Modern affiliate marketing is on the verge of becoming a tale of two worlds. On one side you have the TV advertising publisher brands with their rapid growth and louder industry voice, while on the other is the smaller affiliates with their one or two-person teams.

As the larger publishers seek to dominate even more of the spotlight, there is a danger that smaller affiliates are being squeezed out by networks that have one eye on the balance sheet. Though of course, networks could perhaps be forgiven for concentrating resources on the part of the business that makes the most profit.

One network that is concerned by this trend is affilinet, which has released a survey it hopes will provide more insight into the wants and needs of smaller affiliates and their own operations.

PerformanceIN spoke to affilinet UK MD Helen Southgate about the survey, support for affiliates, cookie overwrite issues and a future where all publishers can coexist.

Why has affilinet launched its publisher survey?

Helen Southgate: We decided to launch the survey in order to get some qualitative data directly from publishers on their views of the market.  I don’t feel that publishers get a big enough voice in the industry so this is a first step in trying to change that.

What insights are you hoping to gain from the answers?

HS: We are hoping to glean some insight into how smaller publishers currently feel about the industry in terms of support, performance and the future.  I am hoping that the findings support the data that we are seeing and the approach that affilinet is taking in the market. Perhaps it will also highlight some other areas we were unaware of, both good and bad.

What percentage of your affiliate-supporting resource is used for the top-earning publishers and how do you justify this to the smaller affiliates?

HS: Within the team at the moment I would say 25% is spent on top earners and 75% on the mid-long tail of affiliates.  I think this is a good balance and it’s now about supporting publishers better with technology, data and innovation. My objective is that the publisher development team is focused on the mid-longtail as many of the larger affiliate relationships are currently also managed by the account management teams.  I see the real value of a publisher team being in recruiting and developing new publishers. I don’t think any network has ever got this balance right; we’re working on it.

How are you supporting the smaller affiliates that are struggling to compete with the larger publishers?

HS: We are improving our technology in a number of ways; making it easier for smaller affiliates to access the network, offering them better and more sophisticated tools to promote advertisers and making improvements to automation and service technology. We are also lowering our payment thresholds, providing more resource within the publisher team and encouraging more data sharing with advertisers to look at the value of affiliates beyond last click.

In an ideal world, what would you like to do more of to support the smaller affiliates?

HS: We’re working towards that ideal world. The problem is that historically networks have tried to facilitate one-to-one relationships between every advertiser and every publisher regardless of size. It simply doesn’t work commercially so much of the activity with publishers has to be automated, which means better targeting, more personalisation etc.  I would like a world where a long-tail publisher doesn’t need to talk with us directly but has everything they need at their fingertips to drive sales successfully for our advertisers.

If voucher and cashback sites only overwrite a small, insignificant percentage of sales, why do you think there is such outrage among affiliates?

HS: I wouldn’t say it’s insignificant, but it’s smaller than people think and my frustration is that the negativity is aimed only at voucher and cashback sites. In reality a lot of other channels overwrite affiliate sales to a greater extent, brand search and retargeting being two big areas.  I’m not insinuating we should ignore the fact that 50% of orders in the affiliate channel come through cashback and voucher, that fact actually concerns me greatly, but at the same point this isn’t the only challenge. The challenge is much bigger and is largely a result of the last click CPA model and our positioning as a channel. There is an inherent danger in making conclusions from small pieces of data and not seeing the bigger picture. Unfortunately this happens all the time, much to my annoyance.

How can larger publisher brands and smaller affiliates coexist and profit in the future?

HS: We need to have a better understanding of each affiliate’s role within the customer journey and how we can help support affiliates, big and small, to drive value for advertisers. I’m referring to this not just in terms of sales but brand awareness, quality traffic, value of sales, long-term customers, retention etc.

What is affilinet’s strategy for realising this future?

HS: Continuing what we do well now; working with publishers on a one-to-one basis but get better and smarter at working with thousands of publishers on a one-to-many basis.  We’re launching some exciting new tools within the next month, but this is only the start of a long-term strategy around being able to finally make a longtail of affiliate publishers work for all of our new and prospective clients.  Watch this space.

The affilinet publisher survey is now open to respondents and each affiliate that completes the survey will be entered into a prize draw to win one of 50 publisher passes for Performance Marketing Insights: London on October 28, which affilinet has subsidised.