Delta Zero: The Unknown Ideal?

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Written by Brook Schaaf

How up-and-coming tech may help the industry aspire to lowering financial discrepancies

Something I didn’t have time to cover in my recent write-up on the ANA’s study on programmatic ad spending waste was their reference to the “unknown delta,” a term they allegedly coined in 2020 that referred to “the unattributable ad spend between the funds that leave a DSP [demand-side platform, i.e., the advertiser’s software] and the gross funds received by an SSP [supply-side platform, i.e., the publisher’s software].” With improved matching in the subsequent three years, this “unknown delta” decreased to 3%, making wasted spend visible.

The now-known delta came to mind when I spoke with PartnerCentric’s CEO Stephanie Harris and VP Tom Rathbone about FUSE, their technology that uses Adobe or Google Analytics data to inform the affiliate tracking platform exactly which sales should be credited to which affiliates. (Disclosure: PC is my former agency, sold to Harris in 2017; I hold no equity or other interest in the current entity.)

PartnerCentric announced “a substantial discrepancy of 44% between a marketer’s analytics and affiliate network reporting,” which we might call an uncovered or discovered delta. The idea is that GA or Adobe is probably an advertiser’s source of truth, so there should ideally be zero discrepancy between this and a network’s reporting — exactly what FUSE enables. The demo was impressive — clean and clear data mapping and display.

Removing the delta could be a huge confidence booster for marketing executives when allocating budgets. Moreover, should some of this data be shared with affiliates, it might increase their understanding of their own audience, improving content creation, and confidence in the partnership, supporting improved engagement. 

PartnerCentric patented this technology, though a well-informed affiliate principal told me he was aware of a couple hundred merchants doing something similar with proprietary methods, which could present a defensibility issue in terms of prior art. (Beware ye patent litigation.)

Although widespread adoption of such a standard might be a boon for the industry, a few hurdles and pitfalls loom:

The hurdles are that other agencies probably won’t be keen to expose their clients to a competitor, and, generally speaking, neither tracking platforms nor affiliate managers want to see commissions go down.

One pitfall is that too many merchants play “heads I win, tails you lose,” which is to say that commission reductions over here are not offset by commission increases over there, which leaves the channel undercompensated relative to its true value.

So good luck to Stephanie and Tom. Their technology has the power to transform our space, especially if they make it open source. 😛

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