Ahead of the eagerly anticipated power panel at this month’s Performance Marketing Insights: London, we caught up with the four leading industry figureheads taking part in the debate.

Power Panel: Behind the Scenes of Performance Marketing, is the topic that managing director at Affiliate Window, Mark Walters; regional director at Tradedoubler, Dan Cohen; Performance Horizon Group’s chief executive officer (CEO), Malcolm Cowley, and affilinet managing director (MD) Helen Southgate, will delve into at 10.30am on day two of the flagship event.

In advance of this corporate level and director panel, which will be moderated by Linkdex’s CEO, Mark Smith, we asked each participant to answer the following:

”What would you have liked to see happen in performance marketing in the last 12 months that has not yet materialised?”

Helen Southgate: “For me the concern is that as an industry we’re still not doing enough to engage and support the medium/long tail. If anything, it feels as if things have gone backwards. We’re not offering them enough support, tools or advertiser engagement.

Instead, focus remains firmly on the last click. But by sidelining these publishers, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. Advertisers want their affiliate programmes to extend their reach and grow sales. The medium/long tail is absolutely critical to this.

Advertiser reach is a fundamental [part] of affiliate marketing and if we can’t prove that we’re up to the task, other disciplines will take up the mantle. Display is already having a good sniff around, adapting its messaging to incorporate reach – and it’s resonating.  Rather than concentrating on low-hanging fruit, which has a valid role to play in any affiliate programme, what I’m working on right now is how we can switch focus to other publishers, provide them with a better service and support their growth. It’s what advertisers want and its what the industry needs.

Malcolm Cowley: It’s key that more data which helps everyone in the industry quantify the size of the various global markets for performance marketing be made available. Affiliate is often sidelined in favour of other high growth channels and I believe that’s because of the lack of reliable and consistent market information. The UK saw a study revealing some great underlying numbers and the rest of the world needs to catch up if we are ever to evolve as an industry.

Mark Walters: How about considering future attribution as opposed to retrospective? All that tends to be highlighted is the topic of attributing value further back down the chain of touch points.  What concerns me is the impact this has on CPA publishers who potentially suffer a reduction in commission to supplement CPM and CPC sources, who by their very definition have chosen to be rewarded on either a click or impression.  Not enough emphasis is placed on the onward or ‘lifetime’ value of any customer delivered and retailers then utilise their own direct marketing methods to secure subsequent sales at a much lower acquisition cost.

I would also have liked to have seen a greater adoption of conversion rate optimisation amongst advertisers, maximising the traffic they already receive (whatever the source) and improving user experience, product sales and customer satisfaction in one fell swoop.  Much is being made of new channels like mobile and performance display and whilst these have a part to play in any marketing mix, the foundation of everything is a user’s ability to get what they want. Improve this and everything else improves with it.

This segues specifically into the mobile user experience.  The growth in mobile-based transactions is phenomenal, from a network perspective, over 23% of sales were through mobile devices in September with 138 sales a minute through iPhones alone.  With so much activity centred around mobile e-commerce, it is still surprising to see retailers with a poor user experience on these devices.  Whether it be responsive design, custom content or a simplified process to buy, optimising for this channel can yield significant advantages versus competitors with the most to gain from those who move early.

Dan Cohen:  At the start of 2013 the main predictions for the performance marketing sector centred around the industry marketing itself better, the (continuing) rise of mobile, growth in cross-platform shopping, taking market share from display, increasing use of attribution, the industry undergoing internationalisation and the inevitable fact that the phrase ‘big data’ will be overused – and so far, 2013 has not left us wanting.

However, what would we like to have seen, that hasn’t happened yet? For the purposes of this article, I’d like to concentrate on three things, all interlinked: education, standardisation and control.

Let’s take the first one: Education. We have moved this forward as an industry in 2013, but not enough in my view. Although 2013 saw the first independently audited ‘state of the nation’ research piece valuing our industry at over £9 billion, there was another piece of research published later in the year by Optimus Performance Marketing that stated that two thirds of small and medium sized businesses don’t know what affiliate marketing is! Our share of voice in the boardroom and even at marketing team level is still way too small. I think we need to concentrate on making the proposition clearer and making sure people are not only educated, but also trained in how to make the most of such a high performing and measurable channel. Following on from this, I’d like to have seen the creation of an industry qualification – or performance marketing becoming an integral part of wider marketing or digital qualifications within educational institutions. In order to bring new talent into the industry and educate existing talent, we need to ensure that people are trained in the intricacies of the industry and can carry our message to all corners of the industry and beyond.

Linked into this is standardisation. The ‘elevator pitch for affiliate marketing’ is quite simple, but the complexities are not. As a result of the industry’s rapid growth, we have been good at self-regulation, but as new technologies and ways of working have changed, we need to provide some standardisation on a number of issues within our market – such as cookie hierarchies. We talk about our industry being around since 1999 and its rapid growth, but even quicker than this is the growth of smartphones and all the wonderful ways that affiliates and advertisers can now interact with consumers. Remember, the iPhone – the first widely available smartphone – was only released in 2007 – and today, smartphones can account for over 20% of a website’s traffic in a number of cases. Affiliate marketing is often referred to as a sandbox, where clients can place new traffic sources and technology into, but if we introduce them without a consensus and standardising our approach to them, we risk losing control.

Control is my last point: I wanted to see the industry take more control in 2013. By that I mean taking control of the boardroom, the budgets, the trade press agenda, governmental regulations and also the phrase ‘performance marketing’. For too long the performance marketing industry has been modest about its achievements and the value of its insight and expertise. We’ve proved our industry is vital, valuable and dynamic – so we should be bold and take centre stage and own the agenda.

We cannot keep being controlled by someone else’s agenda and must shout about our industry and worth – and that all starts with education.

Do you agree with some of these opinions? What would you have liked to see happen in performance marketing in the last 12 months? Comment below and be sure to head along to this day two session.