Affiliate Marketing? Don't Get Tangled Up in Definitions!

Semantic discord – situation where two (or more) parties are misaligned
on definitions of key terms which formulate a concept.

I am an active user of Google Alerts and a number of other tools for online content monitoring. One of the key phases that I monitor daily is “affiliate marketing” and I found it extremely interesting that in the course of just one week I was twice alerted of the content that spoke of affiliate marketing but did not talk about it as online marketers know it.

Both pieces were marketing-related, and both talked about “affiliate revenue” and “affiliate marketing”… I chuckled at the first one (quoting it to a friend next day to exemplify how paid search bidding must be focused on the long-tail to reach the right audience and yield the desired outcome), but after seeing the second one I just couldn’t help but make myself sit down and type up the post you’re reading now.

The first piece was on The Walt Disney Company‘s earnings for 2014 (whose fiscal year ended on September 27). Towards the middle of the article, it reads:

The decrease at ESPN was due to higher programming costs, partially offset by higher affiliate and advertising revenue. The increase in programming costs was driven by contractual rate increases for Major League Baseball, NFL and college football rights, the airing of World Cup soccer and new college football rights. Higher affiliate revenue reflected increased contractual rates and subscribers, taking into account subscribers for the new SEC Network, while the increase in advertising revenue was due to increased units delivered and higher rates, partially offset by lower ratings…

Growth at the domestic Disney Channels was due to lower marketing and programming costs and higher affiliate revenue driven by contractual rate increases. Lower marketing costs reflected decreased affiliate marketing support… [source; highlighting mine]

Of course, in the above context, The Walt Disney Company’s “affiliate marketing support” has nothing to do with Disney Store’s or any other WDC’s affiliate program(s), but every use of the word “affiliate” refers to “affiliate fees” or “payments from cable and satellite companies for programming” by The Walt Disney Company [more in this recap of WDC’s “Major Sources of Revenue”].

The second piece was spotted yesterday in a regional newspaper of Tyler, Texas which talked about an East Texas Medical Center clinic closure. Of course, when first seeing it in my Google Alerts, I was intrigued to find out what “affiliate marketing” had to do with it. But alas… Another disappointment was to follow (and again due to connotation specifics). Here’s an excerpt:

Fewer patients and declining reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid have led hospital officials to close the doors on East Texas Medical Center-Gilmer.

Effective Dec. 12, the Upshur County hospital will no longer provide emergency, laboratory and imaging services. On Oct. 31, the hospital stopped providing inpatient care…

…Deleisa Johnson, ETMC affiliate marketing manager, said no decision has been made about what will happen with the facility. [source; highlighting mine]

It seems that “affiliate marketing manager” is more of a public relations and communications type of role at ETMC; and no, the closure of the clinic doesn’t have anything to do with “affiliates” in the below sense (and is in no way related to affiliate marketing in the online sense):

Definition of Affiliate

Throughout my own blog and work, as well as overall online marketing, we define affiliate marketing as follows:

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based context, whereby independent marketers promote an advertisers product/service and get compensated for every qualified action generated.

The “qualified action” in the above definition is something that the advertiser spells out while setting their affiliate program (the environment through and within which the affiliate activity gets tracked, recorded, analyzed, and managed). It may be a sale, a lead, or even a call.

Apparently, other usages of terms “affiliate” and “affiliate marketing” are still commonplace. Don’t let them confuse you.

Regardless of the term(s) in question, always let the context

(a) define the meaning


(b) guide your approach

The latter will be especially useful when planning Search Engine Marketing efforts around the terms which in different contexts may carry different semantic loads.

2 thoughts on “Affiliate Marketing? Don't Get Tangled Up in Definitions!”

  1. Pingback: Marketing Day: Patriots' Twitter Fail, Hacking B2B Buying Cycles & Google+ Mentions

    1. Thank you for sharing this very useful post! I have a rather lengthy version from my PhD. And PhDs are lengthy and require clearly pronounced and empirically-based definitions 🙂 So this is my excuse for wordiness: “Affiliate marketing can be defined as an online marketing channel and an exposure-, interactivity- and/or outcome-based online partnership, in which a merchant affiliates with one or more individuals or firms with complimentary and matching products/services, encourages them to promote and distribute products/services, and incentivises them each time an action, pre-defined in affiliate programme’s terms and conditions (e.g., a sale or a registration), is competed.” I know it’s long 🙂

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