How the affiliate and partnerships channel has diversified in 2020 – and what’s to come in 2021?

When I look back on this year, there have been some great achievements within the affiliate and partnership channel. At Silverbean, we’ve commenced some amazing partnerships with brands like Trainline, John Lewis, Hostelworld, New Era, Barker and Stonehouse, Plum Guide, Robert Goddard, 111 Skin and more. A real variety of clients across travel, retail, home, subscriptions and sport. 

By September 2020, we’d seen three key trends for brands within partnerships:

1. Brands seen a spike in sales online and wanted to use affiliate and partnerships to capitalise and increase market share.

2. Brands wanted to reduce risk from their marketing campaigns, reduce spend and risk and offset other channels payment models to a CPA option.

3. Brands who used traditional media and offline partnerships to drive sales were now looking to adapt online.

We saw some real gains for ecommerce brands across home and DIY, retail, sport, subscriptions etc., and diminishing performance for ticketing and travel. So, what did we learn from an affiliate perspective? 

For me, 2020 put a real focus on budget management. No matter the business, managing your budget is key. In an audit, I reviewed 30 brands’ affiliate tracking pixels across the likes of Awin, CJ, TradeDoubler, Impact and Partnerize. 70% of these brands had their pixels set up incorrectly, meaning they were not following best practice guidelines when it came to affiliate payment. 

In addition to this, we saw the continued emergence of app tracking within the affiliate channel. There is an ongoing conversation happening regarding tracking in-app conversions that have been referred from partners, due to leakage concerns. It is great to see more conversation around app tracking across networks, agencies, publishers and brands. 

There has also been a shift in regards to how we work with content and influencer partners. Better tracking capabilities and commissioning means we can now reward influence a lot better with the channel rather than relying on a last-click model. Brands are now wanting to create influencer or ambassador programs and increase brand awareness with these partners. 

Lastly, there have been some significant moves across networks to SaaS clients too. We have seen the continuation of enterprise brands across multiple sectors move onto SaaS solutions in order to push their programmes further with advanced technology to support their strategies. Networks are looking to adapt to this by developing their tracking solutions or looking to increase their focus on attracting new SME clients. 

From an agency point of view, flexibility has been key in 2020, alongside making sure value is naturally added and strategic direction is a given. There is a lot of opportunity for agencies to work with brands, now more so than ever, however, being flexible towards methods of working and payment is crucial.

When we look towards 2021, I believe it will be the year for SaaS, app marketing and brand partnerships.  

When it comes to tracking, SaaS providers have now built a great portfolio of clients across enterprise and SME brands alike in order to showcase the value of affiliate and partnerships. With a growing amount of skill in the sector, using in-house talent or combining agency and SaaS is a prime solution. 

App tracking has been pushed heavily by networks in 2020, and affiliates are also pushing for growing transparency between desktop, mobile and app sales. In 2021, I believe more and more brands will roll out app tracking as default, or look to strategically launch app tracking within the affiliate channel. Companies like Branch will no doubt blossom in 2021 as more and more brands want to support the user across devices and correctly measure their campaigns. 

From an app point of view I do believe there will be a diversification in publishers as the channel can adapt to offer: 

1. Publishers driving app sales 

2. Publishers promoting app downloads 

3. Publishers promoting in app activation (sign ups or action links for example). 

Finally, affiliate diversification will continue as brands look to reduce risk from working only with a small amount of key traditional publishers. Brand partnerships will continue to flourish in 2021, as brands are now being a lot more creative to add value to their customer base, obtain new customers and increase profit per transaction. 

To conclude, I predict the strategic opportunities for 2021 to be app, brand partnerships and continuation of network to SaaS migrations.

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