The Evolution of Partner Marketing

Historically, the term “partner marketing” has been confusing. What does it include? Is it just a rebrand of traditional affiliate marketing? Is it partnerships that fall outside of traditional affiliate marketing? Is it everything?

For many brands, partner marketing has referred to partnerships that fall outside of traditional affiliate. For example, large, direct business development deals, certain co-branded partnerships or advanced affiliate relationships with content or other types of non-traditional publishers.

While each of these relationships is different, they all have important things in common; these “old school” partner marketing collaborations:

  • Don’t scale well
  • Are inefficient to manage
  • Usually require extensive cross-departmental resources to procure, administer and maintain.


As such, partner marketing teams have tended to prioritize larger partnership opportunities and disregard small and mid-sized opportunities, as the upside potential is not perceived as being worth the investment.

This same premise also holds true for referral program partnerships (e.g. refer a friend), influencer partnerships, podcast partnerships and many more.


Performance-Based Progress

As the business goals of companies continue to grow in complexity, so does the set-up, management and optimization of their partnerships.

To solve for these issues, brands are now looking for new ways to efficiently grow and refine all of their partnerships, including shifting collaborations that have long used upfront, flat-fee compensation models toward partnership structures that are performance-based.

What’s making this far more efficient for brands are the technology platforms that are providing consolidation and scale to marketing partnerships and ensuring partners of all types are driving measurable results.

By offering their technology on a flat-fee license basis, instead of a percentage of spend or revenue, these platforms have made it easier than ever for brands to consolidate and scale their partnerships without having to worry about exorbitant fees.

All of these progressions are leading to a sea change within marketing: a fundamental shift toward a structure that brings all partnerships under one umbrella.

This is the future of partner marketing.


Who Are “Partners” In Partner Marketing?

In the near future, partner marketing will be an ecosystem where brands and partnership types of every variety imaginable will work together on a performance basis across an integrated technology platform (partner management system).

In this ecosystem, “partners” can truly be anyone, including: social influencers, other brands, customer referral programs, mass media sites, mobile apps, social responsibility organizations, business development relationships, traditional affiliates (coupon, deal, loyalty, content), programmatic, podcasts and everything in between.

These partners work to acquire and engage incremental users, drive growth and increase profit for brands. The brands provide the rules of engagement and the partner decides how and where to promote the brand.

Only after these partners deliver agreed-upon results are they compensated; often, this compensation is a percentage of the sales or conversions they bring in.

As these players are all just “partners,” it will no longer be logical or efficient to distinguish or separate them into siloed channels.

If this partnership ecosystem sounds a lot like traditional affiliate marketing, that’s because the framework is almost identical. The difference is that the traditional affiliate channel will sit within the greater channel of partner marketing.


Where Partner Marketing Is Headed

As this new way of thinking about partnerships and partner marketing evolves, so will the need for:

  • More sophisticated partnership strategy and management.
  • Integration of a partner strategy across the enterprise.
  • Expanding new types of partnerships and payment structures.
  • Efficient partner tracking and compensation.
  • Organizational best practices to ensure partnership success.


Over the next 1-2 years, we foresee brands increasingly testing out new partnership types – especially those that have traditionally been structured with upfront, flat fee payment – and establishing them on a performance basis (cost per action).

In addition, we’re likely to see more brands adopt an in-house partner management system that consolidates and scales their partner marketing program and ensures all partners are properly compensated based on the results they deliver.


Over the next 3-5 years, we envision five developments becoming standard within industry-leading businesses; trends that are already on the rise in many innovative companies.