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One of the best parts of my role as president of Awin is speaking to senior brand marketers and agency leaders. We share perspectives about positive trends in marketing and customer engagement – and the issues that keep us up at night. Over the past months, two topics have dominated these talks: concerns around marketing effectiveness and the increasingly varied ways brands go to market to create stronger customer relationships.


Problems in the Larger Media Ecosystem


Recent research proves what top marketers already knew – they face a crisis of media inefficiency, accountability and control. Systemic inequities and failures are creating existential challenges for customer-centric brands. The ANA Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency Study First Look provides the latest evidence, identifying $20B+ in wasted or poorly optimized programmatic spending – a level of waste that’s a third larger than the entire global brand investment in affiliate.


Here are some highlights of the critical issues cited in the report:


  • Information Asymmetry: Programmatic sellers have far more information on the quality and effectiveness of inventory than buyers. Result? Advertisers and agencies overpay for what they get.
  • Incomplete Data Access: There are significant gaps in audience data access and control. $Tens of billions are spent without appropriate transparency and insight.
  • Misaligned Incentives: Advertisers task agencies with identifying the lowest-cost media instead of the best value buys for achieving business outcomes. Programs are optimized to CPM instead of ROI, diminishing efficiency and perpetuating information imbalance.
  • Tens of Thousands of Domains: Programmatic campaigns run on enormous numbers of “mystery meat” sites – 40,000+ (!) for every advertiser studied. The report highlights how this drives inefficiency. My senior marketer colleagues and I have additional concerns: brand safety and editorial quality. 


What created this unequal world is even larger than auction-based media. The Google/Meta/Amazon media oligopoly controls 64% of US digital spend in 2023 and distorts the buyer-seller power relationship. Brands struggle for traction in (almost) every area of customer engagement.


The exception: affiliate. Fortunately, senior marketers are recognizing the quality, transparency, and accountability available in our space. Direct publisher relationships mean agencies and advertisers know where their ads run and the sales that they drive. Validated click and engagement tracking ensures clients can trust the data rather than relying on the big three media foxes to count the outcome chickens. Real-time data access and optimization tie investment to outcomes and shift allocations to the venues, placements, and offers that deliver measurable business value. 


Improving How Brands Engage Customers


We often talk about the need for tailored, personalized approaches to persuade today’s consumer. But there’s been far less discussion of how that need has led to stark differences in how brands and agencies define the best strategies, teams, and tech stacks to meet shoppers on their terms. 


Look under the hood of any advertiser or agency today, and you’ll find far greater variation than ever before. Some companies have examined their customers and categories and found that extensive outsourcing of technology and teams enables them to access the innovation and expertise needed to stay ahead of their customers. Others want to define the infrastructure but rely on outside experts to sit at the controls and provide strategic expertise. Still others prefer to leverage channel-specific tracking and channel managers but centralize data in an omnichannel toolset to surface richer customer insights.


There’s no best way for brands and agencies to orchestrate programs and data, which has created challenges for “tech-only” SaaS providers and “service-centric” legacy networks.


  • “Tech-only” SaaS businesses are designed to apply one software solution to every client. The model predicates spinning up hundreds or thousands of copies of the same software instance to achieve profitable scale. That’s how they make revenue and cost structures attractive to VCs and PE firms and get those big exits.
  • “Service-centric” legacy networks sell tiered suites of program management services. Would you like the small, medium, or large? 


Ultimately, both approaches require agencies and client buyers to adapt to the solutions provider sellers. Does that seem right to you?


I believe we can drive dramatic channel growth by building on the channel's unique strengths for marketers. To do so, we must evolve how we plan, manage, and drive performance around three pillars: choice, control, and customization. Each dimension is essential if brands and agencies are to have the freedom and flexibility to take affiliate to the next level. 


By Choice, I mean advertisers and agencies deserve access to the full range of potential publishers, technologies, and other performance-based solutions, including those that operate in the programmatic space. Whether that’s 4, 400, or 40,000 publishers, they should know who they are and what their performance looks like before and after they choose to engage. Similarly, partners deserve to know that the brands and agencies understand what they need to be successful and use the technology necessary to field, manage, and optimize programs for maximum mutual benefit.


Control refers to the right of advertisers and their agencies to stand on an equal information footing with partners so they can make the best decisions to achieve their goals. Our space should be free of the unfairness of the media oligopoly that calls the shots in other marketing and media sectors. 


And it speaks to the commercial control that affiliate affords its practitioners too. Each partnership is individually negotiated and agreed, rather than automatically dictated by the price of competition for targeting a certain keyword or audience segment in a global auction. Plus, the CPA model remains a standard-setter for delivering real tangible value to a business’ bottom line.


Customization is about working with solutions providers and technology that adapt to them instead of the other way around. Advertisers and agencies should be able to choose the service offerings they need and have them configured for their operations and teams. Making product and service models aligned to customer needs instead of investor preferences.


Awin wants to drive these critical changes throughout affiliate. That’s why we’ve built a business that combines a powerful tech platform with available program management services. We’ve aligned our product development and people to the principles of Choice, Control, and Customization for several years. To do this, we’ve remade our business into a customizable solution, giving clients access to a Choice of 1M+ performance partners, data transparency and portability for Control, and a platform that provides a Customizable set of technologies and services adaptable to you so that you can, without compromise, grow your own way.


What Do You Think? 

My team would love to speak with you about how we can offer a uniquely valuable solution for your business. But more broadly, I hope we can start a marketing-wide conversation about these principles. We have a “moment” to lead by example and give brands the Choice, Control, and Customization they need to understand, satisfy, and delight their customers. Doing so can secure our rightful place at every brand’s strategy and resources “table.”


About Awin


Two-thirds of digital ad spend currently flows to the three big tech platforms - Google, Meta and Amazon. But their auction-based ad models favor their own bottom line and inflate costs at a time when every single marketing dollar counts. Affiliate partnerships offer a real alternative to big tech and put you back in control of your own business growth.

Using Awin's platform you can unlock unlimited marketing opportunities that reach consumers everywhere. Choose which affiliate partners best match your marketing objectives. Control your costs by defining how you pay these partners. And customize your affiliate marketing program using Awin's tech to mirror your unique goals, whatever they may be.

Connect with Awin or follow on social for more insights and ideas on how to drive more revenue to your online business.