Attributing affiliate value: Looking beyond consumer journey position

Affiliate Marketing

Marketers at work

The popularity of the already well-established affiliate channel continues to grow as part of the marketing mix. US affiliate spending will total $5.37 billion in 2017, according to an eMarketer report, a 12 percent increase over 2016’s $4.78 billion. The same report states one of the reasons for this growth is that it is highly measurable — a key characteristic of performance marketing as a whole.

However, the demands on affiliate marketers to accurately measure performance are becoming more sophisticated as the modern consumer journey becomes increasingly complex. As such, more marketers are realizing the importance of attributed measurement than ever before: Almost 60 percent of US marketers expect to carry out cross-channel measurement and attribution in 2017, according to a study.

As affiliate marketers look to measure performance across the whole consumer journey for a better understanding of the value of their work, more affiliate networks are promoting their own attribution capabilities. But what should you demand from your data?

Being able to see which publishers have played a role in the path to purchase beyond that last click is just the beginning. If you’re looking to attributed reporting to improve your affiliate marketing performance, you need to be thinking beyond recognizing the value of upper-funnel publishers to get the most out of your data.

Attributing affiliate value 101

Advertisers working with content publishers, such as influencers and bloggers, need to be able to measure how those publishers — which can often appear toward the beginning of the path to purchase — contribute to revenue. US data from Rakuten Marketing, my employer, shows that of all the orders placed where a customer has interacted with a content publisher, that publisher is the first touch point 60 percent of the time.

In other words, content publishers kick off the sales process 60 percent of the time. If you only look at performance on a last-click basis, it’s likely that the contribution of these publishers will be undervalued. You might even choose to pause activity with your content partners, which could lead to a loss in revenue farther down the line.

For example, for one of our UK fashion clients, analyzing data across the whole user journey revealed up to 5x more revenue attributable to content publishers than looking at performance on a last-click basis. This insight gave the brand the data-driven confidence to invest more into its content publishers.

Understand the cross-channel view to provide a better consumer experience

Historically, carrying out a non-siloed approach to marketing has been an issue for marketers. However, we’re seeing more and more brands and retailers across our client base taking this cross-channel view.

This view allows you to analyze the performance of your affiliate activity in the context of your other marketing channels. It can also show you which channels you should be using together to provide an effective and consistent message and a better cross-channel consumer experience.

For example, in another of my recent Marketing Land articles, I gave an example of one of our clients that saw an increase in conversion rate when display was involved in the consumer journey.

Channels such as email, SEO and social media saw the biggest impact, but affiliates also saw around a 25 percent increase in conversion rate. Identifying the channels that have the biggest influence on each other gives you the opportunity to test the (hopefully much improved) impact of a campaign run across those multiple channels — a campaign that provides consistent messaging and a better consumer experience at each stage of the consumer journey, hopefully resulting in increased sales.

See which publishers drive new customers

For retailers looking to acquire new customers, the ability to differentiate between those users who have purchased from you before and those who haven’t — regardless of which channel — is essential. This segmentation then allows you to identify which affiliate publishers are most effective at driving new customers and, therefore, shape your customer acquisition strategies.

Aggregated data from our attribution and insights platform shows that 76 percent of the attributed revenue brought in by coupon publishers is from new customers. So, coupon publishers become one of the likely partners for brands looking to attract new purchasers.

Determine the role of affiliates in driving engagement and lifetime value

Affiliate advertisers want to work with publishers that are driving engaged users and customers that promise a high lifetime value. Identifying these publishers is only possible if you have access to on-site performance data (e.g., how many pages of your site a user referred to by a content publisher visits) and data that shows the repeat purchase behavior of customers regardless of channel.

Having a cross-channel view allows you to see how effective your affiliate activity is at driving loyal customers in comparison with your other marketing channels. However, having the ability to drill down into the data further to a publisher type and individual publisher level enables better strategic planning of your affiliate activity.

For example, for a range of UK high-end fashion clients, our data demonstrates that customers who purchase via shopping publishers become the most loyal and returning customers. Four out of five customers acquired through shopping publishers in Q3 continued to spend with the brands in Q4. Having access to this insight enables those clients to confidently shape their affiliate strategy to include shopping publishers in order to attract engaged and valuable customers.

Demand insights that provide demonstrable results

Using attributed reporting needs to provide insights that lead to discernible results — whether that’s changing the shape of customer acquisition strategies, shifting budget across channels, increasing investment in certain publishers or any other action that helps you meet your objectives.

To achieve those results, you need to ensure that the data and insights you are given access to are not only based on an accurate view of the full user journey but are also easily accessible and clear enough to take action. You need granular data that gives insight into your customers’ behavior, on top of the initial understanding of where publishers sit in the path to purchase.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

James Collins is Rakuten Marketing’s SVP Global Product Strategy – Attribution. James has championed the use of performance marketing data in the digital sector over the last decade. As well as a sound understanding of technology, James has strong people and change management skills, which he has used to deliver proven value from Rakuten Marketing’s attribution technology, advocating open access to attribution data and helping grow the business effectively. As SVP of global product strategy, James is responsible for leading Rakuten Marketing’s value proposition team. This team works with the regional businesses to use data-driven intelligence and core messaging to position products for success, and works with tech and product teams to deliver the next generation of digital marketing products.

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