Affiliate Networks and Tracking Platforms, The Best of 2020. Part 2: Impact

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As a continuation from Part 1 of my Affiliate Network and Tracking Platform Series to help raise funds for my friend Leenie, and to help educate the world more about the options and variables when selecting an affiliate network or tracking platform, today’s featured Affiliate Tracking Platform is Impact!

Impact: Bringing automation to affiliate partnerships 

Affiliate marketing has advanced and evolved significantly since the 1990s. Increased internet access and the advent of new media channels have forever altered customer behaviors and habits, while ecommerce has grown tremendously. Needless to say, these advancements have brought change to the affiliate manager’s job as well. More potential shoppers and more channels for delivering offers have made managing and scaling affiliate programs more complicated than ever. Affiliate managers need a partner solution that handles the nuanced requirements of a modem program.

Impact is a technology company that has pioneered an entirely new way of approaching performance marketing across the whole spectrum of partnerships. Impact accelerates enterprise growth by providing automation to discovering & recruiting, contracting & paying, tracking, engaging, protecting & monitoring, and optimizing all types of partnerships. This is not only true for traditional affiliates, but across a larger spectrum of partners including influencers, business-to-business, media houses, mobile apps, ambassadors, social causes, and more.

Impact has grown and evolved from its initial entry in the performance marketing space more than 12 years ago, incorporating new businesses and capabilities to become the market-leader that it is today. With 12 offices in eight countries, more than 500 employees and 1,200 customers worldwide, Impact is the global leader in partnership automation.

From performance marketing to partnership automation: A history of innovation

Founded in 2008 in Santa Barbara, CA, Impact Radius, as it was known then, launched its first product in 2010. The founding team of Wade Crang, Todd Crawford, Lisa Riolo, Roger Kjensrud, and Per Pettersen shared a vision of a new path forward for performance marketing. In their eyes, the industry would benefit from more transparency. If they could connect performance advertisers directly with their media partners, the founders felt it would create exponential growth for the entire performance marketing industry.

The company entered the market with a multi-channel performance marketing platform designed to create a centralized directory listing merchants, affiliate partners, and agencies that were actively engaged in performance marketing. These concepts remain a vital part of Impact’s offering up to this day.

 In December 2015, Impact acquired Clearsaleing, an attribution technology company, to bolster its optimization, attribution, and analytics solutions. A few months later, the company acquired the ad fraud company Forensiq. In 2017, Dave Yovanno joined the company as CEO, and co-founder Per Pettersen moved into the role of executive chairman and chief strategy officer. 

In 2018 Impact underwent a series of transitions, emerging as the company that it is today, in both name and offering. The company rebranded in March, dropping “Radius” from its name, and integrating its three solutions (Forensiq, Altitude, and Radius) into one natively integrated platform. Forensiq handled a program’s protection from fraud while Altitude powered the platform’s powerful optimization and attribution capabilities. Radius provided the core management, payment, optimization, and growth capabilities that automated the workflows of traditional affiliate marketing, and strategic business partnerships. Later that year the company acquired Mediarails, a CRM and growth platform that helps affiliate managers and influencer marketers discover, recruit, and engage partners at scale through email automation fueled by a CRM tailored for partners. The addition of Mediarails has powered Impact’s partnership automation capabilities, allowing affiliate managers to discover, recruit, engage, and optimize new and existing partners in even more scalable ways.

 As more brands began to recognize that partnerships are a significant source of incremental growth and a new revenue channel, they began to see that Impact’s solution offered the transparency and automation they needed to manage robust, mature partnership programs. Target, Williams-Sonoma, Uber, Kohl’s, Walmart, CapitalOne, and Home Depot are among the brands working with Impact. 

In early 2019, Impact secured $75 million in funding led by Providence Strategic Growth (PSG), ensuring that the company could continue to grow its operations and incorporate more tools into its platform, the Impact Partnership Cloud.

The company has hardly slowed down in 2020, opening a German office, moving its annual Impact Growth conference to a virtual setting, and acquiring ACTIVATE, an end-to-end platform for influencer discovery, reporting, and campaign management.

Key Features and Capabilities

Partnership Cloud provides streamlined workflows that make it easy to recruit, onboard, and manage traditional shopping cart affiliates, influencers, mobile apps, and other nontraditional affiliates on an affiliate payout model. This is made possible through a number of features, including a custom CRM, flexible contracting, full support for recruiting, mobile tracking, enhanced discovery, and partner insights. 

Recruiting new partners and keeping them engaged takes time, which is why Partnership Cloud automates the process through a unique Partner CRM. This is akin to Marketo personalization and drip campaigns and Salesforce relationship management and segmentation, but designed specifically for partners.

Impact’s contracting system, Dynamic Payouts, lets businesses adjust payout rates based on more than 100 factors. This flexibility gives both the originating business and its partners the freedom to negotiate mutually beneficial terms, such as higher rates for large order values or new customer acquisition, and also allows for split commissions whenever several partners appear in the conversion path. Impact customers can also tailor their contracts precisely for each partner relationship.

As partnerships expand beyond the traditional concept of affiliates, businesses need additional support for recruiting and managing social influencers. Partnership Cloud provides extensive, automated discovery and recruitment through Mediarails, as well as one-click sign-on from social accounts, a mobile-optimized partner UI, easy vanity link creation, and robust voucher code tracking, to manage influencer relationships on a performance basis.

Meanwhile, mobile remains a ripe area of opportunity for businesses pursuing partnerships. However, it’s surprisingly hard to make in-app tracking work with traditional tracking links. Even when businesses use an MMP for deep linking, the addition of tracking parameters often creates issues with the user routing. As a result, many businesses ignore apps entirely and miss out on what could be a massive boost to their programs. Impact’s TrueLink solves this issue, providing the deep linking needed to take prospective customers directly to certain pages within an app. This results in conversion rates two times higher, larger average order values, and an increased likelihood to repurchase.

As businesses look to grow their programs, the Partnership Cloud’s Discovery tool unearths partners of all types and sizes, allowing enterprises to pinpoint a network of best-fit partners for their campaigns and business goals. This highly visual tool not only gives a full picture of each prospective partner, including an audience and engagement quality report and sample posts, it also provides partners with the benefit of incremental revenue from generating new partners.

Finally, Impact’s Partner Insights reporting suite delivers instant access to performance metrics and actionable insights. Partner Insights provides eight reports that take advantage of Impact’s cross-channel tracking and cross-device identity matching, delivering data such as incremental partner contribution, customer lifetime value (LTV), and crediting analysis. Businesses can see full conversion path data, ensuring partners are neither over- nor under-compensated. Partner Insights also takes in data from other channels to dedupe and report on channel incrementality, and can display the lifetime value of customers that partners participate in acquiring.

Advantages and Benefits 

Building a partnership program that can drive as much growth as well-established channels like sales and marketing requires scale, and managing hundreds or even thousands of individual partnerships requires efficient processes. However, many existing partnership teams operate in silos, so there’s no understanding of the unified value of existing partnerships. This makes it hard to recruit, manage, track, and optimize partnerships effectively. 

Impact’s Partnership Cloud allows brands to manage all aspects of a performance or value-based partnership program in one place. Its tools enable partnership leaders to contract and pay partners globally with ease, across multiple languages and currencies; discover, recruit, and engage their next partner; and verify and assess the value of each transaction.

 In the past, brands have tended to use disparate solutions, with disparate measurement systems. Impact’s all-in-one solution provides full visibility and optimization, managing the entire life cycle of all types of partnerships — affiliate and beyond. It has taken the best of performance marketing and applied it more widely to all business relationships, with an off-the-shelf offering suitable to all types of strategic B2B partnerships, especially affiliate relationships.

There’s no longer any need to cobble together various discovery and recruitment tools or spreadsheets. By helping companies track sales and activity from other channels in the customer journey, Partnership Cloud determines the incrementality of the partnership channel. Partnership Cloud’s controls eliminate wasted marketing spend through deduping, promo code management, and reducing SaaS and network fees. 

Perhaps most important of all are the benefits realized through automation. Partnership Cloud reduces operational expenses, helping organizations refocus resources on increased output. These efficiencies also reduce the staff work required to operate and grow a revenue-generating program. Decreased time to partner productivity helps programs mature much faster and leads to predictable spend on the partnership channel moving forward.

A survey Impact commissioned from Forrester Consulting, which took into account the views of more than 450 decisions makers across North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific, found a clear correlation between a businesses’ partnership program maturity and a business’ ability to meet and exceed revenue and growth goals, with mature partnership programs producing double the income of low-maturity programs.

Impact’s platform has even prompted clients to move away from investing in sales and advertising to focus on partnerships, thanks to stellar results. In fact, according to a January 2020 study by Forrester Consulting, companies using the Partnership Cloud averaged a 314 percent three-year ROI and a six-month investment payback. 

Businesses are able to do this because Partnership Cloud provides the structure to engage with partners and grow through quality. When an enterprise understands the true value of a partner, it can contract and pay on valued events, such as lifetime value, customer journey position, last to click, or SKU. With access to partner audience quality insights and data, companies can grasp the incremental value that each partner drives. Again, automation brings efficiency, and Partnership Cloud makes it easier to identify and recruit partners outside of the traditional network ecosystem, contract directly with those partners, and connect with customers in a meaningful and authentic way.

The platform is available in more than 40 languages, and can seamlessly convert between nearly 80 currencies, with all taxes automatically accounted for. The contracting system has been designed to be applicable to all industries. It also enables businesses to adjust payout rates based on more than 100 factors. 

A partnership solution applicable across all verticals

Impact serves a wide range of well-known brands across a variety of verticals, including retail/ecommerce, travel, beauty, fitness, financial services, and fashion. In the affiliate space, Impact helps brands like Adidas, Airbnb, Allstate, HSBC, Levi’s, and L’Oreal connect to new audiences through a wide range of affiliate partnerships.

Traditional sales and marketing are difficult to execute when consumers are dealing with anxiety, but partnerships, especially with trusted affiliate brands, may provide the sense of security and comfort that consumers need right now. 

The Impact Partnership Cloud can be used across any vertical looking to leverage the opportunity in the affiliate space. In fact, some of Impact’s greatest recent success stories come from business in verticals that are not traditionally aligned with the affiliate space. For instance, financial services companies are learning that partnerships can help them navigate the rough waters of economic uncertainty in 2020. 

In one example, Impact helped the app Drop automate payments to its affiliate publishers each month and use bulk messaging, cutting down on one-to-one email outreach. Drop asks users to link their credit cards to the app, and then rewards them with gift cards for shopping at their favorite brands. Users link their credit cards to the app, shop, and then redeem points.

Drop was looking to drive customer acquisition, and while it had some success with premium affiliate publishers, it was running into two problems. Tracking, messaging, and payments to the partners was manually burdensome. Drop also wanted to pay partners on a cost-per-acquisition basis to enable greater predictability in its budget.

By using Impact Partnership Cloud to connect with its affiliate partners and automate the process, Drop achieved 15% incremental growth. By moving to a CPA model, it was able to pay partners when they drove new, verified users who linked their card to the app for the first time. Now, Drop’s affiliate partnerships have brought in 15% or more of all new users.

Another recent case is Rastelli’s, the premium protein supplier, which was able to quickly pivot its partnership focus amid economic uncertainty, developing new publisher relationships that helped it seize a unique opportunity.

When COVID-19 forced hotels and restaurants to shut down, Rastelli’s was forced to shift focus to its direct-to-consumer business. The brand’s partnership strategy had to follow suit. The brand and its agency used Impact to execute a well-orchestrated, diverse, and synergistic performance-based partnership program that completely recalibrated the company’s revenue potential. 

In doing this, Rastelli’s and its agency developed new kinds of publisher relationships. Prior to COVID-19, many top mass publishers avoided performance-based deals, preferring traditional CPM or flat-fee ad placements. As ad revenue declined amid the uncertainty of stay-at-home orders, publishers began to see the earning potential of performance partnerships, thanks to data Impact shared from other performance-based partnerships. As a result, Rastelli’s and its agency, DMi, negotiated hundreds of commerce content placements for Rastelli’s that generated both sales and increased brand awareness.  

Helping publishers large and small seize the partnership revenue opportunity

Impact works with the largest referral partners and content publishers in the world such as BuzzFeed, FinanceBuzz, and Ziff Davis, as well as smaller publishers that appeal to very specific audiences. This helps Impact’s affiliate partners achieve great scale, while also helping smaller niche publishers that serve as the authority on a certain topic or category to monetize their audience. 

Impact’s partnership marketplace makes it easy for publishers of all sizes and specialties to connect with top brands that align with a publication’s audience and preferences. The marketplace gives affiliates the tools they need to reach out to hundreds of potential partners, manage their partnerships, enjoy transparent reporting, and monetize their content for maximum revenue. 

Through the marketplace, affiliates get direct access to global brands across several verticals, including retail/ecommerce, travel, beauty, fitness, financial services, and fashion. Impact provides direct contact information that affiliates can download and use to kick off their email outreach.

Affiliate publishers that work with Impact have access to flexible payment options, and the ability to withdraw funds on a set day whenever their balance reaches an established threshold. Payments can be processed via direct transfer, BACS, or PayPal, and in whatever currency the affiliate partner chooses. Impact’s comprehensive tracking also allows affiliates to negotiate the payment terms that they want, based on a variety of metrics, including introducing new customers and earning a payout if those customers convert. 

Publishers that choose to work with Impact gain access to exclusive promo codes that ensure they are getting credit for influence on customers, even if other websites or partners promote the unique code in an effort to bypass the attribution system.

The partner marketplace also includes access to Impact’s Products Pages, a catalog of more than 9 million products. This makes it easier than ever for affiliates to find a product they want to promote, grab a snippet of HTML code, and embed the offer on their pages, the same way they would use traditional banner ads.

A transparent view of the customer journey for attributing performance

Attribution is one of the Impact Partnership Cloud’s key differentiators. Affiliate managers need attribution solutions to not only understand, assess, and optimize their program performance, but to root out potential cases of affiliate fraud. By providing these two important insights, Impact helps businesses better allocate their spend, and also protect themselves from wasting money on fraud. 

The primary goal of any attribution solution is understanding and measuring the customer journey across channels. The explosion of media channels has created infinite touchpoints and variable paths to conversion. Traditionally, affiliate reporting and performance data were not easily accessible, transparent, or comprehensive. Without a clear view, managers couldn’t see the performance across their campaigns and grew frustrated. Impact solves this by providing transparency alongside a full range of capabilities, including product-level attribution, multi-funnel conversion reports, lifetime value metrics, and specialized integrations with technology partners.

This full picture access ensures that data can be ingested, normalized, and then measured uniformly. Rather than trying to match one partner’s clicks to another’s conversions, Impact allows businesses to use ROAS and incrementality to objectively and fairly compare affiliate performance across channels.

Partnership Cloud’s attribution solution also helps bring affiliate programs into the present, moving past the historic last-click model. It’s obvious to everyone working in affiliate marketing that many partners play a role in the customer journey, and mature, thriving partnership programs reward value beyond the last click. Affiliates that attract new audiences but don’t receive the last click before a conversion are incredibly valuable parts of a program, and should be compensated for their contributions. The Partnership Cloud helps businesses aggregate and view all their partner touch points along the customer journey and provides insightful journey reports to ensure that these partners receive their due. 

Last-click attribution is also a frequent target of bad actors looking to game an attribution to claim payouts for conversion events they didn’t create. Impact makes it possible to verify all transactions and catch fraud as early as possible, allowing businesses to reverse credits before making payments. 

This is applicable to toolbar injections as well. Widely debated in the affiliate space, these apps inject offers or coupons based on the sites that users browse. While some do offer value, fraudulent toolbar injections are nothing more than a shopping cart affiliates that eat into margin. Impact provides the tools for measuring incrementality to understand whether toolbar injection claims are legit, or are attribution fraud.

Impact also helps affiliate managers deal with the issue of expired coupons. Impact provides the controls businesses need over coupons and codes in the event that they leak. These “whitelist” and “blacklist” controls allow managers to shut down certain codes if they are being abused and restrict payouts on leaked codes. Impact helps ensure that partners receive credit for their codes in a way that’s fair to both the business and the affiliate partner. 

Building scale and capabilities through strategic acquisitions

Over the past decade, Impact has made several acquisitions to grow its technological capabilities and build a comprehensive all-in-one solution for running partnership programs.

Impact’s latest acquisition, ACTIVATE, was completed in August of 2020. ACTIVATE is a leading influencer brand and SaaS platform for influencer discovery, reporting and campaign management, which handles partnerships across all major social platforms. The acquisition gives Impact a massive marketplace of more than 300,000 vetted and qualified influencers, by far the largest in the world. 

ACTIVATE is the latest in a series of successful acquisitions for Impact and the first since the company raised $75 million in funding in 2019.  Every company that Impact has acquired has become a vital component in the Partnership Cloud, helping Impact build the comprehensive solution that helps affiliate marketers automate and simplify the process of discovering, recruiting, onboarding, optimizing, and reporting across all types of partnerships.

Impact’s first acquisition, Clearsaleing, in 2015, was integral in building out the company’s attribution capabilities, helping businesses understand how different partnership channels were contributing incremental performance. 

Impact added Forensiq that same year, giving it best-in-class fraud detection capabilities. Forensiq’s technology is now incorporated directly into Impact’s Partnership Cloud, serving as a vital safeguard against affiliate fraud.

In 2018, Impact acquired Mediarails, a platform designed to help discover, recruit, and engage digital media partners across partnership programs. Like Impact, Mediarails was built to give businesses greater transparency into their performance and affiliate relationships, making them a natural fit for acquisition and integration. The company’s automation capabilities are a huge part of what helps make Partnership Cloud the platform of choice for so many companies operating mature partnership programs.

Free Featured Impact E-Books and Webinar:

  1. E-book:What’s the channel hotter than paid search
  2. E-book: Getting to happily ever after with influencer partnerships
  3. E-book: Navigating partnerships in a crisis
  4. Our most recent Forrester webinar