A decade ago, the metrics from the affiliate channel were an apples to oranges comparison with other channels in the marketer’s mix.

Affiliate channel attribution was simple and straightforward – the data pointed directly to the referral source and ended with a conversion. It was far easier to track performance, spot trends, and measure ROI than it was for other channels.

Today, marketers see performance data across all channels and are applying more sophisticated analysis than ever before. The significant advantages of clear attribution enjoyed in the affiliate channel are no longer unique to the performance marketer.

Marketers are using data to connect the dots and gain important insights that are dramatically impacting how they invest their marketing budgets.

So how can affiliates and program managers maintain their edge, as the attribution data continues to roll in from all other marketing channels?

Be extra transparent

It is important to understand that marketing, sales and customer data is being linked together to demonstrate the long term value of all of the tactics in the marketing mix.

Direct response tactics are competing with alternatives (e.g. sponsored content) that may take longer to demonstrate value, but may ultimately reveal a quality of leads that are significantly higher. This means the performance channel needs to be increasingly transparent.

In a marketing landscape where analytics drive decisions, companies need to be able to see the level of quality traffic their affiliates are driving at all times. The performance channel must have real-time visibility that makes it easy to monitor, and make optimisations on the fly.  

Understand that mobile really matters

Consumer behavior is changing at a rapid pace, dramatically effecting how marketers reach prospects. In today’s customer-driven world, the consumer chooses how and when to engage with a brand – and the increasing use of mobile devices adds to that control. It is critical, then, for the marketer to be ready when the consumer responds.

For example, voice-initiated search activity is growing fast, and click-to-call volume is up. For mobile users, making a call is often much more convenient than engaging entirely online, with a small touchscreen.

Empowering consumers to call is not only critical to a happy customer experience, these inbound calls typically have a much higher value than a digital lead. These consumers are highly interested, and the one-on-one interaction provides cross and upsell opportunities. Adding a pay-per-call program can add tremendous value and opportunity for the performance channel, and help effectively monetise mobile.  

Don’t forget traditional media

From codes and calls to exclusive campaigns — the marketer can reach and track consumer response from traditional media more effectively than ever before. Tracking these important interaction points helps ensure that more consumers are receiving helpful information as they consider their next purchase.

For affiliates, this means they can test traditional media and, potentially, employ lead nurturing tactics that will help them send more qualified buyers to their advertiser partners.

Will the performance channel remain an important part of the marketing mix in 2014 and beyond? Without question. The benefits of referral partnerships with direct attribution remains clear to the brands with affiliate programs. But, there are also potential risks to affiliates as the value of other channels gains clarity.

Fortunately, there are many opportunities available to performance marketers to build stronger relationships and add greater benefits with open conversations about how the brand measures the value of channels.