A sleeping giant; the best-kept secret in digital advertising; the biggest bang for your buck.

These phrases have been used over the years to describe affiliate marketing; a channel that can boast a return on investment of more than £12 for every £1 spent (IAB/PwC).

Undoubtedly one of the initiatives that have helped showcase the power of affiliate marketing to a wider audience, establishing its rightful place in the top tier of digital channels, is the Online Performance Marketing Study (OPM), an annual appraisal of the UK industry.

The project is coordinated by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC and was born from a desire to better measure the whole scope of the affiliate channel. Until 2013 network fees and overrides were the only aspects measured by the biannual IAB AdSpend Study and these were then categorised as a subset of display.

Recognising this ignored the many millions of pounds spent by advertisers to drive those sales through the diverse mass of affiliates, we lobbied for a separate research project. And thus the Online Performance Marketing Study, additionally capturing lead generation budgets, came into being.

This was no mean feat; with more than 23 companies submitting their numbers and a similar number contributing funds to support it, the OPM was truly a pan-industry initiative that underlined the collaborative nature of the channel to bring this pioneering piece of work to life.

When the first numbers were released (£814m spent on driving £9bn in sales), the findings were nothing short of revelatory. For the first time anywhere in the world an authoritative, comprehensive survey of the affiliate market showed how significant it is in driving e-commerce sales as well as funding countless businesses and boosting the digital economy.

From mainstream conferences to trade press, from sales pitches to published works, the UK OPM Study has been referenced in hundreds of places, underlining it should not be ignored by brands interested in connecting with millions of consumers across the country.

Fast forward five years and this project is potentially in peril. Despite the revenue and spend doubling in that time and the Study feted by the affiliate industries in many other countries around the world, the UK seems to have become complacent with fewer and fewer businesses contributing their numbers. And this means it’s left to PwC to model the data that was previously supplied by all the affiliate networks, some affiliates and agencies and self-serve SaaS platforms.

The result is the Study carries less gravity and supporters nervously tout the numbers, hoping they broadly reflect what is happening in the wider market, with a fear they may be wide of the mark and misleading.

And so, five years after the first Study was launched, we’re attempting to breathe new life into OPM, reaching out to companies who contributed in the past and asking them to do so again. The data is submitted completely securely, accessed only by PwC and helps to continue to define the UK as the world’s most mature affiliate market. This week, the IAB will be reaching out to more than a dozen businesses asking them to consider adding their data to the overall picture.

There will also be some other changes. In an age when the term performance is no longer limited to the remit of affiliate marketing, we’ll be redefining the Study as one focused on the affiliate and lead generation channels by name. It will also be launched as a standalone piece of research, hopefully in May 2018, and we’ll ask major players to support it with commentary and PR pieces.

2018 will see a new, reinvigorated Study – the envy of the world – but it can only succeed if we rekindle the spirit of collaboration that made it such a significant breakthrough first time around. The result will be we all win. Interest will be piqued, budgets secured and the affiliate channel’s journey to the heart of brands’ marketing efforts will continue.

If you think the revenue you’re driving isn’t being recorded by traditional affiliate networks, agencies and SaaS platforms, please get in contact with the IAB who will be able to advise on whether we’re able to include your numbers in this year’s Study.