The past few years have seen marketing budgets diverted from traditional mass-market  campaigns into smaller, more responsive and measurable online campaigns.

Publishers and marketing departments have realised that digital marketing and a strong online presence are key to their success. Harnessing the power of able affiliates is one way they can do this effectively, without necessarily being an expert in any one area themselves.

I would not be surprised if the UK performance marketing industry broke through the £10bn sales barrier this year. Sales through affiliates topped £9bn in 2012 – almost double the figure of just two years ago and I certainly do see this trend continuing.

The industry statistics are remarkable: 100 million direct transactions last year, plus 70 million enquiries. It is estimated that six per cent of all e-commerce sales in the UK are through affiliate programmes.

Online Performance Management (OPM) is dominated by a handful of sectors, one being financial services, which is where Quintessential and Pingtree operate. It’s an extremely competitive industry, but our substantial growth over the past few years demonstrates that if you can get it right then you can certainly build a successful business. 

Affiliate marketing is a key component of any online marketing mix. In financial services, I can think of very few brands that do not see it as a core marketing channel. As a business we work to support affiliates and partners with the best products so they can market with confidence and benefit from repeat custom and market-leading ROI.

Change in Consumer Buying Habits

The way consumers shop and acquire financial products has changed significantly over the last decade. Go back ten years and people didn’t know what a price comparison site was, and they certainly had no idea what a meerkat was! 

The difference between now and then is that consumers expect to access financial services products in a quick and efficient way. They often don’t want to speak to someone and, as with grocery shopping, they are comfortable transacting online.

So how do you drive consumer value? And what should you be considering when optimising or creating a new campaign in this space?

Firstly, get your brand right and present yourself in the best possible light. There is no substitute for quality and brand reputation. This is becoming ever more important, especially in financial services.

Research Your User Base

You need to start by researching your audience. Understand their motives, buying behaviours and requirements. Look closely at consumer trends to predict what your audience will want in the future and what they expect to see now – and be there before your competitors.

In financial services, consumers will respond better to reputable brands they can trust, whether they are buying car insurance or taking out a loan. Ensuring all your marketing is integrated and cohesive will build your brand reputation more quickly and give you both credibility and ability to scale. 

Secondly, speed in all things will work better. The growth of mobile for performance marketing is evidence of the importance of speed for consumers. As publishers, we need to ensure consumers have access to the information they need as quickly as possible – regardless of the device they use – if we are to maximise conversion.

The exponential growth of mobile and tablets means performance marketers have to think multi-channel. Almost 20 per cent of web traffic is now through mobile and we are seeing numbers which are above 40 per cent on some financial verticals.

Tablets Have Overtaken Desktop

Conversion rates for tablet now exceed desktop, so if your marketing strategy is entirely desktop-based, you are effectively cutting out a significant chunk of your potential target market.

I still see people spending huge budgets on online campaigns who have invested heavily in building great desktop sites and technology. They have teams of people reviewing conversion and improving business process. However, they still don’t have sites that are fully optimised for mobile – that astonishes me. We are all using tablet devices and smartphones more and more. For online marketing to be successful, you need to have a quality desktop and mobile offering.

Once you are in a position where you have the foundations right, start to test your product, be open minded to change and explore all options.

It would be a mistake to invest a big chunk of your marketing budget in one area without running small tests in multiple areas first. One of the big advantages of search marketing, for example, is the ability to ensure keyword targeting is carefully planned and in line with your audience’s search behaviours.  

Test for Correct Keywords

Segment your spend into key areas and run campaign wide AB split tests to ensure that not only are your keywords correct, but that the message contained within the ad text is ringing true with your audience. Couple this with the landing page experience, which needs to be seamless and fits with the user’s expectation you created with the initial ad copy.

If you’ve done your research properly, the results should speak for themselves, but if you’re not getting the results you expect don’t be afraid to change direction and test something else. Likewise, keep your creative fresh and have one eye on what’s happening in the market. Respond before your competitors do.

Being truly multi-channel means the user experience needs to be consistent, seamless and second-to-none, irrespective of the device the consumer uses. 

Essentially, there is no substitute for quality. Invest in your site and collateral. Ensure your message is clear and it is what the target audience is looking for. If you then support it with a great product you can expect to see positive results.