As a marketing and media planner who started out in the performance marketing space, I have always kept an arguably biased and loyal toe in the affiliate waters – and have been fascinated to witness the frustrating paradox of how the affiliate channel’s true potential is viewed versus its actual potential. There is definitely a disconnect, and if agencies and advertisers warm up to it, they’d be unlocking a world of opportunity.

Traditionally, affiliates have been the afterthought on the media plan; the catchment and fulfilment part of the demand created elsewhere, with comms granted to the lucky last toucher. Some agencies I have worked with defer to the affiliate network for understanding what is happening and barely align. Other clients do not even touch it and it is dealt with ‘by some other team in house’.

However, with the advent of new formats, it is important that all across the affiliate, digital and wider media industry start thinking in unison, and beyond the ‘lower funnel’ last-click –  only world that the majority of affiliate budgets have become accustomed to. In a post-lockdown and soon to be post-cookie world of tightening margins and need for better monetisation of publishers and content – affiliates have had to adapt the way they sell their inventory.

Tenancies offer a value exchange of both conversion friendly formats whilst being tantamount to digital media buys that equate to brand awareness (upper ‘funnel’) and consideration (mid ‘funnel’) campaigns. A tenancy offers the opportunity to buy premium inventory oftentimes reserved for media teams, but with a reassurance of certain digital performance metrics (proxy CPAs maybe, but not guaranteed), whilst sitting further back on the purchase journey. A great way to think of it is a hard working media buy rather than an expensive performance play. This could be top of site banners or a placement in an aggregator site, as well as accompanying eShots or push notifications. But the main thing is to maintain key brand metrics such as Reach and Share of Voice (SOV), the KPIs of choice for brand marketing campaigns.

Related to this, a display buy or takeover is similar, just with larger impactful formats that drive clicks and conversion albeit at a higher premium, but again increase the attention needed for brands to ultimately grow their SOV and convert further ‘down the funnel’.

The poor performance naysayers are potentially missing a trick

You see, those who win and capture this opportunity will penetrate the market further. They will enable a greater brand awareness of the advertiser proposition or offer, and as a result create future demand. It is the adage of having to breed the fish so you can go fishing and catch them later, otherwise just performance focussed buying will delimit your conversion potential, and laws of diminishing return kick in i.e. no fish left to catch.

The challenge is not the channels, but the perception and setup

People are dogmatic in their view of a channel, or even more insidiously is the internal setup of brands and agencies set up to silo these connections from each other, and the concept of a funnel which has kind of informed the business models anyway. As useful a framework a funnel is, it’s equally sensible to think of the diverse role all channels can play. Paid search and DRTV can drive conversions for example. Conversely, affiliates can drive brand awareness.

How do we shift this paradigm and perception of the channel? Education. From publishers, many of which themselves are divided into affiliate teams and media teams. Perhaps they need to come together, find that ‘middle bit/crossover’, define where it sits and sell it to advertisers and agencies. But they would have multiple teams to sell it into, with slightly different positionings (hard working brand buy for media teams VS brand building performance buy for affiliate teams, etc.)

To close, there is a massive opportunity for the publisher revenue streams, and for advertisers to create sustainable ‘funnels’. Affiliates are also brand builders when you think about the way they have had to evolve, and for those who embrace this sooner rather than later will have the last laugh as they will be capturing a greater share of voice, penetrate the market further and record YoY affiliate success, or not, and we carry on with the status quo, and affiliates never truly get the abundant credit they deserve.

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