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IAB UK Affiliates & Partnerships Group Buyside Survey: Partnerships Recognised as Powerful Alternative to Primary Sales and Marketing Channels

Mar 10, 2021

Marketing Manager

Today marks the release of the 2021 IAB UK Affiliates & Partnerships Group Buyside Survey Results, which look to provide an industry snapshot that gauges measurement figures, current trends and perceptions for the channel. Surveying 185 respondents between December 2020 and January 2021, the survey was promoted by IAB member organisations to their audiences of partnership specialists from both brands and agencies, 58% vs 28% respectively, with 51% of respondents representing large organisations of 250+ employees. Retail and travel were the biggest contributing sectors and over 50% of respondents expressed operations outside of the UK. 

The survey developed some interesting results which we will unpack in more detail in the coming weeks, providing supporting content pieces and webinars to address the key topics of tracking, partner diversification, program management and attribution. But for now, we wanted to deliver a summary of the key findings and direct you to relevant assets which can help you tackle some of the areas raised in the more immediate future. 

Of course, a big anchor of this survey was around the industry’s reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, which given the implications of brick-and-mortar store closures, unsurprisingly accelerated the e-commerce landscape far beyond predicted growth for 2020. The partnership channel benefited from this with 50% of UK survey participants seeing an increase in affiliate spend across 2020 and scoring it highly as a source for new customer acquisition (7.83) and return on investment (7.6). This paves way for the fact that given its pay-for-performance model, partnerships are finally being recognised as a powerful alternative to other primary sales and marketing channels because it subsidizes the high costs of marketing levers like paid search. But with greater e-commerce activity, comes greater competition and many brands found themselves using the channel in 2020 to support discounting behavior to compete, unload surplus stock and increase sales amongst declining consumer purchase intent. But as we emerge from lockdowns and spending normalises so must how we interact with the channel. We recently hosted a webinar and released an eBook in conjunction with friends at Silverbean which discusses how to create a more holistic approach, with discounting, part of, not the anchor of your partnership programs.  

One of the most prevalent topics of discussion to arise from this survey was around tracking affiliate marketing activity. This theme is in line with a growing sentiment for more scrutiny being placed on every marketing dollar, or pound in this instance, alongside the implications of Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and The Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) on all digital marketing tactics. It was quite shocking that 1 in 5 respondents were unaware of how their activity is being tracked and even more concerning was 51% expressing the use of third-party cookies which are soon to become largely obsolete. The affiliate channel has traditionally operated with a significant degree of tracking to allow for transparency and justification of spend and to permit a more targeted focus for programs. The results of the IAB survey further underline this, deeming ROI as the most important measurement factor from respondents, with an 8.7 weighted average. Therefore, it is crucial that the industry addresses this and finds ways to navigate the potential implications for brands such as incorrect reporting on the source of sales, which will ultimately de-value the channel due to a perceived decline. Moreover, for partners this could see them missing out on commissions for sales-driven. We will be exploring this in greater detail with an upcoming webinar on ‘Preparing for a Cookie-Less Future’ in April, registration details to follow.  

Another theme identified from the survey results was around measurement and attribution. Unsurprisingly, 99% of those surveyed work on a CPA model, which aligns with the performance-driven results of the channel. However more revealing was that 86% of respondents still use last-click as their primary model for payment on their programs. Now, it is worth noting that the survey did not examine the composition of the audience and whether they use a tech platform or operate through networks but this could have some impact on the weighting of these results. Tech platforms like Partnerize have led the way with providing adaptable attribution models which clients have leveraged with great success. Last November, in fact, our SVP of Sales for EMEA Sean Sewell, hosted the most attended session at the virtual PI Live Global event, which sought to discuss how the partnership industry is evolving beyond the last-click approach, to reward partners more appropriately for their contributions. 

Further, the attribution conversation also relates to the wider topic of partner diversification. As we look to expand partner programs and incorporate more partner types that influence higher up the purchasing funnel, we must find ways to reward commissions more aptly. Respondents surveyed revealed that content partners were the second most valuable affiliate types, however, these are often the partners shortchanged when it comes to last-click attribution. We joined Acceleration Partners to delve into how brands can look to diversify their partnership programs during a recent webinar. This session sought to highlight trends in new non-traditional partners as well as best practice approaches to working with content partners and how brands are engaging with them to produce outstanding results. 

The survey has provided a great insight into the channel and supports some of the major themes we have already identified to address with product enhancements. We will be releasing further content relating to the ideas raised which will seek to provide the transparency, trust, standards and education which survey respondents deemed the most significant ways the industry can improve. Special thanks to the IAB and the Affiliates & Partnerships Group, who worked hard in tandem to produce, promote and analyse the results of the survey. It serves as a great representation of the partnership channel in the UK and its emergence as a true profit centre for brands. The full results of the survey can be found here. 

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