Partnership Marketing 101: The Simplified Guide for 2022

Sep 21, 2022

Marketing Specialist

For today’s marketer, partnerships have emerged as an extraordinary growth channel and a powerful way to enhance brand equity.

Over the last decade, marketing strategies and tactics have changed rapidly as consumer behaviors have shifted and the media environment has been transformed. As shoppers have become harder to reach and more skeptical of traditional marketing approaches, a growing number of brands have looked to performance partnerships as a means of driving strong growth while simultaneously enhancing brand meaning.

With all of these exciting partnership opportunities, what is in fact more exciting are the capabilities around reporting and insights that a partner marketing platform can deliver. This guide aims to take a deeper dive into the world of partner marketing, how it all works, and how you can establish powerful and lasting partnership relationships based on clear objectives, rewards and metrics.

What is Partnership Marketing?

Partner marketing (or partnership marketing) is when one brand drives traffic and customers to another brand in exchange for value or compensation.

There are as many ways to partner as there are types of companies and publishers to partner with. Many companies begin by collaborating with what we call keystone partners – large publishers and communities whose primary business is partnership. Loyalty communities are another popular choice. B2B partnerships are increasingly popular for companies trying to drive sales with small and medium-sized businesses. And there are what we call transformational partners – brands that bring something unique to partnership — something that can transform the go-to market strategy of your company.

partnership marketing explained
Partner Marketing Commission Diagram


In most cases, the partner brand promotes your brand to its customer base, helping you grow sales. In exchange for that promotion, the partner receives some value in return.

Partnership marketing is predominantly driven on a “cost per acquisition” or CPA model, meaning brands only pay a partner when they make a sale. Partnership marketing is a strategy used by leading brands from across the globe and can be applied to almost any vertical or industry.


How Do Pay-for-Performance Partnerships Work?

    1. A partner signs up to a brand’s partnership marketing program
    2. The partner marketer places the brand’s link on their website
    3. An end user visits the partner’s website
    4. The end user clicks the link to the brand’s website
    5. Partnerize tracks this new traffic
    6. The end user buys a product from the brand’s website
    7. Partnerize tracks the sale
    8. Partnerize reports the sale back to the brand in real-time
    9. The brand pays a commission to the partner through Partnerize

For marketers past, partnerships often involved a blanket approach and onesize-fits-all compensation.

Today, marketers are partnering with other brands in a whole host of ways. While affiliate programs used to be managed almost exclusively by affiliate network middlemen, today’s partner marketers often choose management tools that enable direct relationships with partners, a range of commission structures and the ability to create partner marketing strategies to push particular products, brands etc. Partnership marketing has evolved to focus on commercial collaborations that are strong and accountable business drivers. These partnerships have clear objectives and metrics and drive results that are mutually beneficial. 

2011 to 2013
2014 to 2016
  • Blogs
  • Coupons
  • Cashback
  • Loyalty
  • Influencers
  • Aggregators
  • Blogs
  • Coupons
  • Cashback
  • Loyalty
  • Meta search engines
  • Apps
  • Influencers
  • Aggregators
  • Blogs
  • Coupons
  • Cashback
  • Loyalty
  • Strategic partners
  • Offline & online
  • Meta search engines
  • Apps
  • Influencers
  • Aggregators
  • Blogs
  • Coupons
  • Cashback
  • Loyalty


What Kind of Partners Are There?

With so many different types of partners, it can be hard to understand the complete range of options. To simplify understanding, we’ve broken them down into six broad segments.

Keystone Partners

Keystone partners are brands, often with large customer bases, which are focused on driving rewards for their customers including cashback, discounts etc.

Loyalty Partners

 Loyalty partners operate their own customer loyalty rewards programs, primarily rewarding their customers with points.

Metasearch Partners

Metasearch partners, often operating in the travel space, allow customers to search for travel options. Some then refer you to another site for purchase. Others enable you to buy on their sites.

Comparison Partners

Comparison partners provide customers with different buying options when searching for products or services.

Transformational Partners

Transformational partners are brands which partner with other brands in powerful and often surprising ways. Many transformational partners are not companies you might immediately suspect focused on lots of partnerships.

Technology Partners

Technology partners drive traffic to brands through wider digital approaches such as retargeting, bundling and SEO.


Traditional Partnerships vs Transformational Partnerships

Understand the power of transformational partnerships and how they can contribute to your organization.

Traditional Partnerships vs Transformational Partnerships diagram


  1. New Customer Acquisition: Open up a new, unexplored channel to acquire customers that is unique to partner marketing. Generate new business by targeting engaged customers with relevant products.
  2.  Stronger Customer Loyalty: Improve customer experience by offering products from partners that are relevant to your target demographic to improve customer loyalty and build lifetime value.
  3. Increased Sales Across Specific Products: Drive sales of profitable products, increase velocity of slow moving products or execute time-sensitive promotions by sharing highly granular, conversion-level data points. For example, a retailer could increase compensation for a travel brand partner who promotes a sale on overstocked swim suits to customers flying to Hawaii.
  4. Brand Synergy: Improve your brand equity and build trust with your customers by leveraging the reputation of your partner’s brand. Convert this association into sales.


How to Select the Right Partners

For enterprise brands, many marketers focus primarily on identifying and partnering with highly scalable partners. When selecting which partners to focus on, it’s important to think about the following:

  1. Does this partner have a customer base that I would want to target? 
  2. Do this partner’s values align with my brand values?
  3. Can the partner realistically deliver sufficient scale to warrant a partnership?
  4. Do they already have partners/appear to be willing to partner?

How to Be Successful With Your Partnership Marketing Campaign?

The partnerships channel can be whatever you make it. You can choose to pass back infinite data parameters that can help you to track and measure to goals and objectives. The more data you pass back, the more reporting opportunities you have. Before you decide on data parameters, formalize your key objectives by asking yourself the following:

  • What is your benchmark for success? Sales? Net new customers?
  • Repeat purchases? Specific basket size?
  • Do you have specific revenue goals you want to achieve?
  • What data do you need to share with partners for them to be successful?
  • Which metrics do you need to report back to internal stakeholders?

Once you’ve determined your objectives, you can work out which data to pass back to allow you to report and measure on these objectives, such as the ones outlined in this image. 

Partnership Marketing KPIs List
Partnership Marketing KPIs to Measure



How to Get Started With Partnership Marketing

There are five key steps to take when starting your partnerships journey:

  1. Set your goals and objectives for the partner channel
  2. Decide which key partners you’d like to get started with
  3. Choose a partner marketing technology to track, report and pay
    your partners
  4. Plan out your timeframe/timeline for on-boarding partners
  5. Devise your compensation strategies to ensure success

Support for Success

Whether you’re new to the partner channel, or a partnerships veteran, it’s always good to have someone by your side. A dedicated Customer Success professional can help you to think about the following:

• What the right goals are for your brand
• The most effective strategies to achieve those goals
• The strongest partners for your brand
• Commissioning strategies that can deliver success
• Communicating with potential partners

3 Core Partner Marketing Strategies to Acquire New Customers

New customer acquisition is likely one of, if not the, most important objectives of your partnership marketing plan. Commissioned research with Forrester Consulting that polled more than 170 executive-level marketers to gauge their perception of the affiliate channel and the value it provides them, had indicated that they prize the channel for customer acquisition. In fact, 20% of these marketers ranked partner marketing as their number one channel for customer acquisition.

Another CMO study, this one from Gartner, reported that 37% of marketing budgets are focused on acquisition. That’s a big percentage, and with traditional approaches getting more expensive, smart marketers are looking to stretch the value of their spend.

Search, email, and social media are likely stalwart tactics in your acquisition marketing arsenal.

Here are three partner marketing strategies that will grow your brand awareness and help you acquire new customers.

Partnering With Affiliate Marketing Publishers

Affiliate marketing is defined as a merchant paying a commission to other online entities, known as affiliates, for referring traffic and driving sales.

Common affiliate marketing strategy types for publishers include cashback, loyalty, comparison, vertical search, metasearch, and coupon sites.

As a customer acquisition channel, affiliate delivers efficient ROI and proven omni-channel consumer reach. Given that affiliate has been around since the early days of digital, it probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you look to go boldly where no marketer has gone before.

Here are some affiliate marketing stats. 

  1. Affiliate marketing is worth an 01 estimated $12B globally. Source: Taboola
  2. A Gartner survey indicates that 65% of CMOs cite an increase in spend in affiliate and the partnership marketing channel. Source: Gartner CMO Survey Results
  3. Affiliate marketing is adopted by 80%+ of brands and 84%+ of publisher partners. Source: Web Tribunal

Learn more in our guide to affiliate marketing.

Brand to Brand Partnerships

Most of the customer acquisition strategies we’ve discussed involve some form of partnership. As technology advances more quickly than ever before, and consumers become more sophisticated, brands must continue to build meaningful alliances with other brands to connect with new audiences.

Today, brands are partnering with other brands in powerful and surprising ways. These brands bring something unique to one another, and often multiple benefits beyond customer growth, while still being measured on a performance model.

Brands need not operate in the same – or even adjacent – verticals to find synergy in working together. For example, a major beer brand could partner with a ride-sharing service to help prevent drunk driving. What matters is the purpose or fit between the brands. This in turn builds brand equity and trust with consumers and may also result in new customers and increased sales.

Forming the right partnerships takes strategy and relationship building. If you are using a SaaS platform to manage your partnership marketing, you can leverage their partnership team to make introductions to the brands you want to work with.

Think about brands that have customer bases and target markets similar to yours. If you are trying to reach millennial parents, for example, look to brands that already have many of these consumers. Chances are you can offer them increased value through exposure to your customers as well.

Creativity, innovation, and value should be the driving forces of the brand-to-brand partnerships. Leveraging a technology platform that can track sales activity and conversion data will reduce the time it takes your team to prove ROI and growth form these relationships. For an example of a successful brand-to-brand partnership that fits this model, read how Hawaiian Airlines and retailer SurfStitch are driving cost effective customer acquisition through their brand-to brand partnership marketing initiatives.

Brands want to move as quickly as possible to implement new marketing partnerships. While brand-to-brand partnerships can sometimes be time-consuming to create, here are a couple of ways to short-circuit timelines and get going more quickly.

1. Seek out brands with existing brand partnerships. These companies likely already have a defined process in place for selecting and implementing brand partnerships, which will speed outcomes considerably:

  • Speak to your partnerships platform Customer Success Lead to identify other customers they work with who are already undertaking brand partnerships
  • Reach out to your platform’s Partnerships Director to help discover brands who are aligned to your goals and audiences

2. Look within your business and identify any existing brand partnerships that you’re not currently tracking or monetizing: 

  • Enquire with your brand or sponsorship teams about what partnerships you already have running and how they’re being measured and/or monetized
  • Speak to your social team and find out if you’ve promoted any other brands on social media and what were the objectives of those co-promoted posts were

Before you approach a brand partner, save time by coming prepared.

Here are six things you must clarify before you start any conversations with brands to partner with:

  1. Define Your Objectives: Work out what you want to achieve, whether that’s customer acquisition, growing your customer database, achieving a specific revenue target, etc.
  2. Define Your Audience: Define the target audience you’re looking for.
  3. Understand Your Internal Capabilities: To avoid over-promising and under-delivering to your strategic brand partners, define the resources you have to manage the brand partnership.
  4. Define the Best Verticals: Pre-populate a list of the strongest product categories and subcategories you want to work with.
  5. Outline What You Have To Offer: Be very clear on what you can and cannot bring to the table. Outline the types of activities you would be willing to undertake, whether that’s cross-promotion, becoming a revenue partner, commission reinvestment, or more.
  6. Develop a Timeline: Come prepared with a plan and a timeline for any potential partnerships including launch times, length of the partnership and how long you estimate it will take to setup.


Loyalty Partnership Programs

Among U.S. consumers, there are 3.8 billion memberships in customer loyalty programs. These programs can be a powerful way for brands to keep existing customers coming back.

But growth in loyalty membership has slowed year-over-year. This could be due to loyalty fatigue, length of time to gain or cash in on rewards, or simply a loss of interest in joining more programs.

Now, consider this: seventy percent of consumers overwhelmingly like the idea of loyalty programs partnering with other brands to enhance loyalty benefits.

An example of this is an airline loyalty program that has multiple partner benefits for its members, one of which is a discount at a car rental company. This may be lucrative to to consumers planning vacations. For the car rental brand, the partnership delivers added scale for new customer acquisition. The airline could see reengaged loyalists based on substantive offers from brands that add value for them.

To find another brand to form a loyalty partnership with, start by understanding the digital behavior of the customers you want to reach. Try to keep the partnership benefits and reward redemption simple so consumers can easily take advantage of offers in their preferred channels.

Seek out loyalty partners whose members will enjoy the perks and experiences you offer. For example, if you are a high-end headphone or streaming device maker, partnering with a rewards program for a gaming retailer could make a lot of sense.

If you are already managing your partnerships through a technology platform that also provides strategic advice, talk to your contacts there. They can probably introduce you to potential loyalty partners that will benefit your brand.


The world of partner marketing is ever-expanding, and presents endless opportunities to marketers today. By understanding the power of partnership and taking the time to set clear objectives, brands can achieve huge success within this channel.

What’s important to remember is that this arena is all about mutual benefits. While that may sound simple, having direct relationships with your partners and working together to achieve success can result in far more profitable results than simply keeping them at arms length, or failing to consider “what’s in it for them.”

With the ecommerce industry expanding rapidly, it’s more important than ever to partner with brands who align with your values and customer base. By doing this, you form partnerships that deliver both increased sales and brand enhancement. 

Want a copy of this document in pdf form? Download it here. 


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