It’s so easy to take the stance that affiliate marketing is stagnant, dying or lacking in opportunity. There would be plenty of statistics that you could use to back this up, from reduced industry growth through to the financial results of some networks. But you still wouldn’t be able to convince me that this is actually the case.

Why? Well you see I think that viewpoint is frankly a bit short sighted. Certainly affiliate marketing has challenges that it needs to overcome. From constantly fighting to show our value through to being squeezed by other disciplines at the last click, there is much that has to be addressed. But what the doom mongers so often forget is that we have a whole arsenal of assets at our disposal to help us overcome these hurdles. 

In the past we’ve tended to sideline and ignore these assets, almost fearing that they condemn us to ‘days of old,’ but in my opinion the future of our industry lies in the recognition of the fundamental benefits of affiliate marketing. All too often these attributes are ignored. But it’s these ‘roots’ that enable us to deliver sustained value to advertisers and publishers alike.

Rather than trying to reinvent ourselves, perhaps we should focus on how these factors, coupled with innovative new technologies, can help to propel us into the future.

Looking back

Typically the affiliate industry has sought to sell itself based on the message that it’s a risk free option for advertisers because they only pay for the sales that are generated. Not to mention the fact that it is relatively un-complex and transparent. Advertisers can see exactly where their money is invested and the return they get for it.

However, such a message – whilst a great one – no longer resonates. Yes of course advertisers are interested in return on investment, but as they start to focus more and more on the customer journey, they want more – oh so much more – than that.  

Not only do they want to understand the touch points that they have with which customers across what channels, strategically they need to extend their reach and build brand values.  And that is where affiliate marketing can really make use of its best, but often neglected asset, the long tail.

In recent years the long tail has suffered due to the emergence of more publisher types that win on the last click, such as cashback, voucher and retargeting models. As an industry we’re been guilty of putting a lot of emphasis on these publishers.

Whilst they’re vital to the performance of affiliate programmes, the long tail is where advertisers can be more creative and dynamic in order to attract new customers, retain existing ones and extend the lifetime value of consumers.  Put simply, the long tail is where advertisers will drive the incremental growth they need in order to meet their business and commercial objectives.

In order to move forward

And this is very good news for our industry, because unlike other digital marketing disciplines, our publisher networks gives us unique access to the long tail of the Internet that advertisers now consider to be so important.  Our longevity relies on focusing on creating a high quality and high performing publisher base in the long tail that advertisers cannot get access to across any other channel.  This will entail several factors.

Firstly to help advertisers monetise the long tail we must be able to deliver automated, dynamic and targeted adverts.  In comparison to other marketing channels, affiliate marketing has been slow on the uptake with regards to targeting consumers with relevant messaging. But refocusing on the long tail affords us to go back to basics and adopt an advisory role to help advertisers create and provider publishers with the content that in turn empowers them to deploy a right people, right message, right time approach.

Secondly, there are technical challenges that need to be overcome. In order to make ourselves more appealing to the increasingly influential long tail we need to massively simplify and automate. And lastly we need to work with advertisers in order to understand the customer journey and demonstrate the valuable role that affiliates have to play in that journey in we are to engender a willingness to look at different payment models beyond last click CPA that reduce the risk for both parties.

The long tail is ripe for some good old affiliate-based innovation. Something else we often don’t give ourselves credit for – just think of the new and disruptive channels affiliate marketing has bought to the fore. Our ability to create, adapt and evolve is well renowned.

The founding principals of affiliate marketing give us a front row seat to the future of digital marketing.  If only we would stop forgetting what makes our industry so relevant to today’s commercial environment. We want growth, we need growth and growth is out there to be had. And that’s why you’ll never convince me that affiliate marketing is anything other than a great industry to be in.