Imagine you are a new advertiser using affiliate marketing to acquire customers. The affiliate network you’re using is doing great: recruiting new publishers, building ad creatives, providing you with tracking and attribution metrics. All seems right with the world.

Do you need an agency?

I raise the question following a conversation I had last week with a rising advertiser. They have a CPA network acting as their AOR, and they’re generally happy with the levels of service and performance. And yet their branding is almost non-existent, they have no idea what their Customer Lifetime Value is, and they have no content or audience strategy. Their customer acquisition is great. Their sustainability as a company sucks.

They need a real agency.

Now I’m not criticizing the many CPA and CPS networks that offer fantastic support to theirs clients under the name, “agency services”. Those that do this successfully typically have years of experience in building products online and helping companies grow. This is A Good Thing. Affiliate marketing is becoming recognized as an essential part of the standard set of marketing solutions, and higher service levels are a key part of that process. But, in many cases it is not enough. Growing companies don’t just need new customers. They also need a foundation of marketing essentials:

  • a brand strategy that differentiates and protects the company from competitors;
  • an audience strategy that maximises customer lifetime value;
  • a content strategy that delivers lead generation, customer loyalty, brand awareness and product development data;
  • a data strategy that captures and integrates conversion, audience and attribution data across platforms, and that delivers actionable insights.

The difficulty is that advertisers do not know what they do not know. It is easy for a good sales person (and let’s face it, the affiliate marketing industry is full of good sales people) with superficial knowledge of these concepts to talk a good game. But a shallow approach to these elements will only take a company so far. Strategy matters. It is the foundation of what a growing company does. Affiliate networks do amazing work, but there is a good argument that they are of necessity focused on the short-term: how do we acquire new customers today? Advertisers who want to survive and thrive need a bigger, longer-term view. There’s a reason that almost every medium- and major-brand has a specialist marketing agency. A good one can provide new insights, a path to long-term growth, and increased shareholder value. Full transparency: in addition to founding the Blue Book awards and rankings, Chris Trayhorn is the CEO of mThinkDigital, a full-service marketing agency that is happy to work closely with affiliate networks.