For affiliate marketing, the future is mobile but less talk and more action is needed

Mobile will be the clear focus of affiliate marketing over the next 12 months, but now is the time for less talking and more doing.

Last week I attended the A4U Expo in London, for which Fourth Source was a media partner.

Affiliate marketing holds a place close to my heart because it was the first thing which sparked my interest in online marketing and led me to where I am today.

It was exciting and it still is, affiliates are some of the most innovative marketers out there.

I was looking forward to meeting some of the biggest names in the industry to gauge their thoughts on where the affiliate marketing industry was heading over the coming year.

One of the recurring trends that emerged from nearly all the brands I spoke to was, mobile. You only have to have a look around this website to see that mobile is playing a pivotal role in every digital marketing discipline, it comes as little surprise then that mobile is a key trend for affiliate marketing.

Last month eBay announced they reached 100 million downloads of their mobile app. “We are selling roughly £10 billion worth of goods sold via mobile on a global scale, how that then works into an affiliate perspective is, we are seeing roughly about 10% of our traffic come from mobile, that has grown year on year and we are expecting that to increase” says Franco Ludovici, UK and EU partnerships manager at eBay Partner Network.

We are living in an increasingly connected world, but we are not always in the purchase decision making process. “The real challenge for us as advertisers is making sure the right message is given to the right user at that specific moment in how they are consuming media” continues Ludovici.

This is where affiliates play a part, consumers are more engaged when they are consuming media from a publisher they like and follow, they are more likely to purchase through them.

It is not just their partner network where they are focusing on mobile, eBay recently updated their logo and announced a new user interface with a focus on the multichannel experience will be rolling out over the coming weeks and months, mobile has become a core focus for eBay, Ludovici explains, “internally we have a saying now, for any new product launches, we need to think mobile first”.

Affiliate networks are also seeing an increase in mobile traffic and demand for their mobile services, “we are seeing mobile traffic increasing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis” says Dan Cohen, Market Unit Leader NW, Tradedoubler, the affiliate marketing network which was founded over a decade ago.

Some of their clients are already fully mobile ready and tracking mobile sales, “we’ve got the likes of Dell and Tesco tracking all of their mobile sales, they have fully mobile responsive HTML5 sites, there is demand for mobile and we need to make the most of it” continues Cohen.

Tradedoubler recently worked with UK-based camera retailer Jessops to develop a location-based voucher offer that is delivered through the mobile app of Quidco, a Tradedoubler affiliate. The app uses location-based check-ins to deliver voucher offers to shoppers as they pass a Jessops store, with vouchers redeemed in-store and credited to Quidco. Online sales through the Quidco site grew by 72% during the campaign, with analysis showing incremental in-store sales growth.

One company innovating in this space is AdInsight, provider of call tracking and call analytics solutions in the UK. They have announced the launch of a new product called AdInsight Performance, which essentially allows a user to track which publishers are driving phone calls to their business. They can track a visitor from where they came from, the ad they clicked on, what page they landed and what pages they looked at before, during and after the phone call.

“Joining offline and online will become more prevalent, I don’t think it is quite there yet” says Ross Fobian, co-founder and CEO of AdInsight. “Companies are going to start saying, if someone finds a product on their mobile, but then purchases in store or calls ups to buy, how are they going to track that. The tracking of completing purchases via a phone call is the problem his company hopes to solve.

Rakuten LINKSHARE is one of the largest affiliate networks in the world, over 2.5 million publishers have joined their network and they drive over £3 billion sales a year. They have over 200,000 affiliates and more than 300 advertisers in the UK.

Mark Haviland, Managing Director of Rakuten LINKSHARE UK says brands need to do more, “a lot of talk, but not a great deal of action” he says. I agree, especially when you consider 60% of the top 100 brands still don’t have a mobile optimised website.

In fact, just recently, my Virgin Media broadband was down, my first reaction was to go on my smartphone and check on Twitter if anyone else is having similar issues and if Virgin Media had put out an alert. I found a tweet from the Virgin Media, in reply to someone who was experiencing downtime, it suggested they used a smartphone to run some tests on their Virgin Media phone number via a provided link. I accessed the link, only to find the Virgin Media website was not optimised for mobile and in fact the test was not accessible from a smartphone. It was a poor frustrating experience for me and I am sure the same for the person it was initially directed at. RANT OVER!

I digress, the point I was trying to make is that in a “mobile world”, a brand as big as Virgin Media would have a fully mobile optimised website, without thinking twice.

Haviland believes part of the problem lies with the reluctance to hire specialised mobile talent. “Companies aren’t hiring people who are specialists in mobile, there are some really intelligent people who work in mobile, whether its the mobile operators, mobile marketing agencies, or other businesses who have built their business model around mobile, there is a lot of expertise, it can be done, but the distractions for companies are enormous”, he says.

There are some brands doing really well in the mobile space, Domino’s Pizza is one of them, last year they made more than £10 million from their mobile sales. In reference to Domino’s Pizza, Haviland said they just ‘shut up and got on with it’ with the whole company behind it.

“The key is consumer experience, from an affiliate marketing standpoint, you need to have an end to end consumer experience without any glitches”, adds Scott Allan, Senior Vice President, Global Marketing of Rakuten LINKSHARE. “If I go to a great mobile site that a publisher has and I get referred to an advertisers site, if that advertiser’s site is’t mobile optimised and I cant checkout, I’m going to be annoyed and leave, so advertisers and publishers need to work together to provide an optimal experience” he continues.

But at the moment we are in a catch-22 situation, brands are in the process of mobilising their websites and publishers are waiting for this to go mainstream.

Perhaps the arrival of 4G, which is due to launch on the 31st October on the EE (Everything Everywhere) network, will help accelerate the process.

Some of the other emerging affiliate marketing trends over the next 12 moths included publishers becoming and acting like media brands. When you look back a decade over ago, publishers and affiliates were just traffic drivers, but now they are brands, advertisers need to work closer with them, to find the right affiliates and publishers in order to leverage their brand.

Another area of focus for next year will be display, particularly search re-targeting and RTB (Real-time Bidding). “RTB will provide the biggest injection of real traffic next year” says Stephen Kerin, Client Services Director at Webgains, the affiliate network whose brand portfolio includes Nike, Burberry and British airways.

There is no doubt about the potential of mobile, but marketers will need to start getting on with it, advertisers need to start mobilising their websites and give mobile affiliates a chance. This industry is about trial and error and that is the exciting part, trying new and exciting campaigns if it doesn’t work you move onto the next exciting campaign.

A phrase Mr Haviland said sums it up perfectly, “investing to learn, is investing to earn”.

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By Sandeep Vadgama