2020 may just have been the most challenging year for business in the last 100 years. For the performance marketing industry, the challenges were mixed with some blessings. As workplaces and retail stores were shuttered and consumers were forced to stay home, in many cases working from home and online for longer hours each day, e-commerce boomed. Amidst the changes and chaos, affiliates and advertisers saw the opportunity and found ways to adapt their businesses to this new reality and to thrive – while fraudsters looked for new ways to game the system.

We interviewed five advertisers to understand how they managed to make it through 2020, how they work with their network partners to avoid fraud, and what they think the future of the performance marketing industry looks like. Our advertisers were introduced to us by Perform[cb], formerly Clickbooth. Perform[cb] is the Blue Book’s #1 ranked CPA Network for 2020, and as such is an important partner to each of our interviewees.

A common thread that emerged from our interviews was the necessity for a network to build and maintain a relationship of trust with their clients, including transparent views of traffic sources and lead generation. Trust has always been important but is now critical; transparency was at one time desired but is now demanded.

  • David Rocio, CPA Advertiser: “Of the networks we work with, Perform[cb] is absolutely the best at providing transparency. They ensure that all partner creative is sent to us for approval which is very important for us. They have told me they take pride in the level of transparency they are able to provide, and I believe it. Our campaigns can be tricky to work with because of the restrictions on what our partners can say and on the creatives. It can make it hard to get offers going but Perform[cb] is responsive and flexible – they really collaborate closely with us to find solutions and to make offers work. We work with maybe 14 different networks and Perform[cb] is #1 for quality. There are a couple of others that are close but if I had to pick just one it would be Perform[cb].”
  • Thomas Kenaya, Business Development Manager: “Perform[cb] is a network that we can trust to give us the transparency and control that we need. In our business, it is important that we know where leads are coming from. We really appreciate their willingness to be transparent. Sometimes in the past we would frequently have to deal with invalid leads, and often nobody at the networks we were working with would bother to control what their publishers were doing. That didn’t work for us as the franchise dealers we work with need quality leads. Perform[cb] works with us hand-in-hand so we understand how traffic has been generated.”
  • Cath Davidson, Mobile Advertiser: “Transparency is key for us. People are clever and it is easy to fake an install. There are times when it seems that fraud is running rampant, but Perform[cb] truly does an amazing job managing it – above and beyond. They have put a lot of time and effort into building tools that can detect fraud in our campaigns and maintain the quality of our traffic. By its nature fraud can get very messy but in every case, Perform[cb] has always taken care of us. We couldn’t ask more of them.”

Another popular topic among our advertisers was the prevalence of ad fraud, and the importance of a network’s ability to protect its clients’ campaigns from any and all threats. Ad fraud has been increasingly prevalent in the digital marketing channel; however, 2020 was an especially important year for networks to step up their game as consumers were forced to stay home, skyrocketing mobile and desktop screen time.

  • David Rocio, CPA Advertiser: “Compliance is massively important in the Medicare insurance vertical. The language used, the methodology, and even how our call-center operators speak can all be audited. Perform[cb] is very good at working closely with us to keep things as tight as possible. This is online lead generation so quality can never be perfect, but Perform[cb]‘s quality and volume is as good or better than anyone I’ve seen.”
  • Cath Davidson, Mobile Advertiser: “We have worked with Perform[cb] for five years and I have nothing but great things to say about them. We use them to obtain mobile app installs in the USA, and I have a strong level of trust in the relationship. They put a lot of care into managing fraud and stay on top of technology as it changes. The potential loss of IDFA (Identifier For Advertisers) is a huge concern for us, for example, but Perform[cb] has been doing a fantastic job of working out what to do when it happens. They’re very proactive, which is a big difference when compared to our other network partners. Perform[cb] really stays on top of things.”

The great truth of running a network is that no matter how good their technology is, it doesn’t count for much unless there are solid account and affiliate managers in place to support its marketers and affiliates. Whenever we dig deep into why publishers or advertisers vote for one network over another, nine times out of ten it comes down to the quality of the support staff with whom they interact. So, given that they are working with our #1-ranked network, Perform[cb], how did our interviewees feel about their account management? When analyzing Blue Book survey responses we often see that Perform[cb] does particularly well in terms of enthusiasm, and this came across clearly in our interviews.

  • Stuart Becker, Director of Business Development, Blind Ferret: “A lot of networks are very similar in terms of what they offer. They try to distinguish themselves by having something that others can’t provide. Perform[cb]‘s differentiator is their staff – everyone I have had contact with is very responsive and has a lot of experience. It makes a big difference. Our account manager has been around going back to our days with Adperio. I speak with her multiple times a day and we are fully transparent with each other to the point that she has become a friend that I do business with. She even helped me with dog advice. She’s great. Working with Perform[cb] always gives me the impression that they’re giving my clients priority. Our account manager makes me feel that we and our clients are well looked after. When she goes on vacation she passes me off to the VP of Account Management, who is also great. Really, the whole relationship is one of camaraderie rather than just working together.”
  • Rachel Peranski, Director, Marketing Operations, IDIQ: “Our account manager, Colleen Skogen, is amazing. There’s a time zone difference between us but I can call her whenever I need to. She seems to be always on – she will even pick up at the gym and is great at keeping an eye on our traffic over weekends. She’s awesome. I feel like she really wants us to succeed and will work with us to make it happen.”
  • David Rocio, CPA Advertiser: “We work with over a dozen networks, and Perform[cb] is definitely in the top one or two. The service is excellent. We never get the feeling that we aren’t important and they don’t leave us out to dry when things go quiet. Our account manager, Kristen Dean, is very, very good. We talk every other day and she is really receptive and responsive. Around now, for example, it is currently Medicare’s Annual Open Enrollment Period (AEP) so everything is x4. It’s a critical time for us. Inevitably sometimes the lights go out and our traffic dries up. When that happens you’re not sure what might have happened – maybe a publisher switched to someone else’s offer, or perhaps there’s a problem of some sort. You need answers fast, especially during AEP. You need an account manager that is really in touch with things. With some networks you call them up and the account manager doesn’t even know what has happened, but Perform[cb] is proactive – they are aware that we absolutely must have volume during this period and so they really stay on top of things.”

There is something of a cliché in the industry that there is little in the way of loyalty. Affiliates will change to an alternative offer in a heartbeat, and advertisers may have a collection of networks on tap that are effectively interchangeable. In reality, when we speak to folks who find success in this challenging industry, relationships matter.

As 2020 comes to close, the takeaway is that a potentially tough year has, for many, turned out to be another step along the path of evolution. Performance marketing is maturing year-by-year and, for those who have found a way through the last 12 months, the future looks bright.

  • Thomas Kenaya, Business Development Manager: “2020 has been difficult in some ways but business for us is good. We haven’t really been affected by the economy, though the shutdown due to the pandemic meant that many dealers closed for a while. As for Perform[cb], we have been impressed that they allow us to manage it all with them. They’re very responsive and they have been around for a long time. I’m confident we are going to be working with them long-term.”