affiliate marketing vs mlm

Affiliate Marketing vs MLM: 2024 Comparison

Pavanan Ghosh

MLM and Affiliate Marketing may seem similar at first, but they have distinct differences. Imagine Affiliate Marketing as the tech-savvy hero armed with referral links, while MLM wears the cap of a network-driven superhero, promising financial success. 🦸‍♂️💰
But beneath the surface lies an important comparison of two unique sales methodologies. In this journey, we’ll uncover their structures, income potential, and shed light on the fine line that separates a legitimate opportunity from a pyramid scheme.

So fasten your seatbelts, and get ready for a wild ride filled with hilarious banter, and a few well-placed emojis. 😄

What is Affiliate Marketing?

why affiliate marketing is better than MLM

Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing in which a business rewards an individual or company (referred to as an affiliate) for each customer the affiliate refers to the business. The affiliate simply promotes the business’s products or services and earns a commission for each sale or lead generated.

It is like having your very own sidekick in the sales world. The income of an affiliate marketer depends upon the number of sales done through customer acquisition using online affiliate marketing. Hence higher number of sales made through affiliate marketing program will automatically reflect in more income of an affiliate marketer. Also, you can use affiliate marketing software for the smooth processing of your online selling methods.

The best part is, you don’t have to worry about creating the product, handling inventory, or dealing with customer support. You’re like the Robin to Batman, promoting the product while the company takes care of the nitty-gritty details.

What is Network Marketing?

difference between network marketing and MLM

MLM also known as Network Marketing or direct selling, is a business model where a company sells products or services through a network of independent distributors. Multi level Marketing is a sales strategy where you not only sell products but also recruit a team of sellers beneath you. This creates a hierarchical structure where distributors can build their own sales teams.

And for every sale your recruits make, you earn a slice of the commission pie. The compensation system often includes both a commission on product sales and bonuses or incentives for recruiting and growing a successful downline organisation.

In MLM, existing members are encouraged to sell to others and recruit new members. Distributors earn a percentage of their recruits’ sales, while new recruits are motivated to sell and make money themselves. They often emphasize personal relationships and word-of-mouth marketing, encouraging distributors to sell products to their social circles and attract others who can do the same.

Affiliate Marketing vs MLM -Understanding the difference

While both involve marketing and generating sales, there are significant differences between the two approaches. We will explore the distinctions between Affiliate Marketing and MLM, shedding light on their unique structures, compensation plans, and levels of involvement.

Multi Level Marketing Affiliate Marketing
Involves recruiting individuals to become distributors or representatives for a company’s products or services. Involves promoting and selling products or services through an affiliate network.
Compensation is earned through both direct sales and recruitment of new distributors. Compensation is primarily earned through successful referrals and sales generated through unique affiliate links.
Often requires distributors to purchase products or starter kits to participate in the program. Does not require upfront purchase of products, although some affiliate programs may have minimum sales targets.
Distributors can earn commissions not only from their direct sales but also from the sales made by their recruits or downline. Affiliates earn commissions solely based on their own referral sales and performance.
Emphasizes building a network and expanding a downline to increase earning potential. Focuses on driving traffic and generating conversions through targeted marketing strategies.
May involve complex compensation structures, including multiple tiers and bonuses for achieving specific ranks or goals. Generally follows a straightforward commission structure based on the percentage of sales or leads generated.
MLM companies often offer training, support, and additional incentives to encourage distributor growth and retention. Affiliate marketers typically rely on their own marketing skills and resources, although some affiliate programs provide training and promotional materials.
MLM programs can sometimes face criticism and controversy due to their resemblance to pyramid schemes. Affiliate marketing is generally regarded as a legitimate and transparent business model

These are the basic differences, let’s look at technical differences between the two.

  • The role of Levels:  

  • Network marketing or MLM has several tiers or levels. There is no Limitation in adding new Members to the additional Levels. But in the case of Affiliate Marketing, the levels don’t have any significance.

  • The product:  

  • In Network Marketing, the products sold are continuously brought to customers repeatedly. Thus the sale is a repeated process. But in the case of Affiliate Marketing, the type of products chosen for sale are in such a way that customers will buy them only once. Hence it is not a repeated process.

  • Downlines:

  • In the case of network marketing, each member can have as many downlines depending on their compensation plans. But in the case of affiliate marketing, there is typically no downline structure. Affiliates may have ties to the company or merchant that they promote, but they do not have subordinates or downline members..

  • Marketing support:

  • MLM companies provide extensive training and support to their distributors. They want you to succeed and typically will do all they can to educate you about their products and services, making sales, and enlisting new members. On the other hand, affiliate marketing doesn’t provide as much support. The company you’re affiliated with will give you some resources and materials, but for the most part, you’ll be on your own.

  • Initial Costs:

  • The start-up costs in MLM can vary depending on the company you are choosing to represent. This fee may cover starter kits, training materials, and sometimes even product samples. Affiliate marketing has minimal to zero initial costs. A primary requirement is a website to promote your products. But even this can be bypassed by promoting products through social media.

  • Sales targets:

  • The specific sales targets for MLM can vary widely among MLM companies and their compensation plans. MLM companies typically have requirements for distributors to maintain a certain level of personal sales volume to be eligible for commissions and bonuses. In affiliate marketing, sales targets are typically self-determined since you are working as an independent affiliate.

    Top Affiliate Marketing Companies in the World


    ClickBank, founded in 1998, is a global e-commerce platform and one of the industry’s oldest affiliate networks.


    ShareASale is an affiliate marketing network that offers over 2,500 different programs.

    CJ Affiliate

    CJ is a 20-year-old affiliate marketing program that has aided affiliates and merchants since the beginning.

    Rakuten Advertising

    Rakuten Marketing is a popular affiliate network that includes a lot of big merchants.


    Thousands of global content providers, course educators, influencers, and review sites who assist their audiences in launching successful Shopify businesses.


    eBay offers an affiliate marketing program called the eBay Partner Network (EPN).


    Flipkart’s affiliate marketing allows the users to join the network for free, making it one of India’s top affiliate marketing companies in India.


    Admitad provides cost per action (CPA) affiliate marketing and connects publishers with over 30000 advertisers from across the world.

    Tradedoubler AB

    Tradedoubler, is the first European network to offer performance-based affiliate marketing services for advertisers and publishers.


    Rakuten, formerly known as “,” is a well-known affiliate marketing supplier in this industry.

    Top Network Marketing Companies in the World


    Founded in 1959, Amway is one of the largest MLM companies globally, selling a wide range of products, including health and beauty, household, and personal care items.


    Herbalife, established in 1980, specializes in nutrition and weight management products. They distribute their products through a network of independent distributors.


    Avon is a well-known MLM company that has been in operation since 1886. It primarily focuses on cosmetics, beauty, and personal care products.

    Mary Kay

    Mary Kay is a cosmetics and skincare MLM company founded in 1963. Their products are sold through a network of independent beauty consultants.


    Tupperware is a household products MLM company that offers food storage containers, kitchenware, and other home goods. It has been in business since 1948.

    Nu Skin

    Founded in 1984, Nu Skin specializes in skincare and wellness products. It operates internationally and uses a direct selling approach.

    Forever Living

    Forever Living is an MLM company that primarily offers aloe vera-based health and wellness products, including skincare, nutritional supplements, and personal care items.


    Oriflame is a Swedish MLM company specializing in beauty and skincare products. It operates in more than 60 countries worldwide.

    Jeunesse Global

    Jeunesse Global offers a range of anti-aging and wellness products. It was founded in 2009 and operates in multiple countries.

    ACN Inc

    ACN Inc. is a multi-level marketing company that offers telecommunications and essential services. ACN operates in multiple countries worldwide.

    MLM or Affiliate Marketing?

    When it comes to choosing between affiliate marketing and network marketing, many people find themselves in a bit of a dilemma. They ask themselves, “Which one is the best?” It’s a common question that arises when considering how to make money online.

    We have already discussed the differences between MLM and affiliate Marketing. Now, let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks it provides so that you can choose from the two.

    Pros of MLM & Affiliate Marketing

    Network Marketing Affiliate Marketing
    Can make money by selling products or services to your network Low cost to get started
    Potential for residual income Wide range of products or services to promote
    Can be a great way to build a business No inventory to manage

    Cons of MLM & Affiliate Marketing

    Network Marketing Affiliate Marketing
    Can be a lot of work Can be difficult to get started
    Some network marketing companies have been accused of being pyramid schemes Requires a large network of people

    Winding Up

    From this we understand that both marketing methods offer unique advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, the choice between MLM and affiliate marketing depends on your preferences, financial goals, willingness to invest time and resources, and comfort level with managing a team.

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