With almost two decades of digital marketing and affiliate experience within the retail and payments sectors and with prominent i-Gaming brands, Lee-Ann Johnstone is an award-winning digital marketing expert and business mentor. In 2017, she ventured out on her own to create AffiliateINSIDER: An Affiliate Marketing Agency, Training Academy, and Thought Leadership News and Content Hub.

She’s dedicated almost two decades to helping businesses grow their affiliate marketing strategy and increase revenue worldwide. She is a Virgin Business Mentor and an Accelerator Academy partner, and has recently been awarded the honoured title of being one of the Top 10 Most Influential Women in iGaming for 2019 by iGaming Business.

Slotegrator interviewed Johnstone to see what industry insights she could offer, and we weren’t disappointed. She had plenty of wisdom to share, gleaned from nearly two decades of being at the forefront of a fast-paced, constantly-changing industry. Johnstone has intimate knowledge of the critical transformations the industry has gone through - and those that are still on the way.

With a depth and variety of experience gained from both online and offline marketing in multiple industries, Johnstone is perhaps better qualified than anyone to analyze the past, present, and future of digital marketing.

You have been working in digital marketing for almost 2 decades, and a lot has changed in that time. Which changes in digital marketing for the gambling industry do you think have been the most important?

Yes - that seems a long time, doesn’t it? The biggest change has been the amount of information and data we can now see and use to determine better marketing strategies and practices. We no longer mass market - we can tailor and segment messaging and offers right down to specific customers based on what they are looking for. This and the advancement of technology, and now AI, has changed the way we do affiliate marketing and acquisition marketing as a whole, entirely.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that there is no substitute for experience. No matter how clever you think you are, making mistakes is how you learn.

You learn with your gut and also by doing things over and over again. You just can’t rush that process, but you can learn from the past and make the future better. This is where I’m interested in focusing my time now, to help the next generation of marketers create new ways of doing online marketing - great.

You worked in traditional marketing before moving online. What differences in marketing strategies did you have to adapt to?

Yes - I started out at a financial services company, managing traditional marketing and advertising in newspapers, giving financial report updates on the radio, and running financial exhibitions and events. The biggest difference is that you didn’t know if what you were doing was moving the needle on revenue delivery to the business. There was no clear way to track the outcome of your work in revenue. This is what I loved most about getting into online marketing, the instant gratification of knowing that a campaign you’d created delivered a certain amount of revenue immediately attributable to your exact effort.

How is affiliate marketing in the iGaming industry different from other spheres?

For one, it is highly regulated, but it is also fast-moving and interesting because of the diverse way we manage affiliates in various sectors of the iGaming sphere. This industry has taken affiliate marketing in-house, and now is realising expertise is needed to make the channel grow. It’s also a bigger part of the marketing acquisition component vs the retail or financial spheres, where media, content marketing, advertising and SEO play a bigger role.

What upcoming affiliate trends are out there and which new tendencies in operator and affiliate cooperation will we see in 2020? Which changes are you most excited about?

Data has caught up with affiliate marketing, and affiliates are realising they are not just a lead generation partner for big brands. They are now able to use data to help operators understand what really attracts, engages and converts players on a granular level. I think this is quite exciting, as it means there is going to be a dynamic shift in the operator-affiliate relationship which I’ve been talking about for some time. We are on the precipice of a second evolution of how referral or partnership marketing is going to develop (the first evolution was the onset of links to complex real-time tracking). I’m excited to see how affiliate marketing will adapt and how brands will resonate to accommodate this change in their marketing strategies.

What’s the most common marketing mistake that you see people have made when they first start working with you?

Mostly - wrong technology, poor strategy and margins that are not trim. Every decision you make in creating a strategy to launch an affiliate program has an impact on your bottom-line profitability. The very nature of an affiliate program should be showing profit. When it doesn’t there’s usually two things wrong: 1) You haven’t got the infrastructure right, or 2) You don’t have the resourcing and expertise to build a successful strategy to deliver revenue. Both of these things are fundamental to building a successful, revenue-strong affiliate program.

What are some of the biggest hurdles people face as part of “entrepreneurial overwhelm?” Did you face any of them yourself when you started your own business?

You will be faced with challenges every day, and learning to manage them one task at a time is a skill that comes in pretty useful.

Overwhelm and Hindsight - these are two amazing things, but you have them at different times. In the moment (overwhelm) and on reflection after the moment has passed (hindsight). Understanding your WHY is probably the biggest thing you can do to keep the overwhelm at bay. When you know what you want to be doing, and you know why you are doing it, it brings joy. When your work brings you joy, that’s the mindset that will bring you success. Running a business is not easy. Whether you are an affiliate or operator, you will be faced with challenges every day, and learning to manage them one task at a time is a skill that comes in pretty useful. That and take a break to get perspective every once in a while - you can’t burn the candle at both ends. It never works.

Could you give us a bite-sized piece of career advice for people working in marketing?

Ask questions, continue your search for knowledge wherever you can find it, and never be afraid to make a few mistakes. I’ve made some, we all do, the point is you will always learn valuable lessons from each.

If you want to be the best you can be in online marketing, you have to be willing to continue to learn, and that means investing in self-lead learning, on the job, every day.

Digital is a fast-paced environment, and you can never really call yourself an expert, as you’ll be learning something new tomorrow.

Digital marketing seems like your passion, but if you had to do something else, what would it be?

I’d probably be a full-time coach or teacher. I really love working 1:1 with people to help them learn new skills and to be energised about learning something new, and I love seeing how someone can enter a room and have their perspective changed completely, and walk out with a renewed sense of purpose and passion. To me, knowledge is the greatest gift you can share with another human. So that’s what I’d want to be.