Interviews, insight & analysis on Ecommerce

The maturing of the influencer channel and the benefits partnerships can offer to online commerce.

This summer, partnership automation platform Impact became a ‘unicorn’ – a billion-dollar start-up – when it secured $150 million in funding, valuing the business at $1.5bn. Speaking to Ecommerce Age, Alex Gordon from Impact’s London-based Channel Partnerships team talks about the maturing of the influencer channel and the benefits partnerships can offer to online commerce.

Impact people often talk about partnership marketing offering an alternative to discredited traditional advertising, and that pitch seems to be serving you well. Can you summarise the thinking?

The idea that “advertising is dead” has become a bit of a slogan for us, and while we don’t need to labour the point, everywhere you look, traditional forms of digital advertising are being weakened – by Google’s cookie changes, by Apple’s privacy updates, by ad-blocker uptake. The problem is that advertising has lost the trust of the people it needs to appeal to, and partnership marketing has been able to rediscover that trust via other channels – whether that means influencers, affiliate, content or partnerships between compatible brands.

Does that extend to ecommerce as well?

Yes, what works for marketing also feeds into ecommerce. Content publishers have created new, authentic commerce-driven content formats, and partnership automation platforms like ours allow them to understand what content is working and how many sales it is driving. In March, Impact bought Trackonomics, an SSP that provides full-funnel revenue attribution at page and link level, telling publishers exactly how every page is generating income or losing it.

So with content publishers, brands now have opportunities to leverage the consumer trust partnerships give them. And integrations with commerce specialists such as Shopify Plus and BigCommerce mean that active merchants can quickly launch and automate affiliate and influencer programmes without developer involvement.

What about from the perspective of publishers – is commerce content something that they can easily integrate into their broader editorial offering and their business?

From a publisher’s point of view, this kind of content potentially provides a really important revenue stream going forward, and it gives them a way to monetise the credibility and authenticity they have carefully built up, without jeopardising those assets.

We published research in the summer that found eight out of 10 respondents believe commerce content will grow. These are relatively early days, but already we know that 45% of publishers attribute higher total revenue to their content programmes, and 53% of retail brands say commerce content will receive increased budget this year.

And the benefit isn’t only financial – there is a halo effect, where publishers and brands report that they have seen their profile rise through these partnerships, as well as their engagement.

What changes has partnership marketing seen in recent times that will benefit ecommerce brands looking to enter the affiliate space?

Types of partners have emerged in the past five years that have completely disrupted the way we think about brands and feel incentivised to buy their products. Take YouTube – it’s one of the first places people turn to when they are researching new technology. I do it myself, because you can find reviews that are thorough, authentic and aimed at people like me. I can then use their link in the description to buy the product, perhaps pick up a discount, and I feel like my problem has been solved in a way that gives me faith in the process.

That is just one scenario, but the partnerships channel helps brands that are new to the channel, as well as those with mature programmes, to tap into the audiences that are going to deliver value to them. And the partnerships channel is unique in that it can respond quickly to shifts in consumer behaviour and technological demand.

As you mentioned, it feels like trust lies at the heart of all this, and that is presumably something that everyone needs to be careful with.

It really is. Whereas advertising is about the hard sell, partnerships are about people, brands, publishers, influencers, affiliates and technology all coming together in a way that feels authentic and genuine, with everyone benefiting.

Trust is really the currency of all this – it doesn’t work without trust, and as the plight of conventional advertising shows us, when you lose that, it’s very hard to get it back. So it’s about brands working with the right partners, whether that’s a publisher or an influencer or another brand, and giving people the content and the offers and the retail opportunities that they genuinely want, in the right environments.

That might sound like a hard thing to guarantee, when advertising has depended on pushiness for so long, but it is really what this technology allows: building revenue-generating partnership programmes that work in harmony with your brand.

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