The affiliate channel has always had a chameleon like ability to adapt to its environment. However, as consumer and regulatory concerns about privacy and data escalate, brands ramp up their demands for transparency and tech giants clampdown on what can be tracked online. As such, affiliate marketing is faced with an influx of new challenges.

In 2020, what should brands be doing to futureproof their campaigns for the next generation of affiliate and partner marketing? Here we outline a futureproofing blueprint for affiliate marketers.

Focus on consumer privacy first

Privacy and data will continue to be two major battlegrounds and it is imperative that marketers work with trusted partners who can demonstrate they have robust systems to minimize the risk of customers’ data being exploited.

In 2017, PwC surveyed 2,000 US consumers about their views on cybersecurity, privacy, trust, and regulation. They found that 92% of respondents want to control the data collected about them, with 85% saying that they will not do business with a company they do not trust. Furthermore, 25% of US consumers are now using ad blockers. With a flurry of data protection laws coming into place across the world, we need to establish a new standard that puts consumers first to better understand their attitudes to data security, people’s privacy protection and cybersecurity to reinstate the confidence in our channel.

The first consideration should be what data do you capture and can you justify doing so? Privacy by design needs to be a default setting, and every product, iteration and service developed by companies should take this approach as a starting point. Additionally, the smaller the amount of personally identifiable information you capture the better. Consider a classic affiliate sale. Strictly speaking, this could mean an IP address or order ID – as both of these datapoints can be scrambled, truncated or anonymized within a reporting interface. If you want to capture further customer data you must ensure you have checks and balances in place to know it is safely stored or used in an aggregated form. As a general rule of thumb if you don’t need to capture certain datapoints, don’t.

And of course, regulators are catching up to set safer data privacy rules as the digital marketing industry failed to self-regulate. GDPR still forms the most comprehensive regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individual citizens of the European Union and the European Economic Area. It also addresses the transfer of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas. The US has since continued this trend. The recent passing of the New York SHIELD Security Act alongside the Nevada Consumer Privacy Bill and California Consumer Privacy Act signals the coming of a patchwork of fifty-plus different data privacy standards across the country. With US companies selling their products and services across a variety of domestic and international borders, it’s vital marketers are informed about these regulations. For our part, we’ve released guidance and education to partners on these emerging developments and will continue to do so as new developments arise.

Implement adaptive tracking solutions

Another core challenge marketers will face is being able to accurately track their online campaigns and interactions. With Apple, Chrome and Mozilla moving from supporting third-party tracking to reliance on first-party cookies, it’s incumbent on vendors to develop technology that mitigates the impact. Apple’s high-profile Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) has already seen an erosion of around 3% of affiliate commissions. While Awin in particular worked diligently to recoup lost commissions in the form of compensation payments for impacted publishers, a longer-term approach is needed.

The industry is now able to offer solutions that ensure the continued tracking of affiliate programs. Server-to-Server tracking, as well as API tracking, is immune to adblockers and browser tracking preventions. Similarly, mobile app tracking supercharges the number of sales an advertiser can report on and boosts conversion rates. Awin’s longstanding MasterTag technology (now utilized by over 60% of our advertisers) and other similar industry tracking methods relying on first-party cookies ensure the affiliate industry is able to offer durable tracking solutions that other digital marketing disciplines can’t necessarily depend upon.

For now, this hybrid approach to tracking offers valid solutions. However, how do we futureproof tracking so that it isn’t at the mercy of changes to browsers that are made with little or no notice? Similar to Google’s Parallel Tracking, Awin will soon be launching a tracking solution that sends the consumer direct to an advertiser site by ‘bouncing’ rather than redirecting, thereby ensuring no adblocker or browser can impede the technology.

While moves to block tracking aren’t typically aimed at affiliate marketing activity, we are impacted as a consequence of bigger initiatives, underpinning why it’s critical we work as an industry to continue to invest in robust solutions.

Diversify partnerships

The final area of affiliate marketing evolution turns the traditional network partnership on its head to form a more open and accessible platform for businesses of all shapes and sizes to connect from. One of the key developments over the past 18 months has been the emergence of a number of non-traditional affiliate businesses, software companies, banks and brands looking to explore the CPA model and build additional revenue streams.

As an industry, we need to stop thinking about affiliates and advertisers as separate entities connected by a network and payable on a last-click CPA basis. Instead we need to develop trusted ecosystems of innovative companies capable of augmenting everything from publisher feeds to on-site conversions, allowing all channel participants to take a more ‘open source’ approach to affiliate marketing.

As such, in recent months Awin has started working with a diverse catalog of innovative, technology partnership opportunities for our advertisers and publishers, including visual product recognition companies, single basket solutions, dynamic search and product recommendation companies, white-label price comparison sites, advanced attribution businesses, and more.

By following this futureproofing blueprint, the affiliate industry and all of its participants are poised to continue to flourish in 2020. Awin is proud to be leading the charge as an outspoken industry champion, educator and advocate, as the future of our clients and partners inspires us every day to continue to evolve this industry for their benefit. We would be honored to receive your continued support by nominating and voting for us as ‘Best CPS Network.’

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 About Awin

As leading full-service performance marketing networks operating in the retail, telecommunications, travel and finance verticals, Awin helps brands reach millions of consumers every day by building strategy, recruiting, and managing a range of partners specific to their brand.

We’re committed to creating the most-diverse, connected and effective affiliate network in the world. In 2018, we partnered with over 15,500 advertisers to generate over 139m sales and $15b revenue. We are connected with over 200,000 publishers, who have earned $714m in commissions last year.

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