Ruminations on Partnership Marketing and Influencer Marketing

Key Article Takeaways:
  • Affiliate marketing has grown in the digital world
  • The performance marketing space has rebranded to “partnership marketing”
  • Partnership marketing claims influencer marketing as part of its world.

Over the last several years one of the most incredible “sector rebrandings” I’ve ever seen has occurred. Ten years ago affiliate marketing (paying a publisher only when a viewer of an ad completed a more specific action like clicking or purchasing) was the backwater of the internet. Direct response ads and late night infomercials ported over to the web as a last resort monetization scheme for websites that couldn’t attract advertisers willing to pay just for the privilege of being visible on their site. 

Still, affiliate marketing steadily grew as tracking actions is not only easier but carries less friction in a digital world. Slowly affiliate marketing became known as (or was subsumed within) performance based marketing which sounds pretty cool and athletic. But that was just the beginning. 

The bigger rebranding occurred as the whole performance marketing space has expanded its ambitions (yes, I’m anthropomorphizing a business sector) and rebranded as “partnership marketing.” This collaborative, “everybody wins!” moniker has been a huge hit with VCs and PE firms who have poured billions into companies who five years ago they wouldn’t touch. 

Partnership marketing sounds like it might have something to do with two partners of roughly equal size working to mutually beneficial and consistent goals (e.g. - Delta frequent flyer points for your Hertz rental). It does include that but theoretically it also encompasses anything deeper than simple associative advertising and so, for example, would include all ambassadorships and therefore all of influencer marketing. 

So just as influencer marketing seemed to be settling in as a permanent, distinct part of the marketing stack - or maybe more accurately, had definitely shown it wasn't just a subset of PR - here comes partnership marketing claiming influencer marketing as clearly part of its world. 

Is this real? Absolutely. Every influencer uses Amazon Associates to monetize non sponsored (and some sponsored) content, Impact bought Activate and Awin partnered with Mavrck among countless examples. 

At the same time, the influencer space can't decide if it wants to focus on CRM, content production or the creator economy. All well and good, there will be lots of winners focused on different strategies.

But, if you are in influencer marketing and you don't understand performance marketing, I'd say call your neighborhood marketing technology banker and get a briefing because I promise you, the performance marketing companies know who you are and they are convinced it’s only a matter of time before they swallow you up. There is an art to influencer marketing that can't be denied but moving toward deeper tracking and economic alignment is an undeniable macro trend and so I wouldn’t bet against them.