Affiliate networks are the ultimate middleman in affiliate marketing. They offer everything from tracking, reporting and payments, the core of any network, through to full-service management of a program to both merchant and publisher. It’s easy to overlook the value networks offer and the important role they play. Networks interact with multiple stakeholders and through technology, people and processes they iron out a lot of the challenges that make the wheels of the industry turn. No doubt there’s more that could be done, and in researching for this article I certainly received plenty of ideas of what they are. The networks key stakeholders, advertisers and publishers have quite different requirements ranging from the day to day tasks required to run a program all the way up to industry level issues like GDPR.
So how you should you measure the value of your network partnership? We interviewed representatives on both sides of the corridor to get a balanced view, so special thanks to Hattie Jackson from TopCashback, Aftab Aslam & Dan Cohen from Savings United, Mike Fisher from Philips and Colin Carter from Weather2Travel for taking the time to talk to me and sharing their thoughts.
In recent months, tracking has been a big topic with ITP and Chrome targeting third-party cookies. Advertisers should check their setup and make sure that you have a first-party solution in place to mitigate this. There are a host of other tracking enhancements that may be available to make sure your publishers are getting fairly paid for the traffic they provide including Cookieless and Cross-Device tracking. If you can’t track it, you can’t report on it, so accuracy and robustness are important to make sure relevant data is available for further analysis.
Which leads neatly on to reporting. Creating useful insights depends on receiving information in a way that allows the user to interpret and analyse their data. Good insights can breathe fresh life and initiative into programs and unlock opportunities for all parties. As Mike Fisher, Direct to Consumer Lead, Philips UK puts it: “Insight is the backbone of our decision making. Our network supports us well here with visualisation tools and access to data.”
Payments are also a key area, particularly for publishers, and it can be an area of frustration. There are many variables that can dictate when commission is paid such as validation periods. Your network should be transparent on these variables to manage expectations and be advising advertisers on how to strike the right balance to encourage a strong commercial relationship with their partners.
Affiliate Marketing has always been a great sandbox for trying new ideas and is one of the cornerstones of the industries reputation for innovation. Networks lead the way in facilitating the introduction of new technologies. “I’m really happy with the way the network is introducing more tech solutions to us, in CPA models”, said Fisher; “This gives us the agility to try new solutions without having lengthy implementation windows. This true test and learn capability aligns with our strategic vision and enables growth.”
Beyond technology and processes, affiliate marketing is a remarkably human industry. Relationships are important, and networks play a crucial role in bringing publishers and advertisers together and providing an efficient structure for communication. As Dan Cohen from Savings United, puts it, “We rely on a network to act as a consultative and educational bridge between publisher and key clients. The stronger this is, the increased worth to us as a publisher.”.
Colin Carter, Weather2Travel echoed this: “We look at how engaged affiliate networks are with us and whether they are willing to support and develop our relationships with brands.”
Fisher agreed, acknowledging the importance the network plays in the velocity of the commercial relationship: “They actively nurture relationships between our brand and the affiliate partner, opening up faster communication across all parties.”
The right balance
One of the challenges for any network is striking the right balance between their key stakeholders so that both get what they need from the relationship. As Colin Carter states: “It’s important that affiliate networks remain in the centre ground between brands and publishers and do not pander to pressure from brands. We want affiliate networks to nurture our relationships with brands and take an interest in our business goals.”
Advertisers and publishers should also benefit from the data and insights that networks generate. Some networks have become particularly adept at presenting this in an informative way to generate insights and useful benchmarking. “We look to networks to provide industry insight, from new innovations to looming threats and benchmarking against other publishers to help drive growth,” commented Hattie Jackson from TopCashback.
So how should you measure the worth of your network partnership? Networks continue to add a great deal of value. There is not going to be a one size fits all and perceived worth will be different from one merchant & publisher to another. Elements like tracking and reporting seem ubiquitous, but quality varies considerably, and these fundamentals are the backbone of additional added value. Consider your relationships, the number of new opportunities presented, guidance provided and the quality of support you receive - not forgetting the SLA you signed up to!
I’ll give my last words to Carter, who summed it up nicely: “For us, it comes down to these five things: trust, transparency, engagement, communication and development.”