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A global public health crisis; an overdue awakening to systemic injustice; a new way of working and living—2020 has put our societal, mental, and emotional fortitude to the test. This year asked a lot of us as individuals, and it demanded action from us as a company. 

We witnessed partnerships and partnership automation serve not only as a channel for business growth, but also as a powerful tool for business resilience. We have had to re-examine our role and responsibility in the resurging fight for social equity. And we have had to rethink how we work and work together to support the wellbeing and emotional health of our colleagues around the world.

I want to share with you a bit about how these forces have reshaped our company this year and informed our roadmap for 2021. 

Hello, home office

With the pandemic’s arrival in March, we swiftly moved to a work-from-home model across the organization and will remain in this mode until it is safe to return to shared spaces.

Impact employees have stepped up admirably to this new way of working, and we have taken a number of proactive measures to facilitate communications, cut costs, and ease financial pressures. Our message to employees was simple: let’s do everything we can to make sure our business never gets the Coronavirus. If we can be productive while working from home and still drive growth for our clients through partnerships, we’re going to come out of this just fine. Our employees came through, and productivity is higher than ever.

Partnerships prevailed

Looking outside our organization, we’ve seen the pandemic transform and bolster our industry landscape, bringing even more demand and participation to the channel.

As consumers shifted nearly all of their shopping online, they increasingly sought out authentic, credible voices and information to help them navigate this totally new way of living, working, parenting, and provisioning. This development accelerated some existing trends that have diminished the influence of advertising in particular over the past few years.

Consumers today have more power to do their own research and form their own opinions, which means formats such as display ads now contribute less to purchase decisions. In addition, 26% of internet users deployed ad blockers this year, with growth expected in 2021. The bottom line is that ads are not as relevant or effective as in the past. Consumers simply don’t trust ads today, and can gather information on their own and easily access the opinions of other consumers, businesses and expert third parties.

All of these forces have led consumers to rely more than ever on partners—businesses and individuals they trust—to inform their buying decisions. And with customer acquisition harder and pricier, social advertising costs high, and CPM and CPC rates skyrocketing, partnerships are an appealing channel for marketers, too.

And for major content publishers, CPM ad dollars virtually disappeared this year, political ads started taking over ad space and consuming more attention, and therefore partnerships became a more attractive alternative to typical advertising channels for them.

In this environment, influencers and content publishers became significantly more effective at recommending products to consumers. Content commerce partnerships have been a significant trend this year, and publishers are seeing an average 20% of their total revenue now come from partnerships.

For marketers, partnerships offered a cost-effective, low-risk, performance-based way to connect with highly engaged consumers, and in many markets it was the only channel delivering ROI. 

We discovered a lot of these findings during our annual flagship (newly virtual) event over the summer, Impact Growth, where I’m proud to report that we had close to 3,000 registrants and received very positive feedback on the format and content, especially with a roster of great customers speaking, including: eBay, Rastelli’s, Savage X Fenty, Uber and Walmart to name a few.

Growth and expansion

In response to the upward demand we’re seeing in influencer-specific partnerships, we made a significant investment to accelerate our own influencer capabilities through the acquisition of ACTIVATE, a market-leading brand and SaaS influencer platform. 

We also opened our first office in Germany, a market where digital penetration is at 93 percent and where there is a lot of growth potential for partnerships. 

Most importantly, we added more than 500 new clients globally to our roster this year, including Westpac in Australia; Decathlon in Singapore; DHgate in China;  John Lewis, Jimdo and Starling Bank in EMEA; and Wish and Redbubble in North America. And to manage that growth and relieve some of the added pandemic-related pressure on our teams, we hired 118 new employees in 2020.  

Industry validation

Reinforcing the partnership growth we are witnessing is some impressive industry data and feedback.

Building on our 2019 thought leadership study from Forrester Research,  we commissioned two additional studies from Forrester in 2020. The first looked objectively at the total economic impact of investing in Impact’s Partnership Cloud™. A second Forrester study released in August took a closer look at the characteristics and tactics of the most mature partnership programs and provided a set of actionable next steps for programs aspiring to improve their program maturity.

Validation also came in the form of industry awards. Impact Partnership Cloud won Best Tech Platform at the DADI Awards in London for the second year in a row and won Best Influencer Discovery Platform at the Influencer Marketing Awards. All told, Impact has won eleven major industry awards this year, including three separate awards for Best Technology.

A tipping point 

Impact has been fortunate to sustain growth and forward progress during this economic crisis. We have also had the privilege to help other companies stay resilient and solvent by leaning in to partnerships. But this has also come during a grim backdrop this year.

I cannot overstate the weight of the chain of tragic events that has struck our global communities of people of color this year. George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in the U.S. happened vividly right in front of our eyes and represented a tipping point for the resurgence of a global protest movement for equality.

It laid bare the reality of both the systemic racism and the subtle microassaults that Black people, Indigenous people, and all People of Color experience daily in society and in the workplace. And not just in the U.S.—globally.

It was a tipping point for us as a company and a wake up call to create real cultural change in the form of full inclusion, equity, diversity, and anti-racism in our organization. 

We remain at the beginning of the journey, but we have taken the first steps, beginning with the formation of our Impact DEI team, who have created a plan to ensure that we assess and abolish systemic bias, accelerate maximum performance with diversity, and activate a culture of inclusion, belonging and equal treatment. We intend to do this through our hiring and development of key talent and shaping our culture to reflect the importance of this issue that’s been plaguing our industry and society for hundreds of years.

Coping, compassion and confidence

Throughout all the reckoning and uncertainty of 2020, we have also witnessed and have been inspired by actions our clients have taken to do good in the world, efforts large and small. 

At Impact, we have been working to mitigate the mental health stressors and promote the wellbeing of our employees where we can, and to create more balance during the week for personal time.

With the massive shift to digital this year, the rise of both influencers and content commerce publishers, and a maturing understanding of the potential for partnerships to be a major channel for revenue acquisition, I predict tailwinds for massive continued growth in 2021, both for partnerships and partnership automation.

I am full of gratitude for the people at this company, the clients we serve, and for the gifts of health and family. And as we plan for a new year as a company, I take none of these things for granted. 

I wish you all peace and good health this holiday season and all the best, for all of us, in 2021.

David A. Yovanno

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