Affiliate marketing may have started as a kind of side hustle for bloggers and others that were making the majority of their revenues through advertising or other channels, but with the rise of influencers and the huge profusion of spon-con on social media, the idea of leveraging a person’s own presence to make some money and give a huge sales boost to a product, brand or service has taken on a life of its own. And to underscore that, today a company that’s built a marketplace to help connect people and companies in that larger set of relationships is announcing a big round of funding.
Impact — which has built a partnership management platform that lets brands engage people for influencer and affiliate marketing or wider business development; lets publishers also connect with brands and influencers; and provides the infrastructure both to track that content and collect revenues around it — has closed $150 million in funding on a $1.5 billion valuation.
Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) is leading this round, with Providence Public also participating. The company will be using the funds to continue expanding its partnership network as well as the kinds of tools it builds for brands, agencies and publishers.
Impact runs what it calls a “partnership cloud” — somewhat akin to a “marketing cloud” — that it targets at what it terms the “partnership economy.” Those who use affiliate or influencer marketing to spread the word about their products; those who leverage their personalities or content to do that; and those platforms that house the content can all use Impact to engage with each other, and run their business operations within it.
“We started as a platform that was mostly used in a private marketplace setting,” said David A. Yovanno, Impact’s CEO, in an interview. “We were the first with a product and tech-led product in the affiliate space. We call this category ‘partnerships’ but we didn’t come up with that term, our customers did after they started to use us in innovative ways.”
Impact has seen a big boom with the rise and increasing ubiquity of influencer marketing and spon-con. In the last year, the New York startup passed $100 million in annual recurring revenue, with its customers on a list of some of the biggest names in the worlds of technology, retail and more, including Lenovo, Microsoft, Uber, eBay, Amex, Capital One, Disney, NBC’s Peacock, Walmart, Target, lots of D2C brands and some other really huge tech companies that I’m not allowed to name… In all, its customer list has grown by 50% in the last year.
Spon-con and related marketing techniques have been on an upward trend for years, making gradually bigger dents in the 60% commitment that brands typically dedicate to online advertising to get the word out. The last year of COVID-19 living has, perhaps unsurprisingly, worked as a particular boost, however: people spending a lot more time online, and much more time idling hours away on social media rather than engaging in the physical world, has led to a much bigger rush of brands leveraging that landscape to get their names in front of would-be buyers.
The snag in the market that Impact has been building to fix reminds me somewhat of the challenges in the digital music industry: Initially, and frankly currently, it remains a challenge for rights owners in the world of music to accurately and efficiently track where and when music gets used, and then to collect revenues based on that, particularly when that music is used across the long tail of user-generated content.
A similar scenario exists in the spon-con world, especially when you consider how video clips are sampled and occasionally go viral, with those re-uses wandering far from their origins in the process.
The play that Impact is providing here, therefore, is not just one of accounting and providing a marketplace for entities to discover and engage with one another, but potentially a big data play to track how and where content will be used and engaged with wherever that happens to be. If the space continues to grow as it look like it will, that means a bigger job and more investment needed to track the space.