CALMs, abbreviated from Coupon and Loyalty Marketing Suite, was launched by several ex-affiliate network staffers. Its aim is to give voucher publishers a little more respectability in the eyes of an advertiser.
In the broadest definition, CALMs offers a series of features including voucher tracking, dynamic voucher publishing, loyalty marketing, de-duplication, junk sales and account services to advertisers with affiliate-related investment.
We asked Daniel Woyteczek and Severin Höllersberger to not only weigh in on the attribution debate from the perspective of a German technology provider, but also provide a little more detail on their own solution.
Where do You Stand on the Issue of Attribution?
Daniel Woyteczek: Measuring and commissioning all touch points that are involved on an affiliate programme based on their value attribution is the key to ensure the affiliate channel has a sustainable future. We've seen big merchants in Germany questioning the need for keeping their affiliate programs running and this trend is a big threat to our business. We believe that it's the technology providers job to measure attribution between the different online marketing channels. Having said this, it's the affiliate network's job to measure the attribution between the different affiliate categories and provide a fair, transparent and fully automated solution. Also, it can't be that certain publishers who're providing true value to merchants and users alike, are struggling to make a living. Blogs, content and review sites need to be able to show off their true potential and attribution is the only way to move forward.
Severin Höllersberger: I'd like to add that attribution tracking and commissioning can also help the affiliates who're currently blamed the most for only poaching sales. Cashback and coupon sites are reaching an extremely broad audience, have a lot of insight into their users' shopping behaviour and can provide incremental, justifiable revenue for the merchant. Those "push sales" that are generated through onsite targeting, newsletters and special exposure can truly support a merchant and should be rewarded with a full commission.
Will we Ever See a Completely Automated Approach to Attribution That can be Rolled Out Everywhere?
DW: We're seeing great solutions rolled out on a frequent basis at the moment. We're sure that there will be automated solutions, which can deduplicate between channels, measure attribution and provide automated commission models in the very near future. Our business needs to get as transparent as possible to ensure ongoing growth.
I think that everyone understands this now and with new ventures entering the market in additional to traditional networks working on solutions, we will soon realise that attribution is not only a short term trend, but the future of performance marketing.
SH: With the first insights merchants are getting from customer journey tracking, I think there's no way back to the old days. The affiliate clients know that they are leaving good publishers empty handed at the moment and therefore feel a need for change. Also, it's not very hard to track and automise processes. The tricky part is to display everything in the best, most transparent way, whilst keeping the interface easy to use for the customer at the same time. There's still a way to go to find a technical solution that can handle all different standards, but if a merchant decides to work with one or two providers only, it is already possible to automate most of the tasks.
You've Designed Your Own Attribution Solution. How Does CALMs Differ From Other Similar Services?
DW: Most other attribution technologies are measuring between different online marketing channels and not within the affiliate channel itself. The few players who can break attribution down on an affiliate level only display the user journey to the merchant and not to the publisher. Therefore the attribution tracking is extremely untransparent for the publishers and networks involved and sales are (in the best case) reported back to the network as "cancelled and attributed to other channel". This makes it extremely hard for publishers to optimise their campaign.
With CALMs we display every sale to every publisher involved. An example: The user checks a cashback site, clicks through to the merchant's store and starts shopping. Then he stumbles over the coupon redemption button, checks a coupon site, finds the coupon and redeems it. With the traditional "last cookie wins" method, the sale would have been attributed to the coupon site and the cashback site goes away empty-handed. With other attribution technologies, the merchant would see the user journey in the interface and then decide to cancel the coupon site's sale in the affiliate network. The next step would be to book the commission manually to the cashback site's account.
The sale is displayed twice in the first place using CALMs. One sale with commission for the cashback site and a 0% commission sale (or the commission the merchant's willing to pay in this case) for the coupon site. Also, some merchants don't want users to receive cashback and use a coupon. In cases like this, we'd track the sale but report back to the cashback affiliate that the user's used a coupon and won't receive his cashback.
Until now the normal procedure was to cancel the transaction in the network's interface which caused lots of user complaints that the publisher had to deal with. Last but not least, our aim is to use coupons in a smarter way than before. Imagine the user starts looking for a coupon with a current basket value of £90 and only finds online coupons with a minimum threshold of £100. Our technology tracks the basket value and serves the targeted coupons through a widget the affiliate has implemented on his website. In this case the affiliate will be rewarded for the added basket value. We want to leverage the user's need for a discount as well as the reach and strong "push marketing" options a coupon site can offer.
Who is it Aimed At?
DW: From an affiliate perspective, we're currently targeting loyalty/cashback and coupon affiliates. These are the players that are being discussed and questioned the most at the moment. CALMs might sound like their natural enemy in the first place, but will ensure a sustainable long-term business for them in the future. From a merchant's perspective we're targeting all clients whose affiliate program is currently dominated by coupon and loyalty/cashback affiliates. This could be the big multi-channel retailers, fashion online shops or OTAs. But basically every player in the market can benefit from this technology, if true value of certain affiliate verticals is being questioned.
Which Countries Are More up to Speed on its Benefits and Why?
DW: We do think, that currently mature markets like the USA, UK, Germany and maybe France are those with the most discussions around the value of couponing and cashback in the affiliate channel and would therefore benefit the most from our technology. I've worked at affiliate networks in Germany in different positions since 2004 and the affiliate mix on the programs has changed dramatically over the years. In the past, content sites that offered true value for the merchant could make it into the top ten affiliates on a program if they really focussed on a programme and a good product.
When I first thought about CALMs in 2012, the affiliate mix on a lot of programs had changed to a very unhealthy state. Some of my merchants' affiliate revenues had a cashback and coupon share of over 90%. Whereas on the other side, my old top players were struggling to keep their business running. I've seen similar situations on programs in the UK and when I followed the business topics in the US, I realised that there are similar situations, if not worse in there. Having said this, I think that smaller, less mature markets like the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, etc. could start using CALMs as well, simply to avoid the big discussions in the first place. With CALM's our advertisers can of course work in these markets as well.
Could the Technology in CALMS be Used by Publishers Beyond Coupon and Loyalty?
DW: Absolutely, our ultimate goal is to be the technology provider who's able to offer the affiliate attribution technology that is the most transparent and automated solution for all parties involved. We're only starting off with a clear focus on cashback and loyaly publishers because we believe that is is here where there is the most urgency to change the way affiliate marketers are currently working. Measuring the true value of targeting providers or including CPO based e-mail campaigns might be the next step, but in general we can expand in every possible direction.
Can There Ever be an Agreement Between all Involved in Performance Marketing on a Consistent Attribution Strategy?
DW: The traditional "last cookie wins" rule, was a simple soultion for everyone and there weren't a lot of complaints until the coupon/cashback share of certain programmes reached an unhealthy level. Now that there is a "Couponing Code of Conduct" everyone is talking about the rise of attribution. Of course certain publishers are getting nervous, mostly the couponing publishers with a good ranking in the SERPS.
It is normal when people are asked to change their old habits and the way they're working. It takes time until they accept and adapt their strategy to a new trend. Coupon affiliates need to prove that they're able to deliver "push sales", rather than poaching sales off other marketing channels. They do have great social media reach, huge newsletter databases and therefore the possibility to really initiate transactions. Of course these push sales would need to receive an appropriate commission and therefore those affiliates could even balance the losses made through attribution tracking.
Anyway, as soon as the first big players start to work actively with commissions based on attribution and also publishers find new strategies to keep their revenue on a high level, the market will get used to it and everyone will calm down in the end.
SH: I think there needs to be a clear technological standard, rather than a consistent strategy. It always depends on the merchant, its popularity in the market and the whole structure of its online marketing channels. You need to develop a targeted attribution strategy based on the individual situation. Therefore, I think that the market would benefit the most if all parties involved receive as much information about the actual transaction as possible, this would help a lot.