In early 2021, Adam Ross was appointed CEO at Awin, the world’s largest affiliate network. He moved up the ranks from Director of Client Services to COO, to the executive board and all the way to the top job. Although Ross took over the biggest affiliate players out there, the space demands growth, evolution and innovation, where failing to thrive in any of those could have dire consequences. In the OMR Podcast International, Adam discussed his tenure at Awin, how the industry has evolved from being perceived as supremely shady to an absolute must for advertisers and publishers, how the company has transformed from a niche service provider to a “feature-rich martech platform” and the impact of influencers on Awin—and Awin on influencers. If you’ve ever wanted to know what affiliate marketing is and why it’s essential in today’s landscape, this is one podcast episode you do not want to miss.
“It’s kind of an obscure industry”
When Ross joined Awin in 2004 as a Director of Client Services, it was still called Affiliate Window. He had no idea that he’d be at the company nearly two decades later. “I don’t think anybody that joins this industry will be here for their entire career, Adam Ross tells Scott Peterson in the OMR Podcast International. For Ross, however, it’s played out that way so far. In his 15 years on the board, he helped double the company EBITDA to USD 58m and grow Awin’s efforts to 15 markets in three continents—a pretty successful tenure for someone in “a kind of obscure industry that you don’t really know about if you’re not close to the digital marketing space.” The success coupled with the ever-changing and constantly expanding affiliate space have kept Ross engaged. “What keeps it interesting and exciting is that within affiliate there are so many different dimensions and disciplines that it changes constantly. It’s never the same and it’s so different from what it was at the beginning.”
Affiliate—what it is and what it isn’t
If, when you hear the term affiliate marketing, you have a hard time articulating what it means, you’re not alone. It’s not only an obscure discipline, it’s a very technical marketing discipline, one in which it’s very easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of details and tech involved. In its essence, however, it’s a form of recommendation marketing. Supercharged with pinpoint targeting technologies and precision attribution models. “At our core, we connect advertisers, anyone selling goods or services online, with our network of 240,000 publishers.” These publishers have massive, engaged audiences and “can be anything: influencers, bloggers, fintech companies, big newspaper sites, media portals, cashback sites—it really could be anything.”
“Could be anything” now shows the breadth and diversity of partners and players involved in affiliate, but used to have a decidedly more negative meaning in the context of affiliate. For a long time, the industry was dogged by bad actors in the space engaging in black-hat methods, such as cookie stuffing, typosquatting, spam or even spyware and brandjacking. Affiliate was sketchy stuff. Was. “I think the reason the perception has changed is that there were certain types of partners you would expect to find [through affiliate channels]. Now, the diversity and range of opportunity has grown so much that it’s hard to pin it down.
The impact of the creator economy
One of the areas driving that growth has been the rise of the creator economy in general and influencers specifically. Awin, according to Ross, has been able to converge the interests of partners and influencers. “It’s been an interesting marriage between what influencers have been more traditionally called upon—for reach and building brand and building exposure. And clients need to bring that back to performance and to understand the true impact of that activity.”
That, Ross says, is one area where influencer marketing and affiliate marketing companies have found mutual interest and “work really well together for the benefit of brands.” Ross says that it has been a major driver of growth in recent years as “the skills that we’ve developed over time really complement the creator economy and influencer space. Our goal is to ensure the goals of both—that advertisers are getting value from the activity they are paying for—and to help influencers connect with brands, products deals and offers through our platform.”
Check out the entire interview with Awin CEO Adam Ross to hear why he’s confident Awin will continue to grow and thrive despite tightening digital data regulations, what enabled Awin to become the biggest affiliate player on the market, how Awin’s open marketplace is able to provide its partners a better deal than Amazon does, plus much, much more on the current state of affiliate.