Now that we’re a few months into 2012, some of this year’s most interesting and innovative affiliate technologies are starting to emerge. Without any further ado, here's A4u’s lowdown on the ten most important performance marketing developments (in no particular order) that affiliates should be using to improve their web offering.
1. Data analytics
Data is the key element of all fields of marketing – performance or otherwise. Data helps you to learn, it helps you to evolve your product correctly, and it helps you to understand your end user (the consumer, in an affiliate’s case). With the right data you can hone your offering so that it makes more conversions.
One particular purveyor of data analytics is QuBit. This company is a little over two years old and is already garnering network recognition from all different areas within the sector,from networks to affiliates. A4u spoke to Harry Hirst, responsible for QuBit’s business development, to discuss why data is imperative for affiliates. “Web data can tell any online business about which segments of users are most valuable and therefore where to target time, resource and investment,” Hirst tells us. “Making decisions without data is walking in the dark, hoping to bump into the right solution.” So, data analytic technologies are a key ingredient for marketers in 2012.
You can’t ignore the fact that video usage is massively on the up. Analytics firm Bytemobile recently published its quarterly report on mobile data usage, which disclosed that video amounted to half of all mobile traffic. In fact, on some networks it was a hefty 69%.
To discuss the importance of this trend, we got hold of Coull, a company ready to take full advantage of this media boom by effectively monetising digital movies for publishers to use in their websites. CEO Irfon Watkins says that the company’s aim is to build “a video player that actually encompasses all the functionality a consumer wants before making an actual decision”.
Coull’s business model is already proving successful if its roster of advertisers is anything to go by, and it’s sure to go from strength to strength as the company builds in more features for affiliates. Users will be able to access a wealth of information without ever having to leave the video itself. This is definitely one to keep tabs on!
Developed by Skimlinks, Skimwords focuses on specific products and shows users where they can buy said products. The keyword-monetising mechanism has been receiving some serious coverage of late thanks to its association with Pinterest. Some of it has been critical, but these articles have mostly come from the mainstream consumer tech media, who we feel have very little understanding of the performance marketing space. As the saying goes, though, there’s no such thing as bad publicity! While Skimlinks’ association with Pinterest might be over, its headline technology is now well-known by many.
Skimlinks have now launched the second generation of Skimwords, with this version fully integrating AtmaLinks, which the company acquired in the latter part of last year. We think that the company is a dead cert to have another strong year.
Marketing director Aaron Weissman believes that there are two reasons why Skimlinks will likely maintain its momentum throughout 2012: First and foremost, the technology is a way of profiting from your web presence. “It’s an additional monetisation stream that's previously untapped, and all it takes is a click of a button to turn it on,” Weissman points out.
The second reason comes back to the first point in this article: data. You’ll be able to learn about your users and find out what makes them tick. “[SkimWords gathers] an enormous source of data about the role that [a] publisher's content plays in intent generation,” Weissman boasts. “Knowing how users interact with their site allows publishers to make adjustments to improve performance.”
Voucher providers currently require a code from a mobile app to be shown – or worse, a paper printout to be manually noted – at the redemption stage in high-street shops and restaurants. Without delving too deep into the technology, Near Field Communications allows smartphones to be used as the payment device rather than a cash or credit card.
Voucher services have been keeping tabs on this technological advancement for some time. The trick to successful deployment isn’t about how to implement it, but rather just ensuring that there are enough NFC-supporting devices out there to make the tech worth introducing. Max Jennings, co-founder of VoucherCodes.co.uk, thinks that high-street retailers need to shoulder as much responsibility for this as the device manufacturers themselves. “While the industry is in agreement that the use of NFC-enabled voucher systems will become the norm, growth in this area is very much dictated by investment from retailers,” he explains. “In order to get to the stage where sites can run successful voucher campaigns utilising NFC systems, we need to see a significant rise in the number of point of sale systems that support NFC technology.”
Developed and pioneered by real-time performance marketing technology provider Performance Horizon Group, ExactView is a global platform for tracking, reporting, managing and optimising performance partner relationships. Should the technology prove successful, it could be the start of pressure for affiliate networks who could be made redundant from some top publisher earnings - simply because their share of override will be removed from the equation which they may lose out on.
Competition is something that can cause any industry to innovate or revolutionise standard practices, and Matt Bailey, commercial director at Performance Horizon Group, believes that their product will do just that. “ExactView is going to facilitate a new wave of performance marketing,” he enthuses. “It provides the first credible alternative to working with an affiliate network, giving brands and agencies greater control over their performance marketing strategy. The fact that ExactView sits on top of our own proprietary API opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the performance channel.” Could this be the dawn of a new era where advertisers can go at it alone?
6. Attribution solutions
Tracking, reporting and optimisation should be the key words for an affiliate project, because they’re all completely necessary when it comes to analysing performance. The trouble is, you don’t want just any old report delivery system. Your choice has to be full of stats that can help you to improve your offering.
We asked alpharooms.com about why the company employed DC Storm’s Storm Platform to do its grunt work. Daniel Morley, the company’s marketing director, believes that dissecting the actual conversion can be invaluable. He explains: “Using Storm’s attribution has enabled us to identify the different roles that every marketing channel plays in the path to conversion, from instigators to converters, and allows us to analyse each channel on its own merits.”
Not all users are the same, and while this is an obvious fact, being able to distinguish between them is something that Storm Platform does well. Morley tells us how differently some traffic can behave: “There are big variations between users viewing travel guides for research and customers at the buying stage who are comparing prices, but both are valuable. Since we started using attribution with Storm we have been able to evaluate the true value of each partner."
7. Social media
You might think this an obvious one, but the use of Web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook and Twitter to market products is still very much in its fledgling stage. We recently reported on some YouGov stats that revealed a little under half (43%) of those polled were unlikely to talk about a brand on a social media site even if they heard something positive about it. The same survey also exposed that 44% of the British online population would not feel more positive about a product their friends have followed and/or liked.
The only thing that’s likely to change the hearts and minds of these people is the creation of new and innovative ways to market brands on these platforms. One example from Digital Animal is fandistribution, where a consumer is recruited to become a micro-affiliate of sorts. Strategies likes this are still in their infancy, but we’re sure 2012 will be an important year for social marketers.
It’s now or never for advertisers in the affiliate sector to start innovating in the mobile space. While mobile tracking solutions are still thin on the ground, there are several new pieces of technology worth keeping an eye on. MymCart is one of them. It allows small businesses to create their own mobile commerce-capable application or website.
While at first glance this doesn’t appear very useful from an affiliate perspective, delve a little deeper and you’ll discover that MymCart was launched by Mark Kuhillow, founder of affiliate management agency ROEYE. That fact makes this plucky startup one to watch as it will almost definitely have its sights set on mobile tracking, with small business commerce being the first step towards that eventual goal. The more advertisers that MyMCart gets onboard, the more attractive it becomes for affiliates.
9. Call monetisation
Networks are constantly looking for ways to minimise leakage and bring new and existing channels into the affiliate sector. One such company that’s seemingly not going unnoticed in network circles is Freespee, which is basically an API that sits between consumer-facing affiliate and advertiser. Freespee’s product provides a measurable and monetisable phone number through which consumers can get hold of somebody and discuss the item they’re looking to purchase. Advertisers are then able to bid for calls in the hopes of converting one of those queries to an actual sale.
Kevin Edwards, strategy director at Affiliate Window, agrees that Freespee would give affiliates another weapon in terms of conversion. “[Freespee can] really drive Affiliate Window's ability to guarantee affiliates aren't losing out on mobile sales by offering m-commerce platforms to our advertiser base,” he explains.
10. Google Search Plus Your World
Google’s new search technology has already been discussed in-depth on A4u in Bas van den Beld’s article on using authority in search. We’re not going to cover the same points here, but it’s important to know that the search engine’s latest layer of functionality divides opinion amongst affiliates. You either love it or hate it. Unfortunately for those not banging the Search plus Your World drum, all signs point to the technology staying.
Google’s previous attempts at social networking weren’t well-received. Wave and Buzz, we’re looking at you! Google+ topped 90 million users last month; though the percentage of those that are active users is debatable, it would take something catastrophic for Google to give up on that substantial userbase now.
We believe that this year will be one where affiliates and networks work together on how best to utilise this new feature from the search giant. Bas van den Beld advises that to ignore Google+ completely could prove detrimental to your search ranking long term: “You have to use social media, and Google+ in particular, to spread your message because only then is it picked up by Google and shown in the SERPs,” he points out.
What are your thoughts on the most important technologies you're currently using? Drop a comment below and add to ours!