Alexandra Forsch is the President of Awin US, including ShareASale to form the Awin Group. With 15+ years of experience, she is one of the industry’s big thinkers, and we were lucky to be able to chat with her last week about how Awin and ShareASale fit together, self-service networks vs client services, and the future of the industry.
Blue Book: Awin has grown very quickly, both organically and through acquisitions. What is the overall strategy? Where is Awin going?
Alexandra Forsch: Our strategy is pretty straightforward – to empower digital partnerships worldwide. We are realizing this through a series of strategic platform investments, including the acquisition of one of America’s most trusted platforms, ShareASale, which allowed Awin to emerge as the only network offering global reach alongside local expertise. Our recent acquisition of Australia and Singapore’s leading network Commission Factory further cemented this global positioning, granting partners greater access into the much-desired Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia markets.
Additionally, Awin is poised to innovate the global affiliate industry, resulting in several market-leading technology releases like Cross Device and Bounceless Tracking, Opportunity Marketplace, and adMission disclosure tool, as well as Awin’s MasterTag solutions and Tracking Optimization Plugin. Our innovations are developed in house, with MasterTag further affording clients seamless access to strategic, third-party technology partners like Button, RevLifter, Monotote, Trackonomics and many others. With this dual focus of expanding our reach while offering best-in-class tech, Awin has emerged as the largest global network that supports clients across a wide range of solutions for small to enterprise size businesses, large brands and agency partners.
BB: Many bigger networks seem to be moving towards a technology-focused model, with affiliate marketing functionality presented via a self-service SaaS platform. Is that the way you see the industry developing?
AF: Over the past two decades, Awin has observed client needs greatly differ by brand and/or region across our global operation. As an affiliate network, we are well equipped to adapt to changing demands because we offer ad tracking technology at the core, with service and expertise layered on top. While most of our clients still engage with us in a traditional full-service capacity, we also successfully partner with those who wish to use our innovative tracking technology in a self-service capacity (or via agency). What I believe sets us apart from a pure play SaaS is our ability to offer a technology-focused model with flexible pricing and fulfill on key requests across all service levels, i.e. our ability to develop and successfully activate revenue generating partnerships that are backed by Awin’s 20+ years of operating success. With this year’s release of Awin Access, our solutions now also extend to start ups and small businesses globally.
BB: The Blue Book survey shows every year that advertisers particularly value customer service and support, with Awin ranking highly on these. How does fit with the trend towards SaaS?
AF: In regularly surveying our customers and agency partners, we find network guidance and expertise around industry and publisher insights are deemed invaluable drivers for revenue growth – regardless of whether a client is operating in a self-service or managed capacity. While day-to-day aspects of program management can certainly be in house or outsourced based on client preference, a pure SaaS / tech-only offering greatly limits a client’s success in the channel longer term. To guarantee revenue growth for our partners across Awin and ShareASale, we always strive to incorporate critical insights, access, and consultancy that equally benefits agencies, merchants and publishers regardless of service level agreements in place. The annual release of the Awin Report, our Awin Talks podcasts, our signature though leadership event ThinkTank, and Awin’s 2020 coronavirus content hub – along with the many other events webinars we regularly host internationally each year – are all great examples of Awin’s continued commitment to the industry and to support our partners.
BB: Many advertisers and publishers struggle with some elements of affiliate marketing. How does a network help them with their pain points while still being able to scale?
AF: Awin focuses on proactively educating the industry and our partners on the opportunities affiliate marketing affords to any e-retailer looking to deliver incremental growth. Educational resources include the Awin Report – our annually released, definitive guide on the state of the affiliate marketing industry globally. Additionally, we regularly hosts Awin Talks podcasts, partner webinars, industry events and much more. Equally important, we continuously improve upon the resources offered to partners across all lifecycle stages from platform onboarding to activation and campaign optimization. Most notable partner solutions include our Partner Success and Agency Resource Centers alongside of ShareASale’s agency certification and merchant academy, combined with many forms of ongoing advertiser trainings and publisher development opportunities. Our partner resources are based on Awin’s and ShareASale’s 20-years industry experience, which scales as we leverage AI-driven algorithms that grant easy access to relevant content while continuously improving on the materials we provide. Lastly, our technology focuses on automation and efficiencies work to overcome pain points and streamline manual processes. It also supports our privacy-by-design tracking solutions aimed at overcoming current challenges presented by third-party tracking preventions and new waves of privacy and disclosure regulations.
BB: Attribution and incrementality remain challenging for many marketers trying to determine how best to allocate their budgets. How is Awin addressing the need for clarity in this area?
AF: One of our key features is advanced data tracking that allows brands to parse custom values directly to Awin with basic sale information. Awin tracks and dynamically awards commissions based on 254+ advanced data points to help retailers analyze and understand trends across their customer base, informing optimization strategies surrounding ideal partnerships and accurately measuring incrementality – all of which is enabled through the Awin Advertiser MasterTag. The tag integration is only required once to leverage this unique solution, along with many other benefits that help overcome today’s digital challenges.
Furthermore, our seamless integration with SingleView (Awin’s data-led, multi-touch point attribution partner) provides our clients with accurate, non-biased metrics and a holistic view across all marketing channels. By understanding the true value of each channel in the consumer journey and how different channels work together to improve conversion rates, our clients can realize strategic performance goals and improve their channel incremental ROAS by 42%.
BB: Awin owns ShareASale, one of the great affiliate marketing networks . Is ShareASale going to remain a separate operation to Awin? How do they fit together?
AF: For 20 years, ShareASale has been a pure-play affiliate marketing network, successfully growing its business by nurturing relationships, building cutting-edge technology and guiding clients to success in affiliate marketing. In January 2017, ShareASale was acquired by Awin to provide additional solutions, partnership opportunities and technology offerings – as well as international reach – to its advertisers and publishers. In successfully unifying platform teams and in harmonizing our operations and processes, the US has emerged as the fastest growing region within the Awin Group. The ability to offer clients and agencies more service options has been a key driver of this success. Longer term, however, we see ShareASale fully incorporated into Awin.
BB: How should an advertiser or publisher decide whether they wish to partner with Awin or ShareASale? How do they choose?
AF: Initially, the primary choice between the two platforms was a selection of self-service (direct or via OPM) vs full-service network management. However, these lines have blended quite a bit over the past three years. Given both the Awin and ShareASale platforms’ longstanding expertise, unrivalled publisher reach and innovative technology, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. The reality is most Awin advertisers already benefit from ShareASale’s US reach, with ShareASale publisher, merchant and agency partners now enjoying advanced support across industry insights, sector benchmarking and partner recommendations thanks to our blended Awin and ShareASale teams. We advise brands and enterprise-sized businesses looking for fully customized-solutions to partner with Awin. This also applies to those looking to expand internationally, as the global opportunity is greater on Awin.
BB: How do you think the industry is going to evolve over the next few years?
AF: We expect affiliate marketing to evolve from a pure acquisition-based, volume-driving channel to one increasingly recognized as a means of partnering, tracking, measuring and contracting with a variety of other businesses online. As such, we should see greater brand investment in the channel, meaning retailers will also take greater control over their programs to result in continued investment on the side of the networks that enables automation into the channel.
The general topic of privacy will be one of continued importance and it is critical affiliate marketers find a way to effectively communicate the need for first-party data. Light in nature, first-party tracking should ease the concerns of any brand nervous about how behavioral and personal data is being used by marketing companies. Additionally, from a regulatory point of view, affiliate marketers also need to buckle down on affiliate disclosure as regulators increasingly scrutinize how products are promoted.
Overall, the past year’s challenges will result in us seeing more businesses supplementing incomes with affiliate marketing. Particularly, the FinTech sector is expected to join the channel from both the brand and publisher side. We also expect more brand-to-brand partnerships, with a goal to foster reciprocal deals that build customer loyalty and require greater commercial flexibility as the strength of the deal or offer will be more important than the commission earned. Brands in general are likely to speed up their investment in online marketing to ensure they are well placed to take advantage of the huge new number of online shoppers. Similarly, SMEs will increasingly turn to performance marketing to expedite their digital efforts in the face of COVID-19.
BB: Do you believe that performance marketing will take a bigger share of large brand budgets in future, or not? Why?
AF: Yes, absolutely. While the affiliate channel is a mature industry, it is experiencing a new wave of optimism and enthusiasm as it has proven to offer certainty in uncertain times. More retailers are now recognizing it as a one-stop shop that provides a diverse range of digital marketing options.
More recently, one of the fastest growing opportunities for brands is via social channels with a CPA metric. With merchants demanding greater return on investment from influencer marketing, affiliate marketing is a natural place to shift money into. Additionally, the past two years have seen an explosion from mass media houses seeking to replace declining revenue elsewhere with commission from affiliate marketing. There’s been increasing coverage about how publishers like Buzzfeed and Wired are now pursuing performance marketing as a means of supplementing other revenue streams to maintain viable publishing businesses.
Ultimately, as the digital world struggles to communicate the value exchange of data for services, many affiliate sites offer a direct connection to brands’ customers and easily explains to consumers how – in sharing minimal data – they can save money online, make better choices and discover new brands.
For smaller retailers, digital marketing can seem intimidating and affiliate marketers are finding new ways of connecting small businesses with partners they wouldn’t ordinarily manage individually. Affiliate marketing effectively offers a mix-and-match, plug-and-play shortcut for companies short on time and expertise.
Beyond sales, it is now common for brands to track additional metrics like new customer numbers and post-sale contribution to measure performance qualitatively and quantitatively.
Another area of growth is overseas expansion. According to Accenture, 45% of e-commerce sales in 2020 are cross-border, and for brands, affiliate marketing presents a ready-made set of publishers to align with that can promote goods and services to non-domestic markets.
BB: Facebook and Google are facing ever-increasing scrutiny from anti-trust regulators. If they were broken up, how do you think that would affect the industry?
AF: The fact is too much power and revenue sits with this duopoly. Brands invest in these platforms because of the apparent reach, but also know their market dominance means they’re at the mercy of these tech giants, as well as they’re always receptive to diversification of their revenue streams. We believe brands that spend millions on digital channels are concerned about concentrating too much spend with one partner. The hope is that in breaking up these huge companies’ innovations – and where there are innovative opportunities – affiliates can find a way to make it fit within the channel. That must be a positive.
To learn about how Awin and ShareASale can help you grow your business, please visit their websites:
Are you an advertiser or publisher partnered with Awin or ShareASale? We’d be honored to receive your vote as Best CPS Network in the Blue Book survey.