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 partner 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.

Types of Performance Partnerships Explained

There are many different kinds of performance partnerships, and new varieties of partnerships are being developed every year. But you don’t need to know every type of partner opportunity in order to drive growth through partnerships. Here are some brief descriptions of 5 major partner types that are driving strong sales.

Affiliate Partners

Affiliate marketing is growing more and more popular worldwide. Affiliate are companies whose primary business is in driving traffic and sales for brands on a cost-per action basis.

For these companies, driving revenue from performance partnerships is their entire business model. Examples of affiliates are price comparison sites, coupon sites, and loyalty communities.

Influencer Partners

Influencers are individuals who have notoriety for being expert on something, along with significant numbers of followers that trust what they say and recommend.

For example, there are many people online who write about fashion and style, and have followers who appreciate and heed their advice. These influencers can help brands by publicizing and recommending their products and services.

Technology Partners

People use the term technology partner in many different ways. In the context of performance partnerships, tech partners are companies that use technology to drive improve marketing and sales efforts.

The difference between an affiliate and a tech partner is that affiliates tend to focus on having strong user bases, while tech partners use science to attract in-market consumers to a brand.

A great example of a tech partner is a company that retargets a brand’s site visitors and is paid on a per-click or per-purchase basis.

Strategic Brand Partners

Strategic brand partners are other major brands that have something in common with your brand along with a desire to work with you for mutual benefit. Perhaps you both target the same kind of person, or both offer products in related categories.

The idea here is that these brands essentially help each other find new users and grow brand loyalty, either for cash or reciprocal services.

In a brand partnerships, the goals and programs are generally more strategic than for affiliate, and the possible revenue from partnerships is not the company’s primary business.

Media Partnerships

All websites can be called media. But in the context of performance partnership, media partners are mainstream entertainment and information companies willing to drive traffic and sales on a pay-for performance basis.

They are different from affiliates in that their primary business has historically been to deliver high quality content in exchange for standard impression-based advertising dollars. For example, a TV network or a magazine publisher

So What is the Difference Between Affiliate and Partner Marketing?

All affiliates are partners. However, not all partners are affiliates because affiliate marketing is only one segment of partnership marketing. 

Affiliates currently drive more revenue than any other category segment. But they actually represent less than half of total partner marketing revenue. Further, other segments of partnership are growing even faster than the already very healthy affiliate marketing segment.

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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