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Has the role of iGaming affiliates in North America been shifted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

At Digital Fuel Marketing, we have been close to the US market over a number of years and have seen the importance of affiliates within the wider marketing mix grow in significance.  It’s critical not to generalise, as each affiliate partner is unique and must be treated as such, with affiliate audiences generated from multiple sources and through both paid and organic strategies. To make a generic statement on any change the COVID-19 pandemic has had to the role of affiliates would be misleading given the very broad range of affiliates that exist.

That said, and this is not unique to the US market, the proposition value of what affiliate partners bring over and above direct response acquisition campaigns may not have been fully appreciated by some until now. Rather than changing that role, the events of recent months may have simply highlighted the strategic importance of these relationships beyond a last click first time depositor.

Over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic we have seen search volumes in the US market surge for gaming terms.  In a period where you would naturally expect a steady decline after the seasonal peaks, it would be hard to argue that this hasn’t been driven by the social distancing and stay at home policies we have all been living through. Google Trends data for the US shows that interest in terms relating to online casino reached an all-time high in May.  Whilst it is true that brand terms have also benefited, when digging deeper, the growth in generic queries highlights the user’s intent, one that is often only satisfied by an affiliate.  

As more States open up to online sports betting and gaming, audiences will be exposed to new brands through traditional media channels, sponsorships and digital media. There will be a lot of noise and as is the case in many industries, users will inevitably look at established affiliate websites for an authoritative, professional and educated opinion.

It’s often overlooked, but there is a considerable amount of skill that goes into building an audience while also gaining the trust that ultimately leads to a conversion.  Betting and gaming operators across the globe spend significant resources, both fiscal and in terms of time, into building a brand that their customers can relate to. That is no different to the work affiliate partners are putting into sites such as pasportsbooks.com or bettodayusa.com.  Successful programs can only benefit from relationships like this that cater to the audience’s niche requirements.  This is often at a level the operators simply can’t reach with the same effort and passion for the subject that makes the content valuable to the user.

Our view is shared by Pennsylvania resident Jason Ziernicki, a long-term affiliate and US market specialist who has welcomed the proactive approach most US operators have taken to their affiliate partners during this time.  With some marketing formats such as outdoor and in-stadia advertising largely redundant, it’s strategically sensible to look at developing your own network.  Working closely with your partners who have the ability to quickly pivot and support brands while delivering incremental revenues can be critical.  

While quite insignificant in the context of the devastating impact Covid-19 has had in society, the opportunity to reflect and develop these business relationships for now and the future is encouraging.  We talk about the wider impact affiliate partners play and at Digital Fuel Marketing have seen and measured this first-hand across multiple operators and in several global betting and gaming jurisdictions.

It’s a really exciting time to be involved in the US market for operators, affiliates, agencies and everybody in between.  The regulation of new States brings the inevitable “land-grab” scenario but also the opportunity for localised and innovative marketing strategies – all positive for the local consumer.  Working largely on a performance basis, if utilised correctly, the affiliate network is able to deliver awareness like no other through deep, contextual advertising that improves cross channel conversion metrics along the way. 

With many US based gaming operators feeling the unprecedented commercial impact of the pandemic through the closure of brick and mortar estates, the focus on existing or future online gaming opportunities will have no doubt been heightened. With the spotlight very much on conversion and acquisition, the presence of an affiliate network which affords flexibility and immediate access to the audience can’t be ignored. 

Player retention is the final piece of the puzzle and the role affiliate partners are playing here should never be underestimated. If you look at New Jersey, we are witnessing a hugely competitive market with new entrants continuing to join whilst nearby Pennsylvania is developing rapidly. In both States, established domestic brands are spending to convert and retain [their land-based casino audience]. Meanwhile new international operators, seeing the US market as a long-term strategy, are happy to spend to establish their brand. As all of this is going on, presence on key affiliate sites will be maintaining your position, front and centre of your own player database. 

As an agency, we are lucky to work with affiliate partners from across the globe who offer a level of knowledge and expertise in their niche that can’t be surpassed. As the market continues to grow, and as the local consumer becomes more conscious of both real money gaming and the brands that facilitate this, the importance of affiliates to the mass consumer market will only continue to accelerate.

Digital Fuel Marketing offer affiliate management services for operators. If you would like to talk to us about how we can help your brand increase customer acquisition, please contact us today.

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