With the end of the year fast approaching, it is time to focus our attention on the year ahead and what we can expect to see across the channel in 2015.
By no means an exhaustive list, here are four trends expected to shape the industry next year.
Making Life Easier for Affiliates
Affiliate marketing is a simple concept but one that is often over complicated by those working in the industry. Numerous acronyms, unintuitive interfaces and failing to adequately display program information in an easily accessible way are all contributing to this. The assumption is that affiliates are savvy enough to navigate the maze to simply pick up their links and start generating sales. While many are, we need to simplify this process for the rest.
Making life easier for affiliates shouldn't be a difficult concept for anyone to grasp and should be front of mind of any network, agency or third party tracking solution, but as we approach 2015, affiliates still struggle with performing what should be simple tasks, holding back affiliates that just want to get on board and start making sales as quickly as possible.
In 2015, affiliate marketing companies need to become better enablers, making it easy for longtail affiliates to integrate not just links but video and other creative within their content. Plug and play reduces the perceived or actual problems associated with the integration of affiliate links and therefore makes the conversation easier when talking to new affiliates.
Ultimately there is no need to be constantly navigating an affiliate interface: trackable affiliate links should be able to be created by those who have very limited technical skills at the click of a button. Only then can we really start to harness the creativity of longtail affiliates or publishers that traditionally sit outside of the affiliate channel.
Demonstrating Affiliate Value through Data
With an increasing amount of advertiser spend being allocated to the affiliate channel, it is inevitable for greater challenges to come with this. It is becoming increasingly important to demonstrate value through data insights and this is only going to accelerate further in 2015.
Advertisers are using affiliate data in a number of ways. Whether this is to benchmark their performance against their competitors, understand the value of affiliate partners or uncover additional consumer trends. Data analysis will have an increasing focus next year with advertisers keen to understand their programs in greater detail. While networks are able to provide reporting as a standard, a greater emphasis will be placed on bespoke reporting which sits outside of the traditional reporting interface. With different advertisers having different KPIs, their needs will vary greatly. Typically advertisers have used this data to understand their performance, next year they will increasingly be using this data to shape their affiliate programs. By understanding the partners that are able to generate the most profitable customers, they can focus their activity on growing these partners and rewarding them for the value they provide.
New Commercial Models Emerging
This ties into the previous point. With greater understanding of the channel and performance of individual programs being the focus of increased data analysis, new business models will emerge.
One of the key areas for this is looking at additional ways to reward publishers for their involvement earlier in the customer journey. A significant focus for the network over the past year has been to look at the role of influencers. Being a channel that has been premised on the last click, publishers that have focused on conversions have inevitably been successful in closing sales and earning a commission. What has long been neglected is the role that publishers can play in the earlier parts of the customer journey. The sites that are geared to generate the initial interest, those that influence the sale.
Extensive reporting has allowed us to work closely with publishers to demonstrate their value beyond simply converting a sale. There is value to be had from publishers that have high 'influencer' scores and new commercial models are helping to reward this additional value.
This is something that we can expect to see more of across the channel in 2015.
2015 will not be the year of mobile
For a number of years now many people have spoken about the year of mobile. We can confidently say that 2015 won't be the year of mobile as there has never been one and there will never be. There are devices and there is connectivity and we need to start thinking about how consumers interact with all of them, whether it's via smartphone, games console, tablet, laptop, PC, connected TV or wearable technology.
This is not to say that mobile commerce isn't important within the channel, far from it. As we approach 2015 more than one in three sales are being generated though a mobile device (smartphone and tablet) and customer journeys are becoming more complex and increasingly non-linear. It is about thinking how consumers are interacting with these devices. It is a natural shift in consumer behavior as devices and connectivity become increasingly advanced. Thinking of it simply as the year of mobile is short sighted and ill advised.
This is a taster of what to expect from the channel in the next year, there will be many more developments in what will be an extremely busy 2015.
Matt Swan is a Client Strategist at Digital Window, where he works with advertisers on affiliate campaigns and conducts market research. He has experience in account management and business development, and regularly contributes to industry sites like Econsultancy, A4U, and The Marketing Lounge. He sits on the research committee at the IAB Affiliate Marketing Council and has conducted research on the mobile network sector and m-commerce. Prior to his current role, he was an Account Director at dgm, managing the Account Management team and top brands.