Automation within the affiliate channel

Whether it’s processes led or indeed the buying and selling of media, automation is transforming the way the digital advertising industry works.

By Awin & Revlifter

In part one of a series that deep dives into different digital channels, we spoke to Awin and Revlifter about how the affiliate channel is using, and embracing, automation.

How is automation currently being used within the affiliate channel?

The affiliate channel has used elements of automation for some time but we are now seeing a much wider range of options and areas to automate. The trick here is finding the balance between tasks that can be automated and tasks that shouldn’t be. 

Administrative tasks, from integration to publisher payment, can be easily automated. There are also elements of automation when finding partners, however there is no shying away from the fact that a certain amount of legwork when recruiting and working with different partners can really pay dividends.

Typically, publishers have more access to network created automation tools – such as pulling product feed information and publishing voucher codes, adding offers and creative straight to site via an application program interface (API) – not to mention automated tracking link tools. Third parties are also available to help publishers automate even further by ensuring the right deals and products are displayed at the right time.

Automation is used with all players in the affiliate industry. However, unlike other verticals, it is not always beneficial to automate as there is still huge advantages from taking a personal approach with partners to maximise their contribution to campaigns.

At what stage of an affiliate campaign can you use automation?

Automation can be used throughout a performance campaign, freeing up time to focus on the more manual tasks. For example:

  • Advertisers can automate the uploading and distribution of product inventory and assets. This could be anything from product feeds or banners to the copy on the page

  • Affiliates may choose to work with key partners on their campaign that needs software to be installed on the advertiser or publisher site. Again, the installation and activation can be automated through a networks tag management system

  • Once the campaign commission structure and strategy has been defined then this too can be automated, ensuring publishers are paid the right amount for specific activities. This could be changing commission amounts based on volumes, basket values, margins, customer type or any number of factors

When a campaign is live, advertisers can work with partners that automate the content shown on publisher sites to increase conversion through personalisation. Any sales can be automatically validated, leading on to automatic payment of publisher commissions.

Behind the scenes, campaign reporting can also be automated, either through the networks, or third-party tools such as Trackonomics to centralise all campaign data from multiple sources.

What are the current benefits of using automation within the affiliate channel?

Automation is there to help us save time and remove the need for repetitive or menial tasks. This allows marketers to focus on the work that requires human creativity or emotion, such as building relationships with clients or selling in new ideas.

Historically, the affiliate industry has seen a fairly limited adoption of automation compared to other channels. However, this late adoption has given the channel and its emerging technologies the benefit of hindsight through lessons learnt from other channels, making this a really exciting place to be.

One of the key opportunities in affiliate marketing is personalising the user experience on a one-to-one level. Using a blend of first-party data (new or existing customer, real-time basket data, location or customer relationship management (CRM) data) and third-party data (the weather, Adobe Audience Insights or LiveRamp) allows affiliates to display personalised offers and recommendations to consumers in real-time. Companies such as RevLifter is a great example of a new onsite technology publisher automating the user experience to drive up conversions and improve user-experiences.

What are the current challenges to using automation within the affiliate channel?

The affiliate industry has always been strongly founded on relationships and social interaction and unfortunately there is no automation substitute for picking up the phone or writing an email to personally manage and motivate your partners. Even recruiting new partners, while automation options exist, can be quite subjective and is extremely difficult to automate completely. This presents a knife edge to the affiliate marketer of automating in the right area, but not becoming overly reliant on it. Therein lies the sweet spot in affiliate automation.

Another challenge is the data itself. Advertisers, publishers and especially networks sit on an enormous amount of data. To really open up automation and innovation there needs to be more information sharing between partners. Alongside this there should be standardised industry agreements on how certain data is stored so it can be universally accessed and transferred; product feeds are a great example where standardised data would encourage more automation. 

This is even more difficult since the onset of GDPR. Affiliates need to ensure they are compliant and handle personal data correctly, which presents a barrier to more open sharing of data even when permitted under GDPR.

What one top tip would you give to advertisers and agencies who are running automated affiliate campaigns?

Use automation to identify actionable insights and reduce administration as much as possible, but don’t become dependent on it. Create time with automation to focus on the human side such as meaningful conversations between partners and creative campaigns and, no matter what, don’t forget about the consumer.

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