The Affiliate Marketing Model: A Blueprint for Success in the Gig Economy

Don't get caught in an old-fashioned marketing model. Take advantage of the freedom and flexibility the gig economy offers.

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By Robert Glazer

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The gig economy and corporate worlds are merging, and gig jobs like driving for Uber are leading the way. As evidence, Deloitte's 2016 Global Human Capital Trends analysis revealed that 51 percent of the executives surveyed intended to use more flexible or independent workers in the near future.

Related: Top 10 Affiliate Marketing Tracking Software Platforms

In terms of the independent gig workforce, millennials dominate, according to the 2016 Freedom Economy report. And that fact seems to indicate that today's workforce landscape will continue to evolve for a long time to come.

Here's where the phenomenon of affiliate marketing shows its value: In the rapidly expanding gig economy marketplace, entrepreneurial marketers can now work with one or more brands on a performance basis, receiving payment for results and outcomes, rather than for the completed work itself.

On the opposite side of this coin, your business can also benefit, through your ability to seek out niche providers who specialize in your category and accept the incentives you offer.

A gig model is also beneficial because it's designed to scale. The affiliate marketing model blueprint can further develop more effective partnerships because it's based on real-time performance.

Capitalizing on a performance-partnership model.

Rather than compete for bigger slices of the pie, the affiliate marketing model requires both sides to work toward increasing the size of the pie as a whole and allowing many options for customization.

Want to reward coupon sales at a lower rate? Nullify a partner's commission if the consumer was already in the shopping cart? Create a new blended payment rate every quarter? No problem. Rather than try to be good at everything, you can reach out to people whose incentives are aligned with yours, and create a marketplace that allows them to participate in the marketing of your products and services.

Virtually any arrangement is possible in the affiliate marketing marketplace, and while that may feel intimidating, it's precisely what makes the model so powerful.

So, if you accept that you don't have to do everything yourself, think about opening up these services to the world through an affiliate-type model. Here are three steps you can take to leverage the model and grow revenue in a more cost-effective, strategic way:

1. Determine who should handle what.

You don't need to own all the assets that are required to run your business. Like Uber and Airbnb, you only need to set up and own the system. You decide what should be outsourced, what stays in-house and what needs a hybrid approach.

Your dedicated marketing team can focus on creative, branding and promotional strategies, for example, and work with partners to test different strategies before rolling them out. Bringing in specialists that provide a broad geographical reach and the ability to access fruitful verticals on a "pay per play" basis will only complement your in-house efforts. However, you'll need to evaluate every opportunity separately.

Related: Digital Marketing Agencies' Rates and Services Cost Less Than You Think

Someone who is great at Snapchat marketing, for instance, might be totally unfamiliar with Instagram, or vice versa. You need to understand the background and competencies of whichever specialists you're partnering with, since -- an example -- engaging with target customers on Snapchat takes a more creative approach and more time than it does on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

The takeaway here isn't that you should outsource everything. Instead, it's about gauging where your strengths lie internally and filling any gaps with the services of niche partners whose bandwidth and expertise align with your budget and needs. Even the day-to-day aspects of your marketing via performance partners can be tracked and attributed to real outcomes.

2. Set up an affiliate program.

Affiliate programs allow you to pay only for what you actually need, and they are on the rise. According to eMarketer, affiliate marketing accounts for 7.5 percent of all digital spending among retailers. Uber, Fiverr and others thrive on such programs. They provide the structure and guidelines and leave the execution to their program-management teams and publishers.

Setting up an affiliate program doesn't have to be difficult, either; it can provide enormous returns. Once you've set up your program, the next step is finding partners who want to be a part of it. Attending affiliate-focused events, such as Affiliate Summit, will introduce you to affiliates and affiliate program managers. These are great opportunities to learn about who does what and who might be good marketing and management partners for your program.

Even minor nuances in the structure of your affiliate program can have a positive impact on your ROI, as Wayfair found out when it made a simple modification to its affiliate policy. Specifically, the company ensured that the last partners its customers clicked on before putting an item in a cart were rewarded. That way, Wayfair avoided having all of the credit go to its "last in" affiliates.

3. View each relationship in terms of real-time performance.

With so much flexibility in this gig economy structure, it's important to regularly analyze whether each of your partnerships continues to be beneficial. Marketing -- especially the niche-marketing that small players do so well -- works best when both parties know what to expect, communicate openly and invest in each other's success.

For example, in today's "partnership" structure, companies often have little-to-no idea what their partners are doing. In the future, better systems and platforms will be in place so a company can know exactly what each partner is doing to drive performance. This is already starting to unfold with the decoupling of technology and affiliate program management thanks to SaaS platforms.

This is also why performance partnerships are so important. These types of partnerships bring to the table a certain behavior, and once that behavior is delivered and tracked, payment is made in real time. These partnerships are also structured so that you know what your partner is doing, and how.

Related: Affiliate Marketing Is Broken But Ecommerce Companies Can Adapt

As the world of marketing evolves with the burgeoning gig economy, so, too, must the relationships between the marketers and businesses that comprise it. So, don't get caught in an old-fashioned marketing model -- take advantage of the freedom and flexibility the gig economy offers today to secure a better market position down the road.

Robert Glazer

Founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners

Robert (Bob) Glazer is the founder and managing director of Acceleration Partners, the founder and chairman of BrandCycle and author of the book, Performance Partnerships. He has extensive experience in the consumer, ecommerce, retail, online marketing and ad-tech industries and has partnered with brands such as Adidas, ModCloth, Reebok, Target, Gymboree, and Warby Parker. He writes inspirational Friday Forward posts each week at

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