“I like being in a space where I’m not comfortable. As soon as I’m comfortable I’m bored,” quips Dr Shelly Levin, MD and founding partner of TrafficSynergy. Given this comment, her career moves are not surprising. The former dancer with a PhD in Applied Mathematics left her job in asset management (conforming, she says, is not her strong point) to work on building affiliate pricing models for an online casino.
Newly married,she and programming-wiz husband, Gavin (who also left a promising career in the Woolworths business intelligence division) then teamed up with technology entrepreneur Eric Edelstein to start TrafficSynergy in 2004.
The company is an affiliate network which, as Dr Levin explains, acts as an intermediary between advertisers and marketers (affiliates), bringing them together and providing a place for them to ‘meet’under one virtual roof. “We take any online – or offline – merchants who want an online marketing solution and we match them up to affiliates,” she says.
Edelstein elaborates: “An affiliate is a marketer who sends visitors to another site using a variety of methods such as placing banners or text links on their own site, buying sponsored listings on search engines, email marketing and many other different methods.
The affiliate gets paid when an action happens. This action can be a lead, a sale, a download or one of many other variations. As an example, some advertisers are looking to build up their databases, so they pay for each opt-in email address they receive; others want leads from specific locations so they pay for each zip code. The common denominator is that the affiliate gets paid when an action happens.”
While affiliates sign up toTrafficSynergy’s affiliate network for free, the company charges advertisers a small commission for each click, lead or sale it helps to bring them, depending on the metric they are running with the affiliates.
The entire model is performance-based, so advertisers only pay for marketing that delivers results.“What a lot of media companies do is track the impressions and clicks so that they can tell advertisers that they have brought them five million impressions and 300 clicks, for example.
But we take this a step further and tell the advertiser, of the five million impressions and 300 clicks, we brought them three sales that actually converted and these sales were from the left, not the bottom banner, for example,” explains Dr Levin. One would imagine that paying only for advertising spend that delivers actual sales would be welcomed as a god-send by companies trying to get ahead in a competitive business environment.
But one of TrafficSynergy’s biggest challenges in the initial stages was a complete lack of understanding about how affiliate marketing works, particularly among old-school corporates. “It took a while to get a couple of the big deals in to make big corporates understand that affiliate marketing is a very powerful way to advertise,” relates Dr Levin, adding that the company spends a lot of time educating South African advertisers.
“A lot of them spend huge amounts of money building very flashy sites and then have no budget left to drive traffic to these sites. We try to explain that the most beautiful site is not worth anything to the company if no one sees it so you have to invest in driving traffic to it,” she continues.
Today, TrafficSynergy has the largest base of South African affiliates. “Once deals are in place, you can manage them passively and move on to the next deal. In this way it’s a powerful system that we can keep building,” says Dr Levin. “Some people have suggested we move into other areas that the business has close ties with, such as pay-per-click.
But we’ve taken a decision to specialise in affiliate marketing – to eat, breathe and live it, rather than diversifying. This is what we’re good at.” With this kind of focus, there can be little doubt that the future holds even greater success for the trio.
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