The closure of Tombola’s affiliate programme and the challenges of affiliate marketing
The decision by Tombola to close its affiliate programme has sent shockwaves through the affiliate industry.
As one of the country’s best-known bingo and gaming brands, Tombola had partnered with affiliates successfully for years, with many affiliates reliant on Tombola referrals within their businesses. The closure comes at a time of increasing challenges for operators, particularly in the current regulatory climate – but also for affiliates, who are impacted downstream.
Tombola’s strategy was to minimise losses and foster long-term player retention through its programme, but it was unable to make its affiliate programme profitable. Various reasons have been suggested for its failure – not least underperforming affiliate software, tools and data. This can have a negative impact on the efficacy of affiliate managers, when they lack the necessary resources to run effective campaigns.
Moving forward, Tombola has said that it plans to relaunch its affiliate programme on high performing software, such as Income Access or NetRefer, after improvements have been made. In the meantime, the imminent closure has sent affiliates elsewhere in pursuit of other brands to refer to plug the gap in their business.
The closure brings the challenges of affiliate marketing into sharp relief – both for operators who rely on affiliates to drive traffic and deposits, and for the affiliates who rely on commissions. With Tombola gone, at least for now, how can operators and affiliates work together effectively to deliver on their mutual objectives?
Affiliates can only ultimately be as good as the operators they are promoting. If an operator’s offer isn’t converting, it is unlikely to be profitable long-term for affiliates to send traffic. Deposit bonuses are a major part of that process, one of the main attractions for players signing up to join a site. No wagering bonuses are particularly attractive here. Tombola has a no wagering deposit bonus which was popular with its affiliate acquired channels. However, the corresponding downsides of higher minimum deposit amounts, strict time frames, limited game eligibility, and smaller overall bonus amounts mean that sometimes this isn’t the most effective pitch for converting eyeballs into customers.
Bonuses need to sit in the nexus between fair and generous, while still being commercially viable for operators. Tweaking the bonus offer and experimenting with different bonus structures can lead to some of the most significant gains, both for operators and affiliates, from recommended play.
Software, Assets and Communication
Affiliate marketing is a team effort. Both operators and affiliates need to work together to deliver to their mutual advantage. That means brands need to rely on good software, with ample image options, customisable campaigns, special offers for affiliates, in-depth data and analytics for affiliates, and as many other campaign tools as they can provide. As a general rule, more is better – the more resources affiliates have to work with, the better their chances of finding the optimum combination for conversion.
Communication between both sides is also key. This is where good affiliate managers come in and justify their value. Brands that do well invest in their affiliate programmes, and actually try to bring in the right personnel to make the deal work for both sides. It cannot be a passive process – only with active communication and support from brands can affiliate programmes truly succeed long-term.
Strategies for Affiliates
The onus here too is on affiliates to rise to the challenges of the regulatory and economic environment, and to do what they can to be resilient to market change. Anyone left high and dry by the closure of Tombola is liable to the charge of a failure to diversify – it is crucial for any serious affiliate to diversify affiliate partnerships, and to keep on top of industry trends, emerging news and developments that could affect their business. All eggs in too few baskets is always a recipe for disaster – fortunately diversification is relatively straightforward for affiliates, so there can be no excuse for being overexposed to one particular affiliate programme.
Similarly, there is a need to embrace ethical marketing, to keep content up to date and honest, and to invest in building trust and credibility with players that lasts beyond a quick one-off referral. This is where affiliates build real value in the wider online gambling ecosystem, to the benefit of their own businesses and the operators they work with.
The affiliate marketing industry is resilient and adaptable. Affiliates will ultimately overcome the closure of the Tombola scheme, and it can be hoped that Tombola will return to the fray in the near future with a stronger, more effective programme. But more broadly, brands and affiliates need to collaborate more closely, and evolve together to build sustainable partnerships. This is the key to long-term success, which is ultimately in everyone’s best interests.