My first job out of college was doing brand affiliate management for a boutique agency. It was a great gig for the four years before the agency was acquired, which transitioned my role out of Affiliate Management.
Anyone who has worked on the agency side of affiliate management has deeply experienced the rise and fall of clients. You set up a new client if the channel is the right fit the program grows amazingly. Eventually, the program is so successful, that your client dedicates resources for taking the program in-house. Onwards to the next client.
Affiliate managers recruit affiliates to live inside the program, which means that it’s easy for clients to take over management of those relationships. Agencies can’t monopolize their affiliates, so it’s the expertise and optimization that keeps an agency valuable.
The problem for all affiliate marketers, agency or brand, is that it’s really hard to prove the value of affiliate marketing once you’re under scrutinising eyes. No matter how much money you generate, how low the customer acquisition costs are, you can be harshly judged as low value. Affiliate marketing bumps up against all other performance marketing for attribution and it was hard to justify that it’s the affiliate generating the conversions and not just taking credit for more expensive paid channels.
The inability to compare paid marketing channels to prove the real drivers of performance is a major factor towards why affiliate marketing developed a bad reputation. Breaking down all of the channels for an apples-to-apples value comparison is how partner marketing can revive our industry’s reputation.
ITP was needed
The cookie blocking of ITP will prove to be massively helpful to the future of affiliate marketing. It’s pushed most platforms to offer some type of Direct Linking solution. Direct Linking starts the tracking process on the landing page, rather than using an affiliate link to drop a tracking cookie.
Direct Linking lets you track everything in one place. Once you switch to this setup, you can suddenly start tracking all of the performance and post-engagement from paid channels like Google and Facebook that don’t play well with affiliate tracking links. You can also expand to new channels, including Influencers, that has never allowed any links to be used.
Prove affiliate marketing’s value
Direct Linking solves the fundamental problem of affiliate marketing by letting you consolidate tracking for every channel and compare all of your paid marketing channels against each other. For the first time, you can go to your boss and show them how Affiliate X was not only driving more conversions than Facebook Ad Y but also that those conversions led to more post-conversion events and engagement.
No longer do you need to spend your time arguing for the value of Affiliate Marketing being something greater than a coupon site delivery vehicle. You can actively prove which Affiliates drive consistently better results than expensive paid marketing, and how they stack up again all channels. Direct comparison proves true value.
Track the stuff you don’t want to
Coupons. I’ve painted affiliate managers as heroes, but realistically we’ve also been the villains. Coupon sites get the last click attribution from all performance channels when consumers grab that last second coupon from them, inflating the value of affiliate marketing. That easy money meant we looked the other way while coupon sites cannibalised all of the affiliate marketing by stealing the credit from every content affiliate.
Better technology means better solutions to old problems. A coupon loyalty site could either deliver an influx of their engaged users, or they could be only stealing the last second credit from your channels. There is an easy way to track and understand the value of their conversions: Click-to-Conversion Time Reports.
When you look at the click time to when someone actually purchased, it becomes easy to understand your coupon affiliate’s performance. If you see an Affiliate driving a majority of purchases 30 seconds after the click, that definitely means they’ve been sniping last-minute credit. If you see another coupon driving click-to-conversion times of 10 minutes, that probably means they sent their loyal followers to browse your site, finding the perfect product and become your newest customers.
Affiliate marketing is dead
There has never been a more effective and brand-centric channel than Affiliate Marketing, that also has such a bad reputation. The sweet poisoned apple of coupon site money led us all astray.
The king is dead, all hail the new king, partner marketing. This is our chance, as an industry, for a full refresh. We can use this name change to clean up zero-value Affiliates and reinvigorate the market. The technology has gotten better, and we can finally prove that Affiliate Marketing always delivered (and will continue to do so) real value and not just coupons.
This is a new chance to prove with data, how much value you’ve been delivering on top of recruiting new affiliates. Seize the opportunity to do it right this time.