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Digital versus Affiliate Marketing: Similarities, Differences, and Exciting Opportunities

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Marketing concepts have come a long way in the past few years, and now brands rely on a blend of refined strategies to build awareness and trust among potential customers. Digital marketing is front and center, but it is more nuanced and varied than many people realize.

These days, online marketing initiatives incorporate everything from social media to search engine optimization to pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. Affiliate marketing can also play a role, but even vetted digital marketers often struggle to understand how it functions or why it can be so effective.

To clear up any confusion, we have outlined everything you need to know about digital and affiliate marketing — the similarities, the differences, and the numerous reasons why both solutions can prove beneficial for modern marketing strategies. 

What Is Digital Marketing?

A broad practice that examines how we behave in (and what we expect from) virtual environments, digital marketing encompasses the many strategies that brands implement in hopes of attracting attention from — and building stronger connections with — their target audiences.

Adobe clarifies the concept with a simple definition: “the use of digital channels to market products.” Digital marketing stands in stark contrast to “traditional” marketing, which typically focuses on print ads, TV, radio, direct mail, and other strategies that were available prior to the internet age. However, this type of media is becoming increasingly capable of integrating digital strategies. 

Components of Digital Marketing

Digital marketing takes many forms, and as electronic offerings continue to expand, so do marketing possibilities. Although the concept of digital marketing centers on electronic communication, this can be facilitated by different platforms or techniques.

In today’s market, brands benefit most from implementing a layered approach to digital marketing, which ideally incorporates a variety of strategies for reaching new clients or customers. Top elements worth building into a digital marketing campaign include these. 

SEO

Search engines form the basis for how we navigate the modern web environment. But our user journeys and processes of exploring the web can be heavily shaped through the many strategies that make up search engine optimization (SEO).

This is, simply put, the process of improving websites so they are more visible according to Google algorithms and those of other search engines. How this is achieved will vary over time and even among different brands or strategies. Factors that play into optimization include:

• Content quality and relevancy

• Backlinks indicative of website or brand authority

• Keyword optimization (but without “keyword stuffing”) 

• Page speed and load times

• Mobile-friendliness

Content Marketing

The phrase “Content is king” may sound like a cliché you’ve heard before, yet it still rings true. Web content involves text-based or visual materials that users can view or interact with online. When this is used to drive business outcomes, it is known as content marketing. Blog content is one of the most familiar forms, but various other types of online media also qualify as content.

SEO is closely tied to this practice, as the quality and relevance of the content (and its keywords) play a huge role in determining where and how pages rank in search engines. Beyond this, content marketing is valuable because it builds authority and convinces leads — that is, potential customers — that brands are trustworthy. 

Social Media Marketing

Many brands — particularly larger ones — have a strong presence on social media nowadays, as platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and even TikTok allow them to build more durable, authentic connections with leads and loyal customers alike. Social media marketing can involve business pages that share news and general brand messages with followers, although many brands also use paid strategies to reach specific audiences and, ideally, new leads via social media. 

Pay-Per-Click Marketing 

PPC marketing functions exactly as its name indicates; every time a particular ad is clicked, the advertiser pays the publisher a predetermined fee. Also referred to as search engine marketing (SEM), this should not be confused with organic search efforts such as SEO, which aim to build a solid foundation over time. Rather, PPC emphasizes swift results, with the opportunity to set and adjust target audiences. The two are very different, but implemented together, they can result in nuanced marketing that is impactful in both the short and long terms. 

Email Marketing

In an age of social media, email still remains as influential as ever. Email marketing campaigns provide diverse opportunities to build brand awareness or to stay as engaged as possible with current and previous customers. These emails can be sent in response to customer inquiries or to share updates via regular newsletters. Common types of marketing emails include:

• Welcome emails sent shortly after new customers or clients complete landing page forms or are otherwise added to email lists.

• Lead nurturing emails to improve early brand awareness efforts and convince promising leads to convert to customers.

• Promotion emails to inform customers of new deals and sales or to drive traffic to online product listings.

• Abandoned cart emails that improve the likelihood of conversion after customers have started but not completed purchases or other desired actions.

How Do People Make Money With Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing can be hugely profitable from a business perspective, as it drives swift improvements in all areas of the sales funnel — generating brand awareness to secure more leads, convincing those leads to sign up for services or complete purchases, and finally, turning those leads into full-blown clients or customers.

Similarly, digital marketing grants various types of professionals compelling career opportunities. Many of these involve full-time positions for marketing firms or in marketing departments. Some marketing professionals, however, work as freelancers or consultants, enjoying impressive flexibility and autonomy along the way. Examples of in-demand digital marketing job opportunities include:

• Content strategist

• Social media manager

• SEO specialist

• SEM specialist

• Digital marketing analyst 

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing involves a win-win arrangement where representatives known as affiliates strive to attract attention from customers or clients. They can earn commissions if their efforts lead to desired actions — such as website visits, sales, or signup activity. Investopedia defines the concept as a “marketing scheme in which a company compensates partners for business created from the affiliate’s marketing tactics.” 

Do You Need Digital Marketing for Affiliate Marketing?

There is some crossover between digital and affiliate marketing, largely driven by the current reality that affiliate campaigns mostly take place online. To drive action among leads, affiliates often use familiar strategies such as content marketing, social media, and even email marketing. Affiliates with a thorough understanding of these mediums are more likely to generate necessary traffic and, in turn, score profitable clicks on each affiliate link. 

How Do People Make Money With Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing initiatives are appealing because they provide the opportunity to earn sizable commissions for every predetermined action that the affiliate facilitates. With sufficient skill and a targeted strategy, it is possible to secure numerous commissions and, ideally, high commission rates. These can vary depending on the brand represented and the affiliate’s experience, but it’s common practice for these digital experts to earn anywhere between 5 percent and 25 percent commission — with most rates settling around 10 percent to 15 percent.

In many ways, the affiliate-based money-making process resembles digital marketing in general — creating compelling content, promoting a given brand within that content, and building a genuine connection with the targeted audience. The difference arrives at the beginning of the process, finding the appropriate brand to represent as an affiliate. Even this can resemble the search for the right employer — determining which organization offers the best terms, while also is aligned with personal values and interests. 

Differences Between Digital and Affiliate Marketing

While digital and affiliate marketing hold much in common, there are also significant differences worth considering when determining which avenue to pursue. In large part, these differences revolve around how the marketing professional earns income, who is responsible for which elements of a campaign, and what challenges arise along the way. We’ve highlighted a few of the most noteworthy differences below: 

Who Does the Marketing?

The main distinction between digital and affiliate marketing campaigns? The person or team responsible for putting marketing efforts into action. With affiliate marketing, this effort is mostly led by the affiliate — the person who coordinates with the brand to drive conversions and, if successful, secure commissions. With other marketing efforts, a marketing team or a full-time professional may be the driving force behind any given campaign. 

Goals

The goals of digital and affiliate marketing are similar, with a few subtle distinctions. Digital marketing often aims to develop overall brand awareness, which, although quantifiable, may not lead to the responses typically desired in affiliate marketing campaigns. Additionally, these goals do not necessarily have specific dollar amounts attached. Yes, they will provide a strong return on investment over time, but the exact returns can be difficult to discern at the outset.

Meanwhile, affiliate marketing arrangements focus on highly specific goals, which typically relate to the number of clicks on affiliate links. From the affiliate marketer's perspective, these goals may seem more urgent; they determine whether (and to what extent) marketers are able to earn an income. 

Skills Needed

Both standard digital marketing and affiliate campaigns call for an array of carefully honed skills. Communication and creativity are among the most important to generate ideas for impactful campaigns that people will actually notice. Beyond this, core competencies like critical thinking and problem-solving are key, as affiliate and digital marketers alike are charged with finding hidden opportunities in a range of situations.

In general, affiliate marketers need to become jacks of all trades, whereas digital marketers have a greater ability to achieve career success specializing in a certain niche (such as social media, SEO, or content strategy). Because affiliate marketers hold the sole responsibility for driving results, they must be proficient in many areas of marketing. A self-starter attitude, complete with plenty of passion, is also crucial. 

Challenges

Digital and affiliate marketing share some sets of challenges — namely, attracting attention when today’s consumers are already inundated with marketing materials. Beyond this, however, the greatest challenge from the affiliate’s perspective arguably involves the need for an entrepreneurial mindset. Affiliates hold full responsibility, and while this can be exciting, it can also be difficult given affiliates’ frequently limited resources.

These challenges can be overcome with thorough training and by establishing a solid network of similarly skilled, passionate professionals. The most streamlined and reliable path to success begins with a quality education that touches on the many manifestations of modern marketing while also building soft skills that will always be relevant, no matter how the technology underscoring the marketing world evolves. 

Start Your Marketing Journey Today

Interested in embarking on an exciting career in digital or affiliate marketing? Look to Bryan & Stratton to provide a strong start. We offer several excellent programs that should be of interest to a wide range of aspiring marketers.

The Associate of Applied Science in Digital Marketing should provide a thorough overview of the field and have you ready to take on excellent opportunities in just a few years. If you’d like to further your education, the Bachelor of Business Administration in Digital Marketing is a wise choice. Reach out today to learn more.

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