With high profile marketers calling for transparency and measurability from their online campaigns, affiliate marketing finds its business model in the slipstream of current thinking.
Other stars are aligning for the channel. Influencer marketing and traditional newspaper publishers are finding natural bedfellows in the affiliate model with its robust and scalable brand relationships and focus on payment on performance.
How then will the channel evolve to futureproof itself in an era of openness and increasing client demands?
1. Shifting towards automation
The past few years have seen an inexorable rush to automate processes and technology. This presents an inherent problem for affiliate marketing with its reliance on building long-term, personal relationships. But that’s only if we assume automation is the desirable endgame. If the recent troubles that programmatic have encountered tell us anything, it’s the absence of adequate controls that ultimately we still trust humans to deliver. Companies buy into people and when affiliate programs succeed it is because retailers know they have to invest in the personnel to run them. This has always been a central principle of the affiliate model and shouldn’t be downplayed.
That isn’t to say elements of automation cannot play a part in shaping how we optimize campaigns and we will see attempts to facilitate more algorithmic approaches to affiliate data.
2. Predicting your next customer
One way automation could manifest itself is in how data is used to predict the outcome of campaigns and optimize affiliate marketing budgets.
While affiliate marketing will never be a plug and play route to market, the increasing amounts of data that are being stored present interesting challenges about how it can be modelled to make assumptions about the outcomes of brand partnerships. Layer this with more three dimensional data points such as customer ID and demographic information, and affiliate marketers are then empowered to make more predictive, qualitative decisions about the types of customers likely to be driven by individual affiliates or types of activity.
Brands will have in mind an ideal customer they want to attract. Harness multiple data points and it becomes possible to easily match this to advertising campaigns they wish to support or products they want to sell.
Networks similarly have to align themselves as both custodians of affiliate programs as well as data insights.
3. Grabbing the international opportunity
For British retailers Brexit and other domestic threats throw up a contradictory array of challenges. Domestically there is no doubt that uncertainties about consumer confidence will escalate. Couple this with the added financial burdens they will have to assume in 2017, and the attractiveness of the overseas consumer will be brought into sharp focus.
There exists a longstanding desire for British goods and services (whether the perception of the UK in a post-Brexit age will take a hit remains to be seen) and the sophistication of the domestic e-commerce infrastructure presents a huge opportunity to market to hundreds of millions of overseas consumers.
Some retailers have already adapted their affiliate campaigns from their UK base to tap into latent groups of publishers in markets across the world. One of the beauties of affiliate marketing is the wealth of niche and localized content that can be tapped into. With networks taking a more globalized view, so the ability to create brand partnerships between countries is easier than ever.
4. Building robust tracking solutions
With smartphones accounting for more than 50% of sales on some affiliate programs, the need to understand how consumers are reacting to content across platforms is heightened. Tracking between tablet, desktop and handset generates perception changing insights. The early contributing efforts of blogging and social media channels within the network presents is magnified when cross-device tracking is implemented. It brings into sharp focus how little we actually knew before it existed.
Without it brands are working without all the tools available to optimize their campaigns and recognize true affiliate contribution. Cross-device will become the norm and with it expect to see commercial models evolve that seek to better acknowledge the branding power of affiliate marking alongside its tried and tested payment on performance model.
Kevin Edwards, Global Client Strategy Director, Awin.
Tel: +44 (0) 844 557 9240