The rise of affiliate marketing has created many opportunities for service providers to hand over lead generation responsibilities to motivated third parties that collect remuneration based on results.

But, for all the positive aspects of this arrangement (marketing by results, guaranteed leads and brand presence) brands need to be wary of over-reliance on third parties and they risk ‘communication channel creep’ as they focus too heavily on lead acquisition at the expense of the customer experience.

One channel increasingly grabbing marketers’ attention is mobile. According to Google, users regularly search on mobile during the buying process – 74% searched on mobile using a search engine, while 48% started the research on search engines.

Incomplete customer experience options

Analysis by a Whitecap associate on a major high street bank’s mobile site landing page on revealed no clickable phone numbers. This is made all the more amazing by the fact Google has reported a 6-8% increase on clickthrough rates on mobile adverts with call extensions.

Furthermore, the site landing page itself just redirected to the desktop page, making reading and navigation problematic. There was also inconsistency with the position and prominence of phone numbers throughout the purchasing process, which was for a mortgage, so a significant financial decision.

We found this to be replicated over several lenders and their respective affiliates.

Separate analysis of a regional financial services provider found a clickable phone number on the mobile landing page, but it was an 0845 number, which statistically is likely to put off a lead. Why not use a local number?

Customer Experience

This is particularly resonant when you consider that, according to Google, 55% of consumers using mobile for research want to purchase within an hour, 83% want to purchase within a day.Which raises the question of why brands are investing so heavily in affiliate programmes and running the considerable risk of allowing customers to back out at the final hurdle.

The existence of sophisticated real-time call tracking and analytics solutions means all this call activity can now be tracked and measured so there is no reason for advertisers to fear consumers going offline. In fact, presenting the consumer with a more user friendly journey – especially when they are already on their mobile – can lead to an increase in enquiries and conversions.

The purchasing power of large financial institutions probably means affiliate programmes stack up commercially and the lifetime value of a current account customer is likely to be huge, but the residual impact on a potential customer that has pulled out because communication preferences haven’t been met, could be one of frustration, leading to a lasting negative perception.

More value in direct acquisition?

It is worth analysing the overall relevance of affiliate relationships too. Recent research by Advanced Web Ranking highlighted the value of well-optimised organic pages. People tend to click more on the first Google result (over 40%) when their search has some kind of intent – “buy Adidas football boots” for example, than when making a general search, like “men’s football boots” (just over 30%). So, being the first organic search result can drive more traffic, and crucially, purchase-ready traffic.

The perfect combination

Whitecap and our clients talk a lot about the digitalisation of financial services, but there is no sense in cutting a potential sales channel out of the equation, and still paying for the lead.

Our research found that a bit of joining up is necessary for financial services brands to connect the desired customer experience (most glaringly a working telephone option) on their own websites with those used by their affiliates. It would make sense for them to remunerate for a telephone lead at the same level as a web lead – perhaps more so, as a telephone conversation is arguably a better sales opportunity across a wider demographic range.

Affiliates are an important part of any brand’s acquisition strategy, but it’s vital for Marketing Directors to keep their focus on the customer experience, achieving a consistent approach across all lead generation channels to maximise the value of the leads they are paying for. The high street bank cited earlier can often pay £50 or more for an enquiry for its mortgage product – it’s got to be worth opening up all channels to make sure they convert.

If you’d like to talk to us about this topic please get in touch.