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AO: What is one unconventional growth tactic you ran or have seen someone run that did surprisingly well?

Sean Sheppard: Affiliate Marketing in the early days as a way to help people who had websites that couldn’t be monetized, otherwise make money. It was an incredible channel. And I think it still is. Any time that you can help somebody else make money or monetize their property or asset. I think you have a distinct advantage or potential unique value proposition. 

AO: Awesome. So, can you share the impact that you saw it have initially?

Sean Sheppard: Sure. I always point to one of my business partners at GrowthX, Will Bunker, who founded a little website called oneandonly.com for dating back in the mid nineties. He raised only $90,000 from his boss, worked during the day with his partner in an entirely different business while they built the website at night and tried to grow it. Meanwhile, Match.com had gone out and raised $10 million and had had a very high profile launch. Over the next five years however, oneandonly beat Match in terms of traction in growth in revenue, so much that match and one and only we’re both acquired separately, strategically by IAC.


And they took the Match.com name and they gave it to one and only, and used one and only platforms, customer base, business model and team to grow because they figured out something that match had not, which was the ability to leverage affiliate marketing as a way to grow. And by that, I mean, at the time many websites, most websites, in fact, didn’t have a way to monetize. There was no real business model behind them.

So Will and his team figured out a way to pay people a commission for placing one and only dating ads on their sites. And that became so popular that these websites started to really make decent money. So they actually started to build a business model around essentially being an affiliate of one and only, and I think there’s a really important lesson there. You don’t have necessarily just to have to have a unique product or service, but if you can help in a business to business or Affiliate environment, if you can help somebody make money with their asset in a way that they otherwise couldn’t, you might have a unique value proposition as a result one and only grew 30% a month, month over month for five consecutive years before being acquired.

AO: What an amazing success story. I love to see the lesson of the story and the real reason that they ultimately grew. So could you give us some more around the strategies that they used for this affiliate? We know that this was a while ago. So we have to apply that now, but I think we can learn a lot in just the strategy and their approach.

Sean Sheppard: Yeah, of course it doesn’t. I don’t think it’s any different today, guys. I think at the end of the day, you have to come up with a unique value proposition, understand why people buy from you and demonstrate to them that you can deliver on that. So in a business to business environment, people only buy for one of four reasons to make more money, save more money, create or maintain a competitive advantage. So a strategic reason, or my favorite stay out of prison, risk liability, things like that.

That’s what I mean when I make the jokes stay out of prison. So if you’re trying to grow through channels where there’s an opportunity you have to leverage additional businesses. So say, you’re going B2B to C, you need to show a value proposition that’s quantifiably tied to one or more of those four reasons. So it gives somebody a strategic reason for wanting to do business with you. Maybe it’s driving more traffic. I don’t know. But the point is that you have to understand that and have that conversation with those people. So your offering needs to be very clear. You need to be able to get on the phone or get in person and have a live interaction with someone.

So the way that Will and his team did it, is that’s literally what they did. They started calling up the busiest websites that were tied to a live chat in and around that, because what they realized very early on was the problem they we’re solving for wasn’t trying to get people connected to a date, they were trying to solve for loneliness. And so they focused on websites and communities  and traffic that was being driven by the basic human need to connect with other people.

And their value proposition was, look, you throw this little box in the corner, your page, and  I’ll pay you 10% on every conversion. By then they’d already figured out what their conversion metrics were. They knew that they could make $28 on somebody’s for about $1.80 with a customer lifetime, average lifetime of three months. And they went to work on that and they began to scale that. And they did that, like I said, in a very analog way, this is before outbound email and outreach.

I, and those sorts of things existed. So it was a call center environment where you contacted the host and owners of certain domains. And it wasn’t difficult to get those lists because most of that stuff is publicly registered and they built and grew that way. It was really that straight forward. I think that the real lesson here though, Adam, is that whatever channel you find works, you need to master that channel. Don’t just throw water on it or throw, excuse me, throw gas on the fire to put the pedal down and throw more resources to it.

But you truly need to understand it. What’s that channel about, where’s your value in that channel? How do you deliver that value? How do you build clear relationships and partnerships and calls to action around a given channel? I’ve got another really good example, a company that mastered SEO and SEM in the online auto parts industry before anybody else did. They didn’t own inventory.

They were like everybody else. It was a virtual inventory play, but they figured out that search engine marketing and search engine optimization was really the only way they were going to be able to compete because they didn’t have deep pockets. And therefore they didn’t have the ability to outspend on the paid side, the bigger players. And so they decided they were going to focus on the long game of SEO and SEM. And today in my portfolio, as well as with so many companies, I help and advise.

I see so much fear and reticence around investing in long-term strategies because people don’t have big runways or they might just generally be shortsighted. And they’re focused on quick feedback loops and transactional strategies and tactics towards growing. But I’ll tell you what, you know, life is a marathon, not a sprint. And if you can find a channel that yields high value inbound based on making long-term investments in expertise, not just in the money that you put out towards a particular channel or invest in a channel, you can see incredible results because as buyers in the market, we just want authenticity.

We want certainty, we want reliability. We want transparency. And most importantly, we want to be able to trust the resource and the source of whatever it is we buy because if I’m buying something from a website and it doesn’t work, I can’t call the website and choke out the website. I need a human, right. I need a human throat to choke. And so I need recourse. Yep. And I don’t get that recourse through quick flashy, kitschy, clever s**t.

I get that recourse from seeing long form. Not just a long form but over time seeing consistent value being created.

AO: Yeah. Sean, thank you so much. And for just helping us with this and I think with your example, I want to dive into one thing that you said about going back to the dating site example, they were saying that they realized that they were not solving for getting someone a date. They were solving for loneliness. And as a result of that realization, they picked the right channels. So could you talk about that process? Cause I think conceptually it’s easy to go to a different channel then the real underlying problem. But the first thing they did was pick the right channel.

Sean Sheppard: But once they understood what the real problem was, they went where that traffic was. And then they tried to deeply understand how that traffic behaved, why it went, where it went, what it did, it, why it did what it did and where the gaps were for a product or a service like theirs. And then try to identify those gaps with the powers that be who control that traffic or control those locations and use the value proposition that said, Hey, I can help you make more money in this way.

And that took some time but I think what’s really important for anybody, especially growth marketers who are very data-driven, very tech-oriented, which is important and wonderful is that at the end of the day, it’s not the tech that wins in this marketing, it’s the insights that you glean from trying to understand your market. And those insights are what’s going to carry you into the right channel at the right time. Hopefully with the right message. 

AO: That’s awesome, Sean. Thank you. Thank you so much, man. So we got to pick the right channel and then it seems like getting this affiliate relationship is less Aha. I mean, it seems like that’ll kind of be a fruit of just understanding that channel. Like you’ll know how to have that right messaging, but is there anything else you could say around that the second part of the affiliate process?

Sean Sheppard: Oh sure. I mean, you need to know who that affiliate partner is, what they care about, what business model they have, if any, what market in the industry they serve in, in other words, who is your customer’s customer and how do they measure their own success against that? And then how can you contribute to it and then build your value proposition and articulate around that?

AO: Yeah. Is there anything you can say around the next stage, which is just the actual transaction of money with the affiliate partners? Is there anything special that happened that we need to learn from? 

Sean Sheppard: Yeah, just a general rule for anybody, when you’re asking anybody to do anything, you’re asking them to change behavior to a certain degree. And so that the number one objective of anybody trying to do something new or create a new behavior should be to make it as easy as possible for people to do that. So be prepared, be ready and have a plan, a strategy and a program, if you will. A programmatic way to make it really easy for somebody to do business with you. It’s easy for us to get really focused on our own thing and, stop asking the question, how easy or hard do we make it for other people to work with us?

And I can tell you that the number one catalyst for change is making it stupid, easy for people to make that change.

AO: That is so good. Thank you so much, Sean. Last question, are there any roadblocks you can see someone having, besides the things that you already mentioned as you were going out to create the right affiliate marketing channel?

Sean Sheppard: Well, I think the only roadblock is the shoe on the other foot test, right? I mean, have they walked a mile in the shoes of the people that they’re trying to work with, to either partner with or convert. How deeply do they understand those people, their motives, their agendas, their wants, needs, and desires and the things that get them to move? And then from there it’s reverse engineering your way back to you through their methods, means, formats and channels that they most utilize when their mind share is in a place that’s adjacent to yours, so that you can get that mind share and get them to move.

AO: Boom. Sean, thank you so much. This has been incredible pleasure. 

Sean Sheppard: Adam any time man.

AO: Boom. That’s it. Another great episode of The One Growth Show , the official podcast of growth marketing conference to learn more about upcoming events, visit www.growthmarketingconf.com and subscribe to the newsletter. If you enjoy this episode, let us know. We’d really appreciate it if you’d give us a five star rating, super easy, just click the last star on iTunes, and also share this episode on social media. After all you want your network to know you’re the person they can always turn to for the best growth and marketing content, don’t you?

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