Affiliate marketing’s role in a multi-channel world

We can all agree that the term “multi-channel” is a hot topic in our industry. However, what exactly do we mean when we talk about multi-channel? The online industry is growing at such a fast pace that it might be worth explaining and understanding what types of multi-channel experiences exist and what role affiliate marketing plays in this mix.

First of all, there is the multi-channel experience of offline to online. Classic offline campaigns such as TV and newspaper ads or billboards outside the train station will awaken customers’ desire to purchase the brands or products that they will then come across online.

On the other hand, due to the increase use of online, this becomes inevitably a strong factor when it comes to shopping offline. Customers will find products that they are willing to purchase while browsing on the internet and will complete the purchase offline.

This online to offline targeting fits nicely with another multi-channel definition which is the multi-screen experience. Customers will not only come across brands and products when browsing with their computers, but also on smart phones, tablets or TV. It is important that retailers have a marketing campaign that is aligned on every single device which leads nicely into my final point about multi-channel.

Multi-channel attribution

This last interpretation of the term multi-channel is about attribution and how we think about purchases that have been influenced by multiple online channels. In most purchases, more than one digital channel (PPC, display, email, social or affiliates) will be involved. Retailers need to have strategies that will ensure the synergy of all the channels throughout a purchase to provide an optimum customer journey.

Having presented this frame of possibilities for the multi-channel experience, I want to explain the affiliates’ role in the multi-channel experience and how last click attribution could potentially be improved for them.

In the first instance, from offline to online, affiliates do not have an effect on customers’ purchases, as this has been provoked by something external. However, affiliates can potentially benefit from conversions that have been influenced by an offline campaign. On the other hand, affiliates can support retailers to drive sales from online to offline, as they engage with potential customers online and drive them to the stores using Geo targeting. Affiliates are able to recognise the potential customer’s location through their device and inform them about great discounts relevant to their location. However, this raises some questions: is it fair to attribute sales that were influenced by offline efforts to the online channel? Is it really an incremental sale for the retailer or would this customer have purchased the product regardless of the discount being offered? The reality is that customers purchase based on their habits and tendencies 9 times out of 10. A great example is one of the biggest retailers in the world (Inditex). Their marketing activity, online and offline, has been (until recently) non-existent and that has not stopped them becoming one of the preferred global clothing retailers.


As per the second multi-channel experience (multi device), affiliates also have a strong role to play. They offer an optimised customer journey through every device and have the capability of targeting potential customers differently depending on the device they are using. In this instance, affiliate networks play a key role, as they must provide the technology that ensures the transactions that were initiated on an affiliate’s site on a desktop are “tracked” when the customer completes the purchase on a different device such as their phone without passing through the publisher’s site again. Retailers should ensure that they work with a network that provides this technology in order to properly recognise the affiliate’s efforts. However, this takes us back to the previous thought: what if between the customer’s search on the affiliate’s website on their desktop and the actual purchase, they come across a TV ad that reminded them about the brand? Would this offline influence be the final factor for the customer to complete the purchase through their smart phone? Would it be fair that this transaction is attributed to the affiliate?

Assisted purchases

Lastly, but probably the experience where affiliates have the strongest influence, is in purchases that have been assisted by different digital channels. Retailers normally have a digital strategy that covers the entire digital landscape. In this instance, retailers could focus most of their activity on affiliates in order to have a win-win situation: advertisers have the capability of working with affiliates that are experts in all digital areas such as search, SEO, display, voucher or social and will pay on a last click attribution model. The affiliate contribution in this multi-channel instance is endless: they will be represented in all the digital channels, with a more positive ROI and their CPAs will be under control. However, this brings up another hot topic: attribution. How can a client make sure that affiliates are satisfied with their attribution within other channels and between affiliates themselves?

Reward models

Retailers can take three different paths when it comes to pay based on attribution:

  • Pay every influencer
  • Divide the commission based on the customers’ touchpoints
  • Pay on last click, which is the current affiliate solution

Since affiliates will be rewarded if they are at the end of the funnel, clients should try to improve attribution throughout the customer’s journey by using technology that tracks all customer touchpoints. This will help retailers to understand the weight of their affiliate activity and the different business models within their affiliate channel. Retailers can then work more closely with affiliates at the beginning of the funnel to try to improve their performance, based on their understanding of attribution. . However, as well as advertisers playing their part, each affiliate business model should be aware of their potential revenue and assume the role they play within this multi-channel experience.

In conclusion, retailers that take the time to understand their customers’ journeys and improve their presence at the beginning of the funnel can potentially drive additional sales. This will be beneficial for parties, retailers and affiliates, since they will have additional sales instead of having to distribute the commission assigned to one single purchase. This will also demonstrates the recognition publishers deserve and will improve their contribution in the multi-channel world.

Originally featured on PerformanceIN.

Helena Barroso Zarco

As an Account Director, Helena’s responsible for some of affilinet’s flagship accounts, implementing strategic management and delivering growth across affilinet’s client base. As well as this Helena oversees and is a point of contact for the account management team and their key accounts. Before working at affilinet, Helena worked at R.O.EYE looking after one of the biggest affiliate programmes, eBay Partner Network, having also experience in the publisher and technical side of the digital marketing.

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