The Role of the Affiliate Network #AMDays

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I’m sitting in a session at the AMDays Conference and am very excited about how the following five people are going to define the role of the affiliate network, especially after Google announced yesterday they are shutting down their affiliate network completely.

On the panel we have:

  • Todd Crawford, Co-Founder, Impact Radius
  • Gary Marcoccia, Co-Founder, Avantlink
  • Brian Littleton, CEO, ShareaSale
  • Kerri Pollard, President, Commission Junction,
  • Amber Melhouse, Director of Business Development Linkshare

Brian: we are working closely with bloggers and trying to help them adapt to this industry. They are trying to figure out how to make money for their families, and they are scared about a lot of things, so the only concern from a network perspective that I have is working with these guys and trying to help them.

Gary: When I started as an affiliate manager I would spend most of my day just going through applications. As long as the network is qualifying people to a degree, that means easier management for affiliate managers.

Amber: Helping merchants who are looking for an active publisher base

Kerri: What problem are we trying to solve? We need to create efficiencies and we need to remove as many hurdles as possible. We are trying to expand the eco-system.

Question: What more can be done at the network level when it comes to attribution?

Todd: With de-duplication, networks can make sure the right pixel is being fired, so only the right channels are being credited, and that’s not only when comparing other affiliates, but all online marketing channels as a whole.

Amber: Allowing the merchants to select and be flexible in how to set up tracking to either first click, last click or somewhere in the middle. Just having the capability to customize how credit is paid, is what the networks should be focused on.

Kerri: It’s important to answer questions around all data points related to both online and offline sales and what role publishers are playing in attribution. CJ is pushing forward to advancing the data available to merchants so they can make better business decisions instead of blanket decisions about what role affiliate play, which could be resulting in the advertiser throwing the baby out with the bath water.

We are working on personalizing promotional offers to ensure affiliates can offer more intelligent and personalized customer discounts to increase AOV and conversions.

Brian: People seem to forget that the affiliate channel is the only one that you can reverse your cost if you need to and that affiliates are doing the work themselves at no cost to you. You have to remember in some cases that providing traffic for free is not an easy task and you will not be able to build up your blogger channel through performance marketing if you’re putting up barriers or discouraging them in any way.

Question: There are now lots of networks, lots of management options, lots of different fee structures. With everything moving in different directions, how is this all going to factor in to how clients are going to pay the networks?

Kerri : We will always charge either a percentage of commission or a percentage of sale. I believe the performance nature of this business and we are always in line with trying to help our clients achieve their goals and objectives. Management fees are usually a flat fee, but I’m a big believer of the performance model and we want to be incentivized to perform with our clients from a strategy and execution standpoint as well, so it will continue to be a percentage of sale in general.

Gary: We just started managing programs within our network recently for those who are exclusive to us, and there is no rev share around it, it’s entirely a flat fee.

Todd: I’m going to disagree a little bit. I speak with a lot of people. Once of the challenges in this industry is there is only so much of a pie to share. People are going to need resources to cover all the things they need. If I’m a network, I know that publishers and merchants have to come to a network to work their program. However we need to look at where the fees make sense. Some networks earn 6 figures a month in programs that are driven because the publisher and the merchant came up with a solution that increased sales, but the network had nothing to do with that growth and are still getting rewarded for it.

Kerri: We are in this for the long term so we’re not going to do anything to screw anybody over. We charge our fees that we put back into improving our platform and providing better value. If we’re having a pricing conversation then we’re not clearly providing value. So whatever we’re talking about we should be always looking at providing value and not taking about pricing. Price does not mean value. That’s a discussion we just need to continue to have internally and amongst networks to continuously add value.

Amber: Linkshare commissioned Forester Research to help conduct a study on affiliates and what we found is that more companies are looking to invest in the affiliate marketing channels, so obviously the value of the channel is there and if you’re looking at paying 8% on affiliates and 20% on PPC, why wouldn’t you focus on the lower cost performance based model over the higher up front cost strategy.

Question: People are using different devices to buy online, and merchants are slow to adapt, which means affiliates are getting the short end of the stick, so what are the networks doing to help fix these issues and move things along faster?

Amber: We have been extremely encouraging to our advertisers to ensure mobile tracking is in place before the holidays. We regularly bring in great mobile publishers to work with them to help them move forward in the space. We are working on a new program called “know your customer” which will help advertisers learn more about which devices customers are using to make buying decisions.

Kerri: We have new mobile tracking that’s come available for app and mobile tracking as of last month, and that’s available on a global scale. It tracks at 120 days after the download of the app. It was discouraging to see how little advertisers have done from a mobile perspective, so we’ve created this to help speed this along for them.

Question: What is your definition of the network’s role on a compliance standpoint and what the networks should be doing about them.

Brian: My approach is to give someone one shot. we provide two things: an automated report that gives them an idea of what might be happening and my personally reaching out to the merchant saying “hey this is happening in your program. it’s not for me to say whether this is good or bad for you, but I’m bringing it to your attention so you can make a decision that’s right for you.” It’s a network role to identify the patterns of particular affiliate behaviour. We are the only ones who can see when a particular affiliate is trying to take advantage of a particular group of advertisers, and it is our responsibility to make decisions around how to deal with that behavior when we see it.