Affiliate marketing in the United States has been tipped to hit a value of $6.8 billion by 2020, according to a raft of Forrester-commissioned research by Rakuten Marketing’s affiliate network.

The above would represent a 10.1% lift on today’s figure, also providing signs that affiliate is maturing and outgrowing early conceptions as a way of driving consumers to the purchase event.

Instead, its extra value in consumer discovery, brand discovery and incremental sales is getting noted, evidenced in one in ten of the advertisers in the study regarding affiliate programmes as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to overall marketing strategy.

And that’s also reflected on the publisher side, with the majority claiming to owe at least 20% of annual revenue to the channel.  

US adoption

To draw these findings, Forrester surveyed over 150 US advertisers where revenue exceeded $200 million, and the same number of publishers either ranking highly for traffic in the States or boasting a considerable social following.

Of those advertisers and publishers, 80% and 84% respectively claimed to run an affiliate programme, while over 80% of advertisers devoted a tenth or more of their marketing budget towards the practice.

Additionally, marketers are diversifying how affiliate is implemented, putting programmes to use at various stages of the customer journey. A total of 83% targeted consumers during the discovery and awareness phase, and 79% during conversion and purchase.

A further 79% used the method in promoting ongoing customer engagement.

High value, low risk

“Affiliate marketing is a high-value, low-risk strategy proven to drive sales and awareness for brands and revenue for publishers,” said Adam Weiss, general manager and senior vice president of Rakuten Affiliate Network.

“When done right, it cultivates mutually beneficial and authentic relationships between brands and publishers, and those publishers and their audience.”

When it comes to finding those partners, advertisers cite choice of network as a crucial factor in connecting with publishers, with 83% using affiliate network dashboards for publisher recruitment, while 79% prefer to meet more personally at affiliate networking events.

Interestingly, the research also shows that publishers tend to promote themselves with a basis on site traffic and quality.

Advertisers, on the other hand, value vertical expertise in choosing publishing partners.