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The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Partner Marketing in 2023

Are you intrigued by the idea of strategic partnerships as a marketing tool? If so, partner marketing could be an exciting opportunity to explore your interests and career path. Partner marketing is a fast-paced, stimulating field that emphasizes the value of collaboration and strategic thinking. Before you take the next step, however, it’s important that you develop a better understanding of the field and how you can secure your first job in partner marketing.

In this guide, we’ll cover the fundamentals of partner marketing, various types of brand partnerships, relevant terms, and share our tips and resources for achieving success as a partner marketer.

Partner marketing 101

Partner marketing refers to businesses forming strategic, mutually beneficial partnerships with external organizations and individuals to achieve their business objectives. To develop and execute these partnership initiatives, you’ll likely conduct market research, initiate partner relationships, propose and implement strategy, and collaborate across several cross-functional teams.

It’s important to note that partner marketing encompasses a diverse arsenal of marketing practices. Because the scope of brand partnerships is expansive, you may already have the skills needed to break into the industry – regardless of your formal experience in partner marketing.

Types of partnerships

The basis of partnership marketing is rooted in creating mutually beneficially relationships with external entities, such as individuals and other companies. Some of the most popular types of partnerships are:

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate partnerships refers to a company’s use of individuals or publishers to promote a product or service, in exchange for sales commissions. For example, an affiliate may share a distinct promotional code with consumers, allowing customers to receive discounts on purchases. This practice is particularly effective, as codes associated with individual affiliates provide measurable ROI data.  

Influencer marketing

Similar to affiliate marketing, influencer marketing leverages collaborations with key creators already established in a shared niche. Companies benefit from these partnerships as influencers are able to exend their authority and existing trust with their audience to brands.

Content marketing

Content marketing partnerships entail collaboration between companies to create relevant, high-value content to support their marketing objectives. The resulting content can take any form: articles, videos, podcasts, white papers, webinars, etc. Both parties are then able to distribute and cross promote this content, while tapping into the other’s audience.


Co-branding, also known as joint product partnerships, involve two companies collaborating to create a new product or iterate an existing product.


Sponsorships refer to the practice of paying for visibility and exposure to larger audiences. A brand may sponsor relevant events or influential individuals to advertise their business’ products or services, in an effort to increase brand awareness.


Distribution partnerships refers to a brand’s use of an external entity’s distribution channels to promote their products or services. This includes bundling products/services, cross-promotion, and reselling practices. Distribution partnerships allow companies to reach new prospective consumers, while leveraging their brand partner’s existing customer loyalty.

History of partnership marketing

The origins of partner marketing can be traced back for centuries. Despite brand partnerships being closely associated with modern periods, partnerships as a marketing tool have been used since the early days of trade and commerce.

Mutually beneficial partnerships – the foundation of partner marketing – were omnipresent in many cultures before the development and spread of current technologies. Cooperation allowed individuals to expand their reach and the scale of their benefits, while minimizing risks. Sharing resources and collaborating were an integral way of life.

The same foundations remained reliable with the advent of mass media and advertising in the 20th century. During this time, partnership opportunities exploded. Desperate to connect with consumers, companies would team up to pool their resources to reach a wider audience through joint advertising campaigns. This was especially prevalent in the sports, entertainment, and food and drink industries, where companies would create co-branded products and sponsor events to advertise their brands.

Although the digital age has fueled evolution in all aspects of marketing and consumerism, the value of strategic partnerships and collaboration remain stable.



The act of mobilizing newly-onboarded partners to begin participating in operations.

Affiliate Link

A unique link assigned to an affiliate partner, which directs customers to a website where they can purchase a company’s products or services. Also known as referral links, affiliate links are specific to an external partner and can be used to measure effectiveness of a partnership and calculate commissions based on performance.

Affiliate Network

A third-party platform that connects affiliates to brands. These networks ease the discovery and contract processes, as companies can connect with a variety of prospects from a repository of affiliates. These networks typically offer additional services, such as performance tracking and payment processing.


The process of measuring how individual marketing tactics contribute to conversions and sales.

Channel Partner

An external company that partners with other organizations to sell or advertise their products or services. Examples of channel partners include: vendors, retailers, resellers, and agencies.


A marketing practice in which two complementary brands work together to promote each other’s products or services. These joint marketing efforts are benefit from cross-promotions on their own distribution channels, allowing both parties to expand their reach and improve customer acquisition.

Performance Marketing

Compensation derived from performance-based results. In contrast to flat fees, companies that employ performance marketing pay partners according to the effectiveness of their promotions, typically determined by sales or conversions.

White Labeling

The act of branding a product or service under another company’s name, rather than the original creator or manufacturer’s. This term can be applied to physical products as well as influencer made content.


  1. Choose the right partners. Not all partners are created equal. Partnering with the right companies and individuals is perhaps the most critical component to the success of your partner marketing program. Look for potential partners that have a similar target audience, have a strong industry reputation, and provide complementary products, services, or content.
  1. Define clear goals early on. Before launching any partner marketing program, it’s important to define your partnership objectives. Establishing a partnership agreement that covers all key aspects of the partnership, including responsibilities, goals, and compensation. This ensures both you and your partners are aligned on expectations and working towards the same end goal.
  1. Make data-informed decisions. Partner marketing programs typically generate a lot of data. Measuring and tracking the performance of your partner marketing initiatives is the easy part. It’s imperative that you use this data to guide your decisions. Analyzing metrics such as conversion rates, engagement rates, and customer feedback can help you identify areas for improvement and boost your chances for a successful partnership.
  1. Be flexible. The world of marketing is constantly changing – partner marketing is no exception. Be willing to adapt to changes in the market and adjust your partner strategies as needed.


As a partner marketer, it’s critical to have the right tools at your disposal. Here are some of the most popular resources and tools for marketers in this field:

Partner Relationship Management (PRM) Software

This type of software is designed specifically for partner marketing and helps you manage all your partnerships in one place. PRM platforms, such as PartnerStack, provide a centralized hub for communication, collaboration, and tracking of all your partnership activities.

Affiliate Networks

Affiliate networks connect affiliates and brands looking to promote their products and services. You can use these networks to find and recruit new partners, track their performance, and administer payment. Some of the most popular affiliate networks include Rakuten Advertising and Commission Junction.

Marketing Automation Tools

Automation can help you simplify your partner marketing efforts by programming repetitive tasks and providing insights into campaign performance. Adobe Marketo Engage and Hubspot Marketing Hub are popular full-service choices for partner marketing professionals, however MailChimp is significantly more affordable and offers services relating to email marketing and automation.

Collaboration Tools

Collaboration tools, such as Asana and Trello, are essential for working effectively with partners. These tools provide a platform for real-time communication, task management, and document sharing. (Bonus: these sites offer extensive features that can double as project management tools!)

Whether you’re early in your career or an experienced marketer branching into a new role, you can achieve a successful career in partner marketing. By approaching partnerships with a strategic lens, willingness to adapt, and focusing on results, you can maximize the benefits of partner marketing.

Learn more about a career in partner marketing – read our Partner Marketing for Women guide!


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