Partnership marketing is a perfect fit for these times, says Owen Hancock. And brands ought to be thinking about which ones will serve them best in future.  

The current pandemic has changed the way we live and the way we consume. In our connected modern world, we rapidly find new means of fulfilling our needs when familiar avenues are closed to us. In turn, the businesses which cater to them must adjust their methods equally quickly.

Adapting partnership marketing strategies can help many companies drive revenue in these difficult times, but when we’re finally over the horizon, businesses will also thank themselves for applying long-term thinking to their partnerships during this crisis.

How’s the landscape looking right now?

It goes without saying that travel, live events, bricks-and-mortar retail and many luxury brands are struggling and may continue to do so for some time. But other businesses, including delivery services of many kinds, online education, online entertainment and health and wellness have pivoted and are booming.

Impact’s data scientists recently analysed key verticals in the US week-on-week for the first four months of the year, spanning the World Health Organization’s announcement of COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 11. (The full results can be seen here.)

Advertisers in many of the positively affected verticals saw an overall increase in revenue, clicks, and actions as the pandemic took hold and housebound consumers immediately spent more time on their phones and computers than before, buying food, shoes, consumer electronics and other goods.

Online revenue increased because of a larger volume of shoppers – not necessarily because of larger basket sizes. Consumers shopped online for items and goods they would usually buy in-store, spending more on health and beauty, indicating they were focusing on personal wellness. As well as being the key research channel, online has become the one-and-only way to make the transaction, so some verticals have suddenly experienced higher conversion rates due to fewer alternatives and higher buyer intent.

What is the role of partnership marketing moving forward?

Brands are in need of revenue and growth and have little appetite for further risk. In this sense, partnership marketing is a perfect fit for these times, as commission-driven channels such as affiliate and influencer allow brands to set their investment and desired ROI at a level that works for them. The current circumstances highlight the virtues of creative, direct teamwork, so work with publishers and other partners, and benefit from their perspective.

Stay calm and be thoughtful

Communication between brands and partners is of the utmost importance during times of great upheaval, and partners – affiliates, influencers, B2B, mobile – deserve open and transparent treatment. While it may be tempting, or even essential, to slash costs and pull programs, treat partners with consideration. Inform them directly where cuts must be made and clue them in on your thinking. Partners have their own challenges, and the best partnerships are those that are built over the long term – and that includes the hard times.

Fight your corner

At times of financial crisis, CFOs are liable to swing the axe wherever a saving can be made. But cutting well-performing partner programs – and particularly those that have more to offer in an online-driven retail world – may be short-sighted.

Those with direct responsibility for partnerships should prepare a case for maintaining investment where it generates revenues, and also for experimenting with strategies formulated specifically for the challenges of these times, even increasing commissions where appropriate, or moving to programs that are leaning in.

Revenue-generating performance marketing may well be a lifeline as brands attempt to keep the ship afloat. In conjunction with Forrester, Impact has provided the tools to help you argue for continued, and even increased funding for your partnership program.

Let change happen

The temporary move to an online-only retail model should focus marketing minds on shifting media realities and the partnership relationships that will serve them best in the future.

With advertisers already moving away from programmatic CPMs, for instance, this period represents a good opportunity for brands to partner with premium publishers and referral partners. By these means, they can take advantage of consumers’ increased time online, shave down the ad-tech that has latterly consumed 40% of budgets and, for the sake of diversity, learn new ways to circumvent Facebook and Google.

The same applies to technology that brands may have held back on until now. Apps, to isolate one example, account for more than 70% of mobile sales and generate three times the conversion rate of mobile web for their owners. Those with ambitions to add mobile partnerships to their programme consequently find themselves on fertile ground, as the world drops its ambition to reduce screen time and immerses itself in its smallest devices.

This could be a good time, too for new corporate social responsibility partnerships that address the immediate needs of the current crisis – particularly for those brands whose businesses have remained robust in the face of these wholesale trends in consumer habits.

Much like the individuals and families waiting out the crisis at home and resolving to change their lives for the better when normal service is finally resumed, whenever that is, businesses can capitalise on this odd, troubling time by consolidating the best of their existing partnerships, experimenting in the present and taking care to plan for the future.