Automation is revolutionising the digital marketing world, as with many other industries, changing the scope of what is possible, the way teams are structured and the expectations we have.
However, the affiliate universe faces an additional dilemma: How to bring this powerhouse of technological change into an industry built on a foundation of human relationships.
Inhabiting a world somewhat separate from display, search and other digital marketing offerings means that the decision as to whether or not to automate has different drivers.
Fortunately, a panel session at the first-ever digital version of Affiliate Summit Europe, where marketers shared how they’ve survived and thrived during the COVID-19 crisis, offered perspectives from brand advertisers on how they have approached partnership automation in order to achieve increased growth – without losing the all-important human connection on which these relationships rely. So, here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly, with some of the partnership experts Impact works with.
Never forget the human touch
Emily Aye, paid acquisition specialist at Starling Bank described ‘developing rapport’ as the number one priority. “The human element is essential,” she said, stressing that the digital, mobile-only challenger bank seeks strong partnerships that last for years, and which it can optimise and build on, whilst resolving any issues along the way. A key advantage, since the advent of automation, is that scale and efficiencies can be found more readily. But she stressed that there is always a need for an initial chat, at the very least.
Demand insights and use these to uncover learnings
Meanwhile, Alina Zagaraite, European partnerships manager at Lenovo, said that efficiency is essential, particularly for a company which operates in 37 countries. She described streamlining processes as ‘pivotal’, and emphasised the need for ‘customised and automated’ reporting which can show which partners are performing well, as well as quickly identify any issues or inconsistencies. Daily, tailored reports have enabled swift decision making, she said, and, by finding new digital media partners, engaging existing ones, and tracking automatically, the overall flow of the programme has been optimised.
Ensure automation is boosting engagement and not just efficiency
Laura Young, affiliate manager at home testing company, LetsGetChecked, spoke of the advantage of automating bonuses and incentives for partners. In this way, she emphasised automation’s ability to keep engagement levels high, whilst enabling the team to be more reactive and solve issues quickly.
Shed manual tasks, but always communicate
“There are instances where we still use traditional methods but what works for us is for automation sitting alongside these. Manually publishing newsletters is time consuming, but automation frees up time, whilst regular communications keep everyone updated,” she pointed out. It was agreed that the use of automated email flows is a key benefit to automation in this context.
Ensure teams receive sufficient training
But of course there is pain to go through, too. As with any new technology, there are potential pitfalls to watch out for. “Some of these came from not putting enough time into ensuring everyone was up to speed,” admitted Laura. “You have to put in the ground work to make automation work.”
Complex automation, in particular, can lead to mistakes without sufficient training or oversight, while the panel agreed that it takes time to become an expert in the available platforms. “Nothing can ever be fully automated,” they added – again stressing the need for the human touch.
Use automation to enhance budget management
“It’s been a massive time-saver,” added Alina, who pointed out that budget management has enhanced, too. “We discuss targets with our partners and then we add revenue thresholds and we discuss additional payouts,” she explained, adding that this has enabled a more ‘fluid and motivational’ way of working which allows the team to better predict revenues.
Keep an eye on the prize of enhanced delivery
Starling Bank’s Emily pointed in particular to the ability to quickly check stats at a glance, and to automate on-boarding, with contracts shared between multiple partners speeding up the overall partnership process.
Freeing up a number of manual tasks enables a greater focus on delivery of partnership programmes, with detailed reports helping companies to tailor messaging and incentives.
“But reaching out, and that personal connection, is always appreciated,” the panel once again warned us. “The biggest success story has been from the time we have saved and the tasks we have replaced with automation. Without this, a lot of our partners just simply wouldn’t have been as successful. We can now work with them to look to enhance the performance and spend time testing, improving and refining.”
Ensure a multi-layered approach
The panel agreed that tailored messaging is critical, as is keeping lines of communication open and being flexible. Long-term partnerships require maintenance of relationships, they said, while the more proactive the partners, the more impact automation will have. Optimal success is achieved only through this multi-layered, collaborative approach; with automation and the human element working together in synergy.
Use automation to enable creativity and drive success
This progress has been achieved at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic has created its own challenges and opportunities. LetsGetChecked was able to benefit from the spike in demand for home medical testing, for instance, and, while it did face some capacity issues, the team focused on delivering a high level of customer service, said Laura.
Aim to get creative
Lenovo’s Alina also pointed to supply chain delays, but the ability to get more creative, as well.
Ultimately, it seems that automating parts of your partnerships programme can open the door for more human contact and more creative partnership strategies, as well as freeing up time from previously cumbersome processes. But that’s not to say this will be easy, and success, sadly, is still down to the effort put in.