Another year, and no doubt another round of trends and insights across digital marketing flooding your feed and inboxes. Performance channels and affiliates are no different. So let’s approach this differently. The purpose of this list is not merely to recall what has stayed and will stay the same or to deliberately veto trends, but to help draw your attention to the things that deserve further providence and are absolutely key to focus on. It is split between the core evergreen fundamentals, and things to pay extra attention to in the year ahead…

1. The adoption of quality channel partnerships

For the sake of the brand you are advertising, what is the experience and what is the reason to buy? With every individual, you are always either building your brand and customer base, or tearing it down. We all have limited mental availability as consumers. So it is worth noting that every touchpoint moves the customer further into or away from the consciousness.

Want to +1 rather than -1 this availability? Pick the right partners. If they spread the word of your offer, even if it does not convert they are worst-case creating brand awareness. But through what lens? Sustainability is a key theme here too, with, according to Awin, an uptick in merchants wanting to be featured alongside things such as the Economist’s COP26 coverage.

2. The need to think creatively to seek the gold of first party data

For example, if you are using email marketing affiliates, they would surely by now have been through the rigorous process of reducing their opted-in data list as a result of GDPR, and should have a more qualitative opted-in list; a greenfield opportunity if you approach affiliates (often brands) properly.

You only have to look at the advent of brands’ owned media houses e.g. Boots and Tesco. Tap into these audiences, and if you are able to capture the data, let alone convert, then you grow your own base which will become increasingly important as we face the depreciation of cookie-led opportunities in the next 12 months. But quantity of data for quantity’s sake? At your own peril maybe. Better to get fewer, qualitative buyers in. Think how you can add value to their brand and vice versa, and ultimately for the end customer. Thinking win-win-win!

3. Shoppable everything

That said, most categories comprise of light buyers, not repeat ones, so spread those wings in terms of formats. There are more shoppable formats, especially on video and the social media platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram. The conduit between this huge addressability and the affiliate channel? Influencers. More creators are coming through by the hours let alone years, so be sure to route your shoppable commerce journey alongside much of the up-and-coming talent. Think plenty of micros, not necessarily a couple of Hollywood macro ones.

4. Continued understanding of customer behaviour

It has been great to see the uptick of behavioural science being applied to marketing by brands. Charm/left hand pricing effects. Going back to the win-win-win partnerships mentality, it is crucial to make the buyer feel they have unlocked an offer that is exclusive to them, or at least the inventory/email they’ve stumbled upon. So be personal – but only where possible and respectful (ie. email!).

A first-mover advantage is good. Scarcity via limited offers and amounts, which the likes of GroupOn have used so effectively, continues to hit home, as does aggregator hacks e.g. three tickets left at this price. But reducing price and discounting is seldom the best route either. Try alternative techniques with the price you have. Break down the cost by day in your ad, or cost of unit if it is a multiplack. If a higher value purchase is being promoted to a wider audience who may be more price-sensitive, the advent of delayed payment fintechs such as Klarna and ClearPay, provided they are consistent with eCom user journey, give you ready made lower ££ figures to play with in your promotional activity. 

5. The transparency of performance with C-Suite

This means communicating – beyond the rudimentary CPA and rev-share benefits- the extra value that affiliates can bring as a brand channel, let alone performance. Especially if a number cruncher questions the incrementality. Broad audience reach that is essentially free (stay close to publisher reports for this). The data you have captured. The CRM strategy in place. The Customer Lifetime Value. The different partner marriages. There’s plenty more proof of brand building too. Lots to celebrate when you look just a little more.

6. The need for good measurement to prove incrementality

And please, make sure it is all worthwhile to the organisation bottom line to continue sustained action and investment! A clear measurement plan has to be in place. It does not have to be exactly NASA approved, but having clear tracking and testing non last-click where possible will show wider funnel contribution (another tool in the arsenal of #5). Note, not only do the ‘walled garden’ environments have questionable reporting but there is a wider elephant in the marketing board room, that affiliates just capture what was going to convert anyway. It is invariably not the case and needs to be proven.

If you are part of a massive marketing media plan, set up experiments of just a few SKUs, liaise with wider media planners and agencies, and ensure that affiliates are measured in line with the wider mix. As a minimum, ensure you, or those you entrust on your behalf, are proving the exact value that your partnerships bring.