In one of the features that made our ‘US Affiliate Marketing Supplement‘, sponsored by Affiliate Window, we sought to tackle reasons behind the channel’s rapid stateside evolution. The supplement is available for free to all PerformanceIN account holders.

To challenge the status quo requires a prime motive. Many industries and companies simply don’t have a choice; it’s to embrace change – sometimes radically – or risk extinction at the hands of those who planned ahead. So why, after becoming a $4 billion industry during 2014, up from$3.7 billion in 2013 and from $1.6 billion in 2007, is affiliate marketing looking to change the way it does business?

Attribution is the word on every US affiliate marketer’s lips, regardless of whether they’re prepared to deviate from the ‘last-click’ rewarding mechanism which has presided over so many of their programs.

“Today’s marketers are more tech-savvy than ever before,” comments Robert Glazer, CEO at affiliate marketing agency Acceleration Partners.

“They are leveraging new tools and technology to gain full visibility into the consumer path to purchase across all digital channels. As a result, they have the ability to reward affiliates based on their contribution instead of paying the same amount for every transaction.“

The decision to move away from delivering commission only to the last publisher in the journey to purchase is now starting to be made, but there are plenty of barriers to be scaled along the way.

Tapping into the long tail

Some marketers’ reluctance to accept change in this sense is, for the most part, understandable, especially when considering that many will have a formula which is already working for their program. It’s only in talking to ‘that’ section of highly passionate, highly-driven experts about gaining an in-depth view of how much value a publisher can drive that the demand for attribution really starts to show.

“Any publisher who tends to initiate or otherwise influence a sale without winning the last click will benefit from payment on influence or split commission attribution models,” comments Alexandra Forsch, US country manager at Affiliate Window – the birthplace of commission on assists, which uses the affiliate network’s own tracking technology to reward publishers for their individual contributions to sales.

The system works by merchants offering commission to publishers which are early contributors to the sales funnel. 

Assists can reward publishers linked to driving a transaction without them having to be the last site that was visited before it took place. ‘Splitting’ the commission is great for content publishers, seen as the early influencers to a purchase, as well as merchants who want to know where their budget is best allocated.

While this could be a cause of praise, it’s imperative to consider the words of Forsch regarding where part of the inspiration came from.

“While Affiliate Window can accommodate attribution models, we also understand that the need for complex attribution solutions was born of poor compliance standards across a
fairly unregulated US landscape, with little checks and balances in place throughout the
networks to prevent cookie overwriting.”

Bad practice has led to the network offering a ‘soft-click’ technology to prevent the
overwriting of an existing affiliate cookie. However, as this is said to have impacted partners outside of the soft-click mould (the toolbars, software providers), there was a need
for an additional piece of software to take care of those who may have been affected.

Forsch states: “We have seen that a significant amount of influence in the form of impressions and clicks remain unrewarded when these would be payable across most other channels. As this has discouraged some partners from participating in the space, we have released the Payment by Assist model to increase the likelihood that those producing the sale are fairly compensated for their efforts.”

Payment on Assist works to enhance the flexibility of rewarding publishers on the network, offering ‘top-up’ commission to affiliates that are early contributors to the sales funnel.

“By allowing advertisers to identify and reward relevant publisher for their influence post the last click, we have seen great success particularly in engaging and activating the much sought after and valuable long-tail.”

US leads the way

After seeing first hand the demand for attribution grow across Europe, one of the questions PerformanceIN was keen to ask US marketers centered around whether they had done the same.

“The US was actually a bit ahead in this area as some programs that we managed started implementing attribution-based rules for content sites almost three years ago,” comments Glazer, touching on some of the systems that came before 2015.

One review of a new split-commission feature from an affiliate network in 2010 regards it as ‘not exactly revolutionary’, highlighting similar tools that had been around for “quite some time”. So, why now?

In short, there are signs that merchants are looking more closely at fostering and maintaining healthy relationships with the affiliates they use. A better look into attribution means assessing the value that every publisher drives, which means challenging traditional
ways of assigning rewards.

A fair amount of disgruntlement is being directed towards discount and promotional affiliates, which manage to poach the last click by offering an incentive. There is a chance that attribution, once refined and adopted, can pave the way for a more harmonious affiliate landscape, where each publisher is rewarded on value, rather than how well they played
the system.

Where next?

While merchants assess whether it’s time to switch things up, it seems the big players are setting their stands.

EBay’s dynamic commissioning model has been launched to a wealth of praise; the system offering merchants the chance to assign commision based on the quality of customer acquired. In the meantime, there are some crucial decisions to be made by other networks in regards to their stance on attributing value across a program.

Being able to track and reward on influence is certainly no mean feat. Applying weight to the belief that attribution is a thought for the future is the continued support for last click, which as stats will show is still delivering some impressive results.

Even so, those leaning on the side of ‘glass half full’ may see widespread acceptance of attribution as only the next realistic goal for a channel, and industry, which has accomplished so much by adapting to the new norm.