What is an affiliate marketing partnership? All your burning questions answered

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Imogen Beech
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11 minute read

You probably know more about affiliate marketing partnerships than you realise. Remember the last time your favourite Instagram influencer posted a story about a must-buy product, along with a link? Well, the chances are that was affiliate marketing – if you clicked the link and went on to buy the product in question, they’d almost certainly have received a commission.

The affiliate marketing industry is set to grow to approximately $15.7 billion by 2024 (according to Influencer Marketing Hub). And it accounts for a massive 15% of the digital media industry’s revenue (according to Business Insider). But despite how often you probably see them day to day, the ins and outs of affiliate marketing partnerships might still remain a little cloudy. 

With that in mind, we’ve decided to get right back to basics and answer all your burning questions – what’s the difference between affiliate marketing and a partnership? How do affiliate marketing partnerships even work? No question is too silly!

But enough chit-chat from us. Let’s get straight to it…

So, what exactly is an affiliate marketing partnership?

An affiliate marketing partnership is when a brand rewards another brand or individual for promoting its products.

The primary brand benefits from reaching new audiences, boosting sales and revenue. Meanwhile, the affiliate (the one doing the promoting) gets rewarded financially when their promotional activities are successful.

Depending on the agreement reached, the affiliate could promote the brand’s products in all sorts of ways – from posting about them on social media to writing blog posts or even just messaging friends and family on WhatsApp! But the key is that they’ll only get paid when their promotional activities are successful – good news for the brand, as they just have to pay for results rather than footing a hefty bill when they haven’t benefited.

Usually, an affiliate will get paid a percentage of any sales they help to initiate – known as cost per sale (CPS). That said, exactly what triggers payment can vary and affiliates can also get paid at other touchpoints. For instance, they might be paid whenever a certain number of consumers view the promotion (cost per thousand impressions or CPM), whenever a consumer clicks on the promotion (cost per click or CPC) or whenever a consumer carries out another action they’ve encouraged – like signing up to a mailing list (cost per action or CPA).

Ultimately, affiliate marketing partnerships nowadays are largely centred around the creating, sharing and tracking of affiliate links. In other words, the primary brand will give each of its affiliates a bespoke link leading to its website. This means that when someone clicks on the link in an affiliate’s promotion, the brand will be able to tell where that person came from and attribute any actions they take to the right affiliate.

What’s the difference between affiliate marketing and a partnership?

There isn’t any difference between affiliate marketing and a partnership. Honest! Rather, affiliate marketing is a type of strategic partnership that falls under the category of partner marketing (that’s when partners team up on a strategic marketing campaign).

Think about it: a strategic partnership is about brands working together to the benefit of both. And that’s exactly what affiliate marketing is all about.

Don’t forget, with affiliate marketing, the affiliate gets paid based on performance – usually, each time they initiate a sale. But in order for a sale to be made, both the affiliate and the brand have a role to play: the affiliate is responsible for sending high-quality traffic to the brand’s website, while the brand is the one that has to actually convert that traffic. Without both sides playing their part, neither the brand nor the affiliate will generate any revenue!

So, affiliate marketing fits the ‘partnership’ definition pretty perfectly as far as we’re concerned – at least when it’s done well! Having said that, some brands work more closely with their affiliates than others. 

Brands typically work with lots of affiliates – we’re talking hundreds or even, sometimes, thousands! It can be hard to maintain a personal relationship with that many partners, so most brands will automate much of their affiliate management. This can be achieved through setting up and scaling an affiliate program

An affiliate program is basically a system or set of rules that a brand sets up to outline how affiliates can promote their products and get paid. In many ways, affiliate programs are great as they allow brands to scale their affiliate marketing efforts, and they allow lots of affiliates to easily onboard and start earning quickly. 

However, the downside is that they put a lot of power in the brand’s hands – the brand decides how much their affiliates will get paid, how sales will be attributed to affiliates, what kind of promotions the affiliates are allowed to post… the list goes on. If an affiliate wants to work with the brand, they have to accept these terms and there won’t usually be any negotiation. If brands aren’t careful, this can make the relationship between them and their affiliates feel more like a transaction than a collaboration.

In order for it to feel like a true partnership rather than a transaction, it helps if brands make an effort to support their partners and help them grow. For instance, they might share resources, training, creative assets and more, to help affiliates promote their products more successfully. 

Of course, the more that brands make an effort to consider their affiliates’ needs, the more likely their affiliates are to stay engaged and stick around for long enough to deliver results. But it’s also important to note that the more successful an affiliate is, the more revenue there’ll be for both parties to benefit from – so, it really is in the brand’s interest to help the affiliate hone its promotional activities.

At the end of the day, affiliate marketing is one of the most prominent types of strategic partnerships out there. But the more involved brands can get with their affiliates, the stronger the partnership between them can grow and the bigger the opportunities for both sides to flourish.

What is an affiliate partnership

What are the three pillars of affiliate marketing partnerships?

Good question! (if we do say so ourselves). Affiliate marketing relies on three pillars working together in tandem. Without any one of them, it simply would not work! Here’s the lowdown.

The brand

The brand is the company that wants its products to be promoted. We like to call them the brand, but they also go by many other names – you might hear them referred to as the merchant, creator, advertiser, vendor or seller. 

Often, the brand will have created the product. Think brands like Dyson or Squarespace. However, that’s not always the case and they might also be selling products made by other companies. Amazon and Argos are prime examples.

Of course, these are all big, well-known brands, but they don’t have to be. Small companies, startups and sole traders can benefit just as much from affiliate marketing – in fact, you could argue that when a brand is less well-known, it has even more to gain from working with a partner to increase brand awareness and reach new audiences.

The affiliate

The affiliate, also known as the affiliate marketer or publisher, is the brand or individual that’s doing the promoting. They can come in lots of different forms – from influencers and bloggers to comparison sites and national newspapers. 

The affiliate might make all its money through affiliate marketing. Or, it might use affiliate marketing as a secondary strand of income. For instance, any business could theoretically become an affiliate marketer, and make extra revenue from promoting complementary products that are made by like-minded brands.

Most affiliate marketers have a website and use this to promote their partner brands. However, it’s also possible to make money as an affiliate without a website – perhaps by posting articles on Medium, using social media or investing in email marketing. The sky’s the limit!

The consumer!

Finally, we have to give credit to the consumer, or customer. Without them, there’d be no point in affiliate marketing at all!

The consumer is the party who sees the affiliate marketer’s promotion, clicks on it and (hopefully!) goes on to buy something – resulting in revenue for both the brand and the affiliate.

Although they’re not technically a part of the partnership itself, the consumer should be aware that they’re part of an affiliate marketing system. This is because affiliates are legally obliged to disclose their affiliate links so that their audience can make informed purchasing decisions. For some examples of what affiliate disclosures might look like, check out our affiliate link disclosure templates.

How do you create an affiliate partnership?

To begin with, let’s assume you’re a brand looking to create affiliate partnerships that can help grow. There are lots of different ways you can find affiliates. However, to get started, you’ll normally need to create an affiliate program for your business

We’ve touched on this briefly already, but an affiliate program will essentially be your system for onboarding and paying your affiliates – it’s basically a set of rules that your affiliates will sign up to, where you outline how much you’ll pay them, how you expect them to behave and more. Then, any affiliates you want to work with can simply join your program and start working with you. Here’s how to kick things off.

1. Choose how to run your affiliate program

First things first, you’ll need to decide whether to run an in-house affiliate program, or whether you’d rather use an affiliate network. 

An affiliate network is essentially a one-stop shop for your affiliate program – it’ll allow you to find affiliates, manage them, track their performance, issue payments and generate reports, all in one place. However, the downside is that it’ll only help you to find affiliates who are also signed up to the same network – these are unlikely to be the most relevant to your brand and are largely centred around Instagram influencers as opposed to other types of affiliates that may be more effective for you. Networks also tend to take a pretty large chunk of commission from the sales you generate through your affiliates (normally, they’ll take around 30% of the amount you pay your affiliates).

On the other hand, in-house affiliate programs are a bit more work but give you more control and flexibility. Oh, and they cost less!

If you choose to run an in-house affiliate program, you’ll need to find other ways to carry out all the processes an affiliate network would otherwise handle for you. However, that’s a lot less difficult than you might think – most brands running in-house affiliate programs opt to use affiliate link tracking software. For the most part, these tools offer all the same benefits you’d get from an affiliate network, just without the affiliate discovery included (but that might be a good thing, as it’ll open you up to finding the best affiliates for you, wherever they may be – book a demo for Breezy to see how we can help with that!).

2. Design your affiliate program

Next, you’ll need to decide how exactly you want your affiliate program to work. Here are the main things you’ll need to make decisions on.

  • The goalposts: What do your affiliates have to do in order to get paid? Will you pay them based on a CPS or CPA model like most programs do? Or would you rather pay them based on other touchpoints, like CPL (cost per lead)?
  • Commission rates: How much do you want to pay your affiliates? Most brands will offer a percentage of each sale, which could be anything from 1% to 40%. Of course, the higher the percentage you can offer, the more attractive your program will be to affiliates.
  • Attribution: What happens if a consumer clicks on more than one affiliate’s tracking link before making a purchase? While you can reward just the first affiliate (known as first click) or just the last affiliate (known as last click), it’s usually seen as fairer to reward all the affiliates that have been involved along the way. It’s up to you how much weight you want to give to each.
  • Cookie duration: Most affiliate programs use cookies to track where consumers have come from. If you also use cookies, you’ll need to decide how long you want them to last. Affiliates will be drawn to longer cookie durations as it means that they’ll still get rewarded if a consumer who’s clicked on their link makes a purchase days or even weeks later.
  • Support: How much support do you want to give your affiliates, and in what ways do you plan to support them? You might want to provide them with a dedicated affiliate manager, discounts or free products, creative assets, training… it’s up to you!

What is an affiliate marketing partnership

3. Find affiliates

Now’s the time to go out and find affiliate marketers to join your program. Exciting stuff!

There are loads of different ways you can find affiliates – ranging from using the good old powers of Google to attending industry events. Or, much easier, using Breezy to uncover affiliate partnership opportunities quickly and easily, that you’d struggle to find elsewhere (we know, we may be biased, but if you book a demo we hope you’ll see what we mean!).

The great thing about affiliate programs is that, once they’ve picked up traction, you may even find affiliates request to join your program without you having to go looking for them at all! The more you can keep your affiliates happy and engaged, the more word of mouth will spread and you’ll find new affiliates that want to get in on the action. If you run an in-house affiliate program, you can also create a section on your website about your affiliate program, and optimise it for search engines (known as SEO) so that budding affiliates can easily find you.

You’ll need to decide whether you want to vet these affiliates, bearing in mind they’ve approached you rather than vice versa. While it can be tempting to go for a ‘the more the merrier!’ approach (since you don’t have to pay affiliates whose promotional activities aren’t successful), there’s also some benefit to making sure your affiliates are of a certain quality. After all, they’ll be representing your product and brand.

However you decide to source and vet your affiliates, they’ll all need to be directed towards your affiliate program – then, they can easily onboard and start promoting your products!

4. Collaborate!

Finally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that once you’ve recruited affiliates to your program, it’s all over. It’s not – in fact, it’s only just beginning!

Remember, it’s in your best interest to work with your affiliates to make sure they’re able to promote your products as successfully as possible. The chances are you know your product (and how to sell it!) better than anyone, so by sharing this knowledge with your affiliates, you’ll be able to maximise the results they’re able to drive for you. You could do this through providing them with:

  • Product demos
  • Training
  • Free products
  • Creative assets
  • A dedicated affiliate manager or support team

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Make sure that your affiliates have a way to contact you and chat about any of their concerns or difficulties. Although many affiliate programs are largely automated, it’s important that your affiliates can form more personal relationships with your team if they choose to – that way, they’ll feel that there’s someone rooting for them, and that they have the support network they need to succeed.

Don’t forget that this is a partnership. So, you’ll need to listen to your affiliates’ needs and focus on collaborating with them in order to benefit you both.

How do you create an affiliate partnership as an affiliate?

Now, if you’re an affiliate, creating an affiliate partnership is a little less complicated. As an affiliate, you can simply sign up to some of these wonderful affiliate programs we’ve just been banging on about.

Any affiliate programs you join should belong to companies whose products fit your audience and your niche in affiliate marketing. This is really important as it will help you to build a loyal following – something that’s essential to your long-term success as an affiliate marketer.

However, you should also choose affiliate programs that stand a good chance of earning you a decent amount of money. You’ll want to consider things like a program’s commission, attribution model, cookie duration and more. We go into more detail in our article on how to become an affiliate marketer.

Some brands will run their affiliate programs through an affiliate network, so joining affiliate networks yourself can be a great way to get access to those programs. However, there’ll be many brands who run their affiliate programs in-house. 

We’d recommend heading over to the websites of some of your favourite brands within your niche to see if they have an in-house affiliate program you can join. That way, you could end up promoting products that you’re already passionate about – a sure-fire route to success!

Either way, you can also use Breezy to make finding the right affiliate programs for you super quick and straightforward. After telling us about your niche, we’ll suggest hundreds of relevant potential partners who could be perfect for you to create an affiliate partnership with. Easy! 

Let’s recap

So, to summarise, affiliate marketing partnerships are just that – a type of strategic partnership centred around bringing benefits to both parties. In this kind of strategic partnership, a brand works with a third party to promote its products, and the brand or individual doing the promoting – known as the affiliate or affiliate marketer – gets paid for their efforts on a performance basis.

To learn more about the basics of affiliate marketing, check out our beginner’s guide to affiliate marketing. Or, if you’re ready to start forming your own affiliate marketing partnerships, just book a demo for Breezy. We can’t wait to show you how our advanced partner search engine can recommend hundreds of hyper-relevant affiliate partners that can help you reach your goals!

Imogen Beech

Imogen is a copywriter and content writer with over two years’ experience writing about the exciting world of strategic partnerships, as well as running her own business. She loves learning about new topics as she writes, and has enjoyed penning articles on industries ranging from mortgages to events, theatre to home improvements and everything in between.

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