Listen in as Lee-Ann Johnstone of Affiliate Insider joins Ryan Knuppel to talk all about iGaming Affiliate Marketing. More specifically, the two talk about future landscape of affiliate marketing in the US, offshore vs. regulated affiliate marketing, having a strategy from the beginning, and much more! Don’t miss this episode!
Ryan Knuppel: 00:47 Today we have a really nice episode. We have Lee-Ann Johnstone that has joined me of Affiliate Insider. We’ll get to that in a minute. You know, my background has been in the content space and really on the affiliate side of things. You know I kind of dabbled in being an affiliate. But I’ve also served affiliates really my whole career, I guess. And especially affiliates in the I-gaming space. So, it was really an honor for me to have Lee-Ann on, as she has been a kind of specializing in that affiliate marketing space and had some tips for everybody that’s listening here, affiliate or not affiliate. I think you’ll get some value out of this interview that I had with Lee-Ann. So that’s awesome here for episode number 60. Some things to look forward to. Episode 61 should be recorded later this week. We’re doing actually an NFL preview, NFL week one.
Ryan Knuppel: 01:31 I know this is not time sensitive, but NFL week one’s coming up here as of today, this is Monday that I’m recording this. And so we’re going to have a NFL preview for week one. And maybe talk a little college football as well. I’ll have my brother on, Rodney, and we will just talk sports. That should be fun. And then episode number 62 I have another guest. I have Dustin Sullivan. Dustin will be from SportsData.IO and he’s going to talk a little bit more about the data side of things. I met him at a conference, so that should be fun to actually hear from him. That will be either later this week or next week. But that will be episode number 62.
Ryan Knuppel: 02:06 So here we go. We re rolling here with the Knup Sports show. Hope everything is going well with you. Don’t forget to check out knupsports.Com. We have a free survivor contest. You have a few more days to get in. We also are affiliated with some premium pics packages that you can check out over on our site as well. So, that’s about it. So without further ado, let’s head on over and jump into our interview today with Lee-Ann Johnstone.
Ryan Knuppel: 02:39 Today we have a very, very special guest today. I’m here with Lee-Ann Johnstone. Lee-Ann, are you with me?
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 02:44 I am. Hi Ryan, how are you?
Ryan Knuppel: 02:46 I’m doing great today. Almost getting ready to get blown away by this hurricane. But for now I’m still safe and sound here in Florida, so everything’s good. Lee-Ann’s with Affiliate Insider. So she’s going to give us a perspective today that maybe we haven’t had on this show over the past few months. So I’m really looking forward to this interview. I really appreciate you joining me, Lee-Ann.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 03:06 Thank you for having me.
Ryan Knuppel: 03:08 Awesome. Awesome. So Lee-Ann, so tell us a little bit about Affiliate Insider. About what that is, what you do there, and kinda start off with that.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 03:18 Okay. So I’ve been in the industry in I-gaming, in performance marketing industry for almost two decades. Having worked both operator side, network side, affiliate side, agency side, you name it, I’ve sort of done it. And eventually, about 18 months ago, realized that there was a bit of a gap in the market in terms of, here in Europe, in terms of just supporting affiliates to grow their businesses. Get connected, you know, get access to information timely so they can ensure that they’re promoting best practice in their business, and connecting with brands that really suit their business needs. Because often what happens is, you know, as an affiliate you’re sending traffic to lots of different places and you might not get a personalized account manager with anyone operator until you hit a certain level to actually be personally account managed, which is the same in most programs.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 04:04 And so, we’re really targeting that sort of middle tier business entrepreneur, or affiliate, that really wants to get access to information that’s going to help their business to grow. And from that we actually then saw, you know, we sat in the nucleus of the industry and that affiliates wanted to know more information and information is what we were providing. And then operators wanted to meet those affiliates because they didn’t really have them directly account managed in their own programs. And it’s a good way of them to come and connect. And through that we created our events. So one of the events that we run twice a year, alongside SBC, is called the Digital Marketing Forum. And that really just focuses on everything that digital marketers need to know about digital disruption, what’s happening in the gaming industry for both casinos, sports. We even cover e-sports, blockchain, and just keeping people connected.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 04:57 So, it’s kind of, our business is basically an agency, we’re an outsourced affiliate marketing agency. So we help big brands to scale and grow their affiliate programs. We also help affiliates to get better connected with operators that are suited to their businesses through that affiliate management. And then we also do content marketing and education. So, I think to summarize my schpeel, we are directly sitting in the nucleus of everything that’s affiliate or performance marketing related. And that is really kind of my passion. I’ve sort of had a long term love affair with affiliate marketing for the last, you know, 15 years. And I just really wanted to sort of take that and make that my focus. And so we created Affiliate Insider. And here we sit today on the Knup Sports show.
Ryan Knuppel: 05:40 That’s really cool. That’s a, I mean, so yeah, you’re really right in the middle, like you said, between that affiliate slash affiliate manager relationship and kind of trying to bridge that gap. Which is really cool because that is a needed space. You know, myself being kind of in that affiliate space for quite a while as well, that’s definitely a role that’s needed. Let me ask you, are you, so you said you’d been in the gaming space for quite a while. So one, is Affiliate Insider strictly focused on the gaming industry? I’ll stop there and then I’ll ask my part two.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 06:10 Yeah. Strangely enough, no. You know, we’re actually, because we’re pushing so much content about best practice in and around affiliate program management, we actually end up working with clients in and out of gaming. So my background is from, you know, finance, retail, and then I’ve spent the majority of my career in gambling. So anything from skill games to casino, and sports book. But technically speaking, no. We are focused on I-gaming, but we’re actually getting interest from outside of the sector because I think what a lot of other industries realize is that, you know, the gambling space is quite advanced, here in Europe at least. In terms of affiliate program strategies. And so other industries want to learn from what we’ve developed in this sector over the last 10, 15 years. And they’re starting to sort of catch up now and look cross sector to learn new strategies, if that makes sense?
Ryan Knuppel: 07:03 Yeah, totally makes sense. It does. So that’s really neat. And my second part of that was, what got you into, you said you’d been kind of in the gaming space for awhile, I guess what got you into the gaming space in the beginning? Was there a job you had? Or, something that kind of got you into that?
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 07:20 So basically I was, I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. And way back in the day when I entered into the online marketing space, the only industry that was really available in South Africa to work in the space was either media or gaming. And at that point I left the financial services industry to focus on online marketing. At that stage, I mean we’re talking dial up modems, you know, it goes way back in the day. So I’m a bit of a dinosaur in that respect. And, I landed a job with a company called Forward Slash, which was based in Cape Town. I basically had to relearn my trade. So, I kind of left as the head of marketing for a financial services company and thought, “Oh, I really want to, you know, understand what’s happening with digital marketing and online marketing”. And it was just starting in Cape Town, you know, just like, I think if you remember all search engines like ask.Com, back in the day. The only way I could get the experience was to actually get myself a job as a media buyer, as a digital marketing media buyer.
Ryan Knuppel: 08:17 Gotcha.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 08:19 And that then started my career in the gaming space. So yeah, I just happen to luck out. Be in the right place at the right time. Really, really enjoyed that. I learned, sort of soaked it all up. And you know, from that digital media buying, you know, buying traffic and valuing all of that across, sort of hopped over into the relationship building side. Which then became the affiliate model that we understand today. And I just sort of, you know, took the people part and the numbers part and that’s kind of my sweet spot. And then progressed my career from there. And I’ve had a really interesting career.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 08:48 You know, I’ve worked for many good gaming brands, from the party gaming back in the day before the U.S. closed, so, but when it was all exciting. And then, you know, even tried new products like e-sports and skill games.
Ryan Knuppel: 09:00 Nice.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 09:00 So, basically I’ve had a very well rounded career in performance marketing, you know, working in retail and in finance. I used to work at Net to Learn as well. And, they bought Income Access, which is public prominence affiliate platform. So, I’ve been very lucky and very fortunate to experience kind of like a full 360 degree of performance marketing. And I think that’s what’s kind of led me to where I am today with starting up Affiliate Insider.
Ryan Knuppel: 09:27 Well that’s great. That’s some great experience there. And I’m sure that you’ve loved it all the way along. So well, maybe not right. It’s never always, always great. But it sounds like you’ve had some great experiences and are very well versed in this space. So again, appreciate you being here, your input is awesome. So let’s shift gears and let’s actually talk some, some strategy and some tips and some of your, I guess, deeper thoughts on this industry.
Ryan Knuppel: 09:52 So you know, one of the areas that super, super growing and kind of hot right now is the legalization of sports betting in the United States. It’s really getting a lot of the focus, especially me being here in the United States. This show focuses a lot around that space. So you being, you know, having your angle from the affiliate side. I really kind of want to get your take on how you see, and I guess you know, the sports betting affiliate role, or the sports betting affiliate landscape changing as the U.S. continues to legalize state by state. Do you have any thoughts on that? You know, at a high level or at a deeper level?
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 10:31 I do. I mean I came out to the states to New York to the Betting on Sports Conference in America in April. And I actually hosted a little workshop there. Just to kind of test to see where people’s minds are at and what’s happening and you know, what people think about the affiliate space. And it was a real eye opener for me because you know, having lived and worked here in Europe where the industry is quite kind of advanced on learning from mistakes that happened in the early days, you know, with regards to terms and conditions and strategies and lifetime revenue share. And you know how to actually partner with affiliates. The entire affiliate market has changed since the U.S. Was open and the target audience has changed too. As well as the devices that those audiences, you know, sort of engage with.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 11:12 So, there’s going to be a whole new learning curve that’s going to happen in the U.S. market, along with the fact that each federal state, you know, is kind of like a mini country. I think the marketing strategies and tactics that digital marketers have over there are going to have to change. And the affiliate model isn’t going to be as we understand that traditionally in the European sense. So I think, you know, digital marketers are going to be looking at how do affiliates compliment the existing acquisition strategies that they have in terms of online, in the various states that they’re operating in. And I think affiliates are going to look at, you know, where can they add value?
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 11:43 So you might even springboard forward to kind of what we’re talking about now here in Europe about affiliates not just being lead generation partners, but actually being an extension of your digital marketing brief? If you want to call it that. Or even a brand piece? So I think U.S. operators are probably going to look at affiliates in a different way. And then of course you’ve also got the licensing, it’s quite stringent for affiliates to actually get a license, a vendors license or ancillary license to operate. And there’s going to be a lot more transparency. So, I think operators are going to have a lot more visibility in terms of who their affiliates are. Which we never really had in Europe until recent times when regulation and compliance, you know, forced us to be more upfront with KYC, with affiliates coming into programs. And you know, betting before they actually went live.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 12:31 So, I think there’s a lot of things that the U.S. market I can learn from what kind of we did wrong in the past over here. Now we are starting to get right. Which springboards them forward. But I think affiliates also need to consider what is there, you know, what’s the USP? What value are they actually going to be adding? Because the digital space in the U.S. is going to look very differently to how it does here in Europe. You know, you’re not going to leverage affiliates as a big brand piece, pay on performance because in the states it doesn’t really work the same way. So, why are you going to partner with these affiliates? And, what value are they going to bring to your business? And I think that’s the key thing for me is to see how that goes forward as each individual state.
Ryan Knuppel: 13:14 Yeah, that’s very interesting. And just as an aside, I did pop into your session there at the SBC conference. I popped in for about 10 minutes. I was on a really short schedule, so I just popped in. And by the way, it was like standing room only. I was standing back in the corner. There was people everywhere. So congrats on the turnout there for that little session.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 13:33 Thank you.
Ryan Knuppel: 13:35 I wish I could-
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 13:35 I’m having another one.
Ryan Knuppel: 13:36 Yeah.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 13:37 In 2020 we’re hoping to plan another one. But, I think I’m probably going to focus on not just like sort of fundamentals, but actually look at helping pull some strategies. Because a lot of the feedback that I’ve got back from that workshop, which was incredible for me, is that people are interested in the sector, they don’t really know what they want to do yet. And that could be because it’s still so new and you know, we don’t really know what that value piece is. So, I’m really looking forward to getting back there next year.
Ryan Knuppel: 14:04 Yeah, yeah, that was a great event. Kind of getting off topic here, but I really enjoyed that event as a whole. I thought it was a really put on well by SBC, they did a great job. So, yeah. Anyway. Okay, so one other thing I wanted to ask you, and it’s still kind of along those same lines. So you know, there’s this… Oh, I don’t know how to say it. Kind of this divide between, so current sports betting affiliates now are pushing offshore sports books. They’re driving most of their traffic to these, to these other Sports book located over in Costa Rica, and other areas like that. Such as Mybookie, Betonline, Bovada, brands of that nature. We’re kind of in this spot right now where these guys, and gals, are in a tough spot because it’s kind of their bread and butter, right?
Ryan Knuppel: 14:53 I mean it’s what they make their money on is pushing those brands. But you can’t really mix that with promoting the United States brands and kind of going to this full legal model. What advice do you have for them? Or you know, I’m kind of seeing 50/50 split. I’m seeing some that are like, “Yeah, I’m done with off shore model. Or only we’re going to start making this full migration to the new United States. You know Sports book brands“. But then I’m seeing some that are like, “Man, I can’t just drop this, all these brands. I can’t drop them all because that’s how I’m making my money and I’ll have this full wall of not really making money”. So what advice do you have? Or, what are you seeing in that space?
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 15:33 I think you’re 100% correct in your assessment. And I think it really boils down to what the affiliates longterm objective is. Because if they do want to become a localized partner and start to work in all the regulated states as that rolls forward, which is currently sort of unknown because you know, a lot of the states are still discussing the regulation. It’s going to be a gamble. So I guess it’s about, you know, what is the objective short term, long term? And you know, what does the affiliate actually want to achieve with their business? Do they want to sell it? Because the biggest thing for me at the moment is that I’m seeing a lot of European affiliates like the Better Collective, you know, the bigger affiliate companies, media companies now they’re aggressively acquiring in that U.S. market to go and get the market share.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 16:12 So, as a localized affiliate sitting there, you know, do you want to compete with that? Can you compete with that? If not, then you know, keep your business going in the way that it’s currently going and sell up later. Or you know, think about your long term exit strategy. I think that’s the biggest thing that affiliates need to think about is, what is the exit strategy? What are they building? And what do they want to sell? Lots of things that affiliates also forget, in my opinion, in the gaming industry, which actually they don’t in other industries, is that they’re building a database. And they’re building a business that has data that other brands want to advertise to. So, even though you think you’ve got a a gaming affiliate business, you have a database of consumers that actually want to purchase and interact with other brands. So how are you building that community value to actually expand your business outside of just gaming? If that’s your, your choice or your full process. And you know, what’s the next step to get you to that?
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 17:05 I think product development is going to be quite a big thing for affiliates in the U.S. to consider because consumers are very different over there. They operate on different platforms. I can’t see a lot of people innovating. You know, everybody’s creating websites. But what about apps? You know, a lot of people when I was in New Jersey, they’re all on their phone. And half of them didn’t really understand the betting experience on their phone. So there’s an education piece that’s there that allows, you know, somebody who may have been focusing offshore to now change tact and actually focus on the education of a consumer in their local region. And, build a separate business entity that, you know, maybe can focus on that. So, I think it’s quite a difficult question to answer. I don’t think it is a right and wrong right now because the market is still kind of regulating. And I guess it’s just, what is the long term strategy plan behind your affiliate business?
Ryan Knuppel: 17:55 No, I think that’s great. A great tip, great advice there. But is that an accurate statement that these, you know, because I think the confusion sometimes comes in with especially new affiliates. “Wait, I can’t promote both? I can’t promote the off shore and the, you know, the new ones as they come on?” And they think they can kind of just mix the two in together. And from what I’m understanding, that’s not really legal. Right? That’s not going to happen. Is that correct?
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 18:20 No. I think you have to make a call. Yeah. You need to make call. You need to seek legal advice, because each… I’m not on U.S. so I don’t.
Ryan Knuppel: 18:28 Sure, sure, sure. And that’s okay. Yeah. I’m not trying to put you on the spot there. I just…
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 18:30 Yeah.
Ryan Knuppel: 18:30 That was my understanding. And I thought maybe you had maybe a a deeper understanding of that. But from what my understanding is the kind of the U.S. legislator or the regulations are going to kind of look at your portfolio of work and kind of look and see, “Okay, they’re already promoting these other brands. You know, we may not accept them as an affiliate here until they clean that up”, or something of that nature.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 18:54 So on the flip side, for the bigger companies too, they also need to make sure that there are kind of watching them watch here in Europe before they actually expand to the U.S. But they’ve been working for companies like that are connected. The legal standpoint, that business framework for at least two years before any of this happened. You know they’ve had a long term goal, longterm game, the longterm vision to now into the space.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 19:20 What’s interesting for me is to see how the media companies pan out. So you know like the covers.com the, you know, the Tribune media group that all of that. I want to see how that’s going to, whether they’re going to, you know, stick to their core business and just expand out? Or whether they are actually going to do like big M&A? Acquisitions of smaller affiliate sites in various different regions, and build a bigger portfolio that way. So I’m kind of keeping my eyes peeled for that to see what happens on the flip side.
Ryan Knuppel: 19:49 Yeah, me too. I love. Oh man, I love this space. You’re the perfect guest for this show because this is right up my alley. I could talk to you all day long about this stuff because, you know, being an affiliate back in the day and kind of now serving igaming affiliates myself, you know, via content and things of that nature. Man, it’s just, it’s good to hear from somebody that has such deep knowledge and experience in this space. So I do appreciate it. But any, I guess any tips? Or just anything we haven’t really touched on? I know this is kind of high level stuff here. But anything I guess you would throw at sports betting affiliates as they move forward in general? Here as we kind of closed down this interview.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 20:28 Yeah, I think they need to think about what is their strategy plan? and what value do they add to an operator? Because very quickly the market is going to become saturated in all the different areas where you know, vendors licenses are available. And that seems to be the easiest route to market for most affiliates to take at this point. I know there are some working on the auxiliary licenses. But if you are locally based affiliate in the U.S., before you’re going to approach an operator to get a vendor’s license, which is relatively easy. Figure out, what’s your USP to them? You know, why should they work with you? And what value are you going to add in their digital mix, in the customer acquisition pipe? If that’s a big database, great. If it’s not a big database, but it’s an educational piece, or content that they don’t have internally in house. Like really think about how you position yourself to an operator before you join the program. And think about what your own business object design in terms of what you want to achieve from that relationship.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 21:19 Because I think it’s easy to open up an account with an affiliate program, but then what are you going to do with that account afterwards? And I think from an operator’s perspective, you know, the affiliate managers wanting to get value out of every deal or every relationship that they built. So starting with the end in mind is probably the best piece of advice that I can give to both, you know, affiliates and operator’s over there. And, nobody knows. Nobody has a crystal ball to see what’s going to be happening over there. So it’s about keeping abreast of the news, understanding what’s happening, spotting opportunities. Because in my opinion, operators need to work with affiliates because they are just way more agile than what they can ever be.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 21:56 And as far as I’m concerned, even though I’m a passionate affiliate enthusiast, I don’t believe that any digital marketer would ever be able to build a successful strategy without the affiliate piece in place. So, it’s just understanding what is that affiliate now? Is it, you know, we’re evolving out of the traditional, you know, terminology that’s assigned with the word affiliate. It could be partner, could be an extension of your own marketing team. It could be digital, collaborator, you know, it’s just what gap is that affiliate going to fit? And understanding that your digital strategy is really key before you set out and build a relationship and spend time with people.
Ryan Knuppel: 22:35 Very good advice. Very good advice, Lee-Ann. I appreciate it. Again, this is Lee-Ann Johnstone of Affiliate Insider. Lee-Ann, where can we find you? Where can the audience find more about you, your company? Or, potentially if they want to work with you, how would they get ahold of you?
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 22:48 So, just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website, www.Affiliateinsider.Com, or head on over to Facebook or LinkedIn because I’m quite active. We have a really cool affiliate marketing program that goes live on a Wednesday called hashtag affiliate drive time. Where I literally just sit in the front seat of my car and talk about things that you need to know about running a successful affiliate program. If there are affiliates out there that want to get some advice or help, which we do consultancy for affiliates as well. So just drop me an email and get in touch. I mean I’m really looking forward to working with anybody that you know wants to build successful affiliate strategies and programs. So, we’re open to anybody contacting us.
Ryan Knuppel: 23:28 Awesome, Lee-Ann. Well, I appreciate you joining me here today. Hopefully at the next event I’ll get more than 10 minutes of one of your sessions, and I’ll pop in and actually say hello and we can meet face to face. That would be awesome. So, you mentioned you’re actually heading to do a few events, huh?Your heading to some events coming up.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 23:45 So it’s quite a big market for us at the moment. We’re looking at, even though Kenya has recently closed its doors, which was a little bit shocking. But I’m off to Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lisbon. I’m going to be in London later this month at the Betting on Sports Conference. So yeah, it’s quite, and then after that Malta. So it’s actually four countries.
Ryan Knuppel: 24:03 Wow. You’re going to need it. You’re going to need a rest after that line up.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 24:10 Thank you so much for having me. It’s been so great chatting with you, Ryan, and I really appreciate you asking me to be on your show.
Ryan Knuppel: 24:15 You as well and hopefully the audience got a lot of value out of that. I’m sure they did. And hopefully we can have you on when the U.S. is fully regulated, have you back on and we can see a see where the affiliates kind of fit in at that point. So Lee-Ann, I won’t keep you any longer. I appreciate you being here. Thanks for joining me.
Lee-Ann Johnstone: 24:32 Thank you so much. Bye bye.
Ryan Knuppel: 24:33 Thanks for listening to this episode of the Knup Sports show. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider subscribing to our iTunes channel today. Plus visit us at knupsports.com for more picks, previews, strategy and news. That’s K-N-U-Psports.com.
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