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Top 50 Industry Players from 2017
James Little: For Affiliate Marketing to Thrive, We Need to Overcome These Five Obstacles

James Little: For Affiliate Marketing to Thrive, We Need to Overcome These Five Obstacles

What you’re about to read might seem a little negative, but I’ve worked in affiliate marketing for over ten years and I’m genuinely passionate about it. 

At the moment, this industry feels like a sleeping giant, and I desperately want it to thrive. But we need to stop patting ourselves on the back and start talking. We need to work together to remove the obstacles.

There have been some great pieces on PerformanceIN recently; I was especially impressed by some of the comments made by the new Webgains CEO about how to tackle “non-traditional” affiliates, and while I agree it’s something that the industry needs to look at, I can’t help feel that we really need to get our house in order first.“non-traditional” affiliates, and while I agree it’s something that the industry needs to look at, I can’t help feel that we really need to get our house in order first.

With that in mind, here are five points I believe the industry needs to address this year if affiliate marketing is to continue growing.

Tracking

First, the most difficult one; tracking… it’s just not very good.         

It’s hard to know exactly how much doesn’t track but we can make an informed estimate. Advertisers and networks tend to have an untracked rate of over 5%. In 2014, the performance marketing industry in the UK was worth £1.1 billion and has increased since then, so there is potentially more than £50 million in commission that is being lost along the way.   

That’s a lot of money.   

Networks are looking at it and cross-tracking will undoubtedly help, but with each network adopting a slightly different approach, it may not be the complete solution. It shouldn’t be looked at as a USP, instead, it should be addressed jointly across all the major networks, advertisers, tech solutions and even the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).

Mobile

In 2017, it’s ridiculous that leakage on mobile devices is still a problem. Especially when, at least at TopCashback, 50% of traffic is now coming from a mobile or tablet device - perhaps even more for content-style affiliates.

I received an email from a network in which they boasted they have ‘x’ number of advertisers who now track via their mobile site. Is this something to be proud of? 

Years ago, I wrote a blog post about how networks need to address mobile leakage and proposed that if a merchant doesn’t track on their mobile site they shouldn’t run an affiliate programme until it’s resolved. If it stopped tracking on desktop the programme would be paused, so why not the same with mobile? 

This is still a relevant point today; we don’t want to get to the point where advertisers who can’t do the basics are named and shamed. On the contrary, advertisers who are aware that their mobile tracking doesn’t work should be making this their biggest priority of 2017 - make yourself heard with your tech team. 

Networks should also be asking what more they could do to help push this through; what can be done to ensure 100% of advertisers are not leaking sales by the end of the year, and how can publishers help achieve this? 

And then there is app tracking. The work Button are doing looks great and lots of advertisers are talking about it, but why has it taken a third party to come in and disrupt the market? As an industry, we should have taken this seriously years ago and I hope that 2017 is the year we crack it.

Payments

There has been continued talk for years about how, as an industry, we need to look at different forms of payment to ensure that influencers are rewarded for the sale. Impression payments, click payments, splitting commissions - lots of good ideas. However, if we want to attract more affiliates to this industry, what is more important, and should be discussed, is that payment speed should be increased. While it is a necessity to wait for validation processes, returns periods to expire, etc., let’s eliminate 60 or even 90-day payment terms on top of that. For TopCashback, it just means customers get paid slower. For other affiliates, it can have huge impacts on cash flow. Google wouldn’t accept it, so why does our industry?

A US-based ‘sub network’ called FlexOffers is able to pay everyone in 30 days, while others are even quicker. So my challenge to networks specifically is to be more transparent about payment times and look for ways in which you can improve this for the benefit of us all.

Creativity in the space 

As an industry, we can sometimes lack creativity, and it’s really not doing us any good.

I attended the IAB Performance Affiliate Conference recently and one of the things I took away was that the CMOs on the panel want to see more content and strategy from their affiliate partners. Most publishers have the ability to do this, but we are so numbers-driven we don’t stop to think more about how we can achieve it. 

TopCashback is up for two awards at the PMAs in April for some amazing work that we’re very proud of as a business. However, we have a responsibility to do more of this, and so do other publishers, advertisers and networks.

How are we going to do this? Firstly, we need to stop being so obsessed with the numbers.   

Having gone to meet teams on the advertiser-side, we have found that, where there is big budget to be spent, they care far more about what something looks like and the message communicated to the consumer than about the overall sales it generates. While I am not suggesting that this will work for our channel, I do think that we can open up more budget and create some excellent campaigns by exploring other ways to measure the channel’s success. 

Industry perception

Finally, I don’t think many of us will disagree that we still need to work on improving the perception of the industry. As a channel we’re often;

  • Driving more new-to-file customers
  • Producing a higher level of sales
  • Increasing Average Order Values

We’re also performance-led on the most part and produce some amazing ROIs.

Despite all of this, we’re a bit like Cinderella before the fairy godmother arrived on the scene; the CMOs don’t see or appreciate all the good work that we’re doing. Despite it being many years since the CEO of ASOS called the industry and those in it “grubby”, we still have a lot of work to do to improve our wider perception.

In order to do this, we need to see more advertisers help us get a ticket to the ball. Advertisers should encourage networks and publishers to meet other teams in the business to explain how it all works. Advertisers should scream and shout internally about all the great work affiliates can do. It is only by working together and everyone having a seat at the table, that we will drive the affiliate industry forward. 

Continue the conversation

Got a question or comment – tweet James @3wdl or comment on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIN.

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James Little

James Little

James Little has been at TopCashback for six years. In that time he has seen the UK founded cashback site grow from 750,000 members to over nine million globally, making it the biggest traditional affiliate publisher in the UK and one of the largest in the world.

Before TopCashback, James spent over seven years working in senior affiliate marketing positions at an affiliate network, agency, white label provider and advertiser. James has three children, two dogs and regards Barbados as his second home.

 

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