There is No Such Thing as Direct to Consumer, Panel Agrees.

Kendall Clarke, Hallie Gellman and Colby Saenz discussed how to navigate online influence, and into consumers homes.

This event made possible thanks to the support of Partnerize .

As the affiliate industry continues to grow and mature, the buzzworthy phrase “Direct to Consumer” has perhaps become a bit of a misnomer. It’s true that the rise of e-commerce means that many consumers now buy directly from websites. But creating that pathway for a customer to select a product off that virtual “shelf” often requires a high-level strategy involving a network of influencers, websites and aggregators.

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In a Martech Record webinar held July 15th, three industry professionals discussed the best practices and challenges of building such a network to reach customers. While the analogy isn’t perfect, media brands are now operating as a kind of virtual shopping mall. They aggregate consumers through content relating to pop culture and trends as a way to get them in the door, just as mall displays once served as signals of what was in style. Consumers come for the content and can then be guided by influencers or trusted professionals into more niche verticals, just as mall browsers may be drawn to specialty stores that interest them. The key is to build a strong, trusting connection with consumers -- something that Hallie Gellman said the TODAY Show achieves by surveying its audience to understand what they want. Gellman is responsible for commerce partnerships at NBCUniversal Media for the TODAY Show and NBC News digital.

“Surveying and collecting data on our audiences is key,” Gellman said, adding that that information is used to curate content that is both tailored to the audience and up to TODAY’s editorial standards.

VerticalScope us a cloud-based digital community platform for online enthusiasts across many subject areas that recently went public. Kendall Clark, Vertical Scope Cheif Commerce Officer said they rely on experts to moderate forums to ensure quality content and offers vendor sponsorships within forums so brands can engage with potential consumers. While the goal isn't to drive commerce in all those threads, there’s often an opportunity to when passionate enthusiasts discuss preferred products.

“In today’s day and age, you can’t go without having people who are using their authenticity to help get across a message and show the value behind what the brand represents,” said Colby Saenz, who manages affiliates and partnerships at Purple.

The TODAY Show itself can be considered a kind of influencer in a broader sense, Gellman said. “We lean on talent and other influencers and develop content that will help drive commerce,” she said, adding that using influencers can help develop new content streams to target new audiences. It’s important to collaborate with those influencers, rather than having them develop content in a silo, she said.

Everyone involved in affiliated commerce is incentivized to work together and share best practices, Clarke said, because “we only make money if you’re making money.”

While affiliate is traditionally thought of as bottom of the funnel, the work of media brands like NBCUniversal and VerticalScope prove that it hits all levels of the funnel, Saenz said. “It just depends on who you’re working with and what your goals are,” he said. Gellman agreed and said it’s important to think about creating curated customer experiences: “It’s about finding opportunities that test both top of funnel and bottom of funnel,” she said.

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