For years, a myth has been consistently perpetuated in affiliate marketing that working with multiple affiliate networks is “just too complicated”, and that the one-network approach saves more in time than it might lose in performance.

It’s a common narrative, but one that in my opinion has no place in the modern day, technology-led advertising industry.

The idea of a merchant restricting itself to just one affiliate network or affiliate tracking provider has always seemed illogical to me. The goal of affiliate marketing is surely to generate reach and sales from across the internet and distribute a brand to a scalable force of relevant and willing promoters? Logic dictates that more networks should increase a brand’s chances of reaching more of the most relevant affiliates? Yet while pretty much every publisher out there runs on 10 networks or more, very few merchants operate multi-network affiliate strategies.

Restricting growth?

The single-network approach makes absolute sense from one perspective: the networks. Affiliate networks like to strike ‘exclusive’ single network deals that use attractive commercials to tie-in big brands to their service. If a merchant is only using one network, this means affiliates have to come to that network specifically to access the brand they are looking for. This means the network benefits in terms of both scale and not having to compete for an important affiliate to use their services over a rival.

But for an advertiser that works across multiple territories, locking a brand into one affiliate provider seems totally illogical when it’s widely and commonly accepted that affiliate marketing is a highly-localised advertising stream, where on-the-ground expertise is extremely important (particularly in emerging markets like APAC, Russia and Eastern Europe). Surely advertisers need the choice to pick the right provider for their important territories, not be tied into an agreement that forces them to use a provider that might be expert in some territories, but not others.

Even in a single territory this strategy seems strangely opposed to growth: if a second network can add an additional percentage of new long-tail partners and/or sales, even to a small degree, why not take the opportunity? There are some excellent affiliate networks in the UK market, some of them doing very innovative things. Why are advertisers not prepared to give these networks a chance alongside a bigger provider or SaaS (Software as a Service) platform

Additionally, having a brand available across multiple affiliate networks also offers choice and redundancy, crucial at times in softening the revenue impact if a network suffers a blackout in tracking or reporting. And it also adds a degree of competitiveness to service levels which surely can only improve everyone’s experience of affiliate marketing.

Proactive, not reactive

In reality, brands often sign exclusive deals with affiliate networks just to gain a bit of time back from the monotony of performing basic affiliate management tasks across multiple networks. They’ve become reliant on being ‘spoon-fed’ information by the networks, and have taken a reactive rather than proactive approach to their affiliate programmes. But is ‘it’s just a bit of a pain’ a valid excuse for merchants to restrict the reach and effectiveness of their advertising?

If you look around, there are tools available for advertisers to run successful multi-platform affiliate programmes that allow them to benefit from the reach, competitiveness and innovation of this great industry. In the future, automation and machine learning will give merchants more choice in how they run their affiliate strategies and how they process complex and crucial issues like commission setting, forecasting and campaign management.

It’s the future of affiliate marketing; one that will be shaped by technology innovation that changes the way the affiliate channel operates.