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Affiliate Marketing vs Digital Marketing: 3 Reasons Digital Marketing is Better for Beginners

January 23, 2023

The fundamental difference between affiliate marketing vs digital marketing is that affiliate marketing is just a smaller component of digital marketing. An affiliate marketer earns specifically from the promotion of products or services for a brand. On the other hand, digital marketing encompasses a wide array of marketing-related skills based on digital technology. The method of earning with digital marketing depends on which specific business model you choose. For example, a local lead generation business can earn up to $2,500/month from a single client by providing them with valuable leads. 

Although affiliate marketing can be a great option for many, there are 3 reasons most beginners should choose digital marketing instead. In the following article, we look at both business models, break down the differences between them, and discuss why you should hold off on affiliate marketing if you’re new to the world of online business and start with digital marketing instead. 

Affiliate marketing vs digital marketing: Comparison table overview

Comparison Parameters

Digital Marketing

Affiliate Marketing

Definition

Any advertising-related activity that leverages digital channels to reach an audience for the purpose of brand awareness or product promotion. 

Form of digital marketing where third-party marketers promote branded products for a commission.

Ownership

You can market your own product or take on clients to handle all or part of the marketing activities for their business.

No direct ownership of product. You promote products on behalf of another brand to earn a commission.

Reach

Very broad, comprising many strategies and marketing channels like content marketing and local lead gen.  

Specific form of marketing that involves coordination with an affiliate partner who receives a commission-based payment only if results are delivered.

Skill set

Encompasses various skills. Digital marketers usually specialize in one or a few skills and offer a service to clients.

Can benefit from knowing a broad range of digital marketing-related skills, but content creation and relationship building are especially important.

Components

Comprehensive activity with many moving parts that seek to satisfy various objectives.

Three main components include the affiliate marketers, the brand with the product, and the end customer.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a strategy where a brand outsources marketing activities to third-party marketers, called affiliates, that promote the brand’s offer on their behalf in exchange for a commission. This segment of digital marketing is big business, as according to TrueList, over 80% of brands use an affiliate marketing program. An affiliate marketer promotes for a brand by using an affiliate link, which is a custom website link that tracks and credits marketing-related activities like sales for the affiliate marketer.

How to get affiliate links?

Affiliate marketers get their custom affiliate links to promote brands either directly from the brand itself or, in most cases, through an affiliate network. Affiliate networks like Amazon Associates, ClickBank, or JVZoo are platforms that connect brands running an affiliate program with affiliates looking to promote and earn money. Once you sign up for an affiliate program and get your affiliate links, you embed them in your marketing content and then track your performance and commissions. 

3 Types of affiliate marketing

  1. Involved affiliate marketing - When the marketer promotes a product they actually use or have used before. 
  2. Related affiliate marketing - Promoting a product or service within the niche or category the affiliate has expertise in. 
  3. Unattached affiliate marketing - Affiliate has no connection to product or service being promoted.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing is any marketing activity that leverages digital channels like the internet or mobile devices to reach potential customers. In this day and age, people spend considerable time in the digital world, with the majority of people spending at least 5 hours just on their phone every day. 

Types of digital marketing

  • Email marketing - Using email to update an audience about brand happenings and promotional deals.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) - Strategy to organically attract audience to a website by creating content with keywords that rank well in search engines like Google, YouTube or Bing. 
  • Pay-per-Click - Using paid advertising channels like Google Ads or Facebook Ads to drive traffic.
  • Search engine marketing (SEM) - Driving traffic from search engines with both organic and paid advertising methods. 
  • Social media - Leveraging a social media platform like Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook to build an audience to promote to. 
  • Content marketing - Creating of captivating content like blog posts, infographics, or videos to drive interest to the product or brand and build relationships. 
  • Lead generation - Using various digital channels to find potential customers for a specific business niche and then selling the leads you generate to an applicable business.
  • Network marketing - Building a network of salespeople to generate leads and close sales, where you earn from both the sale of products and recruiting salespeople. 
  • Influencer marketing - Collaborating with online influencers who have established audiences to market brand products. 
  • Affiliate marketing - Performance-based marketing where third-party marketers promote for businesses for a commission using special website links to track and award performance.

9 Differences between digital marketing and affiliate marketing

Beyond the main difference that affiliate marketing is just one aspect of digital marketing, here are 9 more distinctions between affiliate marketing and digital marketing.

1. Who does the work?

Third-party marketers are responsible for the actions of affiliate marketing, while brands or product owners come up with the digital marketing strategy themselves and use marketing teams when needed. 

2. Involves which elements? 

The only three elements involved in affiliate marketing are the brand with a product, the affiliate, and the customer. Digital marketing involves all elements of the marketing process, from creating the brand to choosing which digital channels to use and selling to the customer. 

3. What skills are required? 

Affiliate marketing requires a combination of digital marketing skills to execute successfully, with the ability to create persuasive copy an absolute necessity. An enormous array of marketing ability and digital skills are encompassed in digital marketing, which is why most digital marketers focus on specializing in a few, like SEO or social media marketing

4. What is the purpose? 

The purpose of affiliate marketing is just to promote products in order to receive a commission, while the purpose of digital marketing is to spread awareness of the brand and generate positive public perception so customers purchase the brand's offerings.

5. Is a product needed? 

Affiliate marketers don’t need to develop a product or service to sell, whereas a digital marketer either has their own product or works for a company that already has one.

6. What is the scope? 

Affiliate marketing is a branch of digital marketing, while digital marketing is a broad field within traditional marketing that has many meanings.

7. What tasks are involved?

Affiliate marketing involves choosing a niche, finding an affiliate product within that niche, and promoting it through whichever marketing channel provides the best opportunity to reach your highest potential customer, usually by blog. Digital marketing involves differing tasks, depending on the digital marketer's role and specialty.

8. Dependent on an audience?

Success in affiliate marketing is hinged on maximizing exposure to an audience, whereas digital marketers can earn money through things like providing expertise, content creation services, or generating valuable leads.

9. Referred to as?

Affiliate marketers are known as affiliates, while digital marketers can be called a range of names depending on their specialty, such as copywriter, social media manager, or SEO consultant.

3 Reasons digital marketing is better for beginners

1. Build some expertise first

An affiliate marketer needs to have a high level of marketing knowledge and an array of digital skills to produce optimal results. You need to know how to come up with an affiliate marketing strategy, choose which affiliate product makes sense with that strategy, and then promote it through the best channels to reach your target audience. For online marketing newbies, affiliate marketing can be a lot to digest at once. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to develop a high level of skill in any one area when having to spread out your time across the many aspects of an affiliate marketing business. 

For that reason, most beginners are better off starting with digital marketing and choosing a simpler business model that allows for a narrow focus on a particular skill, like offering SEO services or E mail marketing. Not only does focusing on one skill at a time allow you to develop expertise so you can charge higher rates for your skills, it also adds to your overall arsenal of marketing abilities you can use in more complicated pursuits later on. For example, both SEO and Email marketing are key skills for affiliate marketing.

2. You will make money faster

According to Online Selling Experiment, most affiliate marketing campaigns don’t even hit $1,000/month regularly until between 18 - 24 months, if that milestone is ever reached at all. When selling your skills with a digital marketing agency, you can start generating money from your skills much faster.

Let’s use SEO as an example. BetterSEO notes that it takes 1 to 3 months to learn the basics of SEO, after which you can offer your skills on a freelance marketplace like Upwork or create your own SEO agency to attract clients. SEOChatter lists cheap SEO services as costing between $500 to $3,000/month for a single client. Therefore, digital marketers with valuable skills, even if just starting out, are likely to make money a lot faster than those waiting for a high affiliate commission payout.

3. Discover your preferences

Although affiliate marketing is a tempting option for many due to the potential for passive income in the long-term, it just isn’t for everyone. If you’re susceptible to distraction and procrastination, or if you just lack patience, affiliate marketing can be extraordinarily frustrating because it takes so much consistent effort just hoping that it will work out long-term.

When you start your online small business journey as a general digital marketer, you can experiment with the various digital marketing services and see what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing most. For example, you may be led into digital marketing because you saw the success of a famous content creator like MrBeast. However, once you get into the digital marketing work, you may find you actually prefer the data analysis required for a successful display ads marketing campaign instead of the scriptwriting and video editing ability needed for video content creation. 

Conclusion

Whether you decide to choose between affiliate marketing vs digital marketing, or go with another high paying online business model, success is largely based on how much effort you’re willing to put in. Running your own online business comes with incredible benefits like the freedom to work from anywhere and not answer to a boss, but the path to get there is filled with many challenges. However, anybody with the right mindset and motivation can overcome those challenges and excel in the world of online business. It’s all about taking the first step and continuing to put one foot in front of the other until you achieve your goal.

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  1. The 1 reason I prefer digital marketing over affiliate marketing is for the backend marketing aspect. I get to sell a product, and get the customer's info to market to them over and over again. Other than that, I'm a huge affiliate marketing fan.

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