Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen some major shifts in the Affiliate channel.  Platforms have emerged, tracking has become more sophisticated, and in turn, so have the economics that drives our industry.  With that, the ecosystem of publishers has matured & expanded to truly evolve our industry into a partnership channel.  

Once upon a time, all the publishers in the affiliate channel were lumped together and managed with a general strategy and often times limited budgets.  But as new entrants have come on to the scene and existing partners have grown & matured, we have an opportunity to put a new strategic set of eyes upon publisher partners in order to support growth for an advertiser and to revisit how they’re managed within the channel & beyond.  

What I mean by this is that to truly become a partnership channel – we need to make sure that we are taking the right approach when looking at the value exchange & development of relationships between publishers and advertisers.  We need to get back to basics & establish some core principles for how we think about & manage this channel.

In the past year, as I’ve built my own consulting practice, focused on helping publishers & Technology partners with their strategy in the Affiliate ecosystem, it’s become clear to me that although we’ve evolved – there’s still some work to do.  We’re flush with opportunities, which is a great thing!  Yet, it’s important to make sure that we’re taking the time to understand each other’s needs and digging in to articulate our mutual value which is what makes this channel so great.    

So how can we get back to the basics?

1. Dig in

This might be the simplest of all.  Yet, we need to be deliberate and understand each other and how we can mutually benefit each other when thinking about a partnership.  It’s not just what’s in it for one side (a new partner, a better offer, a coupon), it’s about how both sides can be successful.  

The way to start is simply – pick up the phone.  There is a lot of overhead when you’re managing a partnership, especially multiple partnerships – but taking the time to explain what you’re doing as a publisher and taking the time to understand the value prop as an advertiser is the foundation of everything we do.  It seems like too often we get caught in the busy trap and we aren’t able to take the time to prioritise this part of our jobs.  It’s important we’re clear on a few things – like what are the goals for the advertiser, both for affiliate and their overall business goals?   What keeps them up at night?  A few simple questions around their business and then drilling down into their Affiliate program can open up a ton of doors for publishers of all sizes.  

Each publisher has a unique value proposition and by first seeking to understand the challenges a potential partner is facing, as a publisher, you’re now putting yourself in a position to help.  I’ve found that there are always opportunities to be uncovered.  When an advertiser responds with just a generic “join my program” or the publisher is simply looking for an advertiser to “send me an offer” – we’re not really treating this as a partnership channel but more of a basic transactional endeavour that we hope will be successful.  It’s the old adage – throw it against the wall & see what sticks – and that doesn’t always work.

I encourage everyone to talk to at least one new partner a day, and I’m sure you’ll find an opportunity that wasn’t there before.  And even if you don’t, I’m pretty sure you’ll either learn something new, get a nugget of insight, or at least build a relationship you didn’t have before.  And remember, it might not solve an immediate problem or be the answer you’re looking for today – but it could be one for tomorrow, your next job, or even be someone you eventually hire or work for.

2. Create a diversified portfolio

One of the most important things you can do when thinking about your program is to make sure you have a diversified group of publishers.  And as a publisher – the question for you is, where do you fit in that mix?  Are you a loyalty publisher, or do you drive top of funnel traffic, can you target a certain region, or do you produce a certain type of content?  And for the advertisers, by working with a broad group of publishers, and understanding the value, the opportunity to create a solid mix will allow you to mitigate risk but also to see what works, what doesn’t, who can create a steady stream of customers, and where you might have more bespoke opportunities either seasonally or otherwise.  

In doing this, you’ll find you have a solid base of core foundational publishers, a mid-tier oftentimes made up of up & coming publishers or one’s with specific capabilities, and then a group that I would consider growth opportunities – those publishers where you can find that diamond in the rough.  

3. Test & learn

Once you’ve taken the call & dig in & understand where this potential partner fits in your overall portfolio mix, it’s time to try some new things.  The beauty of affiliate is it’s transparent, strategic in nature, and the economics are (as we all know) performance-driven.  

For an advertiser, identify a group of growth partners.  These are the folks who are new to market or at least new to the affiliate market.  I think of all the partners I’ve seen come & go over the years and without taking a chance on some, you’ll never be able to capitalise on those that move throughout the ranks of your portfolio from long tail to foundational. And the reason it’s a portfolio is because partners move – some grow, pivot or even fail, but for advertisers, this helps you mitigate risk – and most importantly test and learn.  And for publishers, this is what allows you to prove your value.

In conclusion…

We work in a great industry & ecosystem that allows us the opportunity to see and test new things on a daily basis: be it new potential partnerships or optimising existing ones.  A common line you’ll hear about our channel is “it’s a relationship business”.  It’s true.  But to make it work, we need to put in the leg work, get back to basics, and make sure we’re taking the time to understand each other and how, as true partners, we can support each other.