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Why the Affiliate Sandbox is Shifting in the US

Why the Affiliate Sandbox is Shifting in the US


The affiliate sandbox is shifting. The composite we have played in since the late ‘90s, layered with coupon, loyalty, data feed, and a smattering of content sites, has been disrupted. As the performance marketing industry matures, the perception of what a “valuable affiliate” is, and how it is measured, has evolved. Advertisers want more affiliate revenue, but only from sources and touch-points they recognise as incremental sales.  

How many times have affiliate marketers found themselves in challenging conversations about those who “introduce” and those who “conclude” a sale, about “mommy bloggers”, about valuable content or niche sites, and “less valuable” traditional affiliate sites? Efforts are being re-directed to respond to this shift, and a cottage industry has emerged to address a clear gap. There are countless departments, specialist roles, processes, and software aimed at coaxing these high-valued content and blogger sites into the affiliate sandbox.


One of the biggest indicators of this is the shift away from the last-click-wins-all and toward the multi-touch model, with the most valued affiliates pegged as the “initiators”.  Advertisers seek to grow this bucket of sites, and to address this need a great deal of time is spent in the pursuit of recruiting potential initiators.  Through these efforts, the insight we’ve gleaned is that, with some exceptions, the engagement we need to have with these types of sites is different from affiliate engagement, and requires a pivot in thinking, in workflow, and in the structural model in order to address it. We can still grow the relationships our advertisers have with these types of sites, but not necessarily through the affiliate channel, and not always by working within our own sandbox.

These sites, as a whole, don’t respond well to the pay-per-performance model. Anyone who has tried tirelessly over the years to forge relationships with these sites at their conferences and in their milieu, and drag them out of their box, over the line, and into an affiliate program can attest to this.  They are of a different breed.  Affiliate marketing is traditionally focused on the conversion of a sale, and the traditional affiliate role is the execution of that sale. To focus on influencing the sale is a different strategy. And it requires a different approach. 


To understand the most effective method is to understand the motivation.  Why do advertisers want to spend so much time recruiting these sites?  It’s not for the revenue they generate, or their sheer volume - typically these sites won’t do near the volume of the traditional affiliate, which is built more for mass appeal. What is valuable is their platform to speak to niche, targeted potential customers with a high customer lifetime value.  And what are the sites interested in?  They want to introduce brands to their audience, build enthusiasm, and generate content and sponsorships. 

The essence of influencer marketing is the same as affiliate marketing: it’s about finding, creating, and fostering direct relationships with sites that advertisers care about. But we need to measure success, the ultimate sandcastle, in terms of reach and engagement, not on a converted sale. Sponsoring giveaways, contests, reviews, or creative paid placement, in exchange for an upfront fee for their time and access to their audience, gives advertisers the traction they’re looking for with these sites. Playing with a different set of guidelines for a different kind of sandbox will allow an advertiser to secure real estate on the coveted influencer sites, as well as foster relationships with site owners who have influence with target brand enthusiasts. This is a new day, and a new way to play.

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Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris is owner & CEO of PartnerCentric and was the first employee hired in 2006. In her tenure, she has held every position in the organisation and officially acquired it in 2017. As owner & CEO, Stephanie works to ensure that all business operations are efficient and effective, that resources are properly managed and that clients and partners receive the highest level of customer service. Stephanie’s business instincts, focus and energy have given her the experience necessary to manage a broad portfolio of projects. From her first days at PartnerCentric, Stephanie was known as an innovative affiliate program manager. In 2007 she was a top three affiliate manager on ABestWeb, and in 2008, 2009, and 2010 she was a finalist for the Affiliate Summit Pinnacle Award for affiliate manager. Before joining the company, Stephanie helped launch the Scholastic Store Online and Scholastic Teacher Store Online affiliate programs. In 2005, she was the recipient of the Scholastic Exceptional Marketers Award.

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