Affiliate marketing has and is adapting, changing and evolving with the times.

A couple weeks ago I read a piece of marketing material with the title: “Affiliate Marketing is Dead”. Surprising since the sender over its history has essentially billed itself as a replacement affiliate tracking platform who’s adding a “marketplace” to become more like all the major tier-one affiliate networks such as Commission Junction, Pepperjam, ShareASale/AWIN and RakutenLinkshare.

I’m involved in affiliate marketing every day so this came as a shock to me. What have I missed? As it turns out, I haven’t missed anything. Affiliate Marketing is alive and well, opinions to the contrary.

To be honest, nobody on my team liked the title of this piece, but negative titles like that draw readers/viewers. It’s alarming really to make a claim like that while they operate a platform that connects brands with… well… Affiliates. A more accurate title would have been: “Affiliate Marketing is Evolving... and Evolving is a Good Thing”. The industry is shedding some of it’s weaknesses as the objectives of brands change while it’s gaining new strengths affording it the ability to stay relevant.

The presentation raises some good points. The gist is that affiliate marketing is on the third phase of it’s evolution. Phase one was just about getting as many affiliates in your program as possible as you only pay if you get a sale and that led to some bad apples abusing the system with tactics that just costed brands money. The second phase has led to a small batch of affiliates being responsible for driving the majority of revenue. Think the 80/20 rule although in some cases it’s more like 95/5, and even the 99/1 rule. Many of these affiliates are coupon, deal and offer sites and some brands debate the value they bring. We can debate this for days, but that’s for another time. The third phase, the one that has “killed” affiliate marketing is what they call Partnership Marketing. Essentially this is working with affiliates/publishers/influencers (See more about influencer marketing, click here.) and forming deeper 1 to 1 relationships.

This all sounds great, but they miss a number of key points that we see and hear by working with 90+ clients on a regular basis and for over the 19 years of our company’s existence.

Reading this article certainly takes me back to “the day” when we used to operate somewhat as described; recruit as many affiliates as possible, semi-autopilot, more, more more…..bam, results!. But this online marketing channel has evolved tremendously. But, really, haven’t ALL online marketing channels evolved over the last 19+ years? And over the years, technology has evolved so that we have much more visibility into these programs thus being able to better identify what it means by ‘high-valued affiliates”. Now that we have access to these affiliates/publishers/influencers and have BETTER technology to recruit/communicate/report on them, it seems we have altered the way of the traditional affiliate relationship.

And, over the course of managing programs many of these affiliates/publishers/influencer have evolved into, effectively, Partners.

So what the marketing material suggests is that they believe the market is about “Partner Marketing”.

But actually, that’s what its always been with eAccountable. Whether the business relationship is fostered through a tier-one affiliate network, direct tracking, 3rd-party tracking or Google Analytics, we always work with Partners.

Lastly, the leading ecommerce news platform, InternetRetailer, recently published two case studies about the importance of the affiliate channel to major retailers:

Affiliates Help Boost Direct Sales at 7 For All Mankind
LeTote Expands Its Blogger Affiliate Network

Here internally we’re always asking our team to think about this topic and how we can be better partners with our clients, affiliates and vendors. I hope everyone involved in the industry continues to think about this topic and what next steps need to be taken to meet the increasing needs and demands of valuing this important digital channel. Share what you’re testing and what clients are asking for. We need to figure how to evolve. On our end we’re continuing to scope and draw lines between Affiliate & Influencer Marketing that will ultimately make and define a whole “Partnership” marketing strategy.