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Taking Back Control of Your Online Marketing

Control Suite is a platform that empowers brands to make the most of their digital presence

As our lives have moved online, Internet traffic has boomed and affiliate marketing has become a huge business – worth more than $12 billion to brands and publishers. However, the online world is still a bit of a “Wild West,” with analysis suggesting that e-commerce merchants lost over $9 billion in affiliate marketing fraud in 2017 alone. It is also estimated that over 40% of ad traffic is generated by bots, with 1 in 5 websites visited exclusively by non-humans (hopefully not this one!).

The bottom line is that the marketing industry as a whole struggles with inflated and inaccurate traffic data (critical for setting publisher revenues and brand spend) thanks to fraudulent click traffic, bots, and simply out of date or incompatible data shared between publisher and brands. To tackle this problem, one of the industry’s largest agencies, PartnerCentric, has just launched a new set of tools packaged into what they call the Control Suite, a revenue and metric-focused platform that directly addresses the issues of traffic fraud, disparate attribution and provides new competitive insights.

“Early testing has delivered some impressive results with 135% increase in return on ad spend (ROAS), a 20% reduction in fraudulent traffic and time savings of hundreds of employee hours monthly in manual handling of coupon codes, retired content and more,” says PartnerCentric CEO Stephanie Harris.

These are rather impressive numbers, and as Tom Rathbone – VP of Strategic Initiatives for PartnerCentric and Control Suite – explains, they spell out some major disruption to stagnant legacy systems:

“A lot of the big names in affiliate marketing right now have been around in one form or another since the early days of the Internet, and really established the rules for how online marketing exists now,” says Rathbone. “But we don’t want to play by those rules, because we don’t think they are in the best interest of our clients and it doesn’t truly solve their problems. And in some cases, has created brand new ones. We see ourselves as bringing a new approach with Control Suite and we want to work with young and forward-thinking start-ups and companies who are interested in a fresh new way of marketing online and don’t want to be held back by established practices and the rules of the status quo.”

This disruptive approach also spills over to their software, and Control Suite represents multiple proprietary and patented new technologies which PartnerCentric have developed to shake things up in affiliate marketing and help their clients push the boundaries of what brands and online companies can do to better control and manage their marketing footprint online.

According to Rathbone, the company’s core differentiator is the creation of technologies that aim to solve industry problems that have always been considered “just the way it is.” and aim to go beyond the status quo. Control Suite takes this innovative approach and looks beyond those existing industry platforms, to where they are not focusing, adding value to clients’ campaigns.

“Control Suite is a package of tools that really sprang from the changing needs of our clients,” Rathbone continued. “As COVID hit, the entire industry felt the pressure to operate more quickly and more responsively to the fast-changing behaviors of online shoppers and customers. We saw an opportunity to roll out our newly developed technologies covering attribution control with Fuse, more brand awareness control with Top Rank, and the increased content and compliance control our Block & Filter and Content Monitoring tools offer into one package.”

There are a lot of useful tools packed into Control Suite, and these tools become all the more powerful and insightful for being integrated into a single platform where they can feed off the same data sets and combine their analytical strengths for better, more focused output.

“We want to offer more than the entrenched players in the market and help clients better build their brands online. PartnerCentric is working to gain a deeper level of understanding into the value that we can provide and that publishers, in turn, provide to our clients, so what we offer is a much better level of control over that. We say to our clients, you are a brand, you have these needs, we want to meet those needs by providing an actionable, ground-breaking level of insight, control, and understanding that you just don’t get from the status quo,” Explained Rathbone.

First off the bat is TopRank, a tool that provides competitive analysis of your presence on publisher sites and its effect on your conversion metrics. You can also use the tool to identify new competitors in the market and opportunities for new publisher partnerships. TopRank enables users to keep a closer eye on their competitors and be smarter about marketing spending and strategy. For a small, new company seeing where your big competitors are spending on advertising – and how that is working for them – is a powerful tool to guide a new brand’s disruptive marketing strategy. This in-depth knowledge gives you the ability to make every marketing dollar go further and to successfully negotiate better commission terms and placements.

“A great use case for TopRank is to track and quantify the correlation between publishers, share of voice, and performance. We want to show what moves the needle for a client, where the true value is. Should they directly push to compete on certain loyalty sites or market product discounts directly against a competitor in a certain month of the year? TopRank helps inform clients where their resources are best spent to get the maximum return – be that sales or brand awareness. We don’t just want insights, we are driving towards predictive and prescriptive actionable steps for our clients,” enthused Rathbone.

TopRank also offers the power to spot shifts in the market or competitors positioning for a big new release. Take credit cards, for example: when you see a credit card drop off the radar across multiple sites it could indicate they are preparing for the release of a new offering and have pulled marketing for compliance reasons, or maybe they need to refresh content with a new product and a new message. By inferring the reasons a competitor might have just pulled all their offers, it allows a brand using TopRank to plan accordingly: time their own releases differently so as not to get drowned out by the moves of the competition, for example.

The value for that brand is in spotting the trends as they’re happening, and being able to make their calculated moves accordingly. In other use cases, PartnerCentric uses TopRank to negotiate with publishers to increase a brand’s share of voice on targeted pages where they are underrepresented compared to competitive brands. That ability to do this at scale is a benefit to working with PartnerCentric and gives the brand more targeted exposure and reach. TopRank gathers a huge amount of granular data that can be leveraged strategically by clients across marketing, branding, and market surveillance.

Next up is Content Monitoring, a critical job that must be done to keep track of your content, monitoring it for accuracy and FTC compliance plus making sure it is up to date and positioned alongside suitable content on publisher sites. Nobody wants to advertise Caribbean cruise holidays alongside news of a recent shipwreck, and the coronavirus pandemic gave us plenty of examples of adverts that were perfectly appropriate in January (remember those carefree times?) but sounded tone-deaf or downright insulting amid the challenges that rocked the global community since COVID-19 hit. This is the sort of tool that helps you keep a handle on such things.

“Our Content Monitoring solution provides real-time actionable feedback that identifies and helps resolve any deviations from affiliate marketing messages and misuse of coupon codes,” Rathbone explained. “This job is so necessary that everyone has to do it, albeit manually, but our clients have saved over 300 hours a month by using this to automatically and more accurately identify and resolve outdated advertising, factually inaccurate copy or inappropriate placements. For example, if you are a phone company you can see if the publisher is placing you alongside content or other adverts for pre-owned phones when your promotion is actually for new handsets.”

The last key component of Control Suite is Block & Filter, a tool that pre-emptively identifies and eliminates fraudulent traffic and bots from reaching a client’s website. Brands typically see a 20% reduction in fraudulent traffic in the first month, eliminating payments for fake traffic.

“Poor quality traffic leads to skewed analytics, increased costs from retargeting, and an increased likelihood of fraudulent conversions. We’re committed to providing value to our clients above and beyond the rest – and we cannot do that while hand-waving away bots, crawlers, and fraud as a necessary reality of digital marketing.” Rathbone continued

A key function is to stop and redirect these clicks away from a client’s site so only clicks from real potential customers are logged. This keeps the data gathered pure and therefore more usable and insightful. This is not only useful for clients to individually monitor the quality of traffic a specific publisher delivers but then PartnerCentric also has the option to take action against a publisher who provides a lot of suspect or fraudulent traffic on behalf of all of their clients.

“We are tracking hundreds of millions of data points and are advancing our platform to use predictive analytics and machine learning to better track the correlation between variables and provide actionable outcomes that add value. We will also loop the results of those actions, back into our system, evolving our service, and ultimately providing better, more valuable insights to clients. It enables you to quantify aspects such as how much return you can expect from increasing your share of voice with various publishers. It takes us beyond AB testing, – valuable as that is – towards actions that can be recommended with a high degree of confidence in the outcomes, Rathbone concluded.

Tom Atkinson is Reviews & Dep. Editor at Tech Trends. Follow him on Twitter @techtrends_tech