In the world of partnership marketing, increasing numbers of brands and companies are looking to unbundle service from technology, either bringing the channel in-house or leveraging a specialist agency, thanks to the capabilities of technology platforms.
The reasons for this vary, but here are some of the main ones:
1. In-house offers greater control
The drivers for the decision to migrate an affiliate programme in-house, rather than to use a network, are multifaceted, but very often a primary motivation is control: The ability to provide teams directly with the technology, tools and know-how to manage programmes effectively and cost-efficiently.
This is true for businesses of all shapes and sizes; with some of the largest brands, such as TUI, looking to add sophistication and fine-tune efforts, for incremental gains. Often, teams will have been with an affiliate network for ten – even 15 – years. In that time, the industry has matured significantly.
TUI’s Senior Marketing Manager, Robbert van den Eshof explains: “We wanted to focus on fine-tuning and incrementality; not just growth. It’s not so easy to switch partners productively on a network and we wanted to be able to act faster.”
Brands tend to find that no one can know their business as well as they do. Cutting out a network middle man means they can directly communicate what’s important to their business.
2. Visibility around attribution
It is important to start with a clear and unbiased view of the customer’s interaction with both partners and brand. This raw data can be overwhelming, but with the right reporting and data manipulation tools, becomes a powerful tool to understand exactly what your customers react to and care about.
While attribution tools and assigning a specific value to an individual channel or partner has its uses, try looking at the data holistically, understanding that no purchase or conversion happens in a vacuum, and start to double down on the interactions and content that directly drives improved outcomes – quicker time to conversion, higher average order value, repeat purchases, etc.
In tough times, brands are trying to find ways to hit their goals – whether that’s driving revenue or implementing small efficiencies which each add up to significant gains. And with customer behaviour evolving all the time, there has been greater focus on mobile in the partnership channel, too. An explosion of apps, for instance, means that technology with efficient tracking solutions across mobile can give far greater visibility into the customer journey.
3. In-house expertise
There has been a shift away from outsourcing expertise in many marketing disciplines in recent years, for good reason – whether social media marketing or even above-the-line advertising.
Building and developing a team in-house can reap rewards in the longer term, generating skills as well as efficiencies, and – in the world of partnership marketing – enabling a greater focus on beneficial, two-way relationships with a variety of partner types.
Getting and retaining the best talent means creating roles that are challenging and fulfilling.
4. Brand to brand partnerships
A big focus in partnership marketing at the moment is on brand-to-brand partnerships. You may find a craft gin subscription service within a different but complementary, subscription box, for instance.
As Van Den Eshof points out, TUI is having ‘interesting conversations’ with a number of companies and, unlike in the network model, it is possible ‘to manage certain relationships yourself, rather than outsourcing everything’ – thanks to technology.
A big focus in partnership marketing at the moment is on brand-to-brand partnerships. Brands are finding opportunities to reach new audiences by creating relationships with non competitor brands where a synergy exists. If a balance can be found where both parties gain from the concept – it may be customer acquisition, or it may be an additional revenue stream into the business – a long lasting relationship can form.
SaaS allows the brands to take direct control of these partnerships and create bespoke commercial agreements.
When home health testing start-up LetsGetChecked moved from a network, it saw massive growth almost immediately.
CMO, Simon Dunne, says: “The affiliate channel represents about 35 to 40 per cent of our overall annual revenue and over the last 12 months it’s grown in terms of spend 15 times, while revenue has grown about 30 times during that same period.”
Dunne says that the ability to move away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach has been game-changing. While some affiliates are involved in closing, for instance, others are introducing new customers and they need to be compensated appropriately.
Moving to a SaaS model gave the company control over its rates, as well as greater visibility into other owned and operated channels such as paid search and social.
6. Automation and efficiency
Automation reduces the need for manual processes by enabling automated reporting, payouts, validations and partner discovery – meaning that teams can avoid spending hours pulling data and looking manually in Google, for instance.
Whether partnerships comprise traditional affiliates, mobile apps, influencers or brand-to-brand partnerships, the lifecycle can be managed on one unified platform – from discovery and recruitment, to contracting and payments, tracking, engagement, and optimisation.
Morgane Kaminski, Social Commerce Performance Lead at Mapiful described some of the saving that Impact provided “email scheduling was about 10h a week for the team, reduced to 1h, database maintenance was about 3h a week, reduced to 1h and collaboration set per team member increased by 32%”
7. The ability to focus on relationships
It may seem paradoxica,l but automation actually allows you to be more human. Through saving a multitude of hours that were spent on reporting or validations or manual outreach, teams that use SaaS have more time to build deeper relationships.
When asked to comment how the automation of processes allows Lenovo to take on more, Partnerships Manager Alina Zagaraite explained they used the time saved to “be connected with partners, to spend more time with them, and to spend more time discussing the programme”.
The extra time can also be used to build innovation. Emily Aye, Affiliate & Partnership Manager at Starling Bark, related how the finance brand builds better relationships now, “Before we launched on Impact our affiliate program was in its infancy, with each step of the process involving manual tasks. Now we have automated our onboarding processes, contracts and reporting capabilities. Allowing us with more time to test, learn, refine and scale across new and existing partnerships.”
The improved ability to focus on relationships when using partnership automation is equally true for both agency and in-house teams. Neither benefits to be bogged down in spreadsheets instead of actually speaking to the partners.
8. On-hand support when required
There is a common misconception that moving from a traditional network to a technology-led solution will involve lacking that all-important support.
Lauren Gravell, Performance Media Executive at Dyson, admits, “Moving from a traditional network, we worried about lack of support. We couldn’t have been more wrong. We have dedicated managers that are there for even the smallest of things.”
Not only has the brand’s partnership portfolio diversified, but the team has been able to identify high-performing partners and have two-way conversations, nurturing those all-important relationships.
“If you want to take a gradual approach, like us, then with SaaS you can have as much support as you need, as you grow your internal capability,” adds TUI’s Van Den Eshof, who utilises Neo as an agency service provider.
When you work with an affiliate network your service and your technology is bundled together. This means if you feel you are getting low quality service and want to change, you’re forced to migrate your entire programme. The situation is the same if you feel that the technology isn’t meeting your expectations, you have to migrate everything.
Through unbundling these two areas, advertiser brands find they are able to pick the best of each; an independent technology that continues to innovate and a specialist service provider that’s at the top of their game. This specialisation is what propels many programmes forward and prevents the stalling in growth, and innovation, seen with many network operates brands.
Commercial Director at Eve Sleep, Andy Boddy, explained how this specialisation has improved profitability, “With Impact and Scale Digital, we had partners who shared our goal of improving business performance and were able to build the strong, effective, successful partnership program we needed. Their tools, expertise, and support have directly affected our business profitability.”
10. Greater ROAS
“The software gives you true visibility of the entire purchase journey: Which affiliates are simply closing; which are introducing; and where our own channels come into the mix,” says Dunne. “It lets you put a true value on each channel.”
“Affiliates are loyal to revenue streams as opposed to a network,” he adds, concluding that, ultimately, the move has enabled his team to understand every kind of partner and what type of traffic they bring.
With the ability to determine the value of each partner and adjust payout rates and commission according value, ROAS is maximised. And, along with time savings arising from the reduction of manual efforts, teams can work together with partners and arm them with the information they need to succeed.
Clearly, the ability to be more strategic with partnership marketing, via a single system, can bring both internal and external stakeholders together. Done well, improved communication has a dramatic impact on outcomes. So while there may be some short-term pain to any migration, the benefits more than outweigh this initial investment of time and effort.