Member Q&A Series: Affiliate Marketing Signals

On June 09, 2021 Research & Resources

The digital marketing market is currently going through the biggest upheaval in relation to identity, targeting and tracking that the industry has seen. Consumer privacy concerns have led to both significant regulatory reform in many markets as well as changes tracking through browsers and operating systems. In the IAB Australia Affiliate Marketing Australian Industry Review 2021 less than half of marketers and agencies using affiliate marketing are prepared for the deprecation of third party cookies.

What do these changes mean for the affiliate and partnership marketing industry? Our industry experts discuss what publishers, agencies and marketers can expect and how to prepare for these changes. Thanks to Commission Factory, Awin, Rakuten Advertising and Navigate Digital for sharing their advice.

David Glasgow, Director, Navigate Digital

What has the roll out of iOS 14.5 meant for affiliate marketing campaigns and partnerships?

Apple’s latest privacy update brings about one major change for marketing through iOS devices: users must now explicitly provide consent to third-party in-app tracking. To put the scale of this change in perspective: in Australia, around 55% of mobile users are on iOS devices, adoption rate of iOS 14.5+ is currently sitting at about 40% at the time of writing, and only 14% of these users allow app tracking.

It’s important to highlight that the affiliate industry has always been privacy friendly at its core, with a focus on forming partnerships based on similar audience demographics, rather than widespread data collection and targeting. Having said that, any affiliate partner that uses in-app targeting will be affected by the change. This is particularly relevant to partners that target through social media apps.

On the attribution side, the good news is that most mobile sales will still be track-able, either because the advertiser doesn’t have a mobile app, because the sale is not on iOS 14.5+, or because affiliate networks are still able to track app conversions outside of the affected mobile measurement partners (MMPs). What is likely to change on the advertiser’s side is the ability to track app installs.

This is the latest in a series of changes to move away from third party cookie tracking. When the IAB’s Affiliate Marketing Industry Review was released at the beginning of the year, one of the biggest call-outs was just how many advertisers rely on third party cookies for tracking purposes or didn’t know how they tracked affiliate activity. What’s most important is for advertisers to ensure that they move towards first party data, and server-to-server tracking for their affiliate programs.

What are your top two tips for publishers who partake in affiliate programs to ensure they are fairly rewarded in a post cookie world?

Audit your affiliate campaigns. Some networks may highlight if an advertiser’s affiliate program is ITP compliant. However, most networks and SaaS platforms will provide a host of different reports that can help you determine how effectively an affiliate program is tracking. A good way to do this is to look at Device Type, Operating System, and Browser information for sales that were generated for a particular advertiser. If the proportion of iOS or Safari sales is dropping over time, this likely means that some orders are not being tracked. Use this information to drive conversations with advertisers about the importance of affiliate attribution, or to justify higher commission rates.

Speak-up! The best way for affiliate partners and publishers to ensure they are not losing out on commissions is to have a collective voice within the industry, as well as representation. One of the best ways to achieve this would be for industry publishers to join, or contribute to, the IAB’s affiliate & partnership marketing working group. Other regions have seen publishers form similar working groups to create codes of conduct and standards charters, in relation to advertisers operating within the affiliate space. Publishers should also be working closely with the affiliate marketing networks, SaaS platforms, and agencies, to ensure that the brands they promote are fully compliant to track in a post-cookie world.

If any publisher is interested in discussing their concerns further, please get in touch with the IAB’s affiliate & partnership marketing working group

Emily Do, Marketing Manager, Commission Factory

How are you helping your clients prepare for the loss of third-party cookies in Chrome in 2022? 

Commission Factory has been prepared for the loss of third-party cookies for several years, implementing a wide variety of tracking methods to ensure that every one of our advertisers can achieve a powerful tracking solution.  

We have developed tracking technology that is protected against any external limitations. To advertisers, the ability to track transactions is the most important part of affiliate marketing, but not necessarily the most exciting, so we ensure our solutions-based technology revolves around making that tracking process seamless and simple. With client-side tracking, custom tracking domains, server-to-server tracking and plugins being our preferred methods of tracking, Commission Factory can track conversions straight from the source, without relying on browsers or any third-party cookies. 

The next step is education – whenever there is an industry shift, it’s important to ensure that clients are prepared for how the change may affect their business, whether it be to their affiliate program or something else entirely. We love to help our clients understand their business and industry better by creating white papers, thought pieces, blog posts and other educational material. With Chrome blocking third-party cookies in 2022, our biggest focus with education was to help our clients understand that their affiliate program with Commission Factory will not be affected in the slightest. By explaining both the basics and particulars of our preferred tracking, our goal is to equip all advertisers (big or small) with the right tools to deal with any changes that may come their way. 

What changes in measurement or new attribution techniques will need to be introduced to ensure marketers can understand impact and conversions from their affiliate activity? 

The affiliate partnerships channel is constantly trying to understand how and when the consumer interacts with affiliates within the conversion funnel, and just how much they contribute to the purchase decision (if at all).  

Our biggest focus when identifying key catalysts within the conversion funnel is to understand the incremental attribution at each touchpoint. With our sophisticated multi-channel tracking methods, Commission Factory can capture granular data to understand how an affiliate contributed to a purchase. 

However, this doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Marketers need to ensure they are contributing as much data as possible so their affiliate program can deliver valuable consumer insights. We already employ and mandate our Container Tag, Conversion Tag and Custom Tracking Domains to ensure our advertisers can achieve the most robust tracking solution available to the market. With server-to-server (also known as S2S or server-side) tracking as a redundancy for those whose shopping carts permit, marketers can ensure they are capturing data from several different touchpoints to generate a holistic understanding of the customer journey. 

What are your top two tips for marketers who invest in affiliate programs to ensure they can track activity effectiveness post cookie world? 

The “post cookie world” refers to the absence of third-party cookies, which can be used to capture and share personal data about consumers that could infringe on their privacy if employed incorrectly. We believe it’s important for marketers to understand that “post cookie world” does not include first party cookies or other cookie-less methods of tracking. 

Generally, the move away from cookies has been over-hyped, what is often touted as cookie-less is often just a different form of cookies (server-side or first party) or in some cases, cookie-less is a label being used for problematic fingerprinting. 

With that in mind, here are our recommendations to ensure your affiliate marketing tracking is as robust as possible: 

  1. Make sure your technology is up to date: The world doesn’t stand still, and neither does technology. It’s integral that marketers ensure their business is staying updated with the latest shopping cart releases and features available. Commission Factory works closely with shopping cart providers to ensure that our clients are receiving the most effective eCommerce solution possible. However, it is up to the marketer to make sure their store is powered by the latest in technology and their shopping cart facilitates all the requirements for a robust tracking solution (i.e. plugins, server-to-server, etc.)
  2. Join a solution with transparency at the core of their business: the biggest challenge marketers face when measuring the effectiveness of any marketing effort is understanding data and attribution. Ensuring your solution encourages and implements diverse tracking methods will ultimately lead to more accurate data. Using custom reporting technology to capture more data and present it in a way that is comprehensive and relevant can help marketers make informed decisions. Marketers want to be confident that their efforts and investments are adding tangible value to their bottom line – that means extrapolating, presenting, and explaining data to stakeholders. 

Sophie Metcalfe, Publisher Development Director, Awin

What changes in measurement or new attribution techniques will need to be introduced to ensure marketers can understand impact and conversions from their affiliate activity?

As an industry, we need to respect the privacy desires of the consumers, advertisers and regulatory bodies and provide businesses access to honest, transparent data. We need to provide guidance, around the importance of the benefits and severities of the consequences of latest data privacy legislation.  

Affiliate Marketing is inherently data-light, the data needed to perform our core business functions of attributing a conversion between two websites is inherently different from the types of data-invasive profiling that cookies can be abused for. Our strategy has always been to minimise how much data we need to perform this core function of cross-site ad attribution whilst having the capabilities to enhance data in a non-personal way. 

At Awin, our goal is to keep in check with the changes by browsers. Cookies are not the problem; it is the abuse of cookies to store unique identifiers of consumers which are readable across many websites. Without tackling this underlying problem, any replacement of cookies will meet the same fate. Browser Local Storage was an example of this. Browsers see the essential need for the attribution of advertisements to keep the internet economy functioning and free without the need for paywalls. We are keeping a close eye on developments by Google with the Privacy Sandbox Conversion Measurement API and Apple WebKit’s Privacy Preserving Ad Attribution, in the hope we will see consensus and the creation of a long-term web standard to tackle the problems with cookies whilst keeping ad measurement effective. 

Vanja Wilson, Director Sales Solutions, Rakuten Advertising

How are you helping your clients prepare for the loss of third-party cookies in Chrome in 2022?

From an affiliate perspective, Rakuten Advertising is actively educating and working with our clients to mitigate any impact the loss of third-party cookies will have to their program. We continue to encourage our clients to have a robust first-party data strategy in place and ensure they implement the most up-to-date tracking technology possible.

As tracking forms the foundation of affiliate marketing, the technology is continually bolstered to be reliant on first-party or server-side data. We recommend our clients upgrade their tracking technology, moving forward with server-side integrations to alleviate challenges presented by a cookieless world. Third-party cookies are currently the only tracking method being blocked by Chrome and other browsers, while server-side information has not yet been impacted.

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, we are committed to mitigating any impacts to our advertisers and publishers. Utilising our tracking tags enabled with server-side cookies are the best routes for advertisers to ‘future-proof’ their affiliate program. This ensures tracking across multiple devices and enables advertisers to continue to leverage insights to optimise their affiliate strategy across all touchpoints. 

What are your top 2 tips for marketers who invest in affiliate programs to ensure they can track activity effectiveness post cookie world?

Firstly, we strongly encourage marketers to upgrade their tracking technology to include server-side integration to prepare for a cookieless world. As the current state of play only applies to third-party cookies, server-side information has not been impacted as of today.  

Our second tip is to prepare for the loss of personalisation and find different ways to reach consumers as they continue to have more control over how their behaviour and data are being used by marketers. Instead of launching hyper-targeted campaigns, brands can still engage with their most loyal customers in the form of improved on-site customer experience, tailored for their expectations, or connecting with them via live commerce. On the other hand, retailers can adopt new affiliate technology as they become available to reach customers, such as post-transaction referral codes.

As long as advertisers and publishers are well-prepared, the affiliate industry will overcome this challenge and will indeed survive in a cookieless world.