The Future of Marketing Is Partnerships. Here’s What That Means
The Coming Partnerships Revolution
Throughout history, we have seen new technological advancements initially deployed by looking into the past, only to really create new opportunities once the technology was applied in different ways. For example, the first movies were often more akin to filmed theatrical productions, before filmmakers learned how to use cameras in new ways and changed the trajectory of the movie industry.
We see this same process of innovation often in business. The invention of financial lending began as a simple way to help people buy valuable things without tons of cash, but it created an industry that powers the global economy. The computer was created to help with business as it was done fifty years ago, and now it is the foundation of the totally different way we work today. Technology dictates how we live, work, and shop.
Technological innovation has built the new definition of partnership marketing, improving upon the narrow channel of affiliate marketing and the manual world of partnerships that has existed in business for as long as we can remember. If you want to understand how partnership marketing works, and how it expands on the potential of affiliate marketing, it’s essential to understand the changes in technology and pricing that have built the channel’s promising future.
In the early days of affiliate marketing, it could be difficult to verify results, make proper attribution and ensure payments were being made in the proper amount and on the proper timetable. While those initial challenges were addressed several years ago, it was still difficult for brands to make their affiliate programs scalable—and harness the full potential of the partnerships channel in which affiliate is a major vertical.
But advances in partnership technology are changing the game. Thanks to improvements in both affiliate networks and SaaS platforms—together, known as partnership automation platforms—brands can increase their investments in partnership channels and bring their other marketing initiatives under the partnership umbrella.
In other words, companies can apply the cost-per-acquisition (CPA) payment structure and transparent-partnership framework of affiliate marketing to all areas of their marketing portfolio. Let’s talk about how, and what that means for the industry.
CPA All Day
Now that companies have scalable, effective partnership automation platforms at their disposal, brands are figuring out how to apply the best attributes of affiliate marketing to a much wider range of marketing channels.
The days of managing affiliates and partners on a manual, one-to-one basis are over, and companies can seamlessly manage a network of partners who are committed to driving the same business outcomes as the brands themselves—be it sales, leads, traffic or otherwise. The opportunities for companies to leverage partnership automation technology and a CPA cost structure are virtually limitless, but these are some exciting new areas:
Brands can operate referral and ambassador programs on a single partnership automation platform, rather than tracking and paying these partners manually or through a niche program.
Brands can manage PR partners and influencers through a partnership automation platform, setting the desired outcomes and agreeing upon what payment is due in exchange for those outcomes.
Brands can also use partnership automation platforms for business development and channel partnerships. If a business has a pipeline of potential business development partners—ones who can drive revenue but fall below the threshold where it makes sense to dedicate effort to the business development deal—those partners can all be onboarded into a scalable partnership marketing program in minutes.
Brands can even work with companies that act as agencies working with advertising goliaths such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. But instead of paying the auction-style prices this Triopoly of platforms can charge today, the future holds an opportunity to market through these platforms on an outcome basis.
For example, there are several companies that have developed technologies for bidding on long-tail paid search keywords; the companies will pay for the advertisements with their own money in exchange for a commission once they drive a transaction. While this option doesn’t replace a company’s paid search campaign, it offers diversification for a brand’s marketing portfolio.
In short, the partnership automation technology that revolutionized the affiliate world can provide the same level of transparency, brand control, and scalability to many other areas of marketing. This has exciting implications for all categories of affiliates and partners, who are about to see a new wave of brands—and a larger share of budgets—investing in the channel.
How, Not If
As outlined above, one of the benefits of partnership marketing is the ability to recruit and work with a wide variety of partners. Once brands have onboarded a full suite of partners onto one tech platform, allowing them to automatically track and pay for their services, they can leverage these partners in varying combinations on any given marketing campaign. This isn’t just a win for companies; it’s good news for all affiliates and partners as well.
Many brands make the mistake of dismissing a partner type or a specific partner out of hand without exploring the tactics they can use with that partner. For example, a brand may believe that coupon sites are off brand or that loyalty partners don’t lead to incremental growth and new customers. However, blanket statements in this industry never hold true in all cases. How you work with a partner is much more important than the partner itself.
For example, a brand may rightfully not be excited about a coupon partner promoting a nonexistent code and inducing customers to click on it. However, they would be very happy to work with a coupon site on a campaign where the partner texts 20 million of their members or contacts them through a mobile app with a limited time offer that drives them to their closest store.
Similarly, consider the benefits of a loyalty site that can build a lookalike audience based on a list of past customers and then target a lucrative cash-back offer to buyers who have never purchased from a brand’s site before. If brands make the mistake of broadly declaring that they aren’t interested in partnering with coupon or loyalty sites, they will miss these opportunities—and regret that stance.
This is why experts in the affiliate and partnership marketing space are always in discussions with different partners and publishers to learn about their capabilities and custom programs. When considering who to partner with, brands need to remember that the technology in this space has come a long way. A company can set up their chosen partnership automation platform to automatically suppress commissions or to pay reduced commissions under certain circumstances, removing the issues some brands experienced in the early days of the affiliate industry.
The future of partnership marketing is about how, not if. Brands can miss lucrative opportunities when they dismiss certain partner types without exploring all the nuanced ways they can work with those partners.
We’re at a crucial juncture in the development of the partnerships channel, and the evolution of affiliate into something bigger. The innovations in partnership automation platforms will bring more players in the space and enable brands to work with the full range of affiliate and partner types. The pie is going to get much bigger, so everyone gets a larger slice.
Increasingly, companies are becoming more interested in marketing that allows them to pay only for guaranteed outcomes, rather than paying upfront fees with no certain return. The affiliate and partnership space fulfills that need, and there is reason to believe that the partnerships will become the next dominant channel in marketing.
To learn more about the new era of partnership marketing, check out Robert Glazer’s new book, Moving To Outcomes, which releases on March 22 and is available for preorder now.