Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

6 predictions for the future of affiliate marketing

By Luke Atherton, Head of Affiliates at Visualsoft

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing, affiliate marketing stands at the forefront, heralding significant changes and emerging trends as we venture further into 2024. And with the digital world still recalibrating from the seismic shifts brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are on the lookout for innovative strategies to drive revenue and ensure growth. 

Here, Luke Atherton, Head of Affiliates at Visualsoft, provides his top six predictions for affiliate marketing for the remainder of 2024, offering a glimpse into the future of this dynamic and ever-evolving field. From the burgeoning role of AI tools in data analytics and CRM to the rise of brand-to-brand partnerships and the paramount importance of social proof, these trends paint a vivid picture of a marketing discipline on the cusp of a new era.

1. Advertisers continue to search for new digital marketing revenue streams in a post-COVID landscape.

A trend that continues to grow. Businesses have always, and will always invest heavily into the bread-and-butter digital channels of Paid Search and SEO, but many are desperately looking for new sources of revenue to help them achieve their targets. Compounded by the post-COVID sales trend (and the trajectory of business targets), we’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of businesses investing heavily in affiliate marketing. 

Most marketing managers are aware of referral traffic, or even some instances of specific partnerships with traditional ‘affiliates,’ but as a channel affiliate marketing is often overlooked. We expect to see this change and for the channel to become a key line item of budgets. A quick investigation will highlight the volume of affiliate marketing being undertaken by some of the largest advertisers and over the past two years we’ve seen advertisers of all sizes looking at launching affiliate programs.

2. AI tools will begin to play a bigger role in affiliate marketing, particularly in the areas of data analytics and partner CRM.

Affiliate marketing teams spend a great deal of resources analysing the data behind each partnership they activate for their clients. AI tools seem perfectly suited to stepping into this arena and freeing up those teams to focus on more innovative campaigns. Whether looking at the incremental impact of a new partnership or trawling through a vast database of new opportunities, AI. has the potential to fuel a renaissance in the channel. But it isn’t without it’s hurdles, regulatory issues will also begin to play out and we may see the culmination of actions like the “Google Anti-Trust” lawsuit shape the landscape, including AI.

On the other side of AI, we also expect to see an explosion of ‘assistant-style’ tools on the market and navigating this landscape will be a key challenge for marketers for the rest of the year and into 2025. If 2023 was the ‘year of AI’ then 2024 is the year where marketers truly begin to adopt the technology.

3. Brand-to-Brand partnerships will be explored more frequently by non-competing businesses with similar target audiences.

The concept of using your affiliate software to track referrals from other retailers (advertisers) has been a core part of (at least our) affiliate strategies for around three years but it’s clearly gaining a lot of traction. Whether it’s Spotify and Ticketmaster or Go Pro and Red Bull, more advertisers are exploring the benefits of working with others whose audience exists in the same spaces.

The CPA nature, and reliable tracking of existing software has become the perfect mixture for these types of partnerships and we’ve started to see a trend of smaller advertisers exploring partnerships of this nature. But beyond the commercial benefits this activity helps to broaden an advertisers reach into new customer groups and fosters stronger loyalty.

4. Enhanced cross-device tracking.

2023 had its ups and downs in the world of data and tracking, we still see a lot of advertisers struggling with the advent of Google Analytics 4, and the majority of the public-facing affiliate networks have essentially disavowed it’s use (we prefer solutions that give significantly more control over the nuance of this type of tracking discrepancy/issue).

But we also see a lot of advertisers still not tracking across devices despite the solutions being prevalent for a good while now. We expect 2024 to be the final push towards this becoming the norm for all affiliate programs.

5. The concept of ‘social proof’ will become part of the affiliate objective.

Put plainly, ‘social proof’ is how trustworthy your business appears online, demonstrated through customer feedback (reviews, commentary, etc). When you have strong social proofing, your customers feel good about associating with you. Most businesses will have social proof available to them, but to amplify that they need to boost their reviews and garner positive associations with influencers and other forces that can generate rapport with potential customers. This puts the concept squarely in the realm of the affiliate and partnership marketing team.

6. Efficiency will reign supreme.

Less of a prediction and more of a continuation, but we expect to see the major driving force for marketers being return-on-investment, ensuring every pound counts. We also expect many marketers to be challenged by more conservative budgets which will necessitate innovative, perhaps even radical planning and delivery strategies.

To conclude

It’s clear that affiliate marketing is not just surviving; it’s thriving, adapting, and poised for unprecedented growth for the remainder of 2024 and into 2025. The integration of AI tools, the exploration of non-competitive brand partnerships, enhanced cross-device tracking, and a stronger emphasis on social proof, among other trends, underscore the evolving nature of affiliate marketing. These developments are not merely shifts in strategy; they represent a deeper transformation in how businesses connect with consumers, leverage technology, and measure success.

At a time where efficiency and effectiveness are paramount, affiliate marketing stands out as a beacon of opportunity, offering a blend of creativity, technology, and strategic partnerships. The journey ahead for affiliate marketing is one of exploration, adaptation, and strategic innovation. With these predictions in hand, businesses are better equipped to forge meaningful connections, drive revenue, and achieve their targets. One thing remains certain: affiliate marketing will continue to shape the digital landscape, making it an indispensable part of our digital future.