The following is a guest post written by Kristina Nolan, Vice President of Media Services at DMi Partners.
I’ve been in Affiliate Marketing for almost a decade now. In the last four years, the space has changed so dramatically that anyone who might have been pulled away from its progression by things like, I don’t know, a global pandemic might be shocked at the place it occupies in holistic marketing campaigns today.
Not all brands are up to speed, of course; I still field questions and concerns from plenty of astute marketers who see Affiliate as a bottom-of-funnel margin-cutter that starts and ends with toolbar extensions and coupon sites like Honey and RetailMeNot.
To those brands, and to anyone reading this, I’m happy to report that Affiliate Marketing in 2023 is much, much more than a bottom-funnel play that cannibalizes credit for transactions that would have happened organically. Affiliate is a full-journey “channel of channels” that works effectively with search, social, content, and retargeting partners, and principles to find and convert new and lapsed customers with cost efficiency – particularly when contrasted with rising engagement costs of Google and Facebook.
The greatest gains in the Affiliate landscape have been in the world of content commerce. In 2023, any PR team will tell you it’s hard to have a strong PR arm without Affiliate because the mass media outlets (think Conde Nast and The New York Times, for instance) all use Affiliate to monetize their content. Affiliate also encompasses influencer marketing, buy now-pay later platforms, credit cards and reward partners and other technology partners that help drive incredible volumes of new users – in many cases, it’s the single highest traffic-driving channel for our clients.
That said, we have a few ways of using data to prove Affiliate’s worth – some directional, others bringing to bear the AI-powered analysis of partners like Rockerbox.
The simplest, least complex method for brands that aren’t investing in analytics and attribution technologies is simply showcasing new-to-file customer rates. We break these down by publisher category (content, coupon, influencer, etc.) to determine which partners are providing the most innate value. This often helps paint a picture of who is providing value that the brand wouldn’t have typically received through other marketing channels and efforts.
The next step up in sophistication is a lift (holdout) test, which we’re often asked to do with publishers that sit towards the bottom of the funnel -- what we consider “closer” publishers that are strong in driving conversion but aren’t likely driving significant discovery. To do this, we turn off a channel for 30 days and gauge the impact on both affiliate and overall marketing. The majority of the data we have from lift tests has showcased that if there’s any cannibalization at play, it usually affects other Affiliate publishers, not other marketing channels – so the redistribution of revenue ends up going to top of the funnel affiliate publishers (like content, bloggers, and influencers) versus other channels (like paid search and social).
Partners like Rockerbox, meanwhile, provide incredible predictive tools like Media Mix Modeling, where we can see the predicted results of different models of distribution across channels. They also show what the data looks like with different attribution models (e.g. first and last touch), which is extremely valuable to show clients if they’re curious about switching away from Affiliate’s archaic but typical last- touch model.
Rockerbox also has spend trends and benchmark reporting that shows how other marketers are adjusting budgets on different channels, which provides some great perspective for brands on Affiliate’s evolving place in the marketing landscape. And over the last few years, their data shows that – surprise! -- brands are pulling back spend on costly channels and putting it into Affiliate.
To get a more complete look at how smart brands are approaching the challenge of diversifying and optimizing their media mix, I joined gorjana’s VP of eCommerce, Kyle Brucculeri, and Rockerbox Account Director Steve Dingeldein for a free webinar. Catch the replay here!