How have you seen affiliate marketing develop since you started out?

There are a lot of new people in the industry and it is now much more commercialised. It is not a one person his bedroom job any more. For example, I know of a Swedish company which is going to enter the UK affiliate marketplace and spend millions. That’s a scary thought for some of us.

One of the big trends in the dominance of the cashback sites. There are so many cashback sites out there. [Smiles – Matt himself owns FreeFivers and others.]

Do you have any plans to develop the A4U forums as it seems to have become staid of late?

We have not developed the forum as much as I would have liked this year. I do however have a few things up my sleeve. We are launching a Poster of the Month type competition. Also we will be moving things in a Web 2.0 direction with blogs etc.

We are researching CMS, blog and forum software at the moment, and hope to have something ready by Q1 2007.

I read that affiliate marketing was growing at something like 40% per annum. Do you think the rate of growth will slow down?

Affiliate Marketing will continue to grow. I do feel there will be a shift between the channels though.  I feel a number of networks and possibly affiliates have relied too much on search, and neglected other channels. Personally I would be rather nervous if my business revolved around one channel.

Whether it is as consulting for a network or my position as an Affiliate Manager, I see the same handful of affiliates generating leads for almost all merchants and campaigns. Do you see a split developing between a select number of ‘super affiliates’, incentive sites etc. and the smaller affiliates?

There is no doubt that the majority of traffic is sent by a select group of affiliates, those who have invested in and diversified their businesses. I think it’s important that when people say ‘affiliates’ it’s not just one person, many are companies with 10+ employees generating millions of pounds each year; I would not be surprised if a couple made profits in excess of numerous networks next year. That’s rather ironic.

I expect the divide to grow even further, yes.

Do new affiliates stand a chance in 2007?

Nadeem, it’s going to be hard, but nothing is impossible! Niche is still the way to go: take something like ‘trampolines’ create a micro site and do some decent PPC. There are thousands of products out there, you don’t have to go for the major ones, implement web 2.0 ideologies, stay ahead of the pack and be nimble and adapt! Then you will leapfrog even some established affiliates.

What are your long term plans? Do you see yourself being in affiliate marketing 10 or 20 years down the line?

That’s tricky, I’m passionate about this industry, always have been so I certainly see me having some involvement with the business. I’m very entrepreneurial, so I expect to spread my wings into other areas of business.  We have for example teamed up with Mark Russell and Bruce Clayton to form Existem Affiliate Management.

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What do you like about affiliate marketing?

View of the Existem offices. Foreground: famous goldfish bowl. Background: Chris and Louisa
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I love the camaraderie and friendship. People who are competitors help each on the forums. The industry is diverse and allows you flexibility to learn about different verticals. It’s always changing.

What don’t you like about affiliate marketing?

I don’t like the non-co-operation and rivalry between the networks. For example, sales teams will not flinch at poaching campaigns from each other; it’s unprofessional. 

I’m also still undecided on how closed group search campaigns will affect the industry. I’m all for relationships but how does a newbie become involved? Networks need to be careful and not greedy.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love travelling: my fiance and I visited Amsterdam at the weekend, a very vibrant city! I like to play golf and am trying to improve my handicap so I can beat Paul (Qui Gon Jinn) next summer!

Claire and I got engaged in the Napa Valley this summer. It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience. She is a teacher and we are getting married in 2008.

Congratulations! Are affiliates invited to the wedding? [smiles]

Maybe I’ll invite some affiliates, some friends from the affiliate marketing world. [laughs]

How many posts do you have to make on your forums to be invited to the wedding?

Not answering that one!

With both of us smiling, I closed my notepad. We paid for our teas and, as he returned to Existem HQ, I made my way back towards Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s masterpiece.