The word’s been out for a while now that affiliate marketing is (essentially) dead. But what about in Southeast Asia, where affiliate marketing never really took off in the first place?
All signs point to an even more rapid and profound shift away from the traditional affiliate marketing model. According to a 2021 report by Facebook and Bain & Company, 70 million Southeast Asians have become digital consumers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s never been more pressing for brands in the region to rethink how they manage their online presence and engage with their customers.
That’s where partnership marketing can help.
What is partnership marketing?
Partnership marketing is an evolved form of affiliate marketing. It goes beyond traditional affiliates like Groupon to build value for brands through a wider range of affiliate partnerships.
For example, instead of just offering discount codes or promotional deals, brands work with influencers, content publishers, and other types of partners to create organic content, expand their social media reach, or even bid on paid search terms.
Regardless of what a partner does, partnership marketing is characterized by the nurturing of long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Partnership marketing is popular with brands due to its versatility, affordability, and ability to generate meaningful insights across the full consumer journey.
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The state of affiliate partnerships in Southeast Asia
Affiliate marketing is a global industry worth $12 billion, with $6.8 billion of that figure coming from the United States alone. In Southeast Asia, however, affiliate marketing and partnerships are still relatively new on the scene.
Then along came the pandemic. As lockdowns went into effect and working from home became the default, the region witnessed a massive surge in digital consumption and ecommerce. Google and Temasek’s e-Conomy SEA 2020 report found that more than one in three digital consumers in Southeast Asia were new users who made their first purchase during the pandemic.
This unprecedented shift in consumer spending habits prompted many brands in the Southeast Asian market to reevaluate their digital marketing strategies, including how they use affiliate partnerships to increase revenue and brand awareness. A full 86 percent of respondents to a 2020 Affiliate Summit Asia survey indicated that affiliates were now among their top two methods for online marketing.
There’s a solid basis for this bullish sentiment. Despite the toll the pandemic has taken on the travel industry, brands such as AirAsia and Klook continue to run successful affiliate programs. Online fashion retailer Zalora started a new influencer marketing program this year to supplement its existing affiliate program. Even tech giants like Microsoft have jumped on the affiliate bandwagon.
It’s still early days for affiliate — let alone partnership — marketing in Southeast Asia, but more and more brands are catching onto the potential of this untapped growth channel. So what do you need to know if you’re just getting started with partnership marketing? Three major trends are highlighted below.
Partnership marketing trends to watch
1. Nontraditional affiliate partnerships are on the rise
With the pandemic disrupting tried-and-tested marketing strategies across all verticals and industries, brands have had to become ever more resourceful to stay ahead of the curve. One result of this innovate-or-perish outlook has been the creation of strategic marketing synergies between unlikely partners.
While it’s rare to shop for beauty products and to book private transport at the same time, it is now possible thanks to Watsons’ partnership with Grab in January 2021. Pandemic-triggered changes in consumer habits also drove Malaysian tech unicorn Carsome to partner with ecommerce giants Shopee and Lazada as part of its efforts to digitalize the used car industry.
Such collaborations are likely to become more common as brands cast their nets further in the search for marketing partners that share their values and goals.
2. Diversification is the name of the (partnerships) game
Not only are brands now looking for partnership opportunities in unconventional places, they’re also establishing multiple kinds of partnerships at the same time. Gone are the days when affiliate marketing meant linking up with just one type of partner.
Today, a robust partnership marketing strategy involves several types of partners, from loyalty programs and media outlets to social media influencers and bloggers. Diversifying its partnerships portfolio allows a brand to test the waters, gain exposure across multiple channels, and identify which partners provide the highest return on investment (ROI).
A typical case in point is the Singaporean fashion label Love, Bonito. After growing its portfolio to over 200 partners and publishers, Love, Bonito witnessed quarter-on-quarter revenue growth of 253 percent within a year of its launch.
3. Technology and automation bring partnership marketing to the next level
If working with many types of partners is the way forward, the next step is to figure out a time-efficient way to manage them. Many Southeast Asian brands now tap software as a ervice (SaaS) solutions to automate the entire partnership life cycle.
For instance, Decathlon Singapore was able to automate the manual processes within its partnerships program with the help of the impact.com platform, saving its staff an average of 49 hours a month. Decathlon’s affiliate team used the freed-up time for strategic growth planning and building deeper relationships with top-performing partners instead.
A new frontier for partnership marketing
Uncertain times still lie ahead for Southeast Asia (and for the rest of the world, for that matter), courtesy of geopolitical tensions and evolving virus variants. If there’s anything the past 21 months have shown us, however, it’s that regional brands aren’t afraid to explore uncharted territory when it comes to affiliate and partnership marketing.
Keen to discover how your brand can get a thriving partnership program up and running? Read impact.com’s ultimate guide to affiliate marketing to get started. For more in-depth advice and guidance, connect with impact.com’s dedicated Southeast Asia team at firstname.lastname@example.org to all blogs