It’s clear that after several months of the COVID era, many brand leaders are now proactively planning for the future. One of the best things about working in partnerships is that our channel has been one of the most reliable sales avenues for brands in recent months. While budgets slowed in other marketing channels, the pay-for-performance model proved quite resilient. Just as it always has, in good times and bad. 

Here are some thoughts on what’s coming, and how we can get our brands growing faster through partnerships.

A better normal

Many solutions providers including Partnerize reported strong retail sales via partnership throughout the COVID era. E-commerce is poised to continue setting records in the next months as shoppers routinise transacting online in more categories and occasions. 

More recently,  there are also upticks in activity for travel, July data from Deloitte shows that the number of people actively searching for travel deals is going up around the world. For travel brands, partnership represents a great place to invest because of its pay-for-performance characteristics. 

We will also see more strategic partnerships across categories and brands, as marketers explore new ways to extend the pay-for-performance partnerships model to influence new habits and buying patterns. There will be more creativity among marketers looking to leverage new acquisition strategies through brand-to-brand alliances. 

E-commerce acceleration into the holidays

Total global retail sales for 2020 are expected to be down just under 6% from 2019, and nearly 12% below pre-pandemic estimates. But e-commerce has significantly accelerated. Worldwide, e-commerce was up 16.5% in May, with the largest increases seen in Central and Eastern Europe (21.5%). 

With the holidays fast approaching, the performance marketing industry can bring needed value and targeted understanding to consumers and brands. Further, because partnerships operate as pay-for-performance, brands will likely increase investment in the sector at the expense of  pay-for-access channels. 

Brands should take the time to develop a creative commissioning scheme to reward partners for desired actions. For example, brands focused on new customer acquisition can reward partners more for new to file customers versus repeat buyers. 

Another trend we expect to see in the industry-leading brands pursuing more diversity across the partner mix. Recent times have brought higher consumption rates of social and high-quality digital content. Purchases made on social media rose 84.7% year over year driven by a record usage of social networks during the early months of the pandemic. Leveraging influencer and content partnerships will become an important part of raising brand awareness, driving purchase decisions, and increasing revenue. Remember also that many shoppers will be looking for tangible savings on purchases, so working with traditional affiliates like coupon and cashback will continue to be wise.

Closer partner collaborations

Some of the best things to come out of the COVID era are renewed efforts from brands and partners to develop closer ties and communicate more frequently. Partnership is fundamentally about mutual benefit, of course, and there is no better way to get it than to work smarter together.  

Throughout the past several months, brands and partners report even more open lines of communication. More frequent check-ins and communication of promotional changes will continue. Recently we conducted a survey of leading brands and partners worldwide and found that 68% of top brands reported more frequent communications with their top partners since COVID arrived. 75% of brands said they had proactively reached out to brands during the period.

Increased emphasis on automation 

All of us, no matter if we’re a brand, agency, network, or platform, are being asked to do more with less. We need to operate more efficiently, with less budget, and improve performance in measurable ways. 

We need to find ways to reduce manual effort in partnership through automation. It’s clear that brands want to understand ways to use technology and experts to streamline process. With automation, advertisers and publishers will be able to have an easier path to profitable partnerships, both through better recruiting and smoother onboarding. The automation of many manual tasks will also free up resources to drive strategic innovation.

Automation will also play a key role in the quest for improved attribution. With automation, it’s easier to determine the accretive value of partnership programs, no matter what metric is being applied to assess incrementality. Automation enables more powerful analytics as well as the ability to commission more strategically across those KPIs.

Mobile mobile mobile!

One of the fascinating consumer effects of the COVID-19 situation has been a big move toward mobile transactions. Even in markets like the US, which has lagged much of the world in mobile share of total transactions because of a robust PC install base, we’ve seen a  23% year over year increase in purchases made on mobile devices. 

It will be more critical than ever to deliver seamless shopping journeys on mobile sites and apps and a seamless journey across channels in the coming 12 months. For performance marketers, deploying tracking that can capture sales on the PC and mobile web, as well as in-app is going to be key to understanding the value-driven by partners. 

Final thoughts

The first half of 2020 has certainly been a period of rapid change. But change brings with it new opportunities to meet customer needs. Few would deny that e-commerce has played a very valuable role in helping consumers cope with the COVID era, and partnership has been at the centre of that value creation. And through that value, partnership also delivers outstanding growth to brands and partners alike.