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What’s The Difference Between Affiliate And Multilevel Marketing?


In a digital landscape of personalized, hyper-connected platforms, ecommerce brands have a powerful resource for driving sales through affiliate marketing.

It’s why more than 80% of brands have affiliate programs, particularly in the fashion, outdoors, and health-and-beauty sectors. But the similarities between the affiliate and multilevel marketing can raise concerns about the risk of affiliate-marketing scams. For the vast majority of cases, that concern is unwarranted. Discover the differences between multilevel and affiliate marketing, and learn how to unlock the full potential of the latter legitimately.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing precedes the digital era, but it has reached unprecedented heights with ecommerce, email marketing, and social media. The affiliate-marketing industry is now worth $8.2 billion and drives 15% of e-Commerce revenue.

Affiliate marketing means that brands pay third-party publishers a commission or fee to generate traffic or leads. The publisher, a lone blogger or a sophisticated content creator with reputable networks like Olavivo (#1 Network for Crypto, Sweepstakes, & Leadgen Offers) drives traffic to the brand’s platform and collects a commission for all sales from their affiliate links. The brand thus outsources much of the cost and time associated with sales. That might mean sacrificing creative control over messaging, but the advantage is lower-cost advertising through a trusted and authoritative source.

What Is Multilevel Marketing?

The critical distinction between the affiliate and multilevel marketing is that publishers mainly generate revenue by recruiting members in the latter. If that’s the sole source of income — in other words, a pyramid scheme — then it’s usually illegal.

The Key Differences Between Affiliate and Multilevel Marketing  

Affiliate Multilevel
   Free to get started    High start-up costs
   Publishers create content    Publishers buy a kit to sell products
   Free to choose what products to promote    The network dictates which products to sell
   Earnings by commission    You may have to reach a threshold to earn
   The brand sales team closes the deal    Publishers may have to close sales to earn
   Revenue generated through sales commission    The bulk of earnings through recruiting members

You're involved in legitimate affiliate marketing if your brand incentivizes third-party publishers to promote your product or service in return for sales commissions. If you’re charging publishers for membership to your sales operation, that’s multilevel marketing, which could be illegal.

How Can You Tell If A Program Is Legitimate?

Affiliate marketing content should be marked as such. That’s a Federal Trade Commission requirement for any online endorsement. Blog posts or videos should disclose affiliate links, be labeled as sponsored posts, and include a disclaimer that the publisher is earning a commission on sales.

None of these should be treated as a red flag, however. You’ll see sponsored content alongside editorials on various reputable websites. That content often goes further in detail and authority simply because the blogger is a trusted expert in that niche.

On the other hand, the following may indicate that an affiliate-marketing program is not legitimate:

  • A cost to join, such as taking a course, paying an admin fee, or attending a consultation
  • Suspiciously high commissions, such as 50% compared to the typical 5% to 10% per sale for a legit affiliate
  • Guaranteed profits; affiliate marketing is effective, but not a magic wand
  • Sites with excessive ads or redirects, bloated copy stuffed with keywords, and low-quality images
  • A lack of primary site and domain security, such as SSL encryption, contact details in the footer, and so on
  • Lots of dollar bills on the screen, but generic product images that turn out to be stock images when subjected to a reverse photo search

As a rule of thumb, illegitimate affiliate-marketing publishers are high on hype and low on quality at first glance. Behind the scenes, many resorts to cookie stuffing, bots, and click farms to maximize revenue before the curtain comes down.

Most affiliate links have a cookie life, so the affiliate will only earn sales within a predefined period. Legitimate affiliate marketers tackle that challenge with well-researched, informative content. Their illegitimate counterparts don’t have the resources, so they focus instead on urgency, hard-sell tactics, and back-end subterfuge.

How To Get the Most Out of Affiliate Marketing

Although it is practically free to get started with affiliate marketing, the key currency to scaling the program is trust. You must promote products you believe in and nurture an authentic connection with your audience. For content creators, that means working with a respected affiliate network and featuring products or services that resonate with your followers or audience.

For brands, it means developing a long-term strategy incorporating other marketing channels, such as email, paid media, and social media. With this in place, the challenge is identifying the right affiliate network to source the most influential affiliates in your sector. Not everyone is a good fit, and it’s essential to collaborate with partners who can handle your brand purpose and guidelines with a sensitive touch.

Ultimately, e-Commerce brands should seek a qualified, experienced, well-reviewed marketing partner to manage their affiliate marketing. Choosing Hawke Media delivered a 44.9% revenue increase for 360 Cookware.

Finding The Right Niche

Discovering and defining a niche is also a matter of thought. As you can imagine, there are a lot of products out there in terms of affiliate marketing. But as the old-timers say, “find a hot niche first, then go find a product to solve the niche's problems.” Suppose your chosen niche is a specific group, such as breast cancer patients, people with disabilities, the LGBT community, etc.. In that case, the right product for that niche could be customized, and there is a strong demand for custom products from these groups. 

Most prefer using custom stuff with logo or name elements for different occasions. Moreover, it allows you to start your members' marketing campaigns at a lower cost than other products. Learn more on USPP.com

Special thanks to our friends at HawkeMedia for their insights on this topic.
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