Is Performance Marketing 'Grubby'?

That’s the premise of an insightful opinion piece by independent digital business consultant Mary Keane-Dawson in UK marketing trade The Drum. Keane-Dawson’s headline-grabbing op-ed unleashes the big, fat performance elephant in the room. Not surprisingly, it drew its fair share of naysayers.

The performance marketing industry, particularly the affiliate side, has its share of unscrupulous actors within its ranks. All industries do, but, unfortunately, the performance business seems to have a hard time shaking its “grubby” reputation.

That ill-fated label arises from three distinct areas: 

1.     Low barrier to entry. Anyone can start a performance marketing company with almost no capital or business acumen. All one needs is a PC, an Internet connection and a few unsuspecting clients. Sadly, this scenario happens far more often than industry professionals would like to admit.

2.     Blatant anonymity. Even for those who have worked in performance marketing for years, it can be exceedingly difficult and frustrating to discern the above-the-board affiliates and marketers from the unethical ones. Imagine how hard it is for a client trying to do the same. 

3.     A lack of loyalty. Two issues contribute to the industry’s irksome loyalty problem: a glut of new and untested companies that sprout up almost weekly, and many affiliates’ loyalty only to profits. Often sporting company names that contain a combination of the words “Lead,” “Agency” or “Interactive” with the hot marketing buzzword of the day, many new agencies make it clear that exist solely to make a profit; client wishes be damned. This creates a bribe-for-business ecosystem that further degrades the industry’s reputation once clients catch on to the shenanigans.

How can performance marketers fix these problems and clean up the industry’s “grubby” moniker? Here are three solutions:

1.     Support industry trade associations. Join together with industry peers and show the world the positive brand-building impact and value of performance marketing. The performance marketing industry was responsible for $21 billion in online advertising revenues in 2011, according to the IAB, but few take notice. Support the Performance Marketing Association in the United States and its efforts to block the nexus tax laws and develop industry standards. Contribute to efforts like the IAB UK’s campaign to enhance the reputation of affiliate marketing.

2.     Focus on long-term quality vs. quantity. Build lasting relationships with clients to help pioneer innovative performance-marketing campaigns. Push lead-scoring and fraud-detection efforts to show clients the industry’s commitment to accountability. Educate brands on the value of measurable, ROI-driven performance marketing campaigns.

3.     Get out of the bedrooms and into the boardrooms. Meet clients in person and learn their KPIs and marketing goals. This can’t be done via text messaging or email. It requires in-person meetings and deep connections between the brand and agency.

Following this strategy will turn the industry’s image of being “grubby” into “Performance Chic.” Brands will embrace the ROI power that performance marketing brings to their online marketing campaigns. Grubby cleans up nice — if we all take proactive steps to improve the industry.

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