the affiliate channel is often misunderstood as a necessary evil at best and a pariah at worst

In September of last year I had the good fortune to speak at CJ Affiliate’s annual conference, CJU. I was talking about what I think is the biggest problem facing the performance marketing channel and ways to fix it: the fact that the affiliate channel is often misunderstood as a necessary evil at best and a pariah at worst, by those in charge of other digital channels and marketing decision makers. I offered several ways we, as a channel, can counter this perception. The most impactful method, and the one I see employed more than any other, is the development, deployment and execution of data and technology to showcase the effectiveness of the affiliate channel.

This topic continues to be top of mind and discussed industry wide. Many networks have released exciting new features and data suites to address the issue. Today I’d like to spotlight CJ Affiliate and their Cross-Device tracking solution.

During my presentation at CJU16, I offered 5 things we can do to change the view of our industry. One of the most important was to scrutinize our channel ourselves. A big part of that scrutiny is simply being able to see what is going on. It begins with visibility and transparency. Visibility into the complete effects and contributions of an affiliate channel is vital. But every tracking and marketing method has leaks. Affiliate marketing has been no different.

To fully understand the influence of a given channel, especially the affiliate channel, one needs to know the full impact the channel is having on sales. But…

img_Leakage

When consumers switch channels, usually tracking doesn’t follow. Leakage.

When consumers start online and go offline. Leakage.

When consumers wait to make the purchase. Leakage.

When consumers start on one device and then finish their purchase on another. Leakage.

Cross-Device creates (data) visibility, actionable insights, and allows for compensation when a multi-device consumer is influenced to make a purchase

And that last one, cross-device leakage, well that is one area that CJ now has handled (and brands within the CJ network can have insight into the other questions as well via their ACI solution).

So what exactly is the Cross-Device solution? At the base level, Cross-Device creates visibility, actionable insights and allows for compensation when a multi-device consumer is influenced to make a purchase. Up until now, you have only been able to see, reward and incentivize affiliates when a user purchases on the same device from which they were originally influenced. On a single device. With this new technology, if you are in the CJ network, customers can be influenced by a publisher on any initial device, transact later on a different device and the affiliate order will be attributed to the initial device referring publisher (provided it’s within the cookie window of an advertiser).

A question for you: What if you have a top tier affiliate that is generating 25% of its new customers on a transacting device from which the customer didn’t use an affiliate link? Your first thought may be, “Wow, I’m not paying for that order” (if the sale is direct load). And if you aren’t using Cross-Device with CJ, you’d be right. But guess what? Your affiliate, and you, should be evaluating the success of your partnership based on the revenue they are actually closing for you, not the revenue they are receiving due to the misattribution. So, when they determine when and where in the big Q4 push you will be positioned and highlighted on their site and to their customers, those sales that they are actually closing and aren’t getting rewarded for, won’t come into play. They won’t be evaluating their success with you on actual numbers, and you won’t get placements and exposure that are as sweet as your competitor’s. And believe me, affiliates are evaluating the profitability of every single pixel on their sites. They evaluate every dollar they spend to drive you new customers.

affiliates are evaluating the profitability of every single pixel on their sites

But what if you both saw the true impact of their marketing activities to find incremental sales for you? Do you think that 25%, or even 5%, additional earned commission influences how much more they spend for you, how much more work they do for you to find those new customers?

Without visibility you, as a marketer, are missing out. You are evaluating partnerships with only a portion of the information. Now, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get to 100% visibility when it comes to consumers making purchasing decisions, but shouldn’t we know what’s knowable?

we should be as comprehensive as possible in tracking how audiences naturally behaves and shops

Let me position the question in another way: What if one of your paid search campaigns, an ad group say, was in reality generating 25% more sales that weren’t being tracked? Would you risk managing, optimizing and spending on this ad group incorrectly? Think of your affiliate channel the same way.

I spoke with Chris Bass, Sr. Content Strategist at CJ Affiliate, about this new technology and asked him why it’s so important in today’s marketplace. Here is what he had to say:

“A Cross-Device solution is critical. Quite simply, as a network working with brands who award publishers for their audience reach and engagement, we should be as comprehensive as possible in tracking how audiences naturally behaves and shops.”

img_MultiDeviceUserNumbers

“Consider for a moment that 214 million people are using multiple devices when they purchase, as compared to a smaller 59 million using only one device (mobile or desktop)1. At CJ Affiliate, we wanted to make sure we had a solution that was doing this right, with as much scale, accuracy and persistency as possible. Why does CJ do a better job at this than anyone else in affiliate? We combine our scale across affiliate (CJ), display and email by leveraging our parent companies (Conversant and Epsilon). This allows us to recognize more consumers than anyone else in the affiliate industry: specifically 160+ million unique customer profiles, 75 million daily online and offline transactions and an average 3.4 devices per person per day. That’s 544,000,000 devices! Add in the fact that our matching accuracy is 96% and we retain our audience at an 80% rate beyond 12 months, you’ll quickly see scale, accuracy and persistency of data. Itthat allows CJ to be an even better steward to all of our clients, helping advertisers and publishers realize the full value of their efforts.”

we wanted to make sure we had a solution that was doing this right, with as much scale, accuracy and persistency as possible

“As we were doing research, assessing and developing our Cross-Device solution, we realized how important it was that we got this right. We constantly asked ourselves, what are all of the reasons Cross-Device tracking is important? We understood this all starts with data, and the mission to give advertisers and publishers more insight into how consumers are interacting with a brand and what kind of purchase behavior they’re engaged in. Really, affiliate marketing is a customer-centric approach to advertising that provides value to the end consumer. As a result, we strive to match our technology to the needs of our clients’ target audience, which in turn helps push our industry’s value forward.”

affiliate marketing is a customer-centric approach that provides value to the end consumer

Data transparency plays a key role there. Understanding the drivers of cross-device engagement and mobile influence helps advertisers easily identify publishers and publisher verticals, audiences and products that trend toward cross-device engagement. As a result of cross-device tracking, we’re seeing transaction lift for the content and social verticals (content close to 10%, social close to 20%) but we’re also seeing lift among more traditional publisher verticals as well. This means marketers have a truer idea of publisher and vertical performance, but also better visibility into channel performance, which leads to better decision making as it relates to investment. Our CJ teams can then work with brands to implement strategies that optimize and capitalize on that revenue potential.”

“And publishers benefit from data transparency by getting a better read on their audiences’ shopping habits, particularly what their device interaction is, which devices they’re initializing on vs. which they’re closing on; and also what the average duration is for cross-device driven sales. This helps the publishers better cater their marketing to their audiences, understand when and how the consumer is interacting with the publisher, and use the data to make actionable improvements with the advertiser. Ultimately, all of this gives the consumer a better shopping experience.”

As a result of Cross-Device tracking, we’re seeing transaction lift for the content and social verticals (and) traditional publisher verticals as well.

“As Deirdre Peters mentioned in her CJU17 presentation, Cross-Device Insights in Action, we’re seeing some eye opening data now that we have several months under our belt. Namely, average AOVs for Cross-Device transactions originating on mobile devices and concluding on desktop is a whopping 190% higher than single device transactions (on desktop). Consider that mobile devices make up almost half (48%) of a consumer’s initiating devices but only a quarter (25%) of concluding devices (68% of concluding is desktop). With that much consumer behavior focused on mobile discovery, this is a clear call to action for advertisers to leverage more mobile opportunities, try out more brand awareness campaigns with publishers who skew high for mobile interaction and test a variety of conversion-focused, minimum spend product offers with publishers across the board.”

“There’s so much opportunity here with the availability of so many key data points, such as: device path conversion rates, differences in time to conversion, optimizing referral window periods (46% of Cross-Device transactions occur >8 days from the original click vs. 8% for non cross-device transactions), new-to-file rates for cross device activity, trends in AOV and more.”

Cross-Device tracking and insight enables publishers to be their own advocates

“We’re very excited to provide this data transparency as we feel it will lead to actionable insight for both advertisers and publishers to work better together. For example, advertisers can push new customer offers to publishers who are showing high new-to-file rates on mobile. Conversely, this give publishers another reason to provide more data and insight about their audience to advertisers. Cross-Device tracking and insight enables publishers to be their own advocates and fill in the gaps that advertisers will want to know about audience behavior related to purchase and device interaction.”

“In a channel that’s still considered by many to be a “necessary evil,” data-driven tools like CJ Affiliate’s Cross-Device solution can go a long way toward boosting transparency, value and customer engagement. And when that happens, everybody wins—publishers, audiences and the entire affiliate industry.”

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