In the words of Stephen King, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” You don’t have to look far to see the wisdom of this statement: the revival of vinyl records, high-waisted jeans, Polaroid cameras. You get the picture (pun intended).
And just like everything new that was once old, there’s a fresh take on it. This is exactly what’s happening in the world of partner marketing. Traditionally, the term “partner marketing” was associated with larger business development deals, product placements, joint products (think Nike and Apple), shared stores and celebrity endorsements.
Although valuable in the short term, the long-standing challenge with these types of partnerships was the difficulty in scaling them. In turn, that made them inefficient to manage and required extensive resources to procure and maintain each and every one. Think legal contracts, reporting spreadsheets, Google UTM codes for tracking, paper invoices, manual tax compliance and physical checks to pay partners for driving a sale or lead.
As the pace of business and marketing increases, this old-school partner marketing structure is increasingly being seen as cumbersome and outdated. Today’s savvy marketers want the partner marketing trifecta: efficiency, volume and scale — something the traditional partner marketing model wasn’t able to deliver.
Reviving Partner Marketing for Today’s Audiences
Just as modern engineering is making the resurgence of vinyl records possible — the old manufacturing processes couldn’t keep up — advanced technology platforms, systems and structures are doing the same for partner marketing while ensuring performance in the process.
Demand for strategic and authentic high-value partnerships is at an all-time high as brands want to ensure performance across marketing channels. Brands such as Uber, Airbnb and adidas are making major investments in growing these programs.
Today, partner marketing is redefining how brands grow and scale. At first glance, it seems complex, but hiring the right players will ensure you have a strategic and targeted campaign to grow revenue. Here are three resources brands are leveraging to evolve their partnership opportunities for a new era:
1. Partner Marketing Platforms
Companies are rapidly looking to implement partner automation to streamline and optimize their partnership program management. Partner marketing platforms provide the technology to efficiently track, measure and pay partners in a scalable manner. All the partnership elements that were traditionally handled manually (contracts, payment, tax forms, etc.) can now be managed by partner marketing platforms, providing scale, standardization and automation.
A partner marketing platform is also a cost-effective way to work with thousands of smaller partners in a standardized setting that wasn’t possible before. This frees the business development team to pursue the larger deals that justify the need for customization and that better follow the 80-20 rule. Examples of partner marketing platforms include Impact, Partnerize, Tune and Button.
2. Enabling Technology
This fast-growing group of new technology companies optimizes how brands and their partners work together. For example, technology from Trackonomics provides data to partners so they can make smarter decisions about which brands to partner with and what converts best for them across their partners. Monotote, on the other hand, offers brands the ability to bring the shopping cart functionality to their partners’ sites to improve conversion.
Category-leading companies are increasingly incorporating enabling technologies into their partner programs to help them increase revenue per partner and optimize their performance metrics.
3. Partner Marketing Agencies
Understanding how to manage all the moving components of partnerships so the process runs like a well-oiled machine requires knowledge of various platforms and technology solutions. It also requires a robust CRM of partners, marketing acumen and the bandwidth to develop and maintain hundreds or thousands of partner relationships. While some companies can handle aspects of this in-house, many leverage the expertise of a partner marketing agency to bring the technology and relationships together to drive the greatest returns from their partnership program investments.
Speaking about this on the LaunchStreet podcast, Robert Glazer, founder and CEO of partner marketing agency Acceleration Partners — as well as a friend of mine — explained that the true role of a partner marketing agency is to act as the integrator to ensure positive outcomes for the brand and its partners. They should do so in a way that’s transparent and likely to foster a long-term partnership.
These three fundamental forces behind partner marketing’s resurgence are making it possible for brands to increase both the volume and the types of partners they work with — and only pay them after they’ve driven actual performance.
The term “partner marketing” may have originated with traditional, time-consuming partnerships, but the revival of this model will lead to far more interesting, valuable and manageable partnerships for brands — especially for those that take early advantage of these resources.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.