a4uexpo London is an excellent event and always inspires good conversation and thought-provoking discussion. However, one session in particular left me feeling rather frustrated, Performance Marketing – The Value & Perception Debate. I often see this topic raised and question its origin.
Does performance/affiliate Marketing genuinely have a bad reputation or is this just a theory peddled by those with commercial ulterior motives desperate to change the status quo in their favour?
To my mind, this industry has advanced at a rapid pace when it comes to the value and protection it offers advertisers, but we seldom stop to recognise or appreciate this. Instead we’re presented with panel discussions rehashing issues from five years ago and articles still questioning if we've managed to shed our grubby image.
Shady history is long gone
Affiliate marketing has long dismissed its shady past but don’t take my word for it, don’t listen to the managers of networks who are clearly biased, look at the clients who work in the channel, but more importantly, have stayed in the channel for many years. Take ASOS, probably the most controversial, its CEO quite publicly panned the channel in 2005; it now has programmes in multiple markets and a thriving UK affiliate base. Take Sky, BT, Marks & Spencer right the way through the spectrum to luxury brands like Harrods or Fortnum & Mason. You have to search for quite some time to find a brand without a programme, yet here we are in 2012 still questioning our image.
One of the most alarming things I heard during the discussion was a proclamation from a senior agency representative that affiliates might damage a client’s search campaigns or worse be caught bidding on brand names out of office hours. Affiliate Window introduced Snoopy, our brand monitoring tool, over 7 years ago to put an end to this kind of activity. Other networks followed suit. This issue has long been solved so to hear it mentioned in this way is quite shocking. What it clearly proves is that there are senior people sitting in organisations designed to help advertisers who don’t have the foggiest idea what our industry is about or how far we’ve come. This level of ignorance cannot be excused. You might argue it’s our responsibility to educate but I would counter that we have proactively educated and the fact some people are still not aware is down to their inability to keep up with the pace at which we work in affiliate marketing.
Brands leading the way
Fortunately, the situation within brands is significantly more promising. Many have teams of people dedicated to performance who not only understand the channel but contribute significantly to its advancement. Affiliate programmes are carefully managed, well understood and drive real value for clients. Extensive RFP processes are run to determine the best networks for clients and none of us would win any business if we couldn't offer protection and reassurance over how we nurture and manage brand programmes.
As an industry, we still have problems to solve but which channel doesn't? Let’s stop dwelling on negatives. Let’s take pride in the sophistication of what we do, let’s stop worrying about whether we’re affiliate or performance marketing and celebrate the future. We’re about to have the biggest Q4 in the history of our channel and that’s thanks to the hard work of all the publishers, advertisers, agencies, networks, the IAB Affiliate Marketing Council and all who work tirelessly to uphold, protect and maintain affiliate marketing as a fundamental part of every advertisers’ digital activity.
I hope that’s the last panel I have to sit through where this archaic topic is raised and let this be the last article where the words ‘grubby’ and ‘affiliate’ ever have to sit alongside each other.