Awin Thoughts: Why automation could usher in a golden age of affiliate account management

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When the first digital spreadsheet software launched 40 years ago it transformed the accountancy industry forever.

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Desk with papers, calculator and computer

According to the Planet Money podcast 400,000 accounting clerk jobs have been lost since Visicalc went on sale. 

But in that same time period another 600,000 have been created as a result of the industries that sprouted from the changed landscape. 

Automation and assumed resultant job losses will be one of the major challenges for mature economies in the coming decades across all walks of life. Recently there have been pushes by many businesses in the performance space to create solutions that bring automation to the affiliate world.  

Are we iterating a world where account management functions will be rendered obsolete and technology will replace the beating heart of the affiliate industry? After all, the channel has always been predicated on the strength of the relationships it creates. 

Can you imagine a world in which the affiliate industry is replaced without the need to ever interact with a human being? Recommendation engines and algorithms removing the need to ever work out an optimal commission rate or negotiate a tenancy deal. It’s far-fetched perhaps to assume we could do away with any future networking events, a drink with work friends rendered obsolete by the machines. 

A weirdly unsettling dystopia but it also throws up an intriguing dichotomy. There is no doubt that many manual and – let’s face it – often bone-crushingly boring tasks should be automated. By removing the stuff that no one really wants to do, but with the assumption that any form of marketing will still require the human touch, people have more time to step back, think and analyse. Take away the uploading, the processing and the number crunching and we create a virtuous circle where clients receive more thoughtful advice and employees have the time and space to be challenged. 

I’m long enough in the tooth to remember the countless days engaged in mind-numbing but necessary tasks because the industry was in its infancy and systems didn’t exist to automate the simplest of tasks, from pulling top performers’ reports to validating sales. Reporting continues to be the bane of many account managers’ lives and it often feels like some of these reports exist just for the sake of it. 

Fortunately we are entering a golden age of data exploration. While data blindness remains an issue – that is the sheer breadth and depth of information sources to make sense of – the latest iterations of business intelligence tools could prove transformational.  

One of the most valuable reports that account managers at Awin can rely on is an affiliate benchmarking report. In this report it’s possible to take an advertiser in any vertical and identify which affiliates are the best fit for a new programme launch or a campaign in need of optimisation. It’s nothing new, but it provides invaluable shortcuts, available to all and at the touch of a few buttons and filters. 

The datapoints required for this are some that have been collected by default by networks for years but can easily be layered with additional metrics that can be passed back, in a privacy friendly way, to build added sophistication. Think customer segmentation, frequency and recency of purchase, a combination of qualitative and quantitative metrics. 

This has obviously required Awin to invest in its data services team, of which business intelligence is one subset. Similarly, identifying a combination of best-in-class proprietary and third party software is essential to both harness and represent that data back to the network’s stakeholders and clients. 

This is the present, but the future possibilities are both exciting, boundless and actually not far from our grasp. Already the business intelligence team are exploring recommendation-based reports that enable users to get from the ‘what?’ to the ‘why’ much quicker.  

In layering a range of datasets the visualisations are accompanied by commentary that identifies outliers and anomalies, providing commentary on the fly and automatically generated by the technology itself. It’s pretty rudimentary and experimental at present but by pulling in third party datasets such as demographic information or weather data we can potentially build sophistication and additional, three dimensional context.  

But this will of course require a rethinking of what an account manager role should be. It’s a good problem to have and one that any company in it for the long haul, determined to cement existing client relationships and prove their worth, is probably already investing in. 

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