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Pubs Choose Subnetworks For Data-Driven Insights Say Martech Record Panelists

Mar 7, 2023 by Jim Nichols

Key Takeaways


  1. The core subnetwork value proposition has changed from the early days of affiliate when publishers chose them to participate in affiliate marketing with little upfront investment
  2. Publishers now rely on subnetworks for macro-level insights that help them capitalize on emerging trends and brands investing more in the channel
  3. Subnetworks are helping publishers capture dollars shifting away from search and “tradigital” CPM buys into CPA, CPC, and flat fee programs
  4. The record-breaking popularity of the webinar session shows strong advertiser, agency, and publisher interest in the channel and how to get more value from these partnerships


Our recent webinar on affiliate subnetworks and their value shattered previous webinar attendance records for Martech video sessions. More than 400 industry participants attended the session, which featured Denise Jin, VP of Strategy & R&D at Howl, Lauren Newman, EVP Media & Commerce at Red Ventures, Hunter Capobianco, Director of Business Development & Partnerships at CNN, and Jackie Goldstein, VP, Commerce at The New York Post.


Panel Moderator Madeline Kaufman, Associate Director of Partnerships at Forbes, led a lively and hard-hitting discussion on the evolving value proposition that subnetworks offer publishers. The discussion continued with Martech Record members on the company’s Slack network.


No One Likes to Say Subnetwork


Our panelists agreed that few companies like to label themselves as subnetworks, even when their primary businesses are presenting a group of publishers to brand affiliate advertisers. Said Red Ventures’s Lauren Newman, “Many people’s perception of subnetworks is antiquated. Subnetworks were considered black boxes. Today it’s not about handing money to a platform without visibility into where ads are running. Today’s subnetworks are fully lit environments. Because of the past stigma, subnetworks must be much more transparent to overcome that misperception.”


Subnetwork Value Proposition: Actionable Data and Insights


According to our speakers, subnetworks play an important role in helping publishers understand and capitalize on trends in the market. “Commerce trends are happening at the speed of social,” said Howl’s Denise Jin. “Having a view into what’s happening is essential. You can make more agile moves to reflect what consumers are doing in the market.


Lauren Newman agreed, saying, “What subnetworks allow you to do is ‘zoom the camera out’ and recognize what’s happening across the industry.” This enables publishers to adjust existing programs to boost yield while capitalizing on new brands and industries catching on quickly with shoppers. 


Hunter Capobianco explained how CNN captured value here.“There are thousands of products on the market for customers. We want to make their decisions easier. During the Pandemic, we were able to capitalize on the growing interest in meal kits and monetize this new category faster than if we had to create new relationships with brands.” Madeline Kaufman had a similar story for Forbes, in the Fitness Equipment category.”Subnetworks helped Forbes capitalize on the trend without having pre-built relationships with those brands.”


Another way our publishers said subnetworks help them is by being able to spot brands that don’t pay their bills. This allows publishers to place their bets on programs and offers that de-risk revenue. 


An Extension of the Publisher Sales Team


Our speakers said that the role of subnetworks had evolved significantly from past years when the partner class was primarily an outsourced sales organization for publishers that could not afford dedicated sales staff or were not focused on performance media. Instead, many large publishers view subnetworks as a way to supplement direct sales efforts by bringing on new brands, campaigns, and buying models more nimbly. 


Said Hunter Capobianco, “Subnetworks help the team be more efficient. They allow us to focus our efforts. They operate more as an extension of the sales team.”


Capturing New Sources of Revenue


Publishers and subnetworks recognize how media channels are converging, and content and commerce are colliding in new and potentially lucrative ways. Our speakers spent a great deal of time talking about how subnetworks are unlocking new, incremental revenue streams beyond traditional budget sources.


With the increasing costs of paid search clicks, many CMOs are exploring ways to redirect their budgets to more efficient channels. The technology and measurement available from subnetworks sometimes give these business leaders the reassurance they need to be confident that sales are incremental. 


Said Denise Li, “Publishers don’t want to be limited to the affiliate budget space. They want to source dollars from the larger performance budget space.” According to our speakers, subnetworks are adept at helping publishers tap into this broader playing field. 


Jackie Goldstein concurred, “There are many opportunities subnetworks are bringing to publishers, like flat fee programs, CPC, and social boosting.” She continued that many of the programs subnetworks bring are truly incremental to publisher revenue because they reach into new brands, budgets, and categories.


“Flat fees are one of the fastest growing revenue channels. They help us de-risk content development in new areas. Subnetworks help negotiate flat fee programs with brands in ways it would be difficult for publishers to do themselves.”


Most Valuable Reports and Insights for Publishers


Our publisher speakers revealed that insights on trending products and content types often provided immediately actionable insights that helped them grow incremental revenue. When customer interest in a product class increases, they can quickly work with their editorial teams to determine the fit for commercial content related to these hot categories.


Across publishers, aggregated reporting helped them understand what types of new content to produce, what content areas they should “double down” on, and which to cut. Lauren Newman put it succinctly. The true value prop for subnetworks is a data aggregator. She said this characteristic makes them valuable to publishers and helps brands to be more satisfied that results from individual publishers can be interpreted on an apples-to-apples basis. 


Needed: More Search and Content Syndication Insights


When asked what sorts of new data and insights they would like from subnetworks, our publishers all agreed that insight into search activity would be beneficial. “We’re all competing for the same search ranks,” shared Hunter Capobianco. “We’d love to get more insight into search data to better understand where we might win in Search.”


Our speakers pointed out that content syndicators traditionally express their value regarding the incremental traffic they can bring. But publishers also want them to help drive more revenue by identifying what traffic can best be commercialized. 


Publishers and Brands: Choose Subnetworks Wisely


According to our speakers, it’s challenging to identify a single subnetwork that is “right” or “best” for all publishers. They caution publishers to find subnetworks that specialize in the kinds of content and offers they focus on. Several speakers suggested that publishers try multiple subnetworks to find the best mix of direct and subnetwork monetization to maximize their total revenue.


Brands, they said, should also dig into the approaches of various subnetworks to find ones that will be appropriate for their strategies and programs. While our speakers agreed that most brands had at least some degree of comfort with subnetworks, they said that small, emerging brands are sometimes disappointed with the level of service they receive, especially from the largest players. 


For both publishers and brands, our speakers recommended asking potential providers questions about their level of transparency, publisher makeup, rev share percentages, and other factors.


Post Webinar Discussion


One of the Martech Record's most valuable attributes is its active Slack channel, where hundreds of industry participants and thought leaders discuss Martech Record content and other news and trends. The conversations about the Subnetwork webinar were immediate and intense. 


Brand- and agency-side speakers used our public and private channels to provide their perspectives on subnetworks. One common point of concern was the need for more comprehensive transparency. One valuable comment came from Amanda Karr, Affiliate marketing Manager for Tailored Brands. “Transparency is more than just clicks and sales and who the active partners are. For example, I can't see what commission rate all the partners are getting, so I can run numbers on my end to see if I have room to increase my margins.  Also, there is no insight into what partners are available in the subnetwork.  I understand that content partners like to work under subnetworks for convenience, but as more content partners are coming into the space, not having the visibility into what partners are even available to work with makes it a bit of a black box.”


Based on the level of attendance and engagement in this webinar, subnetworks are clearly on many people’s minds. Martech Record will be continuing its coverage of subnetworks in the weeks ahead.


More Coverage of Subnetworks


Subnetworks: From Proving Ground to Partnership Growth Essential

Brands See Benefits – and Challenges – with the Subnetwork Ecosystem