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Many businesses engage with affiliates — (i.e., third party partners) — to extend the reach of their digital marketing efforts. Also referred to as publishers, affiliates receive commissions for promoting offers and driving traffic on an advertiser’s behalf. One way they do this is through email.
Some advertisers find affiliate partners by outsourcing relationship-building to a network able to match them with publishers who will market to prospects via their email lists, websites, blogs, etc.. Others choose to create and manage their own affiliate program in-house. There are pros and cons to both approaches. Here are some key variables to consider:

  • Effort. For beginners, engaging with an affiliate network requires minimal effort — advertisers simply sign up and pay a (usually monthly) fee to gain access to the third party’s network of publishers. They can also pay the networks or agencies a management fee for more high-touch management services. These services eliminate the need to find and recruit affiliates and keep tabs of their performance, which can be a daunting task at first. Advances in affiliate management and tracking technology are making in-house program management easier however, especially SaaS-based performance marketing solutions (like CAKE) that are simple to deploy and use. 
  • Cost. In addition to monthly fees, advertisers who outsource their affiliate programs also typically have to pay a commission to both the publisher and the network, for impressions, clicks and/or conversions. In-house program management can save a lot of money, but it is important to be sure that commission cost savings will not be offset by reduced performance or a drain on in-house resources.
  • Scale. Third party affiliate networks have established publisher relationships at a scale that most individual advertisers would find difficult to match. If broad reach is a top concern, outsourcing provides immediate access to a large pool of affiliates. But, in many cases, a small percentage of publishers account for the bulk of a brand’s most profitable traffic. Advertisers that want to manage their affiliate program in-house don’t necessarily need unlimited scale if they are able to isolate and manage relationships with top performing publishers.
  • Control. Control is an important consideration for email marketers, especially when it comes to complying with CAN-SPAM regulations, honoring opt-out requests and maintaining the integrity of mailing lists. In-house program management gives marketers the opportunity to develop one-to-one relationships with their affiliates, which allows for greater transparency and real-time insight into what’s happening on a day-to-day basis. In-house programs also open the door to custom campaigns and commission structures that wouldn’t be available otherwise. But regardless of whether an advertiser is working with a third party or managing email affiliates in-house, providing partners with a simple and easy way to manage unsubscribe lists is critical.

At the end of the day, the question of whether to outsource email affiliate marketing or manage it in-house does not need to be an either/or proposition. Businesses can and do choose both options — engaging with a network to increase their reach while “owning” a select number of in-house relationships to maintain flexibility and control with top performers. Either way, a marketing intelligence platform is needed to track, analyze and optimize affiliate performance in aggregate. Armed with the insight needed to make more informed decisions, advertisers can have the best of both worlds.