyond absurd.

By way of example, in the early days of the internet, search engines had less sophisticated algorithms and if you had cutting-edge Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) skills you could rank very highly when people searched for the keywords you targeted. Such were our abilities we ranked number one in AltaVista and Yahoo for brand names such as “WHSmith” and “Virgin Megastores” (for those outside the UK, two major high street retailers in the country). One day I received a coarse cease and desist letter from the latter’s law firm, with a letterhead declaring their presence in the swishest part of London, asserting what we were doing was “illegal” and we must stop immediately.

We were an approved affiliate marketing partner of Virgin Megastores, who had hired us and many other affiliates to drive sales to them. There was nothing in their terms and conditions to say we couldn’t outrank them in the organic search engine results. If we were positioned higher them their internet marketing bods were not doing their jobs properly and it was not illegal in any way, shape or form.

I immediately summoned Azam Marketing’s hotshot inhouse legal team into my office looking out over the recently-erected Millennium Wheel and, chewing one of my favourite brand of Cuban cigars, we discussed Virgin Megastores’ legal challenge (well, truth be told, I was sat on my bed in my stripey blue pyjamas reading and reflecting on the legal letter by myself, but the former sounds more Wolf-of-Wall-Streetish). Even though Azam Marketing was legally on firm ground, I am always a pragmatist and rather than blowing thousands of pounds on legal fees as many people are only too wont to do to bolster their egos, I acquiesced to the demands of the edict. We de-SEOd our website to cause it to drop in the search rankings, falling below Virgin Megastores’ webpages.

8. Left reeling from the dotcom crash that brought many an e-business to its knees, I didn’t have much in the way of an advertising budget, so tried all kinds of weird and wonderful methods to garner free publicity for my business.

When, for instance, in 2003 David Blaine spent 44 days encased in a clear perspex box hanging 30ft in the air near the River Thames, I saw it as an opportunity to gain some PR. I turned up wearing a t-shirt advertising my website and tried to get interviewed by the world’s media that had coverged on the site. I managed to interviewed both by a national TV station in Canada and also for the news broadcast of a part of the United States I can’t remember now, so one could say my tactic worked.

Most of my marketing strategies were dismal failures, such trying to promote one of Azam’s literary websites by placing branded bookmarks in thousands of books in the libraries in my area (one could breathe more freely in the days before CCTVs were so prevalent).

9. As my coding and design skills improved and I started making enough money to hire talented creatives – even being awarded a Yahoo! Website-of-the-Week commendation for one of our creations – more and more people began contacting me to build websites for them.

One fellow offered me a sizeable wad of money to build pornographic websites for him (such sites could be very lucrative, as webpreneurs kept letting slip at the first internet conferences I attended). I turned him down. He kept offering me more and more money and wouldn’t stop trying to persuade me. So, to shut him up, I blurted, “I’ll tell you what, if your wife tells me she’d like me to build the websites I will do so,” knowing his wife to be a prim and proper mother of five children. Never in a million years did I expect her to ring me five minutes later and exclaim she wholeheartedly was in favour of me building a porn network for her husband!

In all the years of running Azam, it’s the only time I can recall when I broke my word to a client and I still didn’t go ahead.

10. I can’t script an article without sharing at least one tip: if you wish to buy an asset from someone, don’t contact them using an email address using the domain name. Why? Because, as you are probably not aware, that’s the domain name for none other than the (pre-2008 crash) Masters of the Universe otherwise known as Merrill Lynch and the recipient of your missive is highly likely to believe your pockets are bulging with rather a lot of banknotes.

So, in 2005 when I received an email from someone a quick online search revealed held a very senior role at Merrill Lynch offering to buy Azam Marketing’s domain name my ears pricked in a Mr Spock-like fashion.

The reason we use as our corporate domain name rather than is because we eventually negotiated such a pretty penny that we had little choice but to sell the latter.

To this day it’s the most heartbreaking business decision I’ve ever had to make.

The picture below was taken on Tuesday of me near Westminster Bridge. The sculpture I’m standing next to, called ‘The Dance’, was designed by the talented artist who acquired the domain name from us to host a website showcasing his creations.

Me a couple of days ago outside the four-metre high 'Azam' bronze-cast sculpture which was unveiled in February 2008. The domain name is now owned by the artist who designed this sublime work of art

And there ends the first decade of the Azam story. Part II, which covers 2007 – 2017, will be published on Tuesday (19 September).

Make sure you subscribe now to be notified when it goes live. You won’t want to miss why I had to drink a cup of tea at the slowest pace anybody has ever done to get out of a tricky wicket or what happened when I was summoned to meet the perpetrator of the biggest heist in human history who had changed tack to enter the online marketing industry.

World's Earliest Surviving Digital Marketing and Design Agency Celebrates Landmark 20th Birthday With Release of Short Movie

It’s only been 7,305 days in the works, but, would you believe it, we have finally reached the day on which we can say we have been in business for twenty years.

Most online companies we did business with when our ship left port in 1997 did not remain afloat until even, say, half a decade later in 2002, nevermind 2007 or 2017, so to still be swashbuckling the high seas twenty years later means we reckon we’ve learned to “surf” what used be called the internet “wave” fairly adeptly (sorry, we know that’s truly awful, but we’re allowed some mischief on our Azamversary!)

Among the tide of celebratory events taking place this month, we are marking the occasion with the release of a bouncy short movie.

Entitled “Dot Com Bust and Boom; The Azam Marketing Autobiography: 1997-2017”, it features twenty pictures and video clips that chart the long and winding path we’ve walked along (see, we’ve jumped ship from the dire seafaring analogies!), from our conception in the nineties right up to the current day.

Enjoy it here:

Do you recall any of the occasions in the showreel?

Let us know what you think of the video in the comments below.

p.s. we will be releasing several other videos over the coming months, sharing invaluable information, insights and tools to enable you to be more successful in both your business and personal life, so subscribe to our Youtube channel here.

World's Oldest Surviving Digital Marketing and Design Agency Celebrates Landmark 20th Anniversary with Surprise Announcement

Azam Marketing is celebrating our twentieth anniversary this month with twenty philanthropic donations.

Founded in the embryonic days of the world wide web on 4 August 1997, we are one of the only pure play digital marketing and design agencies from the time still in existence.

We have expanded our service offerings organically from specialising in affiliate marketing, search marketing and web design into email marketing and eCRM and, in recent years, social media marketing, business consultancy and training.

Azam Marketing has served 993 clients over the two decades, including Coca-Cola, Disney, Google, Dell, Swatch, Warner Bros. and Hilton, and won numerous prestigious industry awards for producing exceptional results.

Because of our unparalleled expertise and track record in the digital sector, we have been headhunted by increasing numbers of companies and individuals to provide consultancy and training services. These currently range from X-Rite Pantone, the global leader in colour trends, science and technology, to one of the biggest asset management corporations in the world, to several small and medium size enterprises in the UK, continental Europe and the USA.

To mark the anniversary, our Founder and CEO, Nadeem Azam, has announced Azam Marketing is donating GBP £20,000.00 (USD $26,428.00) to twenty charities selected by our current and former staff, consultants and clients. The registered charities are in the following sectors: medical research, social welfare, education, international development and the environment.

We have received congratulatory messages from dozens of sources on our momentous birthday. “Hats off to Azam Marketing on their 20th anniversary of being in business! It is a significant occasion indeed,” states Matthew Adby, Retail Product Portfolio Manager of X-Rite Pantone.

“For a digital agency to have been founded at the dawn of the world wide web and still be powering ahead two decades later demonstrates tremendous versatility, resilience and talent.”

He goes on to declare, “It is a huge pleasure working with Azam Marketing. The passion exuded by the team, helping us to build Pantone’s online presence has been second-to-none and we benefit tremendously from their vast expertise in digital marketing and e-commerce. May I wish the company many more years of success.”

World's Oldest Surviving Digital Marketing and Design Agency Celebrates Landmark 20th Anniversary with Surprise AnnouncementJohn Lamerton, Managing Director of Big Idea Media, is an acclaimed digital marketer and author of Big Ideas… For Small Businesses (Amazon UK, USA). He exclaims: “I was barely out of short trousers in 1997, let alone able to build amazing websites and provide marketing services to companies all over the world – so hats off to all the team at Azam Marketing for twenty fantastic years!”

“I’ve always been a vocal critic of some marketing agencies who claim to be experts in their field, yet turn out to be lame ducks – that’s not the case with these guys though. Azam are the real deal.”

Stuart Reader worked as Azam Marketing’s PPC Director from 2008 to 2012.
“After a number of years working in the Performance Marketing world, Azam Marketing was my first agency role,” he recalls. “I learned a tremendous amount from my time there, working with a range and size of clients that weren’t as available to a freelancer, and taking advantage of Nadeem’s long experience of the industry.”

Reminiscing on his years at the agency, he adds, “Good times were had working with the other excellent staff at Azam. Attending the A4u and PerformanceIn award ceremonies, where we picked up a number of awards and nominations, were a particular highlight.”

“Congratulations on the anniversary and best wishes for many more years of success and growth.”

In honour of our twenty-year milestone, within the next several hours we are releasing a short movie with twenty photographs and videos from our journey and two often-amusing articles giving an insight into our ups and downs over the years. You will enjoy them, so keep an eye for them in this blog!

Azam Marketing was founded on 4 August, 1997. Thank you to everyone for your support over the decades.Drumroll please… this month, August 2017, brings us the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Azam Marketing!

To discuss the development of the company and the affiliate marketing industry over the last two decades, PerformanceIN interviewed our Founder and CEO Nadeem during a conference held in London. Watch the short interview below:

See how we are commemorating our big 2-0 by hopping over here!

Below we present our essential guide to choosing the best affiliate program

This is the second tutorial in our Affiliate Marketing Masterclass series. Part One, which explains the terminology used in affiliate and online marketing, is here.

Many people who are new to affiliate marketing get excited by the hype that most advertisers and their networks put out about the potential to make whopping commissions from promoting their affiliate programs and rush into marketing them with the requisite due diligence, usually to find out the hype was just that.

However, if you are serious about becoming a professional and profitable affiliate marketer you should meticulously scrutinise the affiliate programs which are available within your targets sector(s) and how much profit, if any, you are realistically likely earn from them.

To emphasise how important it is for you to assiduously research potential affiliate programs, Azam Marketing’s training manual for staff on which affiliate programs to promote runs to 5,000 thousand words long. It is arguably the most important document in our organisation, as we can make or lose hundreds of thousands of pounds based on our decision in terms of which advertisers to invest into marketing.

Here are our top ten tips on finding the very best affiliate program:

1. Is it completely free to join?

Most “get-rich-quick” partnership opportunities, especially if they are combined with a Multi-Level Marketing or networking marketing structure, will fail this test. They usually require a hefty sign-up fee and/or ongoing monthly investment and their actual raison d’etre is transferring money from the majorities to the minorities at the top of the pyramid.

The early bird catches the worm in these scenarios – those who join the program early will make money from those who join at a later stage. Where there isn’t a bona fide focus on selling a product or service but rather on recruiting others, if someone makes £50,000 from a program, 1,000 people stand to lose £50 each.

Legitimate businesses usually do not ask people to work for them (although, in all fairness, there can be exceptions: if, for instance, the affiliate program is providing worthwhile training resources to you as their affiliate, it may be fair for them to charge for the work that has gone into creating them). Unlike companies which generate most of their revenue from recruiting other affiliates and agents, genuine enterprises make their money from selling tangible products or providing value-added services.

2. How much commission does the merchant pay?

This may seem obvious, but the amount of commission you earn per lead or sale is critical. There’s no point spending time and money promoting a product that doesn’t pay well. You could end up spending more on marketing than you make back. It’s best to stick with marketing products with a high commission value unless you are in the rare position of having found a niche where you can sell vast quantities and make substantial overall commissions.

The profit margin many advertisers make on items is as high as 40% to 50%, and paying affiliates a 5% commission is not on. A merchant selling a t-shirt for £20 may have produced it for only £3. His mark-up is massive and offering the hard-working affiliate a one-off 50p in such a scenario is not a fair share of the retail price.

Don’t be misled by advertisers who claim their brand value compensates for miserly payouts. Having a reputable brand can help, but is not always the case.

An experiment done several years ago by one of the UK’s top affiliates, Kieron Donoghue, demonstrated how brand name advertisers can convert worse than non-brand ones. Not only were the likes of Tesco and Marks & Spencer paying 2% and 3% commission on Valentine flowers, but they were weaker at converting traffic than less well-known merchants such as Bunches and Flowers Direct who were paying 10% and 15%:

Tesco Flowers – 11% conversion rate – 31 sales – £21.04 commission
Bunches – 16% conversion rate – 35 sales – £98.54 commission

Big brands also tend to have more ‘leaks’ on their websites i.e. the have advertising or promote products and services that don’t earn you commission. A case in point is Amazon, whose web pages give a signficiant amount of real estate to advertising and to products that make them a packet but earn you nadda.

It's essential to find the right niche!

3. How relevant is the advertiser to your audience?

You are highly unlikely to make much money if you market affiliate programs that don’t have much relevance to your website, email list or social media audience. A lot of novice webmasters join a bunch of affiliate programs and figure if enough of them pay off they’ll make a bucket-load of money – when in actual fact the affiliate site will just end up looking like one big spammy advertisement.

Your main assets are your content, your traffic and your knowledge of that traffic, so it’s a much better idea to pick a small number of affiliate programs that best serve your visitors and supplement your content. For example, if you’ve reviewed a hotel on your site, you could link to an advertiser who is selling rooms at said hotel at a competitive price and offering you a fair remuneration. This is an excellent way both to serve your visitors and to make money off your website’s audience.

4. How established is the advertiser and how much traffic / sales is their website getting?

You can readily find out how long most businesses have been going by looking online.

In most Western countries, you can also study the accounts of incorporated companies online for free or a nominal sum. This information is valuable in letting you know how long the company you’re looking to partner with has been in business, what their turnover is and the like.

A good tip is to try to discover the amount of traffic the advertiser’s website is already receiving. Alexa is a pale imitation of what it used to be, but is a useful tool for this. If a website is ranked in the top 20,000 in most countries, the advertiser is getting a significant amount of traffic. If it is ranked below 100,000 it is likley to be a retailer who does not have many customers (which means they are probably not great, but it could be a golden opportunity to make money as they’re unlikely to have many affiliates actively promoting them).

Always research an advertiser products etc. thoroughly if they haven’t been in business for a long time, their website has a low traffic ranking or they haven’t got a sizeable turnover as these are red flags. It may be a good idea to order the product yourself if you can afford to. Otherwise you could do a search to find out if there are any adverse comments about the retailer or their products. If all is well and the product is good, you could have found a gold mine – but there’s a lot more to considerable.

5. Will they serve your appetite for cookies?

How long is the merchant’s cookie period?

Many customers do not buy on their first visit to a merchant’s website. It is important therefore that the merchant provides a reasonable cookie period for their affiliate program so that you get credit if the customer returns and buys at a later date. The longer the cookie lasts the better the chances of you getting paid.

6. Does the merchant track non-cookie sales?

Cookies are not always a reliable method of tracking sales back to affiliates. People often have cookies turned off in their browser or they get deleted. They may use a different computer from when they first clicked through to an advertiser.

Most major networks now track a sale even if cookies are turned off and there are even a small ratio of affiliate programs that pay you even if a customer purchases via the phone.

In terms of rewarding affiliates for repeat purchases, some merchants employ database tracking. This tags a customer to an affiliate when he or she registers and/or buys their first item. The affiliate then gets paid on any future purchases, no matter which computer the customer logs in from and whether the original cookie has been deleted or not.

Avoid sending your hard-won traffic to an advertiser if they do not have robust tracking solutions in place to track back both the original and follow-up sales back to you. Which takes us to another important point to consider…

7. Does the merchant pay recurring commission?

Not many businesses can make a profit off the first sale alone. Yet the way most affiliate programs are structured, you earn a commission for sending a customer to an advertiser’s site and then, even though the customer is likely to shop with that advertiser again and again, you’ll only ever get paid on the first purchase.

Prioritise affiliate program which pay recurring commissions.

8. Does the merchant have a dedicated affiliate manager?

Many merchants don’t invest in a staff member who is given a sizeable chunk of hours every week to manage their affiliate program, whether that person is in-house or at an agency. Try to avoid these companies unless they have a proven track-record and their commission rates are exceptionally high. The reason is that, when problems occur – which they do on a frequent basis with doing anything that involves an intersection of IT and business! – it can be a painful process getting matters resolved.

9. What marketing materials and linking options are available?

Look at the quality of marketing resources that each merchant provides.

Do they provide well-written copy for affiliates? Do they provide dynamically-updated creative that promotes seasonal campaigns, their bestselling products and the like? Do they provide coupon codes, co-registration boxes, email marketing creative and deep-linking methods for affiliates? Are they willing to put together creative specifically for their online sales team, aka their affiliates?

Make sure banners have a strong call-to-action and do not prioritise the merchant’s name or URL, which can encourage people to visit their website directly and means you don’t earn any commission.

If the marketing material and linking options they provide is decent then it demonstrates they are serious about affiliate marketing.

10. How well do they convert?

One of the advantages of many of the best affiliate networks is they provide conversion metrics. You can see which merchants are great at converting visitors to sales/leads and which are not so good. This information is critical to your success.

One of the most important figures to study in this respect is the EP(H)C (Earnings Per (Hundred) Click(s)) and compare them between your shortlisted advertisers.

If a network does not publish conversion metrics because a merchant has just joined them, be savvy and wait a while. Let other affiliates spend their precious time and money testing the waters.

You can usually get an insight into how well an affiliate program is performing by studying its metrics on the leading cashback websites in your territory. They often publish data on how well it is performing.

Data on Maplins UK affiliate programFor example, this link takes you to the Maplin Electronics page on TopCashback UK. The Tracking Stats are in the bottom right-hand corner, and we’ve taken a screenshot with this data which you can see to the right of this text.

These demonstrate that the affiliate program is not anything to write home about as, not only do they pay a low commission, but a fairly large ratio, 3%, of leads require “Manual Claims”, which means the commission has to be manually acquired from the advertiser. (The actual amount of sales that don’t track for this advertiser is likely to be much higher than 3% as many people don’t have the time and energy to jump through all the hoops to claim their missing cashback.) Also Maplin’s “Avg Payment Speed” is a ridiculous “25wks 5 days”; by comparison Maplin’s competitor eBuyer is “2 wks 5 days”.

As an aside, studying how much cashback the “100%” cashback sites provide their users gives you a valuable insight into how much commission they may be receiving and what you could try to negotiate with the advertiser for yourself.

If conversion statistics are not available anywhere, then email the advertiser’s affiliate manager and ask for them: many are surprisingly forthcoming. But do take what they say with a pinch of salt – they are not likely to be transparent if a program is a poor converter! You could also try asking other affiliates in online communities.

Our Affiliate Marketing Masterclass will continue, with tutorials for both publishers and advertisers, so stay tuned!

We are delighted to launch Azam Marketing’s Affiliate Marketing Masterclass series. This course is based on our unparalleled twenty years of expertise in affiliate marketing and will spill the beans on how you can become successful as an affiliate.

The foundation to success in any field is to robustly understand the terminology and that is what this first lesson will delve into.

First things first: what is affiliate marketing? Affiliate marketing (also increasingly known as performance marketing) is a type of marketing in which a business rewards affiliates for each visitor or customer brought by the affiliate’s marketing endeavours.

The industry has four core players: the advertiser (also known as the ‘merchant’, ‘retailer’ or ‘brand’), the network (that contains offers for the affiliate to choose from and also takes care of the payments), the publisher (also known as ‘the affiliate’), and the customer.

How affiliate marketing works... the chain from affiliate to sale / lead. Click here for larger image

While these are the key components, the market has grown in complexity, resulting in the emergence of a secondary tier of players, including affiliate management agencies, super-affiliates and specialised third party vendors.

How affiliate marketing works. Click here for a larger version of this chart

When determining how much money you will earn by promoting a particular advertiser, always be sure to check the payment model they use. Knowing this will save you time and money in terms of (a) deciding whether the payment terms are sufficiently rewarding to make it worthwhile for you to partner with them and (b) if you do decide to work with them, determining which traffic acquisition strategy will enable you to yield a net profit.

Read on to learn more about the most popular payment models that you’re likely to encounter in affiliate marketing.

CPM (Cost Per Mille (Thousand)) – a CPM rate of $1.00 would mean the publisher receives a fee of $1.00 for showing 1,000 adverts for a particular merchant or retailer.

As affiliate marketing is primarily a performance based channel, CPM advertising is rarely seen in the field.

Banner ads on large websites are often paid for on a CPM basis and advertisers find them beneficial to build brand awareness.

CPM ads are usually more appealing than ads paid on a CPA or CPC basis as it costs the advertiser no more to receive twenty clicks on their banner than one. For this reason, advertisers who pay on a CPM basis often run highly-animated ‘trick’ ads that result in lots of clicks.

As advertising paid for on a CPM basis often doesn’t result in direct sales for advertisers, CPM rates have been in decline since Azam Marketing started in online marketing two decades ago.

CPC (Cost Per Click) – advertising sold on the basis money is only paid out when an advert is directly responded to via a click through to the advertiser’s website.

CPC ads are usually designed to provide the necessary information, such as the price of a product, upfront and not be overly-appealing as advertisers only want people to click on the ads if they are interested in purchasing the product being sold.

As with CPM, advertisers paying CPC are nowadays few and far between in affiliate marketing.

CPA (Cost per Action; also called CPL on some networks) – Using this model, money is only paid out when a certain action occurs because of the advert, for example if a customer signs up for a newsletter, enters a competition or completes a form to request more information.

CPS (Cost Per Sale) – the affiliate is paid a commission (either a percentage or a set amount) when the customer purchases a product or service from the advertiser. To successfully generate sales, a publisher/affiliate often has to target and pre-sell the product by putting together relevant content and/or researching the latest offers which will entice the customer. As such CPS is not really considered a form of advertising but a sales-based commission program.

eCPM (Effective CPM) – an effective CPM is the average rate a publisher receives for 1000 ads, usually banner ads, factoring in (a) the fact that much of the publisher’s inventory may be unsold and (b) hybrid payment models (see Hybrid Campaigns below). If a publisher sells half their banner inventory at $1 cpm and can’t sell the other half then his effective CPM would be $0.50.

eCPM is a term usually used to describe how well or poor a given advertising network’s rates are for a given publisher which factors in the unsold ads the ad network could not sell.

Hybrid Campaigns – an advertising campaign in which an advertiser agrees to pay for advertising using a combination of the above. For example, a hybrid campaign could pay both $0.50 CPM and 10% CPA. This may be beneficial in rewarding publishers for both the sales that they generate as well as the increased brand exposure they provide to merchants.

Another example of a hybrid campaign would be where the advertiser pays the affiliate a one-off lump sum to contribute towards advertising costs (for example, for placing their adverts in prominent locations on the affiliate’s website or email newsletter) together with a CPA commission for any products sold.

The following chart summarises the four key remuneration methodologies:
How online advertising is renumerated: CPM (cost-per-mille (thousand)), CPC (cost-per-click), CPA (cost-per-action) and CPL (cost-per-lead)

Part II of our training course continues with 10 invaluable tips on choosing the ideal affiliate programs to promote.

Subscribe to this blog to be notified when we publish each part of our free Affiliate Marketing Masterclass series. We will also be launching a Search Engine Optimisation Masterclass course soon.

Read hard-hitting article below about the persistent ethnic, class and gender discrimination in the creative industries in the UK

Interestingly, both this week’s ‘Broadcast’ and ‘Campaign’ magazines have articles on their front pages about the startling lack of BME staff in the creative and media industries in the UK.

Click on this image to view these magazine scans in a larger size

Whereas 44% of London’s population consists of people from black and minority ethnic groups, only around 12% of those working in fields such as television production and advertising agencies are from these minorities – and the percentage plummets when it comes to the top roles.

The lead article in ‘Broadcast’ quotes Lucy Pilkington, the factual creative director of Sugar Films, who “was ‘fed up’ of being handed an approved list of male, white directors to oversee a show”.

I have been working in publishing and marketing in London for more than a quarter of a century and, despite reading and hearing platitudes from the powers that be time and again about the need for more diversity, do not fail to notice that, even in CE 2017, when I am sitting in senior-level industry meetings, out of 12 or 14 people I will often be the only non-white person. And the only one from a working-class background.

Enough is enough. As these veritable industry publications highlight, the white, middle-class and male stranglehold on the creative industries in the UK, particularly when it comes to management level roles, must finally end. Urgently.

Please share this article to highlight this issue.

Subscribe to this blog for more articles here.

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