Martech Record's first live affiliate marketing event is behind us, and we are so grateful for all the bright lights of the industry who came in person or joined via Zoom to make it a success. Titled Marketing, Content & Commerce, and highlighting three different industry perspectives, this affiliate marketing conference provided a range of views on the latest trends driving our industry forward - the investor, the organization, and channel view (stream all three panels on-demand below).
What is marketing?
We think of marketing as advertising or communication, but that is only part of it.
Marketing is the process of bringing a product to market.
Building the product, identifying the customer, determining the appropriate price, building partnerships to distribute your product and, of course, promoting your product.
Over the past 20+ years, digital transformation destroyed this process, replacing it with giant silos: social media teams, programmatic teams, search teams, etc that rarely spoke. But the last 20 months have created cracks in those silos.
Content has improved and online commerce has become almost frictionless. As a result,we have to work together again to bring a product to market. We must share best practices, measure consistently and work across the organization. This event was an attempt to facilitate that process.
The afternoon first took a first a birds-eye-view of the performance marketing industry, asking investors what are the key drivers and obstacles to growth? Then taking the organizational view by speaking with marketing decision makers and at publishing leaders and asking them: what are you doing with this investment? How are you shifting your spend? Finally, the channel view, speaking with affiliate marketing leaders about how these changes are impacting their day to day roles in the industry.
The event also provided an opportunity to test a hybrid model, requiring vaccines and encouraging testing, while giving speakers and attendees the opportunity to choose if they’d like to attend in person or via zoom, even on the day of.
Here's a capsule summary of the day:
Event Session One: The Investor View
Our first affiliate advertising panel featured investment bankers, Bob Berstein of JEGI-CLARITY, Conor McKenna of LUMA Partners, and Blake Saunders of Methuselah Partners. These investment leaders took the 100,000 foot view and discussed recent investor interest in affiliate and the forces driving it.
Affiliate has crossed the chasm. It is now a significant focus for investors aware of the consumer behavior changes brought on by the long-term growth of digital and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Affiliate has operated below the radar of many investors, despite its roughly 10+% CAGR. That growth rate has accelerated in the COVID-19 era and affiliate is no longer the case.
Explosive e-commerce growth since the arrival of COVID is driving macro interest in the space. As McKinsey reported last year, e-commerce grew more in the second quarter of 2020 than it did in the previous ten years.
High costs for PPC and Social open a significant opportunity to accelerate affiliate marketing industry growth. Quality inventory is at a premium in platforms like Google and Instagram, and the Google/Facebook/Amazon digital media oligopoly means brands need alternatives that can drive better ROI.
Further driving excitement are improvements in multi-touch and cross-channel attribution methodologies to measure affiliate marketing’s true economic value.
One insight: recent revelations about how affiliate was powering Buzzfeed's growth were valuable to investors because they provided actual public data on the scale and growing importance of affiliate. Similarly, the recent Dotdash Meredith acquisition/merger showed how affiliate helped David acquire the 100+-year-old media Goliath. Further, affiliate will be a crucial growth driver for the combined company in the months and years ahead.
Watch a recording of this insightful affiliate advertising session on demand.
Event Session Two: The Organizational View
Our second session looked at affiliate from the view of senior advertiser and publisher leadership. Our speakers were Nilla Ali, SVP Commerce at Buzzfeed, Carolyn Young, Director, Product Marketing at Zola, Ian Yung, VP Growth at Parachute Home, and Ben Faw, CEO & Co-Founder of Advon Commerce. Our speakers reported that publisher/brand relationships are changing from arms-length transactions to genuine strategic partnerships. Further, those partnerships aren't about siloed affiliate programs anymore; major brand|publisher deals now encompass multiple media types, from traditional ad/link/tenancy affiliate placements to high-quality sponsored content. Whereas the “first inning” of affiliate was deals driven, the ”second inning” is about quality content. These changes require organizational changes to mindset, organizational structure and skillsets.
Both advertisers and publishers recognize that affiliate is essential to each's future.
There is strong LOB-level interest in building this channel as a hedge against the power of the media oligopoly. Affiliate is vital to the future monetization of content and cost-effective customer engagement.
Publishers are investing across their organizations to maximize the channel: reshaping sales teams, adjusting product roadmaps, hiring new skill sets and dramatically expanding branded content marketing teams.
Expect more retailers to acquire media companies as they respond to the convergence of content and commerce.
Maximizing successful future e-commerce performance requires people who understand collaboration across teams and the importance of mutual benefit.
There will be growing tension between editorial integrity and commercial content – publishers need to get it right for long-term success.
Live commerce is attracting interest as Gen Z gravitates toward this new sales approach. Affiliate should be working to find ways to monetize it effectively.
There is a significant talent gap in the industry - we need more people who understand the affiliate industry and and have the ability to work across the organization.
Speakers underscored the talent gap - the shortage of people who understand the fundamentals of affiliate and the holistic customer relationship. All panel participants said that the talent issue needs to be addressed for the industry to optimize growth. Our panel also discussed how fewer, more extensive partnerships are rapidly supplanting massive collections of affiliates for leading brands. Partnership count is often not the path to maximum profitability.
You can watch a recording of this valuable and insightful affiliate marketing event session on demand.
Event Session Three: The Channel View
Our third affiliate conference panel was moderated by Adam Weiss of Wess Digital Consulting and featuring Stephanie Harris, CEO PartnerCentric, Alison Chew, Founder of Mealfinds, and Emily Jackson SVP, e-commerce at Forbes. This expert group discussed how the macro-trends discussed in the previous sessions affect day-to-day affiliate operations and the skill sets necessary to succeed.
Great affiliate leaders and their affiliate manager teams must understand the interplay between affiliate and other digital marketing programs.
There’s growing interest in the sector from tra-digital media teams, full-service agencies, PR teams, etc., Endemic industry teams and OPMs must assert the unique value they bring.
Affiliate marketing discussion at events stretches far beyond the walls of affiliate exhibition series and affiliate marketing conferences, penetrating the agendas of the most prominent digital marketing events and elite senior marketer gatherings.
All participants pointed to the need for more education in the mechanics of affiliate relationships and how the industry fits within the larger go-to-market organization. Additionally, cross-functional training on the advertiser and publisher sides re essential to industry growth. The talent gap is real, worrying, and costly to both organizations and the industry as a whole.
A full recording of this valuable session is available on demand.
Discussions and Networking
The sessions sparked powerful and productive conversations in the networking session that followed the panels. Perhaps most discussed was how affiliate was rapidly being integrated into brand and publisher business strategies. This was incredibly exciting and gratifying for long-term industry participants because brands have historically underinvested in the channel. Finally, people understand the power and potential of affiliate. That brings new responsibilities and expectations for industry participants. The talent gap needs to be solved.
Thanks for a Great Event!
Our heartfelt thanks go to all event speakers and attendees. It takes a village to transform an industry, and our lean forward community will be at the center of taking affiliate to new heights. We sincerely appreciate how all event attendees took the necessary precautions to protect one another amid rising New York COVID infection rates. Individual responsibility and concern for others demonstrate what's best about this industry.
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