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Affiliate Vs. Partner Marketing: What is the Difference?

Apr 19, 2022

Vice President Of Operations in Strategic Technology

The difference between affiliate and partner marketing is subtle. The term affiliate marketing is used when speaking specifically about how some brands compensate the people or organizations that help them promote their brand. In contrast, the term partner marketing is used when discussing the entire marketing category where people or organizations work together to further their message and drive sales.

Why use “Partner marketing”?

Here is a little more about why Partnerize have begun to use “Partner Marketing” more than “affiliate marketing.” 

Do you remember the first time you heard the words “affiliate marketing?”

If you’re like me, you thought the phrase sounded sophisticated, strategic, and results-oriented. For those of us that know this marketing space, that’s exactly what affiliate has always been about for the past decade.

We’ve always known that affiliate partnerships deliver an incredible ROI — even as they enhance brand equities and reputations.

However, not everybody thinks positively when they hear “affiliate marketing.”

Instead, there are negative associations based on past issues in the affiliate industry. In the early days, brands rushed into the affiliate space without thinking through strategies, measurement plans, or safeguards that ensured best results. As the money poured into the affiliate marketing industry, so did fraudsters eager to get a piece of the action. The outcome was that there was an imperfect process for vetting affiliates and brand partners. That meant that ads for great brands starting showing up in not so great places online. 

Fast forward 15 years, and I’d argue that what we call “affiliate” is one of the most accountable and clean segments of digital. The vast majority of affiliate programs now pay only after a confirmed purchase, so investment is perfectly aligned to results. In addition, with proper tracking and verification, brands can ensure that their products are featured only inappropriate environments. 

To be sure, the affiliate space has grown steadily so that the vast majority of brands participate in this compelling and lucrative channel. Brands simply cannot ignore such a good thing. But does this form of performance marketing get the investment and attention it deserves? or are there artificial perceptions limiting the investment that brands make this arena?

Too many people look at affiliate as a niche medium, instead of a primary force that can drive massive sales and growth.

In my view, too many people look at affiliate as a niche medium, instead of a primary force that can drive massive sales and growth. Too many marketers without focused expertise in affiliate marketing understand our discipline only as it currently exists within their organizations, rather than as the transformative business growth engine it can be.















How do we redefine our marketing channel?

I think part of the answer requires broadening our perspective, our roles, and rebrand to using “partner marketing.” Many companies that might have limited notions of what affiliate can do for a business are more than willing to consider partnerships as a bigger and potentially more lucrative category. This broadening of perspective Is already taking place; many traditional affiliate marketers and publishers are now fielding sophisticated programs using data-driven decision-making and unusual deal structures that push the boundaries of traditional affiliate relationships.

By reframing what we do as partner marketing, we can expand the appeal of our industry, open up new brands, and innovate new deal types. From a professional growth vantage point, we can take our own areas of responsibility and expand them by capitalizing on important macro trends — trends like personalization and data-driven decision-making. We can move what we do into the center of brands’ tactical arsenals and expand our own reach in myriad ways.

What’s in a name? A lot. By redefining ourselves as a critical component of partner marketing, and embracing a much broader range of partnerships and models, we can help brands overcome their prejudices and benefit from the limitless potential of this sector.


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