In this edition of the Advertiser Diaries, Niamh Butler-Walton spoke to Dunelm’s Neale Madden. The conversation with Neale was hugely positive – it’s inspiring to hear from somebody who is clearly so passionate about the industry they work in.

Before he was brought in to increase Dunelms affiliate presence, Neale led the affiliate marketing strategy at Buyagift and Red Letter Days and has experience in different areas in digital marketing and other channels like SEO, Display, PPC and Social.

Neale told PerformanceIN what he loves about the channel, what he doesn’t love so much and what he thinks we need to focus on this year…

What’s your role and what does it entail?

I’m the Affiliate Marketing Manager at Dunelm, the UK’s leading homeware retailer. My role involves creating the overarching focus areas that we want to address in both the short-mid term as well as the long-term. I’m also responsible for leading both the overall channel strategy as well as the actual execution of the affiliate campaigns themselves.

I think it’s fair to say that historically Dunelm’s affiliate presence has been fairly low-key. Therefore, I was brought in last year to not only give a long-term vision for the channel but to also scale the channel both aggressively and sustainably. It’s extremely fast-paced but equally very exciting as the opportunity for Dunelm in this space is huge!

What emerging publisher strategies are you seeing right now?

Whilst traditional placements like newsletters and on-site exposure continue to be prominent, more and more affiliates are now diversifying their campaign types to give advertisers newer and more engaged audiences. For example, push notifications are being better utilised through the affiliate space and I expect this will continue as we take advantage of this app-centric climate we’re in.

Brands are also leaning on more varied content mediums than ever before so I expect to see the appetite for the likes of video and widgets continue to grow too, particularly with content partners. Lastly, there are more publishers now with multi-retailer strategies in which they’re moving away from brands such as Amazon’s affiliate programme because of reductions in commission which opens up a huge opportunity for most advertisers.

What do you most respect or what impresses you about your key affiliates?

Not just now but during the entirety of the pandemic, most affiliates have been fantastic at adapting to suit advertiser needs and this highlights the power of our channel being so relationship driven. What’s impressed me most is the flexibility they’ve offered when it comes to ways of working as well as commercials.

In general, something I have always encouraged is a two-way, 50/50 partnership and this involves being as open and transparent as possible. There are hundreds of ways to work with just one affiliate and so I’m not expecting to be at full efficiency after one campaign, I’m also not expecting every trial to be groundbreaking. I respect publishers the most when they are transparent and don’t gloss over poor performance – that’s how you create a successful partnership.

What shifts are you seeing in affiliate marketing with your company?

We’re seeing a lot of shifts right now at Dunelm, simply because our affiliate programme is young. In terms of affiliate types, the rise of Buy Now Pay Later partners has been staggering and is a great way to reach new audiences. I’m personally really excited to see forums like Reddit become even more important as customers become increasingly savvy with who they trust and the idea that these are very close, loyal communities is exceptionally powerful.

More holistically, one thing I’m particularly trying to educate Dunelm on is the idea that the affiliate channel isn’t simply a ‘bottom of the funnel’ conversion source but can offer valuable support to other areas of the business including other paid digital channels.

What impressed you about the industry in 2021?

I touched on it earlier but just how reactive and adaptable everyone has been in the last year. I think a lot of companies in the affiliate industry have not only been great at dealing with a very challenging year, but have taken that a step further by turning those challenges into new opportunities through innovation. I’m also a huge advocate for smaller long-tail partners and so the fact that so many more people have decided to start their own niche affiliate sites through the pandemic has been super impressive and ultimately gives us advertisers more scope too! Oh, and it was definitely the year I (along with most of the world) got into podcasts. So yes yes yes to podcasts…

What’s your top tip for publishers?

Openness, transparency and flexibility. The better the affiliate programme, the less important top-line sales become and the emphasis becomes more about the true VALUE those sales bring. An affiliate partnership is a long-term relationship so we all should be in it for the long haul. We know we’re not going to ‘split the atom’ the first time but a transparent approach will certainly help us get there eventually.

What can affiliates do to stand out when working with your brand?

I’ve rinsed the word ‘transparency’ but it’s so true. Be even MORE transparent with data as well as provide real case studies that apply to our industries. Take the time to understand our overall goals and align campaigns to those, rather than doing things just because you’re doing it with one of our competitors.

What one thing would you change about the industry?

Definitely the obsession of ‘What’s Trending!?’ every year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s vital to be in the know in case there are opportunities you are missing out on, however, I think we also need to remember that every affiliate programme is different as we all optimise our channels to different goals and KPIs depending on what our overall company objectives are. It’s less aligning your strategy to ‘What’s Trending Now?’ and more harnessing the amazing innovations in the industry to fit your own strategy.

I would also love to change the stigma associated with affiliate marketing in that it’s the digital marketing channel people just ‘fall into’. In this case I’m actually a massive hypocrite as that is exactly what happened to me but I’m so lucky I did! The affiliate channel is a beautiful space when you think about it. It’s one of, if not the only, paid marketing channel that encompasses real life human relationships and interaction at the heart of all decision-making and that’s something that will always remain the same. That’s pretty awesome in it’s own right and we need to be doing a lot more to shout about that as a whole to make the industry even more appealing to people starting their career.

What other areas of the industry would you be interested in being involved in in the future?

Affiliate partnerships are just a segment of the partnerships umbrella and I would love to look at that much more holistically. Brand to brand partnerships in particular offer huge value if done correctly. Even within the affiliate space, co-branding opportunities are becoming more common than ever before because of the need to maximise efficiency and reach wider audiences. I think it’s only a matter of time before we see a big shift in the affiliate space with sustainability partners though. We’ve already seen more and more donation-led affiliates like KidStart and Easyfundraising rise in popularity over the last decade so I expect we’ll soon see customers prioritise affiliates based on environmental incentives too. I’m definitely all for that!

It was an absolute pleasure speaking to Neale for this installment of the Advertiser Diaries. If you would like to be involved, please don’t hesitate to submit your interest here!

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