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Affiliate marketing and media buying: similar but not the same
12 August 2021

Getting your head around these terms may be difficult at first, though some subtle nuances continue to baffle even those with years of experience in this field. We can say that affiliate marketing and media buying are two strategies with the same end goal and they can be employed complementary for better results. But these are not the same. Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Affiliate marketing

Basically, affiliate marketing is a marketing strategy that allows brands to attract customers online with the help of an intermediary — the affiliate marketer (AM) or simply the affiliate. The brand benefits from having a growing clientele, while the AM receives remuneration for his efforts which can be a flat fee or a percentage of sales. Therefore, the goal of an affiliate marketer is to attract the brand’s target audience to the said brand.

Affiliate marketers mostly focus on creating appealing content that would get the audience hooked and later convert these mildly interested people into hot leads and then into customers. Seeing that content is king here, some of the most popular approaches include blogging, creating themed websites, writing email newsletters, and influencer marketing. This leads us to the point that in pure affiliate marketing a big share of traffic is organic, e. i. attracted naturally by content.

Another important point is that affiliate marketers hold ownership over their content. It may be a website, a blog, a channel, a set of texts or photos, etc.

Media buying

Media buying is attracting customers to a brand via paid advertising. A media buyer (MB) also gets a commission from the users he attracts, so the ultimate goal of an MB is equal to that of an affiliate marketer, the difference lies in the means. A media buyer concentrates his efforts on discovering and buying the best ad placements that are most likely to reach the target audience. Another important point is buying them at the lowest possible price.

The ad spots or ad placements can be purchased directly from website owners or social media channels, but more often a media buyer would work with one or several ad networks. Ad networks aggregate traffic and act as intermediaries between the owners of advertising space and those wishing to buy it. Ad networks also work on commission, and media buyers have to choose wisely so that they would not pay for traffic more than they can earn from the initial advertiser.

Media buying mostly involves different bidding techniques (for instance, manual or programmatic) and does not concern itself with content creation. The main goal at the media buying stage is to secure the best ad spots for the best price. Contrary to pure affiliate marketing that can still attract vast audiences even when you no longer make new content, media buying happens here and now and demands constant involvement.

As opposed to affiliate marketers, media buyers own neither the product they promote nor the content they promote it with. They work for the margin between the price they pay for attracting new customers via advertising campaigns and the fee they earn for it.

The power of unity

In most cases those we call affiliates actually do both affiliate marketing and media buying in a Jack of all trades manner. This is particularly prominent among stand-alone or solo affiliates who do absolutely all the tasks themselves. To be successful as a solo affiliate you have to do media buying, write text, edit pictures, have at least a basic understanding of coding, and much more. 

Though usually, both affiliate marketers and media buyers work through affiliate networks or programs. There are differences between a network and a program, but for the purposes of this article, we will call both a “network” in order to draw a parallel with ad networks. So, affiliate networks are intermediaries between those who own products/services and those who promote these, namely AMs and MBs. Affiliate networks offer all sorts of additional services and tools, give access to statistics and tracking, sometimes provide promotional materials. Nevertheless, there is a share of solo affiliates and stand-alone media buyers that do not work with any intermediaries at all.

If we speak of combining the strategies, what can you do to boost your ROI and reach a new level in your work? As an affiliate or content creator, you can integrate some media buying techniques into your business to boost performance. For example, adding landing pages to your blog will help warm the audience up and actually get those leads that were almost lost. Or you can use paid advertising to promote your channel or newsletter in order to expand your reach. And if you have a product that sells well on its own, who said that you should not help it by launching an ad campaign.

Those who do media buying only often outsource the content creation part to professionals, but not everybody can afford it. And in any case, it would be wise to learn the intricacies of this side of the issue to be a better judge of content’s quality at least. If you manage to excel at both affiliate marketing and media buying, you will bring your affiliate game to a whole new level.

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