There’s been an explosion in the number of platforms, channels and opportunities to drive efficient acquisition. As the marketing landscape splinters and evolves, brands need a partner agency that can help them identify, experiment and scale across innovative platforms and channels. Hamster Garage looks to fill this gap.
Building an Affiliate Program
When I worked in-house at Airbnb, our team started off as an affiliate team. Very quickly, we went from working with traditional affiliate partners — eBates, RetailMeNot, Honey, etc. — to building a robust partner marketing program. The dust is settling, but it’s fair to say there is a real difference between these two ways to manage a program. Partner marketing goes beyond affiliate marketing by expanding the types of partners in a program. This can include coordinating with mainstream publishers to get valuable content, getting targeted offers on financial services apps and platforms, or working with all types of creators to promote a brand. As a whole, a robust partner program with long tail partners can be a valuable asset and productive channel. However, at Airbnb, with thousands of partners already in the program and goals that required 200% YoY growth, we had to take bets that had the potential to double the program and scale with Airbnb’s growth goals. Recruiting one more blogger would not achieve that goal.
There were certain channels, opportunities, or partnerships that we had tested that had shown promising results in pilots. These often required cross functional support, robust forecasting, or nuanced technical, creative or legal support. Subsequently, we spent significant time scoping the opportunities and determining the lift required to test and the potential for scale. However, to hit the growth we needed and to start diversifying our partner program, it was worth exploring and testing channels. Over time, these channels became distinct parts of our program that we broke out from the rest of the partner program. We were spending significant financial resourcing — often times flat spends based on CPM or CPCs — so managing these relationships closely was important.
Why Partner Marketing?
Our team was handling these new opportunities because the partner marketing team is in a unique position in the marketing org. We worked with thousands of partners that all promoted in different ways: coupon sites, loyalty platforms, fintech apps, display partners, subnetworks, mainstream publishers, bloggers, etc. We worked with partners that promoted differently, required custom creatives, and needed a tracking and payment infrastructure. In short, as a partner marketing manager, it’s hard to not become an expert on the hundreds of variations of making money on the internet as a creator or publisher. We have to become experts on attribution and project management. While the search or paid social teams may have been laser focused on geographic expansion or creative automation on Facebook, we met with and onboarded new types of partners regularly. This made our team perfect to try new channels or opportunities.
Quickly, we realized that while top agencies may have figured out how to make the affiliate channel palatable for blue chip brands — given the potential for brand and fraud risk when working with thousands of partners — they relied on existing relationships and a standardized playbook. This meant that while they could easily get you onboarded to eBates, they weren’t necessarily built to dive into new, highly scalable performance marketing opportunities. Internally, if we wanted to spend $50K on a new channel, we would spend time analyzing the channel, size up the opportunity, design a pilot, and execute. If the test was successful, we would build out a framework around scaling, optimizing, and ensuring compliance. Almost by definition this agency couldn’t exist because we wanted someone that would work with us to test new things, which is hard to scale as an agency.
What's next for Hamster Garage?
My team’s frustrations at Airbnb led to the vision for Hamster Garage. Three years later, we’re doubling down on what makes us unique in the marketplace: it’s not just our domain knowledge of partner marketing or existing relationships with partners, it’s our way of operating. We mimic high growth companies in how they test and scale new channels. Doing this well is not easy: we have to deeply understand our clients, we have to be experts across a range of opportunities, and we have to stay ahead of new channels. It also means hiring a different talent pool and consistently providing our team new challenges to keep them growing.
If you've worked in-house at a fast-growing brand, you're familiar with 1-pagers. If you work at HG, you're also familiar with 1-pagers.
Some of our clients have the same vision for their growth teams as my experience at Airbnb. This means they’ve decided to segment the partner channel into affiliates and marketing innovations. We support both groups. By the end of 2022, we’ll have tested 30 to 50 different opportunities across all clients. At that point, we’ll look to formalize our learnings into a framework around which opportunities are a fit for which brands.
It excites me that we get to stick to the original vision and purpose of why Hamster Garage exists. We haven’t cracked every nuance around building this service offering—scalability, training, pricing, the cross functional and involved nature of the work—but if we can crack this, we’ll be able to offer something valuable and rare to a clients that are looking for a nimble, innovative partner in a ever more complex performance marketing landscape.