Does terminology in affiliate marketing actually matter?

4th May 2018

There have been many discussions over the years about the terms “affiliate” and “lead generation” and whether we need to start referring to them with different names. Suggestions such as "partner marketing" and “performance marketing” have been put forward as alternatives with the justification that the industry is in need of a rebrand to have any chance of progressing. The thinking clearly being that, if it was called something more attractive, more people would want to engage in the channel (and, crucially, spend more money in it). 

Simply put, the fact that we have referred to what we do as “affiliate marketing” for over 20 years and have managed to create a channel that took £1.5bn in spend from clients in 2016 (which was a 12% YOY increase - I anticipate that the 2017 numbers, which are due to be released on 10th May, will show equally impressive growth) shows that it doesn’t really matter what we refer to ourselves as. Does anyone really think that, with a more acceptable name, this would have been any better? Of course, it is impossible to compare, but the point I am making is that the industry has achieved many great things since its inception, despite it being called affiliate marketing.

Specifically on the term “performance marketing”, I used to work at a large agency group and although all of the agencies within the group had specific performance marketing teams, none included affiliates as part of those teams – channels such as search and programmatic were, and although there is obviously a very strong case to have affiliate included in any performance marketing team, simply referring to affiliate as “performance” is too simplistic. Performance marketing means different things to different people and, in my view, is far too generic a term to be assigned to one specific marketing channel.

In any case, when budgeting decisions are made, both at agencies and client side, those decision makers won’t look at what a channel is called and assign budget to their favourites - they will assess the KPIs of the business, select which channels will best help them achieve this and spend budgets accordingly, optimising the activity against those KPIs. If affiliates or lead generation will help them achieve their goals, the budgets will come regardless of what the industry or channel is called.

I believe it is our job as an industry to educate those budget holders and decision makers on the benefits of the channel and how it can drive exceptional ROI, deliver volume at scale and help you achieve a range of DR focused objectives. I don’t believe it is our job to rename an entire marketing channel just because some don’t like it.