While content is the buzzword of the moment for brands, it’s always been at the core of effective affiliate marketing, but content affiliates remain under-rewarded. This is starting to change, as key players look to adequately reward the longtail for its influence on purchases.
Content has always been at the heart of affiliate marketing, but the rise and rise of online influencers has only increased the desire of the industry to engage with these longtail publishers.
Yet historically, content affiliates have not necessarily been adequately rewarded by standard industry payment models. The last-click wins model has meant that content publishers often lose out to voucher-based affiliates, but the industry has begun to refocus its efforts on content, recognising the value it derives for advertisers in engaging consumers at the beginning or middle of the purchase funnel.
Andrew Girdwood, media innovations director at DigitasLBi, argues that content affiliates help brands increase margins, rather than pressurising them, when they aid with awareness, loyalty and brand buzz.
“You could offer a great coupon deal but if no one knows about your product, that coupon will not be as effective as it could be. With content affiliates you can begin to build a buzz around your brand, products and services. Content affiliates help with awareness. In the short term this helps with sales and drives up search volume, and in the longer term allows brands to add more margin on products or even benefit from shorter consideration cycles,” says Girdwood.
“The focus is back on content, knowing that it will take more than a banner placement to engage today’s consumer,” says Sandra McDill, managing partner at iProspect UK. “In order for this to happen, advertisers need to share more information and relax their control over content to allow website owners to create native content. This needs to be done in a transparent way for consumers to make it clear that the editorial they are reading is paid advertising.
“However, all of this effort will only be made possible if content sites are rewarded fairly for their part in the consumer journey. This begs the question, what is the value of affiliate marketing to content sites?”
Answering that question requires an understanding of the role affiliates play in assisting – not simply closing – a sale, and rewarding them accordingly. This has become a priority for the industry, with a few forward-thinking players taking steps to reward longtail affiliates.
Affiliate Window, for instance, last year introduced new features to its reporting to allow tracking of the influence of publishers where they did not supply the last-click. Last month the network expanded on this by launching a new ‘assist’ commission model, allowing advertisers to offer ‘top-up’ commissions to publishers that have contributed higher up the sales funnel.
A recent trial campaign saw an 85 per cent increase in traffic and a 25 per cent increase in sales across the publishers involved, according to the network. Elsewhere, Rakuten and Tradedoubler have recently released tools to solve issues around cross-channel attribution and user journey analysis reporting.
“Networks need to think more creatively about solutions that engage affiliates whose efforts aren’t being rewarded,” says Kevin Edwards, global client strategy director at Affiliate Window. “Certain sectors have embraced tenancies and click payments as ‘top-ups’ for commissions and we need to showcase the wider branding and halo effect affiliate content offers.”
He adds that a “more concerted effort” is needed to encourage advertisers to share more qualitative post-transaction data, rather than simply the standard quantitative metrics captured. “Some of the best indicators of the value offered before last click are actually from those that happen afterwards and aren’t typically captured by networks.”
Collaboration from all partners is key for the industry to improve its understanding of, and better engage with, longtail affiliates. However, Helen Southgate, UK managing director at Affilinet, feels that historically there has been a “lack of will” to do this on the parts of both the publisher/network and the advertiser.
“The publisher/network is potentially concerned about a negative outcome and the advertiser is concerned about the effort required. Both of these can be overcome; affiliates should be confident they are driving incremental value to customers and therefore be comfortable that any change in model would be of benefit.”
Southgate adds that the onus is on the networks to make this simple for advertisers. “Networks should take away any work on the advertiser’s behalf by finding easy solutions to integrate and support the data collection insight gained from the visibility.”
Advancements in the area, such as the launch of Affiliate Window's assist tool, are a step in the right direction, according to 7thingsmedia account director Fiona Gandy, who adds that advertisers should never make their own assumptions about influence without accurately measuring it. Only when working in tandem with all partners, to test and segment in manageable volumes, can brands accurately gauge the impact made by the affiliate channel.
She says: “Look at working on multiple payment models with publishers and do not stop activity because you did not see the conversions you expected – instead take the time to look at what role they played in the customer journey. Only then can you make a true decision whether the activity worked for you or not.”
Discussions around the value of different players in the affiliate channel invariably come back to the question of attribution. While few will contest that the last-click model is out of date, and in-roads have been made into exploring multi-click attribution models, finding an adequate solution to the challenges of multichannel attribution can be tricky.
It is, however, essential, according to Nick Fletcher, director of service strategy at Rakuten Marketing, in order to represent the changing shopper journey and fully understand the role of all players.
“Looking at the last click in isolation no longer reflects how people are shopping. It is a daunting prospect for any marketer to be the one to rock the boat, but the industry as a whole needs to champion a new way of measuring based on attribution so that all affiliates are rewarded fairly.”
Niall O’Gorman, global director of e-commerce strategy and innovation at Mondelez International, which works with iProspect on its performance marketing, says the brand uses attribution modelling and user-path analysis when acting as a retailer through the operation of its owned e-commerce channels. Publishers, too, can help advertisers improve understanding of their influence through transparency of their own sites, according to O’Gorman. This will “assist retailers in providing them with the correct tools and content for their role in the consumer journey, leading to a clear return on investment and useable data for all parties,” he adds.
While there is clearly a desire to bring content back to the centre of the affiliate marketing mindset, the right mix of partnerships and data is needed to ensure the incentive remains clear for longtail publishers.
This feature was first published in the 4 March issue of The Drum.