Affiliate email marketing may be one of today’s most underutilized marketing channels. It’s also underappreciated, considering affiliate campaigns can deliver huge performance returns—including higher open rates, click-through rates, and exponentially broader email reach. But affiliate email marketing isn’t the end of the email partner story… Over the past few years, marketers have cooked up some pretty clever ideas, in terms of getting email help from non-employees. While industry reports seem to focus on traditional affiliate email marketing partners (the publishers and network members most of us are familiar with), there’s actually a growing crowd of third-party email partners on the scene. It can all get a little confusing, so let’s get started by clarifying a few key terms:

  • Affiliate (email) marketing partners

These are independent publishers who bring prospects to your website via email campaigns and other methods. They are typically paid according to their performance (i.e. how many conversions they generate). Affiliate marketing and performance-based marketing are sometimes used interchangeably.

  • Referral (email) marketing partners

These are advocates (often satisfied customers) who bring personal contacts, like friends or family members, to your website via email, social media, or other channels. Like affiliate performance, referral partner performance can be boosted with incentive programs.

  • Co-branded (email) marketing partners

These are established companies (often other merchants or brands) who will work with you to create a hybrid offer, product, or experience that combines the values and services of both businesses. Businessweek describes co-branded marketing as, “two brands trumpeting one product.”

  • Co-marketing (email) partners

These are established companies (often other merchants or brands) who agree to help you leverage their audience. In the case of email, co-marketing partners share database lists to grow reach and visibility.

Now let’s look at each type of email partnership in detail:

Referral Email

Referral marketing is incredibly effective for both acquiring and retaining customers. According to stats cited from The New York Times and Wharton Business School, 65 percent of new business comes from referrals. Moreover, lifetime customer value is 16 percent higher among referral customers.

Co-branded Email

If you offer a product or service that’s commonly paired with another company’s product or service, you might collaborate to create a joint product guide or video that enhances the value of both individual items. You may even work together to develop a brand new product, imbued with both brands’ qualities. (Think of Sherwin Williams’ line of Pottery Barn paints.) Now you’ve got two massive contact databases that will probably welcome your emails.

Co-marketing Email

Sometimes brands join forces in offering discounts or promotions to their shared audiences, without actually creating any hybrid product. Co-marketing offers the undeniable benefits of being faster and more easily executed than an entirely new, dual-brand launch.

Just remember to follow these key rules when working with affiliate email marketing partners or other third-party emailers:

  • Choose partners who already have very similar target audiences and who share your basic brand values.
  • Make sure you de-dupe your contact lists when working with another company on a co-branded or co-marketing email campaign. You don’t want to send the same announcements twice to individuals who happen to be on both of your lists already.
  • NEVER de-dupe contact lists by sharing plain-text contact files. Instead, send and request a hashed email suppression list, which can be distributed securely to any outside partners.
  • When inviting your contacts/past customers to participate in a referral program, be sure that opt-out options are clearly displayed and promptly used to develop a company-wide referral program suppression list. The negative ROI associated with hounding people for help can definitely outweigh the positive. And you want to be mindful of CAN-SPAM compliance, even when canvassing your own subscribers.
  • Practice exceptional customer care and service support at all times. You never know who your next best referral partner could be. And maintaining a glowing reputation will make it easier for other companies to decide to work with you.

Looking for more advice on affiliate email marketing or other third-party email partners? We’ve got you covered.