Affiliate Marketing: Big Brands Weigh In On What’s Next

“Affiliate marketing is dead.”

Well, not completely dead, Brad Clendenen, sr. technical product manager, Impact, explained at his afternoon session at Impact Growth in NYC this week.

It’s just, different, Clendenen continued. Affiliate is growing into a system of high-value partnerships, rather than just “add-on value” for marketing organizations. Traditional relationships are giving way to more nuanced endeavors, as influencer marketing emerges as a new potential revenue stream. Attribution is also more accountable, as data becomes more connected and accessible across teams.

“When you expand your idea of what affiliate marketing is, the sky’s the limit,” Clendenen said.

At Impact Growth, we got to hear from several prominent brands on how they’re innovating their affiliate marketing programs. Here’s some of the biggest takeaways:

Redefining the ‘affiliate’

Affiliates now come in all shapes and sizes, and brands are experimenting with different channels to find new revenue.

Coady Demuri, of Levi Strauss & Co., works with hundreds of influencer partners to secure both paid and earned media opportunities on social media.

“It’s not surprising that people want to work with Levi,” she said, noting the need for influencers to have some freedom with when and how they promote a brand.  “If they want to promote us the way they want to, they could.”

BarkBox took a different approach. The subscription service partners with local animal shelters, veterinarians, and dog walkers, for more visually immersive campaigns.

“It’s a whole experience, and you can’t really show that in a banner ad,” Kirk Hausman, BarkBox, said.

Uber, a ride-sharing platform, built its entire business on strong partner relationships. Head of performance partnerships Keith Posehn says affiliate recruitment and management behaves the same way as a “sales funnel” does, and should be nurtured the same way,

“You should be looking at the number of new partners you get…and how many of those turn into conversions, and ultimately, into commissions,” Posehn said.

A more dynamic attribution process

Siara Nazir, head of digital marketing, joined Autodesk to help build what Nazir described as a “digital center of excellence” for the brand. For affiliate marketing projects, Nazir argues that attribution models aren’t “one-size-fits-all.”

Different campaigns have different goals, she said. The way they’re accounted for should fit the scope of the project to accurately measure results.

“We want attribution to be dynamic enough for it to be adaptable — for the company, and for the campaign,” Nazir said.

This differs from last-click attribution models traditionally associated with affiliate reporting. Securing buy-in for reporting shifts, especially with a C-suite familiar with a different status quo, can be a challenge, Priest Willis, sr. global marketing manager, Lenovo, said.  

“The argument of ‘last-click’ is an interesting one, because you do ruffle feathers,” Willis said.

Building a system that works for your organization requires testing to figure out “what sticks, and where you can save,” Willis said. Identifying points of value outside of ‘last-click’ can help trim the fat for campaign budgets, and allow teams to focus on areas that reap the most effective ROI.

“Put processes in place that will eliminate wasteful spending,” Nazir said.

Fighting off ad fraud

Ad fraud is a consistent (and seemingly unavoidable) burden for affiliate marketers and their partners to navigate. According to Amit Joshi, Impact, fraud is getting more sophisticated. Marketers that lack a mobile-inclusive strategy are also more at-risk.

“Desktop-based approaches [for ad fraud] do not carry over on mobile,” Joshi said.

Kristyn Meade, of Hotels.com, believes “there’s still a bit of hesitancy about being bullish” on attribution fraud, citing the need for organizations to be diligent on vetting their advertising partners, as well as their own processes.

“This is a complicated topic,” Meade said. “We need to be responsible to ensure our dollars are spent wisely.”

Combating ad fraud is a multi-organizational effort. Brands and their programmatic partners work in tandem to account (and rectify) incidents of fraudulent activity.

“Make sure you’re vetting your partners so you can ensure they’re taking the right steps to protect you,” Meade said.

“The good actors should have nothing to hide,” she added.

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