Over the past decade, affiliate marketing has transformed significantly as a result of evolving marketing channels, technology, and consumer behavior.
What was once a marketing strategy used primarily by B2C companies is now making its way into B2B partnerships. More businesses are recognizing the value of affiliate programs as a cost-effective way to increase brand exposure, generate leads and drive sales.
In fact, Google Trends shows that the global search interest for “affiliate marketing” has rapidly increased since 2020 — even reaching peak popularity in July 2023.
There’s no denying that affiliate marketing is a thriving industry with a bright future. To anticipate what lies ahead, we asked experts their thoughts on emerging trends that will dominate the B2B affiliate marketing space in 2024.
Let’s get into it.
Top Affiliate Marketing Trends, According to Experts
1. AI will change the affiliate marketing game.
“As AI continues to permeate this field, we can anticipate a more focused and strategic approach to increase performance partnerships,” says Lee-Ann Johnstone, Founder of Affiverse.
Lee-Ann continues, “New AI-driven affiliate matching already exists on various networks, streamlining outreach and recruitment efforts, reducing the labor-intensive nature of program management to support faster growth.”
Automation capabilities within affiliate platforms include:
Identify and analyze potential partners and their audiences.
Accept or decline affiliate applications based on a set of criteria.
Detect and prevent fraudulent activity.
Provide personalized affiliate support.
Make performance optimization recommendations.
Rob Berrisford, Founder of Affiliate.ai says, “With AI managing the operational grunt work, we’re likely to witness an intellectual renaissance among affiliate marketing teams. They’ll transition from firefighting mode to spearheading innovative campaigns.”
AI is also set to greatly impact content creators in particular. Ben Jolly, Global Affiliate Marketing Lead at ClickUp, suggests an interesting contradiction between AI advancements and regulatory shifts.
While new AI tools like HubSpot’s content assistant amplify human creativity and help scale content creation, “the Google antitrust suit, currently in progress, has the potential to dramatically reshape the search landscape,” Ben proposes.
“Affiliate marketing, historically reliant on strong content that ranks organically on platforms like Google, might need a significant recalibration. If search algorithms and interfaces evolve, or if alternative search engines gain prominence, affiliates and managers will need to be agile in adjusting their strategies.”
2. Businesses will take a unified approach to partnerships.
Teams and different partner types are going to intersect which will allow long-lasting and multifaceted partnerships to grow.
Nicolette Lopes, Senior Manager of Channel Partnerships at PartnerStack says, “I expect to see an increase in affiliate marketing overlaying the entire organization, instead of being an isolated team in the marketing department.”
“Leveraging affiliates to drive leads for resellers, strategic partners or other go to market strategies is not only a more cost effective route, but it’s increasing your organization’s reach and visibility to new customers by layering in the trusted networks of multiple partner types,” Nicolette adds.
How might affiliate marketing go from a siloed function to a channel with a holistic approach?
Adam Glazer, President of Partner Commerce recommends that, “Affiliate managers should be embedded into marketing, sales, and potentially other teams where their role is needed to ensure that affiliates are getting the best support to be successful in their efforts.”
3. Collaboration within partnerships will increase.
Advertisers and publishers will begin to consider other ways to immerse themselves into one another’s marketing efforts.
Nancy Harnett, Head of HubSpot’s Affiliate Program says she expects deeper affiliate partnerships to rise: “Brands will collaborate more closely with affiliates, going beyond the conventional affiliate relationship.”
She continues, “This will involve co-creating content, organizing joint webinars, and exploring revenue-sharing models to further incentivize partners.”
Increasing collaboration with affiliate partners is another reason why businesses will begin to take a more integrative approach to partnerships. Program managers will need to involve other teams to fulfill joint campaigns.
Affiliate managers may work closer with:
SEO teams for strategic link exchanges
Sales teams for product demos
PR teams for live interviews or expert-driven podcast episodes
Content marketing teams for guest blogging
“By combining the expertise, resources, and data of publishers and advertisers, these partnerships aim to deliver more comprehensive and valuable experiences to their target audience,” Nancy adds.
4. The B2B buyer will be more self informed.
“B2B buyers have increasingly been conducting their own research before purchasing,” says Cristy Garcia, CMO at impact.com.
“This trend will continue to accelerate, which means it will be more important than ever for B2B affiliate marketers to be an integral part of that research phase as they plan their partnership strategy.”
With today’s sophisticated B2B buyer, it’s vital that marketers understand their target audience’s search intent and communicate these valuable insights to their affiliate partners. That way partners can tailor their content to match the specific needs and interests of their audience.
Cristy says that by establishing strong relationships with content creators, businesses ensure that potential buyers are exposed to their brand and solution early on, cultivating a positive impression even before engaging with the sales team.
“When incorporating good SEO practices, a single popular review or comparison article can pay dividends for years. Multiply that many times over, and it’s a recipe for sustained growth,” Cristy adds.
5. Influencers will take the center stage.
Influencer marketing has been a leading B2C marketing strategy this year.
Tim Pike, Global Program Strategist at Acceleration Partners says influencers will begin to play a crucial role in B2B affiliate marketing as the modern buyer is younger, digital-first and relies on social content to guide their decisions.
“Savvy affiliate marketers should be collaborating with B2B influencers who prioritize audience engagement. B2B influencers are typically experts in their respective fields who have highly authentic and loyal audiences. This could be a consultant, an analyst, a journalist, an author, or a speaker,” Tim says.
Tim suggests that, “Influencers should adopt a subtle and relatable approach, favoring shorter content on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and LinkedIn to build awareness and educate their audience. Humor and concise content are effective tools for engaging younger audiences on a personal level.”
Ultimately, we can expect to see marketers incorporating more influencers into their affiliate marketing strategies to take advantage of their reach, influence and specialization.
6. Content diversification will fuel audience connection.
The information-rich world we live in has made the B2B buying journey more complex.
However, it also presents an opportunity for brands to leverage affiliate marketing and connect with potential customers across diverse content and platforms.
Rex Gelb, Senior Director of Paid Advertising and Affiliate Marketing at HubSpot says:
“I imagine that marketers will put more emphasis on content diversification through affiliate partnerships. Creators now have the power to influence every stage of the buyer’s journey by providing diverse content that educates, engages, and empowers prospects.”
One way partners can diversify their content is by repurposing it. However, simply changing the content format and merely existing on a different platform is not enough.
To successfully repurpose content, marketers need to adjust their content to align with the audience’s intent, personality, and engagement tendencies depending on the platform.
No matter what the avenue is, content should be relevant and feel organic to the audience of that platform.
Rex adds, “Leaning into content diversification will require marketers to rethink their affiliate recruitment strategy and consider partners, channels and formats they haven’t explored before.”
Businesses will onboard affiliates who have a strong presence on different platforms and understand the unique nature of those channels.
7. Data will continue to be the backbone of affiliate success.
Leveraging data helps affiliate managers optimize ROI by identifying high-performing partners and exposing efforts that may harm the business’s profitability.
Lina Tichomirova, Acting Head of Affiliate and Performance Partnerships at Semrush says, “Data is king, and its importance is only growing. By delving deeper into metrics such as LTV, MRR, and the finer details of user behavior, we are paving the way for strategic success.”
Every B2B SaaS affiliate marketer should track these metrics:
Click-Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of clicks on an affiliate’s referral link compared to the total number of times the link has been viewed.
Conversion Rate (CVR): The percentage of referred visitors who complete a desired action.
Lifetime Value (LTV): The estimated value that a referred customer will bring to a business over the entire duration of their relationship.
Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR): The predictable revenue a business earns from active subscriptions each month.
Affiliates that take a data-driven approach will stand out and earn high commissions.
Similarly, businesses that harness the power of data will be able to accurately measure the impact of affiliate marketing on their lead generation and sales efforts.
8. New and improved affiliate platforms will foster better partnerships.
“Affiliate platforms are now focusing on their product solutions for B2B companies,” says Nic Yates, Head of Global Affiliate Partnerships at Silverbean.
“As affiliate platforms look to support businesses across link, lead or strategic partners, it enables B2B companies to access a wider range of partnerships in one place.”
To further support this idea of an “all-in-one” solution, affiliate platforms will look to program managers and affiliate partners for their feedback on tracking and reporting capabilities.
Collaboration between affiliate platforms and users will be key to developing technology that empowers affiliates to monitor their performance more independently.
It will also help remove the burden from affiliate managers of having to manually pull that data for each partner — unlocking full transparency.
Nic also says, “Tracking platforms and payment platforms are forming strategic partnerships to enable and track payment across the user journey of a B2B sale. Account managers can now look to offer payment to partners based on registration, lead generation, and first sale all the way to retained monthly sales.”
These collaborations are pushing rigid commission structures out and bringing flexible models in.
9. Brands with enterprise-level audiences will embrace affiliate marketing.
A notable shift is underway as B2B SaaS brands with enterprise-level target audiences venture into affiliate marketing.
Adam Westreich, Founder of Westreich Consulting says, “The B2B affiliate landscape is no longer dominated by brands looking to sell into solo entrepreneurs and micro-businesses. Brands with midmarket and enterprise audience ambitions often have substantial budgets and appealing CPAs.”
With more at stake financially, we can expect more negotiations on commission structures and frequent check-in meetings to become essential components of these affiliate relationships.
This may necessitate larger affiliate teams so that brands have the bandwidth to focus on partner strategy and performance optimization.
Additionally, affiliates will need to tailor their strategies to navigate the longer sales cycles, multiple stakeholders, and stringent compliance policies of enterprises.
Adam recommends that affiliates, “produce more comprehensive, top-tier content based around the needs of these decision makers and explore one-to-one referral relationships with their existing business partners.”
10. Publishers will demand more support from advertisers.
Not only will publishers be challenged to meet the rising expectations of advertisers, but advertisers will also need to step up their game.
Deirdre Scully, Senior Manager of Demand Generation at Teamwork says, “Affiliate marketing is no longer a ‘set and done’ program — it needs a lot of care and attention to make it successful.”
Deirdre provides marketers with three strategies to help activate partners:
“Build bespoke commission structures that retain and reward your best affiliates.”
“Provide all the resources affiliates need to be successful such as educating them on your offering and how to sell it.”
“Build a community of affiliates to strengthen their connection to your brand.”
With increasing competition in the affiliate marketing landscape, it’s important that marketers put enough effort into their partner enablement strategy to build trust and stay top of mind.
Marketers cannot expect affiliate partners to drive demand and prioritize their brand if they are not bringing the same value to the table.
Pioneering the Future of Affiliate Marketing
The dynamic nature of the marketing space is constantly challenging marketers to stay informed, adaptable, and open to embracing new strategies and technologies.
Affiliate marketing has been and will continue to help businesses expand their reach and connect better with their audiences through trusted sources.
As we look forward to 2024, it’s crucial to stay ahead of these trends to unlock the full potential of B2B affiliate marketing.