Episode #14 – The Performance Marketing Spotlight with Dustin Howes

About Our Guest

Dustin Howes is a partnership nerd spreading the good word about performance marketing. He provides affiliate marketing consulting that fits every company’s budget, with services ranging from affiliate manager training and private consultations.

Dustin has cultivated thousands of partner relationships while observing the industries best practices. While honing his skills in the field, Dustin Howes came to the unfortunate conclusion that the overall management of affiliate programs is wildly misunderstood. He created the only online certification course of it’s kind that teaches how to properly manage a merchant affiliate program. His energy and enthusiasm exudes throughout the course.

With a heart of an entrepreneur, Dustin’s professional journey is deeply rooted in the realm of affiliate marketing. His expertise in the field wasn’t grown overnight; he’s accumulated a wealth of experience by working with a plethora of companies, each stint adding to his impressive affiliate marketing acumen. His passion for the industry is palpable, and he finds profound joy in connecting with fellow affiliate aficionados, sharing insights and reveling in the camaraderie among peers who are equally enthusiastic about the nuances of affiliate networks.



In this episode, host Marshall Nyman sits down with Dustin Howes to uncover his journey in the performance marketing space. Dustin shares his experiences starting from his background in affiliate marketing to becoming an entrepreneur and hosting the “Affiliate Nerd Out” podcast. They discuss the evolution of the industry, the challenges, and the community aspect that sets performance marketing apart. Tune in to hear Dustin’s insights and learn how to connect with him to further your own knowledge and opportunities in the world of performance marketing.



Marshall Nyman [00:00:04]:

Hello and welcome to the performance marketing Spotlight. I’m your host, Marshall Nyman, founder and CEO of Nymo co. Each episode I will be bringing you someone with deep experience in the performance marketing space where they highlight their experiences within the industry. Today I have the founder and chief coach at performance marketing manager and the nerderator himself, Dustin Howes, host of affiliate nerd out. Welcome, Dustin.

Dustin Howes [00:00:31]:

Hey, thanks for having me, man. It’s weird to be on this side of the mic getting interviewed rather than doing the interview.

Marshall Nyman [00:00:39]:

Well, very excited to have you on today. And yeah, about a month ago I was on the other side and you were interviewing me. So excited to be able to turn the tables and interview you. So let’s get right to it.

Dustin Howes [00:00:50]:

Boom. Let’s go.

Marshall Nyman [00:00:53]:

All right, well, why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about yourself so they can get to know you.

Dustin Howes [00:00:57]:

Absolutely. I am first and foremost a Giants fan. I hate the Shohei Otani signing of $700 million. Just kidding. I am first and foremost a father and husband and loving my family. And then I am an affiliate nerd in the last part of the equation. I am an entrepreneur by heart, but I have worked for lots of different companies in the affiliate realm and gained a ton of experience. And I am super passionate about the affiliate marketing world and just always excited to hang out with other nerds in this space.

Dustin Howes [00:01:35]:

So glad to be here.

Marshall Nyman [00:01:37]:

Awesome. Well, really excited to have you. So would love to know how you started nerding out what got you started in the affiliate marketing space.

Dustin Howes [00:01:45]:

The affiliate space came just like every childhood growing up. I said, I want to be in affiliate marketing when I was ten years old, of course, swinging a baseball bat in my backyard and my dreams just came true as expected by failing playing poker for a living in Las Vegas and needing to get my first professional career job in something. And I had some friends working at CJ that got me an interview. I had just recently graduated college the year before, so I gave this a shot and I’ve never looked back. I have not had a job outside of the affiliate marketing world in the last 13 years since then.

Marshall Nyman [00:02:40]:

Oh, wow. That’s amazing. I mean, a lot of people have gotten their start at CJ, so it’s incredible. I think maybe like almost 75% of my guests so far got their start out of college, so they really had a corner on that market at one point. They really knew how to recruit people right out of school.

Dustin Howes [00:02:55]:

It is so true. And they had one of the only companies that had a training program that taught you how to do affiliate marketing and what it was and what it wasn’t. And I remember going through that training with Joe Coil, who I still am friends with today in the industry, and just being enlightened and thinking, know, this industry seems really interesting. I got my teeth cut doing fraud prevention. So I took money away from fraudulent publications that were essentially, most of them were either toolbars or coupon sites that were doing nefarious things. Back then it was like cookie stuffing and tm, plus bidding when we didn’t have brand Verity or other cool tools to monitor it. So CJ and my team were doing that in the beginning and I saw just the incredible power of what this affiliate marketing thing was doing out in the real world and I wanted to be a part of it and become that next millionaire that was making all this, cashing all these huge checks that we were processing.

Marshall Nyman [00:04:20]:

Yeah, it was the wild west and I think it was definitely like a gold rush. Things could just hit and you were just like, wow, this is just bonkers. I mean, I just remember watching some offers one day all of a sudden be like $10,000 nowhere and just like, where’s this traffic coming from?

Dustin Howes [00:04:40]:

So true. You just didn’t know. We didn’t have the tracking attribution that we do today. This environment has changed so dramatically over my time span and the same is true for 20 year veterans. They’ve seen it come even further. But I like the place that we are today, but we still are not complete as an industry yet, which is kind of fun and exciting to see.

Marshall Nyman [00:05:10]:

Yeah, a lot of evolution in the industry. So you got your start at CJ, started learning about affiliate marketing, sinking your teeth in? Yeah, maybe wanted to be an entrepreneur, starting your path. Tell us kind of what happened.

Dustin Howes [00:05:26]:

You know, I got into this industry and I said, ok, I guess I’m going to work for the rest of my life at a corporation or a company. And CJ was a great start. And then my wife got a really awesome job over at retail, me not being employee number like 15 over in Austin. So we moved to Austin, Texas and I got an opportunity to do some consulting for impact. And then I got to work for the search monitor, which is a competitor of brand Verity. And then I worked for a coupon site, then I worked for an agency, then I ran my own program over at volusion and a merchant. And then I just kept on jumping jobs for the next opportunity that was there for me in my career. And not really a lot of foresight or vision of where I was going in this industry, but I kept moving up.

Dustin Howes [00:06:28]:

So things were good monetarily, but I had this internal feeling about I don’t know if I’m really set to work for a company in general. I just had this burning desire to do my own thing and start becoming an affiliate myself. And I started blogs and failed with blogs, and I started companies and failed with them. And I started an agency and failed with that. So I just kept on trying. My tenacity just got the best of me and eventually I got enough industry knowledge to become wretchedable and build my own thing out, which is what I’m doing today.

Marshall Nyman [00:07:11]:

Awesome. Well, sounds like you’ve really had a lot of experiences across the industry, publisher, agency, brand, and now you’ve started your own thing. Would love to hear and not just a thing, and you have multiple things that you’re doing. You’re really a true entrepreneur. Love to hear about those different things that you’re doing.

Dustin Howes [00:07:28]:

Yeah, I don’t do anything really well, but I do a lot of things, generating some income, which is growing throughout the years into bigger income, which is helping me out, feeding this beast. So yeah, three faceted things at this point. So one is my consultancy. So I’m not working for anybody, but I am out there coaching people on how to grow their affiliate programs. I do take on one to two clients where I do full management and recruitment for clients. And then I do a lot of training of affiliate managers@performancemarketingmanager.com. And I’ve built out a community that is serving others affiliate managers and giving them the best tips and secrets that we can. And that community is super important to me and my growth, not only the people that are coming in it, who may be much more junior affiliate managers looking to get that next heads up, next level up in their career.

Dustin Howes [00:08:38]:

And then finally, well, not finally, I took dustinhouse.com and I turned it into a B to B SaaS review platform. So I sell packages of content where I build out YouTube videos, I build out listicles, I build out full reviews and just building out that content using all of my knowledge of the industry, of what people want to read as a business owner about products that are out there. And then finally I have the affiliate nerd out, which is a passion project of mine of interviewing industry legends like you are doing and people that are just knowledgeable in this space and pulling out the best content possible from interviewing folks like that that have been in this industry a while. So really excited about all the things that I’m doing and I’m loving every minute of it.

Marshall Nyman [00:09:39]:

Yeah, it seems like you’re having a lot of fun, and I think that’s important. If you’re doing your own thing, you don’t want to feel all the pressure and all the chaos of working for a big corporation. So you got to just do something that’s enjoyable.

Dustin Howes [00:09:51]:

It really is. And not everybody can say that. Some people have an obligation to grind out a career at one company or never move on. And that kind of thing just doesn’t appeal to me and it doesn’t appeal to a lot of people. People like new challenges, people like new opportunities to grow in life. And I’ve made some mistakes over the years that I wish I would have continued to work for some companies. I wish I would have taken some job opportunities that I missed out on. But overall, at the end of the day, I’m smiling.

Dustin Howes [00:10:33]:

My family is fed, we’ve got a warm house out in the mountains, and I’m just enjoying my time here on earth.

Marshall Nyman [00:10:43]:

Yeah, I think one of the things of running your own business is just flexibility to be with your family.

Dustin Howes [00:10:48]:

For sure.

Marshall Nyman [00:10:49]:

I can’t put a value on that, but being able to. My kids were homesick the last few days. Being able to just step in and help out with that or whatever it is, spending that extra time with them, it is nice to have that flexibility. So let’s dive in a little bit about the podcast. Curious, like what made you started and what topics you’re covering, what type of guests are you having on?

Dustin Howes [00:11:09]:

I said for years that I wasn’t going to be another podcast. I wasn’t going to start another podcast. And then the more I would get on simple 15 minutes phone calls and explore partnership opportunities, the more I realized how much I enjoy seeing people and hanging out with them and asking them questions that were pertaining to the industry that I didn’t know about. And that turned into somebody saying, hey, you can make a lot of really good content by just interviewing people or hanging out and making a podcast. So I said, all right, well, let’s give it a try. And I actually got inspired by yours. I saw some really good blog posts that you pulled out of some of your first interviews, and I said, hey, this looks really good. So I adapted to that.

Dustin Howes [00:12:00]:

And then there’s a lot of value in pulling interesting industry questions out of some of these experts that have been in this industry for a long time. And getting them talking about what they’re knowledgeable about is a learned trait, I guess you would say. And getting the most out of every episode. It can be a little bit draining. I’m doing two episodes a week, and that’s a ton of content and a ton of time taken from my part, but it is time well spent. I just keep on making more friends in this industry, and that’s what this industry all is. It’s being well connected and being friendly with everybody is something. It’s one of my favorite hobies, I.

Marshall Nyman [00:12:56]:

Guess it’s a part of the industry. You can’t be in affiliate marketing and not network with other people and know other people and I think other channels, you can kind of go into a little bit of a cave and work on your own, but it just doesn’t work in this channel. So if you’re not a people person, if you don’t feed on that energy, then it’s definitely going to make it a more challenging job, I think.

Dustin Howes [00:13:16]:

Yeah. And I’m not exactly the most professional person out my. I don’t know him that well, but you just had Tara come on and her counterpart over there shoots is one of those personalities that is just. You see him at every conference and that’s the guy you want to be because he knows everybody and everybody loves that guy. And I’ve been watching that guy from afar for a long time and really modeling myself and who I am trying to be that kind of person that everybody wants to be friends with. So it comes naturally. But at some point, it’s weird that your own personality is taking over your professional life, which is why I never liked professionalism to begin with. And I’m glad that I get to be who I am, not only on camera, but in person.

Dustin Howes [00:14:23]:

And it makes things so much easier from a standpoint of your professional career, when you get to be yourself.

Marshall Nyman [00:14:31]:

Yeah. Professionalism feels like handcuffs. I mean, when you work for another company, you have to be whatever this is, professional. But when you work for yourself, you can just be yourself. You don’t have to worry about being professional. I think that’s something like I always tell people, you just want to be yourself. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to make people want to work with you, not trying to be something that you aren’t.

Dustin Howes [00:14:52]:

Yeah. And I think that was one of my biggest failures early on, that I was trying to be professional too often. And then I started working for a company called WP Engine. And this was the longest I’ve ever worked at a company, which was three plus years. And the reason why is they embraced my personality and accepted me for who I am beyond just my professional Ackerman. They wanted me to be that office personality and hang out with people and make people laugh. And I really loved my time at WP engine. It’s one of those regrets of leaving kind of companies for me.

Dustin Howes [00:15:36]:

But yeah, you have to run into a company like that throughout your career to really embrace who you are as a person and who you’re evolving into in this career path, for sure.

Marshall Nyman [00:15:53]:

So I know you’re very active in the industry as we’ve talked about. You’re also been involved with the PMA. Would love to hear a little bit about what you’ve done with the PMA.

Dustin Howes [00:16:04]:

The PMA is easily the biggest career builder that I’ve ever been a part of. So you sign up for a membership, it’s kind of like a fraternity, but you get instant access to absolute legends in this industry that you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, or you have to work your way up the rankings to make that kind of partnership. And I’ve utilized that. That’s been a whole group of the folks that I have interviewed on affiliate nerd out throughout this last year. Folks that have an enormous amount of expertise in the field and all in different veins. I mean, there are folks that are coupon site owners and network owners and founders of really huge companies and they’ve all had a very interesting and diverse experience in the affiliate industry. And being able to tap them on the shoulder via a slack message or anytime you’re at a conference, they have a PMA brunch. That you get to rub elbows with those folks is just super, not just fun for me to network, but also just super educational.

Dustin Howes [00:17:31]:

I think my best education has come from picking the minds of those that are in the PMA and I would never take that back. I’m just so proud to be a part of that organization. And eventually I worked myself up the courage to apply, to be on the board. And here I am today being a part of the decision makers of that organization.

Marshall Nyman [00:17:55]:

It’s awesome, great industry. And definitely, I think, just kind of feeds into the key of affiliate marketing, which is networking.

Dustin Howes [00:18:04]:

Oh, no doubt the lifeblood of it, of it all. And if you just discontinue your networking journey, you’re cutting yourself off from the next partnership opportunity. I have taken a lot of calls in my life, 15 minutes exploration calls that didn’t amount to anything, whether it be a product that I’m not never going to use, or whether it be a partnership that just didn’t pan out because they didn’t want to do the work or I didn’t want to do the work or reciprocate in some kind of capacity. But every conversation is a new opportunity for something that could be a game changer in your business and I just do not pass those opportunities up. And the PMA is one of those organizations and communities that help you expand that reach to where the higher quality potential partnerships are in that community, which I absolutely love. Great.

Marshall Nyman [00:19:08]:

What do you think? One of the major misconceptions about performance marketing that you’re hearing today.

Dustin Howes [00:19:17]:

Probably that affiliate marketing above all is coupon sites and toolbars that are stealing last click attribution. And that has been a big black eye for the affiliate marketing world over the last five to ten years. And it is something that all of the educators out there like you and I are out there trying to alleviate from the industry. And we’re all spreading the good word about performance marketing in the capacity that it is. Incremental value and coupon sites, toolbars, loyalty sites, they all have their potential in some kind of capacity to grow programs. And as long as you’re making sure that you’re controlling that in a good environment, but also having a diverse portfolio of content publications and influencers that are the real difference makers, in my opinion, in your program you can have a content strategy that does include those kinds of guys in your program. But I would say the larger misconception from performance marketing standpoint is that people are scared that coupon sites are going to take all of their attribution from the other channels and it’s just not incremental.

Marshall Nyman [00:20:53]:

Yeah, I think as long as you set clear goals and expectations, then you can definitely run a full funnel marketing program with some of those partners. But yeah, I think that’s just been a big battle over the last decade or so of trying to change the perception of the industry. And I think we’ve come a long way and I feel like a lot more people have a lot more respect for the industry than they did when we were trying to fight for budget maybe ten years ago with some of the other channels.

Dustin Howes [00:21:17]:

Absolutely. And that’s another one of those industry shifts that we’ve seen in the last couple of years is that budget is opening up for the affiliate program to do the hybrid model rather than a traditional affiliate. When I got into this industry managing programs for merchants brands, they would give me absolutely no budget. I would have to talk every affiliate into working off of a commission basis only. And that’s just the way it was. And it was hard. It is hard getting the door slammed in your face all the time. But nowadays setting those expectations is extremely important from an agency standpoint or a merchant program standpoint, from an in house affiliate manager to say to leadership, we need exploratory budget to create this content and pay their time early on and then we will negotiate the commission rate down early on until we recoup what we were going to pay out anyway and then we can get back to business.

Dustin Howes [00:22:30]:

But we need to pay them up front and people are finally coming around to that over these last couple of years I think. But it has been a journey and I’m sure you have faced this battle quite a bit.

Marshall Nyman [00:22:44]:

Yeah, it’s definitely shifted the model a little bit over the last few years, especially the last year or so. It’s felt like even more where everything requires some sort of flat fee. I remember even things are just like a CPC and the model continues to change and now people are also shifting back to CPC too. So it’s part of the evolution of things and I’m sure some of the things with tracking too and some of the complexities with everything, it’s just trying to give more attribution to some of these partners too. I think there’s some cases where it’s fair that they get that fee. It just kind of has to make sense for both sides, I think.

Dustin Howes [00:23:24]:

For sure. And it’s a true partnership. There’s give and take for both ends here. So as long as you’re evaluating their potential and that’s something that just comes with time and having a good eye for it, then your program is going to succeed in the long run. As long as you can get some thumbs up from the executive team to help you out in the early stages.

Marshall Nyman [00:23:53]:

So what’s been your favorite part of working in the performance marketing industry?

Dustin Howes [00:24:00]:

Good question. It’s tough to answer because I absolutely love a new challenge and every new client, there are no two affiliate programs that are the same. So every client is a new challenge with new opportunities to reach out. It’s hard for me not to say networking within the industry, but I think overall the community aspect of this industry is incredible. Every company that I’ve worked for or consulted for, there is an internal marketing team that seems to be fighting the affiliate team, either jealousy wise or just over attribution wise. The other marketing channels sees affiliate marketing in a different realm and it’s a really weird dynamic within the company and our industry as a whole. Our community in the affiliate marketing performance marketing realm is just so embracing and wants to help each other out. No matter if, even if we’re competitors going after the same clients and niches.

Dustin Howes [00:25:25]:

Everybody loves each other and everybody is helping each other out in some kind of basidy. It’s this concept of rising tides, race all ships. And I just love that everybody is out there trying to help me and I’m trying to help everybody out. That has to be my, I mean.

Marshall Nyman [00:25:47]:

I think that’s a good note to end it on. I think a really great point. The community is really everything in the affiliate space. So a big thank you to Dustin for joining the podcast this week. Really great insights from your background in performance marketing and sharing about your triple headed monster with Dustinhouse.com. Got the podcast and performance marketing manager. So a lot of really great things and I’m sure as an entrepreneur you’ll be creating something new that we’ll be seeing in the future. So what’s the best way for listeners to connect with you?

Dustin Howes [00:26:19]:

Dustin Me@dustinhouse.com is my email address. You can go to performancemarketingmanager.com and grab my checklist. Go to dustinhouse.com checklist to sign up for my 30 point checklist. If you’re looking to improve your affiliate program or want to go through the steps I take to build a program myself and yeah, I’m not hard to find.

Marshall Nyman [00:26:48]:

Awesome. Well, again, thank you to Dustin. If you’ve enjoyed this content, please give us a like and a follow. Thank you for joining us. I am Marshall Nyman, host of the performance marketing spotlight, signing off. Thank you.