The Survival Guide For Networks, Part II: the Empire fights back!

Chris Trayhorn
by Chris Trayhorn
May 19, 2010

The recent discussion of the importance of brand to CPA network survival generated a fair amount of feedback. For an industry rooted in performance, where everything is measurable, the idea that product functions and features aren’t all important is a hard one to accept.

But it’s true. Let’s look at exactly why that is.

We’ll use Adam Viener’s post on WiseAff as a starting point.


Adam knows his stuff, and he suggests that not brand, but differentiation is the answer for struggling networks. He specifically suggests that networks should create exclusive distribution partnerships with the top 5% of publishers who drive 95% of sales. If they could only do that, then our hypothetical network could “secure their place along the sides of Commission Junction, Linkshare and the likes.”

It’s hard to argue with that. It sounds like a winning formula.

The only problem is that it would take the resources of a ValueClick or a Rakuten – and their associated brands – to achieve that goal and to attract a critical mass of exclusive publishers. A small, struggling CPA network using an off-the-shelf tracking platform is just not going to be able to do it.

And if somehow they manage to get some exclusive publishers? Well, it’s likely they’ll lose them again when someone with deeper pockets and better offers comes along. Without a brand to make and maintain an emotional connection and a feeling of loyalty, the effort will ultimately be a wasted one.

But Adam isn’t wrong in his argument, it’s simply that he has things reversed: brand isn’t a “small piece of the puzzle,” it’s the whole puzzle. And the reason is that brand incorporates everything. Differentiation feeds into brand, not the other way around.

Starbucks’ brand isn’t a small piece of the buying-a-cup-of-coffee experience, it is the whole deal. The coffee itself is part of it sure, but the ambience, the music, the funny cup names, the staff greetings – these elements are why Starbucks have killed your local coffee shop. Not because they have better coffee (Peets!).

Product features and functions are a key part of success, of course. But a network could have the best exclusive distribution network in the world and still not win if they don’t have a good reputation with advertisers, for example. Or if their tracking is inaccurate.

Focusing on brand is what makes the difference. And focusing on brand means focusing on customer service, on product quality, on consistent messaging, on website design, on staff training, and on all the other elements that affect what people think of you.

If you want an example in the network space, think about MediaTrust. Peter Bordes lives and drives that company as a brand. He constantly pushes the ideas of reputation, quality and the need to battle fraud. They have a consistent message, and everything they do supports it. It wouldn’t work without them having the products and services to back it up, naturally, but Peter’s focus on the qualities of the brand are what sets the direction.

So, what do we think CPA networks should be doing to survive right now?

Tune in next week!

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Chris Trayhorn

About Chris Trayhorn

Chris Trayhorn is the Founder & Editor of Revenue Performance magazine and the CEO of mThink LLC, a performance marketing services company based in San Francisco. Chris has worked on marketing campaigns with over 200 of the Forbes Global 2000. Friends say he knows a lot about a couple of things and a little bit about everything. He likes motorcycles, Manchester United and making pictures.

View all posts by Chris Trayhorn

2 Responses to “The Survival Guide For Networks, Part II: the Empire fights back!”

  1. MediaTrustpete Says:

    Chris
    this is a very good series and is an important topic in relationship to the future of our industry. brand is everything. networks, advertisers and affiliate publishers need to understand how incredibility important it is in relationship to their business and enterprise value. its one of the main key ingredients that has been missing, and is a key to our future growth and value in digital media $ marketing.

    performance marketing has only been focusing on volume and transactions.think of the tremendous amount of brand equity that is lost here. i dont even know how to quantify it as its so massive and under utilized. if we all start thinking in terms of our brand we start looking at the world differently and take a long term perspective in building our business and our industry…..

    ok this is getting to long a soap boxy!keep this series going:)

  2. high_concept Says:

    Good article, Chris. I agree with many of your points.

    Like you, I’ve noticed that the affiliate networks are running similar offers. However, the primary factor that ruins the efficacy of these offers is that most of them contain no ad copy.

    Branding is impossible without ad copy. There’s no reason for the consumer to be emotionally moved by only a call to action.