How will voice technology reshape the affiliate ecosystem?

17 May, 2019
Written by Owen Hancock, Head of Strategy, Europe, CJ Affiliate


"Hey Google, please tell me how my affiliate programme did last week."

"Sure, let me look into that for you."

"Last week, your affiliate programme was down 3% compared to the same period last year."

"Do you know which publishers are driving that drop-off?"

"I see that publisher X is 20% down on last year. Would you like me to book increased exposure with them?"

"Sure, let's aim to get them back to flat, year-on-year, at least."

Imagine if Google had continued its efforts in the affiliate space, who knows, perhaps having Google Assistant booking affiliate exposure wouldn’t be such a crazy thought.

In 2019 we have more voice technology than ever before, and this is already reshaping the affiliate ecosystem. With a recent study demonstrating that 37% of smart phone users are already leveraging voice technology1, and a prediction that this will rise to over 50% by 20202, the performance marketing community would do well to consider the variety of ways in which our industry will be disrupted by voice technology.

In order to get the conversation started, below are my four predictions of how voice will change the affiliate industry.

Disruption one: Does the last word = The last click?

Attribution debates have long raged in the digital industry. The affiliate industry, by and large, has settled on last click attribution.

Whilst this may not be perfect, it has set an industry standard in which people can predict and plan for. With voice technology opening up the world of voice purchasing, we need to understand how the customer journey will be measured and where an interaction will be considered the last touch point.

Disruption two: More pressure on winning the search race

Search engine algorithms have always dominated the success of publishers. No matter how compelling the content of a site is, it can’t be monetised unless users are finding their way to the site.

As the IAB’s report discusses, with reduced visual displays returning fewer search options, being the number one result will be of the upmost importance. So, whilst being on the first page of results might currently be enough to gather a decent volume of hits, voice tech means winning the race (and only winning) will be enough to get users.

This may mean a further narrowing of diversity in publishers with only the top handful thriving. Alternatively, we may see much deeper specialisation in all forms or publisher in order to best meet search engine criteria. All that said, SEO will most likely end up being even more mystifying for affiliates as voice assistants lead a push toward semantic search, with not only keywords but intent and contextual meaning affecting results.

Disruption three: Assistive toolbars

You can debate the incrementality as much as you like, but users continue to leverage toolbars to help them find the best discounts or cashback rates. It’s not hard to imagine this tech extending to the voice arena.

For example, we may start hearing, ‘Hey Quidco, can I get cashback on this hotel…’ whilst consumers are booking somewhere to stay. Indeed, given voice technology’s attachment to AI, which is so clearly documented in the IAB’s study, it’s not hard to imagine predictive or interruptive interactions; ‘Hi user, you normally get cashback on your shopping – would you like to know where you can find the best cashback on this product?’.

The incrementality debate will rage on.

Disruption four: Fewer visual ads, more valuable content

Unless something dramatically changes in how voice technology works, it will mean users spend less time browsing online.

Voice tech allows quick decision making in a non-visual environment. This reduction in browse time will inevitably influence display advertising as brands move away from visual elements of the digital marketing mix. In turn, this creates an opportunity for the affiliate community - if you can create rich and valuable content that provides for a consumer need, then you are more likely to be picked out and, in turn, be able to influence the consumer journey.

Whether you agree with these disruptions or not, it’s undeniable that voice tech will eventually become the norm. The affiliate industry, by the nature of where the risk sits, has always been populated with entrepreneurs and innovators and if there’s one single thing I’m confident of it’s that affiliate will find new ways to add value through voice technology. CPA will be a great way to monetise this.


This article was first published on the IAB UK's blog.

source: “Speak Easy”, Mindshare and J. Walter. Thompson, 2017

source: comScore, 2017

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