In the fast-paced world of digital marketing, the winds of change are blowing stronger than ever, and one trend that’s been catching everyone’s attention is the unstoppable rise of affiliate marketing. To shed light on this phenomenon, we had the pleasure of chatting with the brilliant Max Ciccotosto, the Chief Product Officer of impact.com, the go-to platform for affiliate marketing.
With his finger on the pulse of the industry, Max shared some enlightening insights on how brands can stay ahead of the game in 2023. He emphasized the importance of optimizing affiliate marketing channels and skillfully navigating the convergence of affiliate and influencer marketing. It’s a dynamic dance of strategy and innovation that requires brands to tap into the power of both these worlds, leveraging the trust and reach of influential individuals while harnessing the performance-driven nature of affiliate marketing.
So, in this exciting era of possibilities, let us embrace the synergistic marriage of affiliate and influencer marketing and prepare to witness a new era of marketing brilliance. The future is here, and the opportunities are limitless for those who dare to adapt and conquer the ever-evolving landscape of affiliate marketing.
How do you optimize the affiliate channel and do more with it?
It’s important that brands start with the basics. Before they start optimizing their affiliate channel, they need to understand what their goals are. Only then can they start aligning those goals with a solid optimization strategy.
Let’s say you’re optimizing for growth. If you want to grow your user base, you’ll probably want to increase the number of partners that drive new users (we refer to them as introducers) or incentivize lower-funnel partners to give you more exposure to new consumers.
On the other hand, if you are looking at improving your ROAS, you will need to take a different approach, for instance considering different payment rates. This may lead to a drop in top-line revenue growth while these partnerships are established and new customers are acquired.
If the goals are different, the metrics for optimizing the affiliate channel will be different as well. For instance, for one brand, optimization could mean achieving higher ROI. But for another brand, it might refer to optimizing against cost, or even the incrementality of the channel, so you’re only paying for incremental lift.
Once you have those metrics in place, you need to look at your data. Data is the key to understanding what’s going on in your business, and you need to have multiple lenses to answer questions such as: how much traffic are these affiliates and other partnership types bringing in? Are they introducing new customers? Are they closing or do they get stuck in the conversion funnel? Are they consistently in one place or another?
An additional step I see many brands forgetting is to actually speak to their partners, cover their goals, be open with the metrics and analytics they are seeing from their data, and ask whether changes can be made to re-align with their priorities. All-too often, I see one-sided decisions that might help in the short term, but damage relationships in the mid-long term. We call them partnerships for a reason.
You mention brands needing ‘multiple lenses’ into their business – what do you mean by that?
Brands often use one attribution model. There are pros and cons to any model, but by looking at any one in isolation, you are getting a single-lens view.
The issue with this approach is that you are not getting a complete picture of your potential customers. I have always liked to compare and contrast different models to get a better understanding of how different partners contribute to the totality of the program. Some models will highlight partners that are disproportionately represented by first-touch attribution, other models will focus on the value of closer partners, or those that assist a sale. In reality, all partners contribute differently; so some might drive higher AOV, while some might drive a higher conversion rate. It’s important to be able to attribute their value accurately and align these values with the compensation they should receive.
So in other words, delving into the analytics of your flow of traffic – but also layering in attribution – will help you understand your affiliate channel’s performance, as well as the kind of compensation they should be receiving in return – or whether you need to invest elsewhere. The better the visibility, the more adjustments you can make.
So this layering helps you build a bigger picture of your affiliate campaigns?
Yes. Armed with that data, you can make smarter investment decisions and decide whether to opt for more placements or sponsorships, or whether you need to invest less in a specific partner. Using the right tools, you can make these adjustments weekly, monthly, or quarterly – although the longer you measure the campaign, the better the overall picture of performance.
I have always stressed that the priority should be the health of the entire program as a whole and not necessarily over-optimizing specific partners because of a specific dogmatic point of view. It’s a bit like a team sport – you want the team to win, and so you focus on maximizing each player’s strength.
There’s been a lot of talk around affiliate and influencer marketing merging to form a powerhouse in 2023. Do you see this at impact.com?
Definitely. It’s so important for brands to prove that their partnership channels do, in fact, generate revenue; otherwise how else are they going to optimize their strategies properly or know where to invest?
The rise of influencers and creators in the affiliate channel has accelerated the growth in affiliate programs, with total industry spend in the USA reaching $9.1 billion in 2021, and interest in the channel rising by more than 264% in 2022. Platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube are helping to facilitate the expansion of influencer marketing efforts, especially since 2020, when the pandemic drove a 12.3% increase in active social media users. Fast forward to 2023 and the global affiliate marketing industry is set to grow to approximately $14.3 billion in 2023 (and $15.7 billion by 2024).
By merging their existing partnership channels with affiliate, brands will be able to get a clearer picture of performance – what’s working, what’s not, and what can be improved.
Through this intertwining of the channels in 2023, affiliate teams will start to take on a larger role within the ecosystem of a brand as they grow into extended partnership teams. By leveraging their teams in this way – and expanding their partnership programs – brands will find it easier to reach new customers across the funnel – from interest and awareness right through to sales, sign-ups and subscriptions.