5 Affiliate Marketing Trends for 2015

Founder and Managing Director

Affiliate marketing has been evolving at a rapid pace for the last few years and this year looks like it will be no exception. From new methods of attribution and new frontiers in mobile to non-traditional partnership opportunities to global expansion, 2015 will bring lots of changes to the industry.

I’ve identified five trends that you should watch for in 2015 and some best practices to keep in mind as you develop your affiliate marketing strategy.

More Sophisticated Attribution

Attribution is a hot topic in every area of marketing, but especially in the affiliate space, given the complexities of the industry. More and more merchants are developing a system of attribution they use internally to evaluate which partnerships are creating value and which aren’t delivering any incremental revenue. They’re experimenting with increasingly complex attribution models, such as multi-touch, time-decay attribution, and position-based attribution, as well as turning to external networks and SaaS platforms to leverage data.

This year, be on the lookout for brands to project internal attribution models externally in terms of how they compensate their partners.

Last year Wayfair took a big leap in this direction  by making their internal attribution rules public, creating more transparency in their affiliate program and letting their affiliates know which behaviors they value. The retailer’s new system pays the last affiliate that a visitor clicks on before adding something to the cart, rather than the standard policy of paying a commission to the last affiliate a consumer clicks on before making a purchase.

In 2015 look for more merchants to begin slowly projecting their internal attribution models externally.

New Opportunities in Mobile

We’ve all heard how important mobile is to any digital marketing strategy, and affiliate marketing is no exception. In 2014 the growth of mobile commerce outpaced the overall growth of e-commerce. In 2015, overall mobile traffic is set to exceed desktop traffic. And on ShareASale, one of the major affiliate networks, 25-30% of traffic and 15-18% of orders on Cyber Monday came from mobile devices in 2014.

Affiliate programs need to make sure they’re keeping up with the trend, and that all of their major affiliates and creative are optimized for mobile. Without optimized mobile platforms, 70% of customers fail to complete their mobile transactions. And according to Hubspot, 61% of people have a better opinion of brands when they offer a good mobile experience.

Mobile also creates new opportunities for unique partnerships that didn’t exist before. Some of the most exciting are affiliates that buy mobile advertising space in apps and mobile games.  Some affiliates even build mobile apps specifically for merchants.

Partnerships with Non-Traditional Affiliates

2014 saw merchants establishing relationships with non-traditional affiliates, including storefront programs that allowed them to partner with schools, nonprofits, and other organizations looking to raise money.

Shutterfly, for example, launched a successful partnership program that helps schools raise money when customers they refer purchase Shutterfly’s photo books and calendars. AmazonSmile is another successful nonprofit partnership program that allows shoppers to support charitable organizations with every purchase. Nonprofits can encourage advocates to shop on Amazon and select their organization to receive a percentage of the purchase price.

Look for other merchants to begin expanding their relationships with these types of non-traditional affiliates through storefront programs in 2015.

Global Expansion

Globalization as an economic trend is nothing new. This year, global e-commerce is projected to reach over $1.5 trillion and is being enabled by the increase in global e-ecommerce platform rollouts for large multi-national retailers. When it comes to affiliate marketing, globalization is still in its nascent stages, but many European programs are trying to break into the North American market this year and vice versa.

Merchants who are expanding their product and service offerings to other countries are looking to evolve their affiliate programs along with them. Differences in regulations, the agency/network landscape, and attribution from country to country create challenges, but they aren’t insurmountable.

Hire an independent agency familiar with the new market to manage your overseas program and offer insight. Investing time and money upfront in launching your program properly will pay off down the road.

Marketers Get More Value From Affiliates

Gone are the days when merchants treat affiliate marketing as a second-class channel. Smart marketers are managing their affiliate programs more effectively, identifying high-value partners and rewarding those that bring new customers to the table.

Rather than a hands-off approach, marketers get the best results when they work closely with their affiliate counterparts to create strategies that work for their brand.  This means providing affiliates with the content, incentives, and direction to ensure your target customers find your products.

Robert Glazer is managing director of Acceleration Partners.

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