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July 9, 2021 - By Phoebe Neuman

Affiliate vs. Partner Marketing: What’s the Difference?

If you’re a brand looking for innovative ways to reach new markets, you may be thinking about affiliate vs. partner marketing. Both have been shown to drive sales for brands while delivering lucrative opportunities to publishers. Often the lines blur between affiliate and partner marketing, since they both rely on third parties and their networks to promote your brand. In fact, many brands don’t even make the distinction anymore, since publishers often use both strategies to generate income and brands can rely on both affiliates and partners to generate sales.  

The big difference between affiliate and partner marketing is that affiliates are paid per action, whether that action is a purchase, click-through or some other desired result. Partners, on the other hand, are paid solely for promoting the partner products — through reviews, social media posts, live mentions, videos, links or blog posts. 

What Is Affiliate Marketing? 

Affiliate marketing is a digital marketing tactic in which publishers receive a commission for driving traffic and sales for brands. Influencers, bloggers and websites share their affiliate links, leveraging their reputation to encourage clicks and sales for brands, who then pay them a commission for each successful sale. 

How to Use Affiliate Marketing to Your Advantage

Affiliate marketing can be a quick and easy way to spread the word about your products or services online. After all, it takes only a few satisfied customers with loyal followings to launch a successful word-of-mouth campaign.

Now imagine increasing those results by relying on an entire network of affiliates. Your affiliates can share your brand’s story, generate excitement and reach consumers you may not have been able to reach successfully through paid search, email marketing or other channels. Best of all, there’s little risk, because if your affiliates don’t drive results, they don’t get paid for their efforts. 

Coupon websites typically fall into the category of affiliate marketers, as they rely on traffic to the website and customers taking advantage of their deals to drive sales for the brands they represent. 

What Is Partner Marketing? 

Partner marketing, unlike affiliate marketing, pays influencers for promoting content about a brand. 

The partner and the brand will determine the rate in advance, and regardless of whether the content gets sales or not, the marketing partner gets paid for creating content around the products or services. 

Partner marketing can enable your brand to get the attention of more popular influencers, such as bloggers and YouTube or TikTok celebrities with large followings. Prestigious influencers want to be paid for their efforts and their extensive reach, regardless of how successful their campaigns might be. They know that the quality of their content represents their reputation, and can entice brands to pay to partner with them. 

Tactics in Partner Marketing

If you’re interested in using partner marketing, you can engage with YouTube, TikTok and Instagram influencers. You might pay a flat fee for content such as: 

  • Blog posts
  • Written reviews
  • Links
  • Video reviews
  • Unboxing videos
  • Product placements 

What Tactic is Right for Your Brand?

When it comes to deciding how to engage affiliates and influencers in your digital marketing strategy, it is not so much about choosing one strategy over the other. Instead, it’s important to consider your brand’s position in the marketplace right now. Will it be easy to catch the eye and entice influencers who can speak or write passionately about your products? Finding the right fit of influencer — or even pet influencer — is crucial for a successful campaign. Affiliate marketers, and especially affiliate networks, have a tried-and-true formula to promote nearly any product through the use of coupons, loyalty websites and search-engine-optimized content to draw in large numbers of people. An affiliate network can complement your brand’s own SEO efforts to increase visibility and drive sales. 

Typically, using a combination of affiliates and partnerships with influencers will drive the strongest results. In fact, the two strategies go hand-in-hand so often that “affiliate” and “partner” have come to be used almost interchangeably. Furthermore, many networks and influencers also use a “hybrid” model in which you pay a flat fee to engage a partner, as well as commissions based on sales made as a direct result of the campaign. 

Rely on an Agency to Craft a Successful Marketing Strategy

Ultimately, a well-crafted brand strategy that combines multiple marketing channels, including affiliate marketing, partner marketing, SEO, email marketing, social media and paid search, may deliver the best results. It’s important to ensure that all of these elements work together with consistent branding but personalized messaging for each market segment you want to reach. 

Working with a full-service agency like Hawke Media can help your brand create a road map to success that combines affiliate and partner marketing with other channels. We can connect you with the best affiliate networks for your needs, make content recommendations for partner marketing and drive campaigns to increase your return on investment. Interested in learning more? Reach out for a free consultation with one of our top-tier digital strategists today!

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer specializing in technology, e-commerce and finance, and is the owner of boutique content marketing agency Allcot Media and, a travel and entertainment website.