Effective and mature partner programs comprise a diverse set of partnerships. No single category or specific partner should dominate the program. Early on, we may focus on quick wins by working with traditional affiliate partners that get us scale through the partners under their umbrella. This helps to quickly make the channel ROI positive. After this, we focus on finding the long-tail of partners and exploring new opportunities that are more experimental and harder to scale because the attribution isn't as clear, or they require upfront payment—think podcasts or influencers.
"Partnership development is central to our 2019 sales and marketing strategy.”
~Invest In Partnerships To Drive Growth And Competitive Advantage June 2019
Working across clients with sophisticated partner programs, the scope of what our team manages is often defined by the technology powering the relationships. If we can manage a relationship with a partner through our tracking and payment platform (e.g., Impact Radius, ShareASale, etc.), it's usually owned by the in-house partnership team we work with. Oftentimes, this requires a shift in thinking. Affiliates has traditionally been a small channel with dubious incrementality and room for fraud. With affiliates limited to deal and coupon sites in the past, this was understandable. Many brands just outsourced the whole program to a network—set it and forget it.
However, this has changed in the last decade, partially because of technology and partially because brands are realizing the importance of promoting to consumers through parties they already trust. While modern, robust partnership programs can still have traditional affiliate partners like deal and coupon sites, they can now go much further. Our clients' partnerships include brand-to-brand partnerships, podcasts, content placements, and so on. Understanding how the space has changed and how to effectively think about partnership programs helps to explain how the industry has changed and what makes it exciting moving forward.