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Affiliate marketing has been the “sleeper” of digital - a channel that drives outstanding ROAS and double-digit annual growth but often operates “under the radar” as a niche tactic. But as the channel has grown to more than $9.1B in commissions on $71B in e-commerce sales in the US alone, affiliate marketing integration is now a must.

Integration can seem complex and daunting, as companies have many programs and systems. To help affiliate leaders take the most efficient approach to the challenge, Awin developed this simple implementation framework that parses the challenge into strategy, data systems, and technology deployment and suggests ways to make it happen. We’ll take a look at each area, why it matters, and present a streamlined approach to achieving integration in your company.

Strategic Integration

A few years ago, a colleague of mine told me about a meeting with a major brand’s CMO. The senior marketer was pleased that affiliate had driven so much revenue over the year but then said, “The challenge is that it is dumb revenue. We don’t know if affiliate sales

are profitable or if the program is reaching new or existing buyers. We don’t know if we are getting incremental sales or just reducing revenue on sales we would have made anyway. Affiliate is just not strategic.” My colleague naturally corrected this misconception. But there are many more minds that need changing.

Too many of affiliate’s best and brightest report to exec teams with lingering misconceptions about what affiliate can do. Many companies align the bulk of their marketing efforts toward precision business goals like new customer acquisition or improving order values while viewing affiliate as a blunt object to help achieve total revenue targets. This bifurcation of purpose is a relic of affiliate’s early days when there were few options to align programs and commissioning to more specific business objectives.

So long as an affiliate program is not aligned with specific brand objectives, it can’t play a central strategic role in a brand’s go-to-market program. But tech-forward affiliate platforms can enable affiliate leaders to set commissions and recruit partners calibrated to more specific business goals like acquisition, new target audiences, high AOV, increased margins, and high LTV.

Start your integration effort by learning the specific brand marketing goals. Then connect with your affiliate platform or network team to discuss how to structure a program to maximize performance against those objectives. Once you have the answers, educate your brand’s marketing organization on how investing in the channel can help achieve the specific brand goals with the advantages of pay-for-performance.

For years, Awin has led the industry in the number and range of commissioning options available to its clients. If you are an affiliate marketer working with Awin, your account team can explain what’s possible and outline best practices to ensure that partners will embrace your more specific programs and changes. If you work with another provider, we’d also be happy to help you understand how affiliate programs can be shaped - we strongly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Data Integration

Multi-channel and multi-touch attribution tools, account management systems, CRM platforms, CDPs, and more ingest data from all marketing channels to provide a 360-degree customer view. Many companies have integrated customer and program data from all channels into connected toolsets.

Well, almost all channels.

Few companies have taken steps to integrate affiliate platforms and data into their larger marketing tech stacks. The reasons for this are, again, related to history and misconceptions. Early affiliate networks and platforms did not provide the granular data to enrich these multi-channel customer tools or lacked easy ways to exchange data. Many, for example, relied on emailed weekly performance in spreadsheets versus offering a real-time affiliate dashboard. The best affiliate platforms now offer APIs to exchange data with other martech tools, providing the data required in the formats necessary to make it useful and actionable.

The best place to start your data integration initiative is to speak with your platform or network about what’s possible on your platform. APIs make data exchange easy and secure. Once your data is integrated, the company’s more comprehensive view of customer behavior and marketing effectiveness is almost always highly beneficial to our teams when it comes budget time. By connecting client affiliate platforms with their brands’ martech stacks, we have helped many affiliate teams grow their program investment based on the quantified business value the channel drives at all stages of the customer journey.

Some networks and platform teams now make data integration more straightforward than ever before. At Awin, for example, our account management and data teams are very experienced in integrating insights and data with both homegrown and cloud martech systems. Awin also offers SingleView, an Awin-owned technology company that can help organizations implement multi-touch attribution. SingleView delivers insights both within affiliate and across other marketing.

Technology Deployment

One of the most often overlooked values that an affiliate program can provide to the larger brand organization is enabling risk-free testing and deployment of marketing technologies and tactics. One of the hottest areas in martech today is in offerings designed to optimize shopping and checkout. Most companies would love to be able to test these emerging approaches but often struggle with heavy upfront costs and multi-month integration processes.

But over the past several years, many of the most exciting - and effective - providers have introduced powerful technologies that can be implemented in hours and are available on a pay-for-performance basis, with little or no upfront costs. At Awin, we’ve been very aggressive in integrating these offerings into our Awin Advertiser Mastertag so companies can turn them on with just a few simple steps in their platform instance. Some of the most popular include Upsellit and Intently for conversion optimization, RevLifter for offer personalization, Envolve for virtual shopping assistants, Soreto for referral and social sharing, and Increasingly for dynamic product bundle offers. You can find more information on these and other marketing campaign technologies in the Awin Report Power 100, our guide to the most innovative partners on our global platforms.

Get Started Now

Integration should be a top priority for all affiliate marketers who want to grow the value and importance of the channel for their brands. By focusing on the areas where integration drives the most value, you can orchestrate quick wins and earn that coveted seat at the brand strategy “table.”

Integration is essential to transforming partnership and affiliate from a tactic into a business growth strategy. The Awin team would be pleased to speak with you about the best approaches to integration today, whether or not you are a client. Reach out to us now, and we’ll schedule a time to share ideas.