Challenging Times Have Turbocharged the Sophistication of Modern Partnerships

Partnership marketing has long been recognised as a valuable source of trusted referrals. In the vast online arena, as in the physical world, these trusted referrals are worth their weight in gold.


This is because an affiliate enjoys an engaged audience already. A partner may be an influencer, a B2B brand or a content producer, but it’s this trust which is paramount. Moreover, successful partnerships can make the path to purchase seamless, offering an enhanced and increasingly personalised customer experience.


Partnerships that are there when you need them


But what many don’t always appreciate is that affiliate marketing and the wider world of partnerships is very cost effective, too, in part because it offers the ultimate in flexibility. As a pay-on-performance channel it’s relatively low risk, and provides a uniquely scalable marketing tool. And of course, at times like these, this flexibility – the ability to switch a campaign on or off at the touch of a button – is appreciated like never before. At a tricky time, brands have been able to reduce paid media but ramp up performance thanks to increased investment in partnerships at opportune moments.


The pandemic has, of course, led many to seek out marketing channels that can be turned on and off, or scaled quickly, in this way; according to demand, availability, or restrictions. We have all seen that the ability to pivot is paramount. Many retailers have therefore chosen to increase - or decrease - commissions to partners or affiliates in a bespoke way throughout this past year and this ability to take a targeted approach has paid dividends. Not only does it give control to the brand, but it can also enable inventory to be shifted when needed, according to unforeseen circumstances or sudden spikes or falls in demand - whether that be thanks to the weather, a seasonal shift, or something else entirely. This year, if we’ve learnt anything, it’s that we need to be prepared for the unexpected.


Automation can enable precision targeting


Today’s most modern partnership programmes also benefit from machine learning and AI. Dynamic payment structures and other uses of automation - including in the field of partner discovery and recruitment - have imbued the channel with greater dynamism, meaning that marketers can be more targeted than ever. It’s possible to ensure that commission structures reflect the real value of partnerships, for instance, rather than hammering margins unnecessary.


A cycle of business closures, the impending holiday season, and Brexit, to name but a few critical factors in recent times, have meant that supply chain issues have come to the fore throughout 2020. This looks set to remain the case well into 2021. Fortunately, a dynamic partnership programme can enable brands to prioritise customer types and journeys, enabling granular targeting, according to factors such as city, device type, or product category; thereby helping to allay some of this uncertainty.


Fine-tuning for the holiday season and beyond


Of course, online has exploded this year, too, and this Christmas will no doubt see record-breaking hikes in the amount spent via digital means. But it’s important that savvy retailers drill down and identify the most valued customers and encourage repeat business. Partnership programmes which enjoy a large amount of automation, in particular, can enable this type of optimisation and control. As a result, we are increasingly seeing strategies which are moving away from blanket commissions and towards a more fine-tuned approach which takes into account a plethora of, often very fast-moving, factors.


The most successful partnership programmes drive high value customers, on a pay-for-performance basis in this way and enable measurable impact. For too long, brands have failed to consider how they can work closely with other brands in this way and how fruitful such partnerships can be. It is fortunate, then, that we are starting to see sophisticated partnership strategies outside of travel, for instance, where flight bookings have for some time been linked up with the booking of hotels, transport, insurance, or other services or experiences. Fruitful partnerships are relevant to all sectors, and the beauty of these is that, when well designed, the customer may not realise it’s a partnership at all. For example, you book a holiday and you are linked to a co-branded page and offered currency exchange; now we are starting to see this type of joined-up thinking applied to other sectors, too.


This is an area of marketing with much untapped opportunity. Brands can track and measure, pay on performance, and get creative – with both offline and online partners. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that there are no limits to the possibilities.


Ross is a Senior Account Executive at Impact