COVID-19 has turned entire industries into a tailspin, with marketers forced to focus on what matters most. Affiliate marketing tools, like PartnerCentric’s Control Suite, can help advertisers become more competitive when it matters most and gain immediate ROI. With new data and analysis, businesses can actually see what competitors are doing in real-time, and plan accordingly.

We caught up with founder and CEO of PartnerCentric, Stephanie Harris, to discuss how the business has been coping in the pandemic and why affiliate marketing is one of the most viable channels right now for advertisers and publishers.

Firstly, we hope you and the team are keeping well and safe at the moment. How are things over at PartnerCentric during this time?

Stephanie Harris: Thank you! Hope you are staying safe as well. When the pandemic started, in many ways it felt like the rest of the working world was pulled into the way we’ve always worked – as a fully remote company from the beginning. Zoom, Slack, dedicated home offices, and so on were already a part of our lives. What we, like everyone else, really had to adjust to was everyone else in our households working and learning from home too and the emotional stress we all experienced of the unknown and the threat of this virus.  At the same time, our clients and partners needed us more than ever, so we supported each other with understanding and flexibility, while truly leaning in in both our professional and personal lives like never before.  

Many team chats have been spent talking about how to help our kids, what we’ve learned during this time, even the silver linings in our lives that have come from self-isolation. While it’s been a scary time, our team and culture has never been stronger, and we’ve been inspired to do some of our best work. Radical times allow for radical innovations, and that has been truly exciting at PartnerCentric.

The last few weeks has seen the affiliate marketing industry shift and adapt in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. What are your thoughts on the industry’s response during this period?

SH: In many ways, our online activity has become more in focus and important than ever before. The recent stats have shown that average CPC has dropped, in some cases by 70-80%, but with more visitors than ever before. A more efficient channel is a good thing.  It’s been challenging  seeing robust, established programs, many of which have had increased success because they’ve been in hot demand during the pandemic, pull away from the channel out of a feeling of “I’m already getting the sales I want, I don’t want to spend money incentivising my partners when I don’t have to.”  Pausing programs, or running them and cutting commissions to 0%, has been a negative shift. However, it does provide new entrants to the space (perhaps with less brand recognition) the opportunity to gain ground with partners who need to replace the revenue with businesses they weren’t able to build a relationship with in the past due to time or resources.  That has led to some really exciting partnerships and this will continue to lead to a rebirth of major players in the space. 

Our industry has also done an amazing job of incorporating charitable work into the model. This includes offers that showcase “give back” campaigns, unique promotions aimed at healthcare workers and first responders, and working with influencers and other partners who may not normally play in the pay-per-performance space, but were willing to for charity or during this particular time. Many businesses that previously never offered sales, suddenly were offering site-wide discounts just to encourage shopping and continue to generate revenue for their businesses. The channel really rose to the occasion in providing the right platform and partnerships to do that. 

At a time where marketing budgets are being paused, some brands are increasing investment in other areas, including affiliate marketing. What makes affiliate marketing such a viable channel to utilise right now for advertisers and publishers?

SH: The positive attributes of affiliate marketing have never been more appealing — pay-per-performance, transparency, relationships at scale.  The brands that have doubled down on their investment in the channel or have entered it for the first time (or the first time in a long time), are able to take advantage of technologies and partnerships that have previously not been as capable of maximising these value propositions of the channel.  The networks and platforms have upped their game in the last year or two enabling them to really capitalise on this time, but you’re also seeing supplementary tools that augment the investment being spent — we are able to use a brand’s own attribution logic for how they pay out their partners. 

We are also able to see where competitors are investing with partners to make competitive plays, block fraud before it ever hits a brand’s conversion funnel, and monitor all our client’s content to ensure their promotions and messaging are accurate  at all times. There is so much more control than ever before, and in such a crazy time, that has been a welcome investment opportunity for all in the space. 

From your perspective, what trends have you noticed in the last few weeks that have affected the channel? (programs, relationships, verticals etc.)

SH: As I mentioned before, the most detrimental trend was the pausing of programs or zeroing out commissions for many brands.  But the positive side was that other brands were able to  increase commissions, and many others  entered the space because this is the time to try new things, and make a name for yourself with partners who now have the time and resources to experiment with your brand.  So while it’s been tough to watch some legacy big brands pull back, it’s also been reinvigorating to see the industry shaken up by all the new players who will redefine what the landscape looks like a year from now. 

Let’s talk about PartnerCentric. Particularly during this time, how have businesses adapted to the pandemic and what sort of strategies have you implemented to support your clients?

SH: When I said radical times call for radical innovations, that has really become the motto around PartnerCentric. We have been able to introduce an entire suite of proprietary solutions to our client base. We gave them a set open access period for full use to play with, and experiment with, a whole new way of managing their affiliate investment. A set of tools that allow insight, transparency, and control of dollars spent, that works with any affiliate program on any platform.  People, more than ever, needed a way to feel comfortable with what they were spending and what they were getting in return, because the pandemic didn’t stop businesses from needing to continue to earn in this channel, it only accelerated it. But it did make all businesses pause and say “how am I going to achieve my goals now that everything’s been turned upside down?” The interest levels in new and innovative solutions is higher than ever before, and our client base has been overwhelmingly positive and engaged with this technology stack. 

We’ve moved into beta on several other exciting initiatives that allow us to test, learn, refine, and test again a number of ways of approaching affiliate management in different customer segments. This has allowed us to meet our clients and prospective clients where they are, in ways we never previously thought to support them.  

With a big shift to digital as more consumers shop online, do you think now is the time for brands to be more creative and innovative in the way they target audiences?

SH: There’s never a “wrong” time to be more creative and innovative in the approach to targeting audiences, that’s for sure.  But the profiles we used before can be thrown out the window. This pandemic was really a reset. So much of the buying behavior, what people are interested in and paying attention to, how we communicate and market to the consumer, all of that has changed.  

So much is going on in the world, and a different level of sensitivity and understanding in the approach to these online audiences is needed. Also, not relying on the historical data and trends to figure out who that audience should be. Everything has been flipped on its head and it may be forever different, we don’t know.  Spending habits are different, priorities are different, and we have to meet people where they are. That will take more creativity, thoughtfulness, care and attention than ever before. 

With lockdown beginning to ease and things adjusting to normal, how do you think affiliate marketing will operate going forward?

SH: This continues to be, and will always be, a relationship-based industry.  It is what sets us apart from so many other forms of marketing.  The guiding principle between all partners during this time has been to over-communicate, negotiate, find a way where we can all win. The parties that play by that guidebook, as things adjust to what will be a “new normal” will come out stronger than ever, with more opportunities and advancements than ever before. Those businesses that shrank away from taking chances, or who remained staunchly in their positions, inflexible to the changes around them, or worse, operating to the detriment of their customers and partners, will struggle to regain their ground.  But with the reset I mentioned earlier, I truly believe a renaissance of ideas, strategies, technologies, partners, new players, etc will emerge going forward.  

Lastly, as we approach the second half of the year, what can we expect from PartnerCentric in the coming months?

SH: In the last three months, we’ve transformed from a traditional agency model that was labour-intensive with intangible value. We are now a forward-thinking business that blends both intangible and tangible solutions and services that reinvent the way brands market their businesses. It has been important for us to re-emerge in a post-COVID world as a tech-focused and future- thinking organization that helps our clients survive and thrive now and in the future. Our newly launched Control Suite enables our team to employ Technology Enabled Account Management (TEAM) so we can advise our client brands to make smarter, more informed and predictive decisions when it comes to their investments in the affiliate channel.

There are so many unknowns when it comes to the second half of the year and brands can’t rely on “business as usual” to see them through. It is our job as a premium agency to come up with the solutions to help businesses excel despite economic changes and we are up for the challenge!