Actionable Insights – October 17, 2023
Episode Nine: Financial Services, Affiliate Strategies. Critical Factors for Success.
In episode nine, host Kerry Curran speaks with Todd Crawford, co-founder of Impact.com, discussing affiliate marketing in the financial services sector.
They explore the foundation and evolution of Impact.com, the growing significance of affiliate strategies for financial firms, and consumer behavior in the financial services decision-making process.
The conversation emphasizes the challenges and complexities of affiliate marketing in the regulated financial industry and provides insights into navigating compliance issues. It underscores the need for third-party perspectives to help financial companies harness the power of affiliate marketing effectively.
Hello, and welcome to Actionable Insights, Gen3 Marketing’s podcast covering educational insights and actionable learning so you can apply to your performance marketing and affiliate marketing strategies today.
Today we’re welcoming back Todd Crawford. He is a co-founder of Impact.com.
He’s going to be talking to us about financial services, affiliate strategies, and critical factors for success.
So, Todd, one of the things I found so interesting about your history is really just your inspiration for starting Impact.com and kind of the gaps you saw in the marketplace that you knew you could really kind of lean into with a new technology.
Yeah, this was back in 2010, that’s when we launched.
So, we had sold Commission Junction in 2000… four or six, something like that, four, I think.
And we all walked away, done some other things and we started talking, the five founders again, about kind of that it was weird that nothing had really changed in the industry. It hadn’t evolved.
It was very status quo for many years. And the one thing we heard consistently from agencies, brands and publishers were the need for certain features and functionality. So, tech, right?
A lot of ideas and thoughts around tech and, affiliate networks are in essence, an agency that owns their own technology.
And so, if you can’t get this report or this capability isn’t there, you can just kind of have people in the back room do it and come out of the back room with, with the answer or with the capability. Kind of doing it in the back, but you couldn’t really do it in the front end.
So, we thought, okay, we could really create a very high tech data, transparent solution with lots of controls and capabilities that we know the industry wants.
And then we could also shift the pricing model from more of an override or rev share. The network kind of takes a cut, right? Of every transaction and license, it as software as SaaS.
So, we all kind of got the band back together again. And I can remember we were in a small conference room that had floor to ceiling white boards that you could write on. And one of the co-founders, uncapped the marker and just went… So, we’re all in agreement. We’re not starting another affiliate network.
And we all nodded yes. And then we all started writing down all our ideas and thoughts and kind of then pushed them all together and created what today is Impact.com, which is a SaaS solution for partnerships.
And we’ve expanded it through acquisitions and further product development to provide solutions to agencies and publishers, as well as offer more types of revenue opportunities for brands like creators and more recently working with a refer a friend customer ambassador type solution.
So, that’s something new that we’re launching as well. So, again, just trying to broaden our addressable market.
Well, I mean, it’s to have a platform that is focused on evolving with the industry and providing the solutions, definitely something that’s needed in the industry.
So, I know we’re greatly appreciative of the partnership and services that Impact provides. So, today I wanted to kind of lean in from the perspective of financial services.
I know that’s an area where we’ve been partnering with a number of the top financial firms for their affiliate programs. And coming out of our research paper from August, we actually segmented out financial services because we knew it’s different from the retailer landscape.
The FinServ companies that are doing it well, are… depending a lot more on affiliate strategies for greater share of their new customer acquisition and new account opens.
Some of our shared clients are seeing 30 to 60% of their new customers, their new account opens come from their affiliate program.
So, it’s increasingly important and as you know, and we’ve seen with our practice and our shared clients that it’s… It’s such an opportunity to lean into and yet there’s still a lot of brands, especially newer financial services, startups or FinTech’s that haven’t quite figured out how to open that spigot of new customers.
So, just to kind of cover some of the stats that we found in our research, when we asked, we surveyed 2,000 consumers on their financial services behavior and it was interesting that financial services were actually the second most researched topics for any decision for has a longer purchase and consideration process.
The financial investment products, insurance and anything related to banking and credit cards, which really just reiterates the importance of brands increasing their presence across a variety of different touch points so that when that customer is doing their research and kind of identifying what are the features I want, what are the benefits, what kind of access do I need, they’re able to connect with numerous sources that provide a lot of unbiased factual data.
So, looking at the whole consumer landscape, customer journey for financial services interestingly enough, we were just talking about influencers, and we’ll come back to it, but influencers are the number one source of introduction and inspiration in the decision making process for financial services. But we’ll come back to that.
The news publications like content within CNBC and Forbes definitely also, that was the third. Influencers, social, which kind of go together, then the news pubs.
What was interesting to me is that in the research phase, so the number one source was search engines, but then what we know is that when you search for anything related to financial products in the search engine, what they’re finding, what you’ll find, the top sites are actually affiliate pages.
Comparison sites came in second, like Best Money and Lending Tree, credit monitoring came in third, So, 50% of people in the research phase are going to comparison or credit monitoring sites.
The consideration when you’re getting more into what you’re going to choose, the brand sites, then search and comparison sites, and then again, credit monitoring.
But what was interesting for financial services are a lot of the times when it came to apply, they are going back to the number one destination is the brand sites.
To me, this just reiterates the importance of that full funnel, those touch points throughout that long journey for a really strong affiliate strategy that is connecting your brand with consumers across all of the different publisher types and categories.
So, I know that’s a huge focus for Impact to be able to provide that connection between the brands and those different publisher types.
Yeah, I think when you put yourself in as a consumer, if I’m going to buy chef knives or a new vacuum, I want to make an informed decision, but it’s not life and death. And I kind of understand what a knife does. And I just don’t want to, I want to get the best value, right?
How much am I willing to spend and what’s the best value I can get for those.
Likewise with a vacuum. I mean, they all suck up dirt, but why do I pick one over the other? Or why would I spend twice as much on this one versus that one?
So, trying to make an informed decision when it comes to financial services, I think consumers feel very overwhelmed and they don’t, it’s too complex. It’s not something that they’ve studied and understand, or at least they think they don’t understand it.
And the other interesting thing is if I’m gonna buy a chef knife, they all are from the outside, the same. And some brands can all sell the same chef knives.
With financial products, they’re all different. They’re similar, but they’re different. So, take a credit card, there’s, so, I can go to a financial services company and see their, their many credit card offerings and see which one I like, but I can’t easily compare them to other credit card companies.
So, these content sites and financial advice help me answer questions in layman’s terms and help me understand things that I didn’t think I wanted to know or could ever learn.
And so, they add a lot of value in the consumer decision-making processes to getting educated. Whether its planning for a retirement, children’s education, savings, buying a home, travel.
There are so many things that touch finance and credit cards and other financial services products that I think there’s a lot more education there than what consumers are used to having to do to make normal everyday purchases.
It’s a very personal choice in regard to what’s important, which factors are most important to you, but also what card, especially when you pull in credit scores and spending behavior, it’s also personal from that perspective, very customized.
But so, again, last time we met, we were talking about influencers and the intersection between influencers and affiliate.
I thought it was so interesting that in our research that consumers are saying influencers were their inspiration for a financial product. Of course, that can range from just basic investing 101 or saving other aspects.
But where do you see influencers for credit card issuers or in other FinServ products? Where do you think that’s going or could go?
Yeah, I think you outlined kind of the types that historically you’ve had the credit karmas and things like that, or the points guy, right?
Where they’re talking to you about helping you understand the differences between cards and other financial services or giving you advice like, should you lease or buy a car?
People don’t understand all that pros and cons or what kind of questions you should ask when you’re buying a car or refinancing or buying your first home.
So, a lot of this advice is just invaluable. It’s super detailed and it has to be written in a way that consumers can easily understand it and make use of it.
And then you have kind of the Forbes and the BuzzFeed’s, which are also producing similar content. And now you have creators. Which I think is the scariest thing for a highly regulated company to want to work with them.
They want to go there, they understand the value from a consumer perspective. There’s lots of people giving financial advice. And so, when they can say, I’m a travel blog, and I travel a lot, and one of the things that really helps in my travels is this specific card, because of the way it gives points that are leaning more towards travel, right?
Whether it’s buying airline tickets or getting airline miles, whatever it is. And they can explain it in how they use it.
And that is where I think the creators really bring a lot more value. But they also bring a lot more concern because of the oversight in the financial services.
And that’s one thing too, when we’re talking about best practices with your creator relationships is let the creators create. But when it comes to financial services, it’s actually like, well you we’re talking about they, there’s so many details and regulation, compliance details that need to be included.
So, that’s part of the challenge.
Yeah, I mean, the regulations are unlike what retailers and travel sites and other brands are used to having to deal with.
I mean, just to give you an example of the laws that affect advertising and consumers in relationship to financial services companies, there’s the Truth in Lending act. Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Dodd-Frank Act. Plus, there’s regulatory bodies that oversee it.
So, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Office of the Comptroller of Currency, Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, National Credit Union Administration, Federal Trade Commission, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
All of them potentially have oversight into how financial services can either… market or advertise online, but also how consumers interact with them.
Nobody, when they’re doing business online or not, want a government agency coming to them with problems or complaints or concerns.
So, they need some way of handling compliance. And monitoring that and staying on top of it because I’ll give you an example of how this works.
If I’m a credit card company, periodically I change the credit card offer so, if you sign up today, you get 50,000 points and the interest rate are 15%. Okay, or 15.3%. And now you want to market my card and you’re typing all this in and writing up a review.
And instead of 50,000 and 15.3, you write 15.4. And that is actually not so harmful to the client or to the consumer because the rate is actually better, but it doesn’t matter, it’s different, it’s misleading.
And if you obviously put it lower at 15.1, that’s even worse. So, that content needs to be monitored as you publish it in line with me updating my card product.
All that has to stay in alignment. You can’t say it’s 100,000 points when it was 50,000 or 5,000 points when it was 50,000 or vice versa.
So, all those things have to stay in line because all it takes is one customer, one consumer to complain to one of these agencies. And then they come to you and go, what’s going on?
So, in terms of testing into influencer for a lot of our clients, it’s do it with serious caution and a huge focus on compliance and getting the details right.
A bit more control over the output than what we were just saying with other verticals and categories. But still definitely an opportunity. It’s just to your point, it’s a… and proceed with caution and dot all of your i’s and cross the t’s on every detail.
So, outside of Influencer, I know, again, we have a number of shared clients and Impact’s been a true leader in the financial services space for influencers. So how have you seen that the landscape?
I know I listed a huge number of different types of publishers, but what have you seen evolved the most for the opportunities for brands and publishers?
Well, for financial services, the bread and butter has definitely been the financial, finance focused sites.
Like, you talked about, the credit karma, these finance focused and credit reporting sites that have your attention and can provide content that is informative and can help you answer questions and learn about finance, because obviously the more educated people are, the more likely they’re going to feel comfortable making financial decisions, whether like again, it’s planning for retirement, buying a home, buying a car, or just picking a credit card. It’s a big deal.
And the challenge you have in just going beyond the usual suspects is financial services companies are risk averse. A retailer, they’re risk averse to, harming their brand from a… hey, somebody reviewed a product and didn’t like it, or didn’t like it as much as we wish they did.
But with financial services, it’s more around being in compliance. That’s really the aversion or the concern.
So, they’re much less likely to easily add new types of partners. And so, they kind of, they want to do it and maybe they don’t want to be first.
They want to see their competitors doing it and then they can justify testing and trying it as well. So, it’s a little bit slower going.
It’s a lot of test and look back and respond and you need to find the right types of partners that understand those concerns and really want to be in compliance, right?
So, having it full blown open like some affiliate programs, hey, everybody just applies, you’re automatically approved and creators and affiliates and any other content, any other types of publishers will have you and if there’s a problem later, we’ll address it. They’re not gonna do that.
So, it’s definitely slower, but like I said, the interest is growing all the time and they’re slowly dipping their toe in the water, I guess you could say.
Yeah, and it works.
I think that’s what’s been fascinating to me is the high percentage of new customers that the financial services firms can generate from affiliate.
In some ways, they’re the more sophisticated and advanced in the space because they’ve seen the true impact on the business results.
Definitely an area to lean into, but to your point, it needs to be done with the utmost focus on compliance.
So, you were talking about when we were talking before about some of the, there’s brands that care a lot and get it, and then sometimes there’s brands that are a little bit less, or just willing to kind of be a bit more risky with that.
So, what do you see about the kind of brands that are approaching the space?
When you say financial services, it can be anything from more crypto and ancillary financial services that maybe aren’t as regulated yet, or are smaller, high growth and kind of would rather ask for forgiveness than go be already compliant.
So, I think some of those companies are a little more aggressive in the types of partnerships that they’re willing to work with.
And then as you kind of get into the very large financial services companies they’re definitely doing a wait and see or being very methodical and careful about the types of partnerships that they’re willing to work with. But when they have a great agency or, or an appetite to test…you can test with just one and go, okay, this worked. This is our mini case study, we had good success here.
If we had nine more, we’d have 10 new types of partners that we don’t have today. How do we get there, right?
So, it’s just adding two more. So, we started with one or three, that worked. It wasn’t hard because the really scary thing is if you have 50 it can be like herding cats and then that’s where they get nervous.