Yet during this strange and tragic interlude we have witnessed one of the most radical and profound transformations that our economy will ever experience, and one that leaves our industry in a position of never-before-seen influence.

So, as we all career towards a world without masks and social distancing, I feel it would be remiss not to look back at what’s changed, what we have acclimatised to, and how our lives have subtly, but inexorably become more digital than they were on March 22nd 2020.

Are QR codes ushering in a new era of proper ‘omnichannel’?

I’m not the greatest fan of the term ‘omnichannel’ as it’s been thrown around as much as ‘new normal’ has more recently. But we do have to recognise the subtle shifts we now take for granted. For me, the greatest hero on this front has been the humble QR code. Having languished as a reader in the back of our app stores for decades, they have taken on a totally new value during this crisis and now become a part of our daily lives. It’s virtually impossible to go into a restaurant or pub without the (sometimes painful) UX experience of ordering through one.

This digitisation of our physical experiences is just one way in which the role of the high street is currently being overhauled as a consequence of the pandemic. There is very obviously a lot of pain being felt by many high street retailers and businesses that have been slow to respond to online’s gradual, and then very sudden, adoption. However, I do believe that in the long run there are some enormous gains to be had overall from this transformation.

With my SingleView hat on, we relish the opportunity to add even more visibility to our multi-touch attribution capabilities. The prospect of connecting the dots for our clients across both online and instore environments is one that will finally bring true meaning to the term omnichannel and deliver a higher order of magnitude in marketing value than we’ve ever witnessed before.

Performance marketers attain new value following the great e-commerce migration

Speaking of physical retail, the most obvious instance of change during lockdown has been in our shopping habits. With Covid restrictions closing non-essential retail for so long, e-commerce was primed to shoulder the burden of that demand.

In 2019 almost 80% of retail sales still occurred in brick and mortar stores in the UK (a startling reminder of physical retail’s historic dominance for those of us operating in our digital echo chambers). But by the end of this year, eMarketer’s latest forecast suggests that share will drop to closer to 60% as e-commerce fully takes flight.

As new online shoppers flooded the market (at one point in early lockdown Awin was tracking new customer rates as high as almost 40% across our programmes), so the need for experienced online marketers swiftly followed. Digital marketing recruiters are expecting a post pandemic uplift of 75% in the number of roles being advertised, with salaries being inflated by 12-15% during the same period (don’t get me started on inflation…).

Performance-based marketing roles have seen particular growth in client-side roles, with spikes in the number of PPC, social and affiliate jobs available, as well as supporting CRM and e-com merchandising roles too. Closely aligned with digital marketing job growth are those for the techies whose futures are now as assured as a chartered accountancy qualification would have been 25 years ago.

For those of us in the performance industry who worked our way through the lockdown, it’s been a true challenge to the cliché that this is an industry predicated on relationships. Covid didn’t do our networking any good, in fact it all but killed it. Yet, for the most part, our trading relationships have not just survived, but thrived.

As networking returns we can expect to see a swathe of new business enter the space as service partners and agencies come dashing into our arena with a proliferation of client briefs, desperate to capitalise on the performance-based marketing model. New SEO, PR, influencer, media/agency networks and international consultancies are talking ‘cost-per-x’ in ways they would never have dreamt pre-pandemic.

Symbols of change in an industry transformed

All these changes really hit home last week when I heard about Impact’s latest fund raise, the most notable part being the fact that they’d justified a $1.5Bn valuation. That’s massive. I don’t mean in terms of the quantity of cash, I mean symbolically for the whole industry, for every one of us working in the performance marketing ecosystem.

We’ve seen double digit growth at SingleView during this period and now, being part of Awin, have witnessed skyrocketing expansion across every region too. Impact’s news is just the latest form of external validation for our channel.

From Future’s revelation that it generated some £85m in revenues via affiliate marketing in the first half of the year, to the central place that affiliate takes in BuzzFeed’s investor deck prior to its planned IPO – our industry is finally breaking into the media mainstream, as we discussed recently on our podcast.

Taking a step back, these updates all confirm the news that our channel has properly arrived. Would it have happened without the pandemic? Probably, given the growing importance of e-commerce more generally, but Covid has thrust the performance sector into a seat at the top table of marketing in a manner never previously imagined.

483 days later, we stand ready to benefit from a golden age of digital commerce.