A lot of brands are scrambling to make the best out of what’s left of the year. Some brands have been successful, others are just trying to survive. Impact got on Zoom to talk to Adam Dahlen, VP of Client Success at PartnerCentric, a top performance marketing agency, to ask him for some tactical tips for how you can salvage Q4 and get through the rest of a year that is still filled with uncertainty.
Impact: How about you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a leader in performance marketing?
Adam: As a lifelong Midwesterner, I always struggle with talking about myself but let me give it a try! I head up the Client Success team at PartnerCentric, leading the amazing group that is responsible for managing our clients’ performance marketing programs. I started my career in performance marketing working in client services at CJ and I have been on the agency side of the industry for over seven years. I came to PartnerCentric for the opportunity to work at a technology-focused agency and stretch the boundaries of what is possible in performance marketing.
Impact: How has PartnerCentric weathered the COVID crisis and its economic impact?
Adam: In the last six months, PartnerCentric has transformed. We went from a traditional agency model that was labor-intensive with intangible value, to a forward-thinking business that blends both intangible and tangible solutions and services that reinvent the way brands market their businesses. It has been important for us to re-emerge in a post-COVID world as a tech-focused and future-thinking organization that helps our clients survive and thrive now and in the future. Our newly launched Control Suite enables our team to employ Technology Enabled Account Management (TEAM) so we can advise our client brands to make smarter, more informed and predictive decisions when it comes to their investments in the affiliate channel.
In the last quarter of this year, brands can’t just rely on “business as usual” to see them through. It is our job as a premium agency to come up with the solutions to help businesses excel despite economic changes . . . and we are up for the challenge!
Brands that find the most benefit and value from PartnerCentric are “coming up for air” after the uncertainty of COVID-19 may have thrown them off course. They are in need of a strong demand gen channel to salvage what they can of the year. These brands don’t have the time or resources to hire a whole team for a new marketing initiative, or they already have a growth team in place but no bandwidth for them to take on the performance initiative.
Because brands need to focus fully on the deeper work of growing their business right now, they value full trust in the leadership and competency of an agency. PartnerCentric operates as an in-sourced solution that can add talented, innovative, well-connected, and strategic people to their team.
Impact: How has partnership automation helped PartnerCentric?
Adam: Partnership automation removes the barriers that prevent a successful partnership and allows us to focus on fulfilling our core purpose of building meaningful and “beyond border” relationships. We are a technology-focused agency, so we are always looking for tools that enable us to work faster and smarter at scale.
We really appreciate Impact’s partnership automation technology, and we’ve looked to develop our own technology that addresses specific needs that we see for ourselves and our clients. Our embrace of partnership automation touches all stages of partnerships, from tools that help us find more relevant partners to automated compliance offerings that enable our team to focus on growth.
Impact: How have clients from different verticals dealt with the upheavals caused by COVID?
Adam: It’s a cliche answer, but it really does depend on the vertical. I have seen many clients across diverse verticals, such as fast fashion, b2b services, and personal finance, reinvest in the channel as it has proven to be one of their most cost-effective channels for new customer acquisition and incremental revenue generation. Conversely, we are seeing some verticals that were hit hard by the pandemic, like travel, pull back significantly in order to reduce their short and medium term risk profile.
Impact: What have you learned about partnerships from the past six months of the pandemic?
Adam: One key takeaway from the past six months has been that partnerships account for an increasingly larger part of most businesses’ marketing mix. Something I have heard from multiple clients is that their CFO has given them nearly unlimited freedom to scale the channel provided the partnership meets their efficiency requirements. This just reinforces that partnerships have matured from a side-project to a mainstream customer acquisition channel.
Another key takeaway has been that partners are acting in a true spirit of partnership. We had several clients who needed to enact abrupt temporary pauses to their program in the early days of COVID. Some of the largest partners in their program were willing to work with them on reduced rates or pausing their activity in order to help maintain daily budget caps. A partnership should be a mutually beneficial relationship, but that relationship can require sacrifices on both sides to maintain. It was appreciated to see so many partners stepping up and looking to the future versus just the present.
Impact: What sort of mindset should brands have about the remainder of the year? What should they be thinking about and considering for 2021?
Adam: As we look to the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, I think brands need to adopt a mindset of flexibility above all else. The pandemic has created massive upheaval, and running back to the same tactics and strategies from the past three to five years won’t be effective. We are already seeing a drastic shake up in the Q4 calendar with Prime Day happening in mid-October and early-Black Friday counter programming shortly after. In a year without precedent, we may see Black Friday and Cyber Monday gains spread out over eight weeks versus four days.
Brands need to get out of their comfort zone and be ready to take advantage of opportunities sooner and faster than they have before. Similarly, brands need to revisit the assumptions that they have relied on in years past. That means starting with refreshed market and competitor research.
One thing brands can do without expending serious resources is to leverage their partners to get a sense of what is happening in the market. Partners are an amazing source of information, and they have access to market and consumer insights that brands can absolutely leverage in putting together their strategy.
Impact: What are three actionable tactics or tips brands can do tomorrow to get them moving in that direction?
Adam: If I had carte blanche, the first thing I would tell brands to do tomorrow is share more data with their partners. As I mentioned earlier, a partnership is by definition a symbiotic relationship, and therefore must be a two-way street. Sharing permissible data about your customers, their buying habits, and real actionable analytics data has the potential to take your partnerships to the next level. The less your partners have to guess about what’s working, the more they can make data-driven optimization decisions that will benefit both parties.
Secondly, I would encourage brands to revise their planning process and tools. It’s easy to fall into a rut when planning for regular seasonal events, but 2020 is anything but regular. Instead of locking into a rigid plan based on prior year performance, I would recommend looking at the 2020 data and generating a unique plan based on the new market dynamics.
Finally, I would urge brands to revisit opportunities they previously had to pass on, or where the potential partner passed. A lot has changed in the last six months, and there might be some renewed flexibility from either party to start a partnership that was not previously available.
Impact: What about partners? What sort of mindset should partners have about the remainder of the year? What should they consider doing in 2021?
Adam: Similarly to brands, I think partners need to have flexibility in mind. Everyone is doing the best that they can, but the remainder of this year and next are going to be very different from years past. Being flexible with brands and considering the long-term state of the relationship is especially important. I am not suggesting that partners give away their most valuable inventory, but being flexible on pricing and timing will be crucial to maintaining long-term viable partnerships.
Impact: What are three actionable tactics or tips partners can do tomorrow to get them moving in that direction?
Adam: Similarly to what I said for brands, my first recommendation for partners is to share more permissible data. For partners asking brands to opt into flat spends, sharing data such as the expected reach, open rate, click through rate, demographics, and historical performance will be greatly appreciated by brands. While sharing this data may cause some brands to say no, increased data sharing will enable risk-averse brands to say yes and increase the overall wallet share.
Secondly, I would encourage partners to diversify. One phenomenon we saw immediately after COVID hit was publishers who previously would only promote via Amazon were now willing to work with more merchants. We have had some great success stories with these publishers, helping them make up revenue they lost when Amazon cut commissions. Moreover, with the partnership automation tools available via Impact, we were able to dispel the myth that working with a brand directly was more difficult than working with Amazon.
Finally, partners should take the time to have meaningful conversations with their brand partners, both current and former on what is working and what isn’t working. Nothing in 2020 has been predictable, and as we head into Q4, brands can offer a lot of valuable feedback that can help inform how partners market to their users.
Impact: What are your predictions for partnerships in 2021?
Adam: The most successful partnerships in 2021 and beyond are those that are able to work together to achieve a deeper level of integration. Integration means doing more than just grafting the ad for a partner onto an existing experience. Instead, it is building the customer experience around the partnership from the ground up. For example, brands and partners who can share data and target potential customers within the logged-in environment of a mobile application will have an advantage over their competitors.
Hopefully partners remember the benefits of diversification as the economy (hopefully) returns to normal in 2021. Partners don’t need to entirely move away from Amazon, but building a revenue stream around only one partner is an inherent risk. Hopefully partners have realized the benefits of working directly with merchants in addition to Amazon, and will maintain that balance going forward.
Finally, partnerships will continue to become a bigger focus of every brand’s marketing initiatives. As decision makers see the success of their competitors, it’s only logical that they will be pushing their marketing team to get similar exposure. Brands that benefited from being the first mover will have to defend their position as competitors try to gain an increased share of voice with their partners.
PartnerCentric, Inc., a leading woman-owned (WBE-certified) and tech-driven performance marketing agency,combines award-winning management and in-house technology products to help emerging startups up to Fortune 500 enterprise brands in all industries meet and exceed their goals through the high ROI-driving affiliate marketing channel.
Their team, comprised of proven industry veterans and strategists, connects clients with the right partners for long-term success. PartnerCentric utilizes a combination of Impact technology, proprietary technology and innovative, strategic management to drive the highest ROI for some of the world’s most respected brands. PartnerCentric has been a long-time Impact partner and has managed Impact clients across a number of verticals.