For affiliate marketing programs and managers to truly make a difference, they must move away from the old-school idea of an “affiliate” to the big-picture practice of “partnership development.” Successful companies like Uber and AirBnB are already taking this approach.

Max Ciccotosto, co-founder, Mediarails by Impact

Max Ciccotosto, co-founder, Mediarails by Impact

With more than two decades of practice and learnings, affiliate marketing is hardly new, but a competitive online advertising landscape has brought increased attention to the channel. Yet even as brands adopt the practice, best practices are shifting, further evolving the concept of affiliate marketing and its place in a shifting media landscape.

Affiliate marketing managers can still find success, but simply focusing on the “affiliate” aspect of their job can limit the options—for both the brand and the practitioner. For affiliate marketing programs and managers to truly make a difference, they must move away from the old-school idea of an “affiliate” to the big-picture practice of “partnership development.”

 

A new title

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The first place to start this shift is by changing the affiliate manager’s title. While brands are finding success with traditional affiliate programs, the truth is that the job has been misclassified for a while now. What many consider to be similar to an SEO job is now much closer to business development, due to the shift in how brands and affiliates work together.

Successful, mature partnership programs can drive anywhere from 20% to 35% of company revenue.

Changing a title acknowledges this evolution to prospective partners, while also updating the internal perspective, signaling a new approach to partnership management to the executive team and across the company.

Better, more relevant title options include “director of global partnerships,” “head of partnership development,” or even a simple “business development” title. This is what companies like Uber and AirBnB are already doing on their teams. While their leads are handling what has traditionally fallen under affiliate marketing, the term “affiliate” doesn’t appear in their titles, nor their job descriptions.

Both firms have used partnerships to expand their respective global pools of riders/drivers and guests/hosts very rapidly. AirBnB’s discerning strategy is to focus on partnerships that align with the concept of thinking about traveling, whether that’s travel brands or publishers that push travel-oriented content.

A new perspective

Beyond a new title, affiliate managers must change their organization’s underlying approach to partnership development. This is exactly what Kirk Hausman of BARK did, updating his title from affiliate marketing manager to senior growth marketing manager, and inspiring the company to think outside the box by partnering with animal shelters. By selling subscription boxes to new puppy parents, BARK saw 32% revenue growth on National Dog Day, along with more than $96,000 donated to rescue organizations.

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Achieving similar results requires overcoming the challenge of identifying and activating new partners. To get there, brands must adopt a different framework to thinking about their partnership channel growth, centered around five key steps:

  1. Be open to different types of opportunities, from influencers to B2B partners, from nonprofits to strategic relationships.
  2. Discover partners that fall within these categories and align with the core strategy.
  3. Have a process in place to recruit those partners.
  4. Actively onboard these partners to make sure they understand the brand and the products being advertised.
  5. Continuously engage the partners to make sure both parties are growing.

This approach is not too distant from what scale-out sales organizations adopted years ago, with tactics like the hunter and gatherer role splits. In some cases, fully embracing this new approach requires a reorganization of the team structure. The modern partnership organization needs a director, an analyst, and a business development role, all working together towards the same goal. The new path forward requires picking up the phone to cultivate relationships, rather than waiting for them to come sign up organically.

A new technology stack

In order to support the needs of scale-out programs that include thousands of partnerships, advertisers need to make sure they provide the right tools to their teams. The main goal is to automate most of the tasks required. Executing a well-run program requires more than 500 tasks each quarter. If tackled manually, this amount of work will severely limit the productivity of each team member.

It’s important that a tech stack allows the team members to automate the complete lifecycle of partnership management, including discovery, recruiting, onboarding, contracting, tracking, and attribution analytics. Whether you plan on using an integrated vertical solution or few different providers that work well together, you want to enable your partnership team to focus on growing the relationships and not to maintain spreadsheets.

New opportunities

Limiting the role to traditional affiliate tactics is still valuable, but it’s losing relevance in the wider marketplace and is not the significant revenue opportunity that many organizations are looking for. Successful, mature partnership programs can drive anywhere from 20% to 35% of company revenue. Affiliate managers looking to shift their career prospects should be eager to oversee that sizable portion of revenue and become irreplaceably valuable to their companies, rather than pursue the smaller opportunities they can carve out of a more limited affiliate-focused approach.

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Mediarails, a provider of marketing automation technology for developing and sustaining marketing partnerships, was acquired in September 2018 by Impact, which helps advertisers and agencies improve return from media and performance marketing partnerships.

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