The strength of an affiliate network has traditionally been that it can provide access to a large numbers of affiliates, using its technology and expertise to build relationships between them and its advertisers.
Of course, not every affiliate is a good brand fit for each programme. Mature affiliate programmes can grow to number thousands of affiliates, but most of these will never refer a sale, and a greater proportion still might not be actively promoting. Moreover the network might have highly suitable affiliates on its books which are not joined to the advertiser’s programme.
The Network Challenge
The challenge for networks today is not that advertisers are crying out for more affiliates but rather that they are crying out for better affiliates. Networks need to make it easier for the two parties to find each other. Both advertisers and affiliates face a number of challenges that highlight the need for networks to provide better ways for the two to communicate.
Some advertisers question whether they cannot just run their affiliate programmes largely or entirely in-house, establishing direct relationships with their top volume drivers and letting the network handle the rest. The first way in which networks can meet this challenge is to show that they are identifying and bringing in a constant stream of new, good-quality, innovative affiliates to advertisers’ programmes.
Vital here is guaranteeing that the network is the source for these good quality affiliates. The advertiser should be confident that if an affiliate is on the network, they have already had some communication with the network and are suitable for consideration for the programme. In this respect, at the point of joining the programme clarity around terms & conditions and what types of activity is acceptable is best communicated in a uniform, standardised manner for the sake of clarity and transparency.
Greater scrutiny on the part of advertisers towards their affiliates, coupled with the higher profile of affiliate sites to consumers, will mean that networks need to put significant resource behind managing large-scale affiliate relations. Rather than just letting the sales roll in from the usual top performers, the onus will be on identifying where future growth is going to come from amongst the tens of thousands of affiliates on the network as a whole. The network will be expected to offer a marketplace in which both parties showcase what they can do for each other, and a means of communicating that attracts new actors into the performance channel.
Network's Must Provide Leadership
But the network’s role will not be limited to facilitating communication between the advertisers and affiliates on its books. The network has always been looked to for expertise and insight into the affiliate channel, but its future role will be to provide leadership on online issues that impact performance marketing, and to ensure these are communicated to advertisers and affiliates. The recent extension of the ASA’s digital remit and the forthcoming EU e-Privacy Directive are two examples of changes outside that industry that have the potential to profoundly affect what happens within it.
Raising The Affiliate Profile
Networks can also play a valuable role in raising the profile of the affiliate industry to the wider online marketing community, exhibiting examples of best practice and innovation within the performance channel. It is therefore important for the network to be widely connected. Getting this message out via social media methods like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube will help prevent it becoming insular to the relatively small affiliate community.
The network’s role in the future will essentially be twofold: to widen this community by creating connections between affiliates willing to work on a pay-per-sale basis, and to promote transparency through technological innovation at the level of the network platform.