August 15, 2017

Affiliate Marketing 101: Navigating the Technology

Alexis Simek

After learning about the basics of affiliate marketing in part one of our four-part series to simplify affiliate marketing, let’s dive into the technical aspects of how a merchant can drive the brand growth and revenue they’re looking to achieve. At the macro level, the basis of understanding is that most affiliate programs will function through the integration of a pixel deployed on a merchant’s  “Order Confirmation” page, through a few lines of JavaScript (if they are driving a lead, it would be the equivalent email submission receipt or other lead verification form). This pixel will fire each time someone completes a transaction, and credit the affiliate with a referral commission (if that sale occurred within your predetermined referral parameters). A technology platform or network enables the merchant and its tens, hundreds, and very often thousands of affiliate relationships to exist with scale by providing the transparency (or tracking) of what occurred, and the payment from merchant to affiliate when what is being incentivized has, in fact, occurred.  Sounds easy enough, right? So why are there so many different options for affiliate tracking platforms?


Technology platforms provide various answers to a merchant’s specific program needs. If a merchant is looking to expand their web presence, protect their brand values, mitigate coupon leakage, create a smart commission strategy, expand internationally or drive new customer acquisition, there is a network or SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) solution to meet those needs. Working with an agency like PartnerCentric provides additional insight into true technology strengths, as opposed to just industry noise and marketing, and eliminates solutions that may lead to strategic disadvantages. Let’s explore the most important elements to consider when selecting the right technology partner and solutions.

Costs

We all have budgets! Whether you’re a Fortune 500 or a start-up, ROAS goals are usually one of the first considerations in how we allocate our marketing dollar. Technology solution pricing can vary across the channel and within the network itself. It’s important to look at the available tools the network or SaaS provides and balance that with your goals as a merchant. It is key to analyze the risk and benefits of doing volume-based versus transaction-based pricing. PartnerCentric can help a merchant take advantage of our strategic partnerships, and to negotiate the most advantageous pricing for their specific needs.  An agency like ours, who has worked with countless merchants across all the major and minor technologies, can also navigate the unique and often-times confusing terms and conditions in the agreements with the technologies.  We know what is standard, what is best practice, and what is unusual.   

In-house dev resources

Technology solutions take a variety of approaches when it comes to developmental support. Some are willing to walk you through every step or provide easy plug-ins designed to complement the most common cart solutions. Others provide basic documentation with the assumption a merchant’s team will be able to handle the integration autonomously. An agency with a dedicated technology department can bridge this gap, offering additional support where it might be needed, speaking both the language of the technology and of the merchant so that a program can get implementation right the first time.  If development resources are strained on a merchant’s team, an agency can assist with testing, troubleshooting, documentation and research to ensure tracking is integrated properly. A merchant will also want to be able to lean on someone internally to add the tracking elements directly to their site or through their tag manager.

Timeline

If merchants are looking to get a program in place before a key season, selecting a technical solution with a proven publisher base could be the best choice. Many networks specialize in specific verticals: footwear, retail, finance or insurance.   Others may have a better footprint for geographical reach, or better cost-of-entry terms to make it easier to test the waters.  Most of the highest revenue-driving affiliates  will have a presence within all of the major networks and platforms.  Balancing the technology’s publisher base with recruitment tool solutions will help a merchant gain traction as they grow. An agency like PartnerCentric can make sure merchants are taking advantage of the best opportunities in the space by providing an independent 360- degree approach to what’s out there, where they are, and how to work with trusted technology partners to canvas the space to everyone’s benefit.

Marketing Content

No matter what solution a merchant chooses, their affiliate partners will promote their brand through tracking links. These can live in banners or basic text and product links. Being prepared to provide high quality images, content and product feeds before the program launches will expedite the launch process, and will help merchants see the return on investment much sooner! Being prepared, and knowing what resources are needed from the merchant’s side is half the battle.

Attribution and analytics

As a merchant, even if you’re only looking to pay your affiliate partners for a specific action (a lead or a sale), integrating multiple parameters  across multiple conversion or touch points can drive program success. While you may not incentivize a publisher for page visits for example, tracking your consumer behavior and their entire journey on the merchant’s site can provide excellent data to help make smarter marketing decisions as the program grows. This information can be leveraged to build the best commission strategies, as well as lowered costs in your other channels. Program growth and cost efficiency are not mutually exclusive if done in a smart, thoughtful, and measured manner.  

 

So where do you start? Researching some of the available solutions can be a great first step to see what tools will best meet your needs. If you would like more guidance, contact us!