Is Affiliate Marketing Undergoing a Kind of "Darwinism"?

Not too long ago an interesting piece appeared in MediaPost’s weekly Performance Insider. It was authored by Peter Klein and entitled Online Darwinism And The Evolution of Performance Marketing. Klein suggested that “as the performance marketing industry matures, and as brands seek more sophisticated and legitimate agencies and affiliates to manage their online marketing campaigns” we may be entering “a period of ‘Online Darwinism’.” To explain his concept further, he wrote:

This theory reasons that reputable and ethical affiliate marketers will survive while unscrupulous ones will go the way of the dodo. There will be more business for great companies that evolve wisely based on clear, measurable objectives that meet clients’ digital-media challenges. [more here]

I find both the term, and the approach, quite sexy. And even though I disagree with the author on the claim that such channels as email, or paid search, or incentive website have gotten replaced social media (I personally see how the former three are actually yielding significantly more fruit for affiliates than the latter), I think he has a good point behind his “theory”.

Is his claim anything revolutionary? No, it isn’t. The very nature of digital marketing is evolutionary; and with performance affiliate marketing being a part of it, it is inevitably affected. But still… it’s a good way to look at things.

He finished his article with these words: “good affiliates will thrive while the bad ones will die off.” I’ve heard something very similar in a conversion I had with an affiliate network rep at Affiliate Management Days West 2012 in San Francisco. She said: “We are seeing how events like this are separating the men from the boys.” I was flattered, but also found myself nodding in a different kind of agreement — yes, the more educated and the more equipped we become (both as affiliate managers, and as affiliates), the more mature we get. I, too, hope that the changes surrounding (and influencing) affiliate marketing — from legislative to technological ones — will serve the purpose of the overall betterment of the industry. Of course, much will also depend on how the industry responds to the new challenges and opportunities.

What do you make of it all?

6 thoughts on “Is Affiliate Marketing Undergoing a Kind of "Darwinism"?”

  1. I disagree.

    Many “good” affiliates are being eaten alive by either big players or unethical affiliates, while affiliate managers and networks are looking the other way just to keep revenue in the affiliate channel from going down.

    The landscape is changing. I think we saw it at the last Affiliate Summit with fewer publishers attending (not looking at the numbers – judging by people’s comments alone), and I think we’ll continue to see this trend of fewer independent affiliates and more corporations whose revenue is affiliate-based.

    1. Great to have you chime in with this excellent comment, Eric. This is precisely why I think affiliate managers/merchants (and the tools they use, and the policies they set in place, and how they enforce them) will have a lot to do with the way this “evolution” will go.

  2. Pingback: Marketing Day: September 17, 2012

  3. Big business and charlatans always follow the money – always have, always will. The quicker an affiliate comes to accept this, the quicker they can create an alternate strategy and pathway to success. As a PM, I’m always looking for the best affiliates – duh. You can spot them easily; they’re the ones who will engage and communicate with me. Charlatans on the other hand are cave dwellers and hate exposing themselves to others.

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