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What Is Affiliate Email Marketing?

Affiliate email marketing fuses two principal approaches to advertising in the digital age:

  • Email marketing, valued at $7.5 billion in 2020 and projected to scale to $10 billion in 2023.2
  • Affiliate marketing, slated to cross the $8.2 billion spending mark in 2022.1

Together, they constitute two of the highest-value marketing techniques in modern media, with consistently high appraisals of ROI for companies who deploy them.

Let’s take a look at each approach discretely and see what they’re capable of when they join forces.

Class is in session.

What is Email Marketing?

Since its inception, email marketing remains the single most popular marketing channel in the digital sphere. Here are some stats to whet your palette:

  • On average, companies who invest in e-marketing infrastructure earn back $45 on every dollar they spend.2
  • Email marketing has an 80% retention rate, which makes it key for retaining the clients you earn organically—and for keeping them entertained through content marketing.
  • As one of the main conduits of branded content, email marketing is used by 87% of companies to reach their subscribers. It’s a close second to today’s forerunner, social media, used by 89% of brands.3

Among consumers, 46% of respondents to a Statista survey indicated that email was their preferred method of communication with brands.6 Signing up is voluntary, as is opting out, which means email is poised to benefit from another stand-alone digital marketing strand: affiliate marketing.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a marketing strategy wherein a company partners with a third party to:

  • Increase brand visibility
  • Reach new audiences and untapped markets through well-targeted emails
  • Observe their customers’ preferences and behavior across platforms
  • Shore up brand credibility, authenticity, and relatability
  • Assimilate more intimately into the lives of their customers

Affiliate marketing ascended alongside the social media surge and the shift towards a more lateral marketplace. Like all approaches to advertising, the fuel is the evergreen, ever-human instinct to trust and emulate the friends and figures we admire.

In its early form, this email marketing tool closely resembled traditional advertising, with most partners blatantly advertising the brands they worked with in their digital content.

Today, affiliate partnerships are far more sophisticated—particularly as more brands discover the remarkable economy and earn-back potential of medium and micro-influencers in the digital sphere.

Putting it All Together: What is Affiliate Email Marketing?

Creators have been looking for ways to monetize their work since the dawn of the internet. With a new wave of platforms like TikTok, they have more tapered, targeted access to their audiences than ever before. Email, in particular, is seeing a renaissance in a big way, with the revival of newsletter and blogging formats through platforms like Substack and Medium.

Remember, there are 7.8 billion on planet Earth. Among them:

  • 4.3 billion of them use email.3
  • 3.6 billion use social media.4

By connecting with affiliates who vibrate with your brand identity and partnering with them through an established medium like email, you can reach new banks of potential customers through channels you simply can’t access as a brand—all while keeping spending low.

So, how does this system work to the mutual benefit of affiliates and companies? And when social media seems to be at a saturation point, what does email bring to the table?

Let’s find out.

How Does Affiliate Email Marketing Work?

The first step in initiating an affiliate email marketing campaign is to cement your strategy. For this, you’ll want a marketing partner on your side who can identify the right affiliates you should be working with.

Once you’ve partnered with creators, there are three ways companies can compensate an affiliate:

  • Pay per click – Affiliates are paid based on the number of clicks achieved through the affiliate links provided in the email. They are not compensated for organic searches made by their audience.
  • Pay per lead – Affiliates are paid when members of their audience give their contact information (ie., email addresses) to a brand vis a vis an affiliate link. This is important for email list management, as it loops them into the brand’s email list, making them potential customers.
  • Pay per sale – Affiliates are paid when a reader makes a purchase through the brand’s website, accessed through an affiliate link. In this case, affiliates are usually compensated by commission, with a percentage of the sale they helped to inspire.

Working out which type of compensation fits your affiliate marketing campaign is just one piece of the puzzle. Vetting your affiliates to avoid affiliate fraud is essential for ensuring a legitimate, results-driven partnership, whether you’re looking to increase website visitors or sales revenue.5

A qualified marketing agency can connect with legitimate partners, oversee your contracts, and manage your network so that your message is received as intended.

4 Ways Affiliate Email Marketing Can Improve Performance

It’s estimated that around 333.2 billion emails get sent every day. Yet it’s fair to say only a handful that enter the inbox are messages we actually want to read. While email is critical to the marketing ecosystem writ large, click-to-open rates (CTOR) skew low, hovering at 14% around the world.6

Affiliate partnerships help you bypass the Spam filters (and the Trash bin) and get some air time with potential customers. Let’s take a look at how a tactful, analytics-informed affiliate email marketing campaign can improve your company’s performance in 4 powerful ways.

#1 Low Expenditures

The main appeal affiliate email marketing holds for brands is its affordability.7 Rather than shelling out to create branded content, affiliate marketers team up with affiliates who are already creating content of their own for a confirmed audience.

Furthermore, the relative simplicity of email makes it far less resource-intensive compared with video or image-based media. All that’s needed is a traceable affiliate link to track your progress. And with a higher percentage of people using email than other platforms, you’ll enjoy the highest potential for brand visibility.

#2 Considerable Earnings

Back in 2016, companies reported up to 20% of their revenue was garnered through affiliate marketing channels. Since then, spending has ballooned from approximately $5.4 billion to around $8 billion, with more and more companies yielding remarkable ROIs.8

Whatever your industry, affiliate marketing is a long game. The highest returns come from the longest-standing partnerships, which means it’s crucial to:

  • Invest time and energy into nurturing with your affiliate network
  • Harness email analytics to illuminate your blind spots and get to know your audience better

Not every company uses their email marketing affiliate program strategically. Having an affiliate partner in place to draft a strategy, cultivate your relationships, and leverage the data you acquire is critical for making this medium work and guiding a fresh batch of customers down the funnel.

#3 Reaching new audiences

In affiliate marketing writ large, some sectors tend to profit more from their programs than others. Historically, these have included:

  • Fashion and beauty
  • Wellness and lifestyle
  • Luxury goods
  • Gaming
  • Tech
  • Niche hobbies

It’s that last category that becomes particularly important when it comes to affiliate email marketing. Online communities are trending smaller, splintering into close-knit special interest groups that become harder to access through traditional pathways.

With that, brands are taking notice of so-called “nano” or “micro” influencers: individuals who have smaller social followings, but a high caliber of trust and engagement with their audience. 

Email marketing is built for the migration niche, and in coupling with the lower cost of partnering with smaller-scale affiliates, it’s a uniquely positioned medium to reach your target audience at a considerably lower price point.9

#4 Getting to Know Your Audience Better

There’s a tremendous amount of data you can cull from email to get to know your subscriber base on more intimate terms. Affiliate links are traceable, which means you’ll be able to easily gauge the number of clicks generated, sales made, and actions taken through your partnerships. An affiliate marketer can see all of this within just minutes of sending emails out.

When coupled with your own email marketing initiatives, that information can be interpreted with even more specificity. Through email marketing, you can learn:

  • Which content generates engagement
  • How users are sharing your content
  • When subscribers are more inclined to read a message
  • The success of messaging through A/B testing


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