What’s Old Is New Again: Why Affiliate Marketing Is Growing
Columnist Adam Weiss takes a close look at advancements in affiliate marketing and how they're driving growth in the industry.
As the year comes to a close, I can’t help but think about all of the changes that have taken place over the past 12 months in our industry — things like the shift toward content marketing versus traditional online ads, social “buy” buttons, advances in online to offine, and the list goes on.
There’s no doubt that 2015 has been the most innovative and interesting year of my career. The conversations and top headlines have really helped me home in on what it is that I enjoy so much about my job and the marketing channel I’ve worked in for 12 years.
It’s also led me to share my definition of what affiliate marketing really means, why it’s growing and how I believe it should be viewed. There are some consistent themes that resonate with both e-commerce companies and consumers, all at a seemingly perfect time when marketers are looking for a more organic way to drive sales.
Original, Native Content
The content on affiliate sites is the original native content. With affiliate marketing, products, brands and promotions are seamlessly embedded into the editorial content on a publisher site.
As I like to say, it’s content marketing before content marketing was a thing.
For advertisers, it’s a no-brainer: Each has a network of publisher partners all promoting the brand, sale and/or product which, at the most basic level, is beautiful, native advertising that acts as brand awareness — and at best, reaches an entirely new customer base while driving incremental revenue. Win-win!
The great thing about publishers in our space is that they create their own unique audience of loyal consumers who trust them and their opinions. I’m not just talking about loyalty sites either — bloggers, coupon sites and editorial news outlets all have their own communities that play a part in the ecosystem.
What’s really happening here is you have brand advocates that produce content based on their experience with your products or service or who are looking to promote a product or a deal and essentially act as trusted third-party validators for brands. Publishers are influencers that can reach new and existing customers with their native content to attract their loyal community to a brand.
Publishers provide value and influence through their communities, regardless of the size. Trust drives action, and affiliate marketing provides the platform in which it all comes together.
Social media has changed the speed at which people receive and consume information. Through social media and other online publications, affiliate publishers can ensure the right message gets to the right person at the right time by leveraging the following they have.
When advertisers have specific goals or objectives for particular products, brands or promotions, they have the ability, through the relationships with affiliate publishers to leverage that community of users, to quickly get reach and influence at scale.
I believe this is a unique value proposition that affiliate publishers bring to our ecosystem.
This doesn’t come at the cost of the publisher’s integrity or fear of losing readers based on misleading or disruptive advertising. Publishers can maintain a balanced approach of the ads and products that are meaningful to their consumers as they maintain the control of where, when and how they want to advertise their partners.
As we all know, affiliate marketing is predicated on relationships and partnerships. It’s an ecosystem, and all parties are equally dependent on each other to achieve success.
It’s the only digital marketing channel that’s reliant on actual relationships established between parties with a mutually beneficial goal.
The most successful programs are based on the right strategy and a strong, effective relationship. Publishers understand the importance of creating long-term, productive partnerships with their advertiser partners, while advertisers recognize that these publishers provide the opportunity to reach new and loyal customers.
What good are any of these other themes if it’s impossible to measure success? Affiliate marketing programs provide a 360-degree view of an entire campaign.
The data offers both advertisers and publishers ways to identify top partners, assess placement strategies and analyze consumer behavior. Essentially, it’s the layer that supports the platform and enhances the offering.
Because of the cost per action (CPA) model, there are no questions analyzing the ROI from the advertiser’s side — views, impressions, and even clicks aren’t the benchmarks of success. Brands are able to see exactly how much revenue they’ve made and commissions they paid out in a single report.
Further, there’s a new angle on data and a shift happening in our industry. Data is not just about measuring your program, but leveraging it to inform promotions and create the right experience for the right user at the right time on the right site.
Over my 12 years working in the industry, I’ve witnessed plenty of advancements and innovative publishers, but these core concepts remain. And that’s why this channel isn’t going anywhere and will continue to grow.