Affiliate Marketing

[Video] Exclusive Interview With James Van Elswyk, Part 1: Helping Affiliates Through COVID-19

Lauren Pica
Lauren Pica
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James Van Elswyk — where to begin?

This no-bs media buying expert is as good as he is passionate — and if you’ve ever attended any of his Geek Out events or Affiliate World sessions, you’ll have seen how very passionate he is, especially when it comes to Digital Marketing.

And he has quite the come-up story, starting as a one-man Affiliate, and now, a successful, three-time Founder — Purple Leads, Purple Ad Lab, and Geek Out Education — leading teams by the dozens.

His workshops cost eager-to-learn Marketers thousands, though I had the lucky chance of sitting with James (virtually, of course) to gain direct advice to share with you at no cost.

Not only did he share amazing learnings, he shared so much that we couldn’t fit everything into one article. So, we’re breaking down this exclusive interview into three parts:

  • Part I: COVID-19 Advice For Affiliates
  • Part II: Native Ads vs. Social Ads
  • Part III: Native Ads For Beginners

So, let’s jump right into Part I.

The effects of COVID-19 have been seemingly insurmountable, but not so much for Digital Marketers, in James’ eyes, who were able to come out on top given spikes in online traffic and lessened market competition. But as we know, unfortunately, the coronavirus is far from over, so James stepped in to offer Performance Marketers advice during this time of unknowns.

Q: What’s your advice to help Affiliates weather the storm during COVID-19?

TL;DR
Take this time to learn, learn, and learn some more.

TS;WM
“Take advantage of this time. I think, Step 1: the quarantine allows us a lot less interruptions, a lot less travel, etcetera. So, right now is a great opportunity to sharpen your skills because it all comes back to a skillset, right? When we have these knowledge jobs, the way that we make money is not through our strengths, it’s through our intelligence and our experience.

So, I think that right now, when we have excess time because we’re not able to go outside, it’s the time to study up, read books, take courses, and just learn. Really hunker down and improve so that you’re a better Marketer. So, that’s more on a philosophical level, but it’s something that… I’ve read more books on copywriting this quarantine because it’s just stuff I always put off because I had so much other stuff going on. So, I think the educational portion is massive and I also think just sitting down and focusing, and running as many ads as possible right now while we have such an advantage.

I mean, you have people that are just at home online, seeing your ads more than ever, for cheaper — like there is no better time. So, it’s just not the right time to waste time, or dilly dally, or look at Tik Tok, or whatever, you know?”

Q: Affiliates are known to do whatever it takes for the conversion. Do you think the COVID-19 effects will shift even how Affiliates market and message their offers?

Deleted: TL;DR
All good Marketers should care about human nature, even Affiliates.

TS;WM
“If you’re a good marketer, all you think about is human nature. It’s poor Marketers that don’t take this into account because what we do as Marketers is analyze human nature and get people to convert using that.

You know, like the basic life force principles — it’s understanding, when you can understand your consumer, you know how to sell to them, and it’s an emotional thing. Like, people do not buy off data that they saw the way something makes them feel or the way they think something will make them feel.

So, I think that it’s a little bit more apparent now because of the situation we’re in, but I don’t think anything’s changed. I think good Marketers are always going to take a look at that emotional side of things.”

Q: Let’s transition to offers that convert. Pre-COVID-19, what were the offers you found performing best, especially on Native?

TL;DR
Hybrid your e-comm and lead gen offers.

TS;WM
“I like things that have scale, so I can spend a lot of money, which means that the offer has to be broad. So I’ve always called it my DMV Test. I like offers where if I’m to offer this at the Department of Motor Vehicles, at least 50% of people would have interest or at least be applicable to this product. Things that involve homeowners, car owners — this is always going to give me the ability to scale.

Step 2: is it something that is multinational? Obviously, the United States has a massive amount of traffic because we have a lot of people, but there are pockets of profitability in European countries or Asian countries where you have much cheaper pricing, but you have the same level of buyer intent, so it creates an area to have increased margins because of the chasm between the revenue-per-click and the cost-per-click, just because of the geography. So usually, for me, when it comes to an international offer, e-commerce offers are much more able to offer something that’s multinational because they offer a currency conversion. If I’m selling widgets in the United States, chances are those widgets are still applicable in Italy or Belgium or Korea.

Lead generation has its own pluses and minuses. When you deal with lead generation, the actual act of creating a conversion is easier. As an Affiliate, let’s say my payout is $40 to fill out a form — it’s a lot easier to get someone to fill out a form for $40 then it is to get someone to take a credit card out of their wallet and spend $40. From a plus and minus point of view, I believe that lead generation is easier, but you have a limit on the scale because it can’t go multinational, it depends on call centers, what are their hours of operation.

I usually run somewhat of a hybrid — lead generation offers and e-commerce offers. I’m agnostic to the type — to me, it’s about profitability. But I do believe that e-commerce offers more opportunity for scale. But on the flip side, e-commerce offers tend to burn out faster than lead generation — solar, refinance, auto insurance — they’ve been running forever and they’ll never stop running.”

Q: Okay, onto mid-COVID-19. What offers are working, and how can Affiliates increase conversions during this time?

Deleted: TL;DR
Go all in e-commerce.

TS;WM
“My early-to-mid-COVID: a lot of the lead generation stuff is constricted because it requires call centers, which rely on large gatherings of people. So, a lot of call centers have switched to working from home, but it’s reduced their lead buying.

On the e-commerce side, the numbers have never been better. Now that people are home, people are shopping online, and there’s a huge demographic — I don’t think retail will ever recover from this — this is probably the biggest win for digital.

There’s just a huge number of people say 50 plus, late adopters, who hadn’t shopped online or were not used to living in the online environment, and now as a result of being quarantined, have been forced to partake in online shopping, and are not going to go back. Once you get used to the ease of Amazon or the ease of getting something delivered to the house, you’re not going to go back to stores. So, I think e-commerce is going to have a mass boost forever from this.

I believe that very often shopping is something that at times an addiction or something that we do to make ourselves feel better, to take control of our situation. And if you take a look at buying trends after major world events — 9/11, etcetera — there are upticks in these things. I think that, for example, when the stimulus checks were released, there was a massive surge for the five days after this across platform for e-commerce buying.

There’s no better time than now to sell things on the internet because you have more exposure at cheaper prices. Major brands, airlines, people that have been super negatively affected by this have pulled their budgets so people that are selling things have cheaper costs, more eyeballs, and more intent.

On the flipside, I don’t know how the increased unemployment rate in the United States is going to affect the situation. In theory, people are going to have less money, so I’m not sure what product types are going to take off. I think the luxury market won’t be affected as much because rich people will always be rich… but at the same time, there are probably middle-of-the-road products that aren’t necessities, are not luxuries that people probably will pass on.

The biggest uptick I’ve seen… has been with home improvement products — anything to fix the home since people are at home, they finally have that time to fix something or want to make their location nicer, whatever the case may be. Mid-COVID, where we’re at now, you’ll see an uptick in these areas.

Long-term, who knows what’s going to happen with COVID, who knows how long these lockdowns will be, who knows how much we’ll still need to stay inside? As we see some European nations talking about reopening, yeah, they are ending their lockdowns and quarantines, but it’s not like restaurants, bars, and places of entertainment are going to be open. So, people are still going to be home, forced to exist a lot more digitally, plus looking for news and updates.

I think that there’s probably never been a time better for online marketing.

Q: If you had a magic ball, what would it show you in terms of consumer interest and behavior shifts as a result of COVID-19?

TL;DR
Humans are longing for connection, so what was lost will be found again, tenfold.

TS;WM
“At the end of the day, everything that we do in society is based on human nature including our consumption and marketing. So, I think the better that we can hone in on human emotions and human existence, the better that we can predict things.

And at the end of the day, I do believe that humans — despite the fact that we’ve become so introverted as a result of technology — we’re still social animals, we still want to see each other, and be around humans. So, I think like travel and entertainment will explode once it reopens.”

You heard it here first, Affiliates — take this added time to learn, hone in on e-commerce offers given the uncertainties of lead gen, focus on human nature in your messaging, and know, that what’s lost will absolutely be found again.

Hope you enjoyed Part I of our exclusive interview with media buying expert James Van Elswyk — be sure to keep an eye out for Part II next week, as James shares Affiliate Marketing tips for Native “Newbies”.

And if you’re feeling inspired by James’ advice to test, check out our Affiliate Strategy Hub for more (free!) learnings. Maybe you’ll even test your first native campaign (fingers crossed!).

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Lauren Pica

Lauren Pica

As the brains (and voice) behind the Outbrain brand communications (and our Head of US Marketing!), Lauren spends her days of marketing scrappiness doing everything in her power to gain and retain happy customers.

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