Ilja de Boer, VP Sales EMEA at Audience Serv, gives an exclusive interview to SiGMA News as part of our latest series on affiliates
How did you first get into the affiliate space, and were you always focused on the iGaming sector?
I started 10 years ago with a small local sweepstake company. Since then I worked with several affiliate networks and owned my own businesses. Today, I am working with the EU’s biggest direct email affiliate, Audience Serv - and I am very happy about that.
How is your affiliate business structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
Audience has been growing rapidly within the last years. Having a team of more than 70 experts means that a solid business structure is crucial. We are working from 6 different offices worldwide, which allows us to organise our team based on the demand and needs of our clients from different cultures and regions.
This way we are able to offer different solutions for different markets and also to work with experts from around the world. Our goal is to continue our growth and expertise keeping in mind the importance of a clear internal structure and transparent communication between our teams worldwide.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
Audience Serv is currently active in 23 countries. Besides Germany we are particularly focusing on France, UK and Italy. Moreover, we count 21 markets to our portfolio across Europe, Asia, and Oceania. We definitely see potential in the emerging markets as those countries are growing rapidly while promising an extended sales market for our services. Being already active in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia or Philippines, we noticed that emerging markets differ significantly from developed countries. Therefore, we adjusted our services in accordance to reach those markets successfully and we are trying to improve this approach constantly.
What makes your traffic proposition / traffic sites unique? What can you offer that others don’t? Are there any exciting plans in the works that you can tell us about?
We are an international customer acquisition specialist using smart, data-driven email marketing to increase the customer base of our clients. With highly targeted direct marketing campaigns and our GDPR compliant database, we provide high-quality traffic to our partners. Besides that, we are offering “LiveSend” - a product that uses programmatic advertising techniques. Due to this incorporation, we are able to analyses the purchase intentions of users, offer real-time delivery of email campaigns and programmatic advertising. This approach stands out from classic Email Marketing. From many successful campaigns we know that LiveSend delivers outstanding performances: open, click and conversion rates are exceeding results of classic email marketing services and we are very proud of this unique solution.
Also, for the future, we want to refine our solutions according to the needs of our clients. We always try to implement the latest techniques in order to improve our products and to help our clients to grow their business in the most effective way. Therefore, we are currently working on a self-service platform where clients can book email campaigns by themselves.
Is the grass greener on the other side - Have you considered giving white label casino or sports betting a go?
For now, we don’t consider starting our own white label. For us, the most important thing is to remain the best email publisher out there. Of course, some opportunities are quite charming but staying focused on our core business is best for now. Here in the Netherlands, we have a saying: “schoenmaker blijf bij je leest”, which translates to “Shoemaker stay with your equipment”. Meaning, stick with what you know.
Are you concerned by the impact on the affiliate sector from shifting regulatory environments? (In particular UKGC, Sweden’s Spelinspektionen, and Germany’s 2020 State Treaty on Gaming Regulation)
Yes and no. Regulations can make our work more difficult but it also helps to keep the market cleaner and more organised. It all depends on the country itself and the way they regulate their markets. If you look at the UK for example, regulations have been positive compared to what happened in Sweden. All in all, I would say I'm supporting regulations rather than connecting them to negative impacts.
What is the main thing that you’d like SiGMA readers to know about your traffic? Are you focusing on SEO? PPC? Any other traffic source?
Audience Serv is providing exclusive traffic by using highly targeted email campaigns. As we have been a specialist in online direct marketing for more than 10 years now, we've built up a large-scale database. This enables us to use historic data to provide solutions that are based on actual user data and behaviour to guarantee the best results for each campaign. Furthermore, we've gained industry-specific knowledge for gaming campaigns including casinos and betting.
Are you contemplating bringing in investors to scale or grow your business? Or, with such a big M&A market, have you ever contemplated selling the business?
In the market for more than ten years now, we have been able to grow as an economically strong company. Fortunately, thanks to saved profits, we do not depend on any investors and don't plan to. We are proud of our profitable and solid growth - without the influence of investors.
What can operators do to increase support from affiliates?
From our/my experience, the most successful way to gain support from affiliates is openness, honesty, respect and transparency. Although this goes without saying, those basic principles are the key in many ways. Being open to people, talking honestly and respectfully about the topics in your sector, and even mentioning challenges you are facing, are all things that can result in long term partnerships and loyal business relationships.
The same applies for your own team: having transparent communication with each other, sharing your expectations, worries and visions, is invaluable. Your business is formed of the people working for it, therefore the correct, motivating and appreciative attitude towards your team is crucial.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Well, every single person has different skills and qualities. In my opinion, it is important to build up a team where the skills of my teammates complement each other. That goes for professional as well as soft skills!
But of course, there are specific qualities and skills I am looking for. In our team, we have several roles and each role requires individual responsibilities. For example, as a campaign manager is it important to hire someone with strong coordination skills, analytical understanding and a high sense of responsibility in order to organise client’s email campaigns appropriately. For our Client Service Managers, we are seeking people with excellent communication skills as well as a strong solution-oriented mindset and who are very helpful and reliable for cooperation with our clients to ensure happy and long-term business relationships.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Technology plays a huge part in our day to day life. From targeting the right audience for our partners to having the right tools for our send-outs, the right technology is crucial for our business. Otherwise, we would still be sending handwritten postcards to consumers.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
The Asian market is growing rapidly, and it brings a lot of potentials to increase revenues. Affiliate marketing should be taken into consideration when thinking about expanding to the Asian market. However, it is necessary to come up with a unique strategy for Asia, where you need a different approach to find the right business partner. In doing so, it is important to understand the variations in user behaviour and customer experience. Compared to the western world, Asian users are primarily online using mobile devices and social media as well as influencer marketing are from much more importance. To open an affiliate channel it is also recommended to look for new opportunities, being flexible and open to new types of partnerships in order to satisfy the innovative Asian market.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
Affiliate marketing never sleeps, and it can take a lot of energy and it can overtake your thought process. Therefore, it's not the best sector for a good work-life balance. Sometimes you need to get some distance in order to make decisions with a calm mind.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
You shouldn't be afraid of things you can’t control, but the Coronavirus seems to be becoming a nightmare for everyone in the industry. Since this situation is unpredictable, it’s frightening and a nightmare for many industries. Indeed, I have to say, that with the beginning of the corona crisis it’s going really well in the gambling industry. But of course, I am hoping, that we get this situation under control soon.
What are the challenges in managing relationships with multiple operators?
Not getting comfortable in thinking you know what your partners expect because you had great results with their competitor. Every client is unique, even though they seem to be similar from the outside.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
Doing your business face to face is very valuable! Using emails and phone calls can always lead to miscommunications with each other, resulting in missed opportunities.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
Yes, but for now we postponed all conference visits due to uncertainty regarding the Corona situation. As I understood from several clients, Malta even prohibits arrivals and departures for everyone.
Tell us a bit about yourself – after all business is done between people, not just companies!
That would be a road trip through Italy. The country has it all, from gorgeous scenery to the best food and lovely people. I can highly recommend everyone to book for a night or two with the Student Hotel in Florence, a great young atmosphere with an infinity pool overlooking the whole city and surrounding mountains.
Favourite book ever read? Favourite book you look forward to read some day?
I’m a huge history buff, so anything from Dan Carlin or similar.
Where would you relocate with family if you had to pick one city?
Can it be a small Island? Then Curacao!
To be honest, I hate quotes, especially since they are posted by people on FB and Instagram.
Favourite sport and childhood idol?
Since I was little I’m obsessed with Basketball - from playing it to listening to every “The Ringer” podcast. Sadly, my hero, Kobe Bryant, recently died. He was a true inspiration in showing that you need to focus and work hard to make your dreams come true.
Get to know other great affiliates, responsible for killer traffic! Click the link below to read more insights from affiliates:
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