Will Affiliate Marketing Evolve?

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Recently, there was a merchant who was outed on Abestweb for trying to entice affiliates into providing a non-affiliate link back to the merchant site in exchange for a 1/2 percent commission bonus. This practice was summarily criticized by affiliates, and the merchant was forced to withdraw the offer, make several apologies and replace the consultant responsible for the idea.

I think there were basically three camps of reasoning’s behind the negative acceptance of this idea. 1) People were slighted at only being offered 0.5% commission increase for this valuable rank benefiting link back. 2) People felt that this idea was unethical search engine manipulation and 3) some people felt that the affiliate marketing program shouldn’t be mixed in with the SEO strategy.

Reason #3 inspired me to think about how affiliate marketing will evolve in the future. I think the idea of keeping affiliate marketing as is, and not mixing it up with other online marketing efforts is going to be impossible to maintain in the near future. The perception of affiliate marketing is under assault and this assault is leading merchants to seek additional ways to gain the best value value from their affiliate programs.  The assault is coming from trademark bidders and parasitic affiliates and even coupon affiliates (not to question the overall value of coupon affiliates, just observing that SOME merchants question the value of coupon affiliates). Affiliate marketing is a great channel, it provides a measurable ROI, builds out brand presence, and employs some very creative individuals working for the benefit of a brand. Given the tremendous value affiliate marketing offers however, there will always be a trend by any business to seek more value out of a channel.

How can an affiliate channel demonstrate NEW value-add while under this constant assault from non-value adding affiliate enterprises? I think the misguided link back idea was an attempt at addressing this idea. While it was resoundingly criticized, it was an attempt at adding something new to the affiliate channel.

Can affiliates be asked reasonably to get involved in other marketing endeavors on behalf of a merchant?  Perhaps commission bonuses for helping to vote up an article on a social site? Generating comments and content to help with spin reputation management?  If it’s true that the affiliates of a merchant are like an independent sales force can this sales force be employed further for the benefit of both the affiliate and the merchant?