In an environment where the customer’s needs are ever-changing, the ability to adjust and adapt is key.
There is no doubt performance marketing is evolving and in recent years, the channel and departmental silos within our agencies have been merging and overlapping for the greater good.
For many working within the industry, the disappearing segmentation will mean more collaboration, further variety and new projects, significantly changing the way they work.
In the run-up to their ‘Affiliate marketing in the post-everything world’ session at the fast-approaching PMI: Europe in July, we caught up with speakers Sean Mahon and Emma Burnett Blair from digital agency Equator, who work on affiliate and display campaigns respectively.
They talked to us about where their disciplines stand today, their changing position in the marketing mix and how this has impacted the performance space on the whole.
Ahead of your session at PMI: Europe, can you explain a bit more about the "post-everything world", and the environment your channels are positioned in today?
Sean Mahon: I guess it’s a bit of a reflection on the eight years I’ve been in the industry and how I’ve changed from being viewed as Sean ‘the affiliate guy’ within the companies I’ve worked for, to becoming a fully paid- up member of ‘team integration.’ I’m now working alongside a group of multi-skilled individuals on solving problems for clients as opposed to just hoping my own figures looked good at the end of the month.
Our talk is about this kind of change and where we feel we fit within the modern marketing mix.
Emma Burnett Blair: Change has really been in the air over the last few years in terms of how the marketing channels are viewed and how they work together. We’ve moved on from thinking about channels operating in silos to thinking about how an integrated marketing strategy can achieve one big goal.
It’s easy to see that the lines between individual channels are becoming increasingly blurred, so it’s about seeing the bigger picture and considering how to capitalise on the strengths of all marketing disciplines together.
How long has this transition taken - from affiliate and display being treated in silo, to the fully-integrated world of today?
SM: I think you could argue that the transition is still ongoing. Like a lot of things, it’s not easy for major organisations to just fundamentally change how they view things overnight.
I think we’re perhaps guilty of existing within a bubble and assuming everyone sees value in things beyond the bottom line and attributes value accordingly. It’s been an ongoing discussion and education piece for us here at Equator and I’m happy to say that gradually our clients are coming round to the idea.
EBB: I would say this transition is still in motion. I think historically display has often been thought of as a bit of an add-on, almost a ‘nice to have,’ partly because the significant value it does produce - awareness, recall, likeability, purchase intent etc - can be so hard to measure.
It’s really been about changing this perception within the industry and I think display’s importance as an integral part of the marketing mix is being acknowledged more and more. Increasingly sophisticated reporting tools and attribution models along with exposure for the topic at events like PMI: Europe will be key in driving the final stage of the transition.
And how have these changes affected Equator as an agency?
SM: We successfully rebranded under the ‘ideas for a connected world’ banner in 2015 and looked to reposition ourselves in the market as a long-term strategic partner for clients, as opposed to an agency that offered XYZ within various disciplines.
This has led to a much more integrated approach with how we work with and advise clients, and in turn has created some pretty exciting opportunities for myself and Emma to work on together, as opposed to working separately, in isolation, on individual pieces of work as we had done in the past.
EBB: It sounds cheesy but ‘integration’ has become our new favourite word at Equator. I can say with honesty though that we make a point of actually practicing it rather than just saying it.
There’s been a real effort made to ensure that everyone is aware of and is considering the other channels and functions within the business - what they do and how they fit together – which has led to some really impressive collaboration between the departments and, ultimately, better output.
There’s a genuine feeling of teamwork - putting our heads together to come up with something far better than one person ever could.
So where, in your opinion, do affiliate and display sit in the performance marketing mix at the moment? Is it fair to say that they’re still core elements?
SM: Yeah, absolutely. I think we - as affiliate professionals - had to adapt where we fit in the wider marketing mix, but I see this as a mostly positive thing.
I think it’s also helped shake that outdated image of affiliates as a last-minute, cash-grab channel that steals sales from other places. When you stop looking at channels in isolation and instead try and understand where we fit in the wider marketing mix, I still think affiliates have a place at the table.
EBB: I would say display is more of a core element now than it’s ever been. Increasingly, its value is being appreciated by brands that realise it plays a key role in creating demand that is absolutely crucial, especially in a time where the competitive space is so busy.
This year’s news that, for the first time, investment into display is set to overtake that of search in the US is another validation of the channel’s firm place in the marketing mix.
And what direction do you think these channels are heading towards? In affiliate’s case, there have been a few murmurs about it potentially becoming a lot more automated...
SM: I think the murmuring has been interesting. I mean, the industry always needs a hot topic to talk about and we’ve seen this in the past with the ‘year(s) of the mobile’ and the EU cookie directive stuff. I think that’s what inspired me to talk at PMI about the crossover between affiliates and display.
Emma is coming into this with a wealth of knowledge and experience working within an industry that has experienced a rapid growth in automation, and I think this is perhaps what has been missing from the conversation thus far.
EBB: Programmatic has been a hot topic in display for a while now and with investment in it continuing to increase, there’s definitely a focus on making this form of advertising more efficient in terms of generating strong results, and also reducing the man hours required to do so. This is really what has inspired the conversations between Sean and I around where affiliates and display are heading in a ‘post-everything world’.
We’re seeing more and more crossover between the two channels; for example, both offer a means of running banner advertising, both are utilising content and both are facing challenges when it comes to attribution. Our talk touches upon these points and considers them in a modern marketing context.
What do you feel are the most exciting things about affiliate and display right now?
SM: I still hang my hat on the claim that affiliates are often the first to pick up and run with the new and cool stuff we get to play with in the digital space.
I’m consistently impressed by the so-called tech affiliates such as Ve Interactive who just get better and better at refining their proposition. Elsewhere, you have the likes of Affiliate Window constantly striving to give advertisers and publishers much more insight into user interaction throughout the channel, especially with stuff like the cross-device tracking they’ve rolled out.
EBB: I love the idea of display advertising being genuinely useful to consumers in their purchase journey and there are some really interesting conversations going on around this right now.
For the past few years, stakeholders in display advertising have, thankfully, moved away from what could have been considered ‘spammy’ tactics, but how do we take this further so that display ads are not just something users put up with but actually find helpful?
Think retargeting ads that let you know when a pair of shoes you want is back in stock, or banners that let you add items to your shopping cart without you having to leave the page you’re on. I think we could see some cool ideas here.
Lastly, on the topic of PMI: Europe, are there any sessions you're really looking forward to attending?
SM: I know I’ll be bringing my Sports Direct shopping bag of opinions to Chris Johnson’s ‘Should brands offer 0% commission for existing customers?’ panel as it’s a subject I’ve been quite vocal on in the past and feel passionate about.
I know I spoke on the subject last year in Berlin, but I’m also keen to catch Guillaume Rigal’s talk on cart abandonment on day one to see where we’re at 12 months on and how the issue has progressed.
EBB: As I come from a display advertising background first and foremost, I have a soft spot for the discipline, so I’m really glad to see it getting its share of the spotlight at this year’s event.
Programmatic is a subject that is really influencing the display and wider marketing landscape, but with so many different definitions, approaches and ideas about where it’s going, it’ll be interesting to see the different angles presented in talks like ‘The future of programmable marketing’ and ‘Programmatic advertising: as creative as you like’.
Due to the nature of display, attributing value can be a challenge so I’m also really looking forward to seeing what ‘Attribution in display advertising – credit where credit is due’ has to say about that.