Despite existing for over three decades, affiliate marketing has not been recognized or prioritized in comparison to its counterparts in search, social, and programmatic display. The transactional and largely last-click nature of the channel—as well as long-perpetuated discount-driven behaviors of brands and consumers alike—have fueled the channel’s somewhat inconsequential reputation. With tangential factors like rising customer acquisition costs on Google and Facebook creating pressure on brands' unit economics, marketers are desperately searching for an alternative to pay-for-access channels. While improvements in attribution technology have enabled a greater diversification of partner types, including a bigger role for content partners and creators, there is still considerably more work ahead.
[Affiliate marketing] offers the necessary combination of scale and automation, delivering a strong 12-to-1 return on ad spend. That level of return is hard to turn down.
In fact, recent research from The Performance Marketing Association indicates that affiliate marketing investment hit $9.1 billion in 2021, representing a 47% increase in spend growth since 2018. Despite this, it still only accounted for 2.79% of all digital spend in the US. For those who champion the channel’s efficiency and efficacy in delivering profitable growth, this is simply not acceptable—and certainly won’t propel the channel to where it needs and deserves to be. And while mixed perceptions of affiliate marketing among marketers have contributed to the reluctance in channel adoption, there are other serious factors at play. These include the ability for publishers and creators to confidently manage page yield and access data-driven evidence that ensures an increase in the available inventory for this channel will not degrade revenues or the user's experience.
“Recent events have served as a catalyst for companies to expedite their decision-making and affiliate marketing gives marketers a means to access their target audience through the power of partnerships,” said Partnerize's Maura Smith, CMO and senior vice president, marketing. “The channel offers the necessary combination of scale and automation, delivering a strong 12-to-1 return on ad spend. That level of return is hard to turn down.”
Solving for both marketer and partner needs is the only way for the channel to truly elevate and become widely recognized and embraced for all its value. However the solution won’t arrive on its own. The way forward includes collaborative innovation and sharing from leading platforms, candor at the executive level, embracing challenges and pushback from channel critics, and more.
To kick-start the conversation, Partnerize recently hosted Partnership Day NYC, which included a session where executives openly discussed what needs to happen to ease hesitations and increase profile, credibility, distribution, and budgets for the partner channel.
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