What is Affiliate Marketing Anyway?

There's a pretty good chance that you found this page because you've heard about affiliate marketing, but you're really not quite sure what it is or how it works.

No worries, I've got you covered. Let's just say that I absolutely love talking about affiliate marketing — all day long.

For real. 

What is Affiliate Marketing? (The slightly snarky, yet efficient definition)

What is affiliate marketing

I've heard people describe what affiliate marketing is, so many different ways. But, my favorite definition of affiliate marketing by far has been

Selling Stuff You Don't Own, To People You Don't Know and Earning a Commission Each Time They Buy From You.

For nearly 16 years, I've attempted to find the source of that affiliate marketing definition, so that I may properly attribute it. I remain unsuccessful. It is by far, the most accurate and succinct definition that I've heard, but quite frankly… it sounds a bit crooked. Therefore, I offer you my long-winded version of "What Is Affiliate Marketing", below.

What is Affiliate Marketing? (The long-winded definition)

Affiliate Marketing is an a type of marketing which advertisers (a.k.a., “retailers”, “merchants” or "brands") pay marketing companies (a.k.a, “affiliates” or “publishers”) when a specific action is completed; such as a sale, lead or click. 

What Makes Affiliate Marketing Different from Other Forms of Marketing?

Unlike other forms of traditional advertising where fees are paid up front and do not depend upon the success of the ads, advertisers that utilize affiliate marketing only pay for successful transactions that are tracked real-time and measurable down to the click.

This provides advertisers the ability to analyze everything from the cost of acquisition to incrementality (e.g., new customers of new customers or average order value).

Affiliate Marketing is a combination of advertising and innovation that helps retailers and affiliates grow their businesses in ever-changing ways. Campaigns are highly targeted for each retailer in such a way that everyone can be successful. Performance marketing done right creates win-win opportunities for both retailers and affiliates.

What Types of Companies are Involved in Affiliate Marketing?

The affiliate marketing industry has many core players including advertisers (a.k.a., “retailers”, “merchants” or "brands"), marketing companies (a.k.a, “affiliates” or “publishers”) networks (a.k.a. "affiliate networks" or "CPA networks"), Agencies (a.k.a., "Outsourced Program Managers", "OPM's) and many solution providers that offer technology and other services. These companies range from small sole-proprietor businesses to publicly-traded Fortune 500 companies.

For more information on the history of affiliate marketing, there's some great stuff on Wikipedia, but a lot of the information is dated.