What’s in a name? A lot.

I remember the first time I heard the words “affiliate marketing”. The term sounded strategic, sophisticated and results-oriented. For those of us that know the space well, that’s exactly what affiliate has always been about.

We’ve always understood how brand and publisher partnerships deliver outstanding ROI — even as they enhance brand equities and reputations.

But not everybody thinks so positively when they hear “affiliate marketing.” Instead, some draw negative associations based on historic issues in the industry. In the early days, brands rushed into the affiliate space – often without having thought-through strategies, measurement plans, and safeguards that ensured best results. As the money poured in, so did fraudsters anxious to get a piece. Further, imperfect partner vetting processes occasionally meant that ads for great brands showed up in not great places.

Fast forward 15 years, and I’d argue that what we call “affiliate” is one of the most accountable and clean segments of digital. The vast majority of affiliate programs now pay only after a confirmed purchase, so investment is perfectly aligned to results. In addition, with proper tracking and verification, brands can ensure that their products are featured only in appropriate environments.  

“Lucrative channel”

To be sure, the affiliate space has grown steadily so that the vast majority of brands participate in this compelling and lucrative channel. Brands simply cannot ignore such a good thing. But does this form of performance marketing get the investment and attention it deserves? Or are there artificial perceptions limiting the investment that brands make in this arena?

In my view, too many people look at affiliate as a niche medium, instead of a primary force that can drive massive sales and growth. Too many marketers without focused expertise in affiliate marketing understand our discipline only as it currently exists within their organizations, rather than as the transformative business growth engine it can be.

How do we change that? I think part of the answer requires broadening our perspective, our roles, and rebranding to “partner marketing.” Many companies that might have limited notions of what affiliate can do for a business are more than willing to consider partnerships as a bigger and potentially more lucrative category. This broadening of perspective is already taking place; many traditional affiliate marketers and publishers are now fielding sophisticated programs using data-driven decision-making and unusual deal structures that push the boundaries of traditional affiliate relationships.

Partner marketing

By reframing what we do as partner marketing, we can expand the appeal of our industry, open up new brands, and innovate new deal types. From a professional growth vantage point, we can take our own areas of responsibility and expand them by capitalizing on important macro trends — trends like personalization and data-driven decision-making. We can move what we do into the center of brands’ tactical arsenals and expand our own reach in myriad ways.

What’s in a name? A lot. By redefining ourselves as a critical component of partner marketing, and embracing a much broader range of partnerships and models, we can help brands overcome their prejudices and benefit from the limitless potential of this sector.

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