Partner Programs and the Power of the Long Tail

Let’s talk about what your partner program can learn from YouTube and Netflix.

Why does YouTube keep reporting gains year after year while growth at Netflix remains stagnant?

Netflix can’t compete with YouTube’s long tail of creators and fans.

On YouTube, you can find anything. There are documentaries, feature films, unboxing videos, and videos to help you fix your sink - any keyword you can think of has hundreds of videos dedicated to it.

In contrast, Netflix only allows a few key players to produce new videos. Every video on their platform has to appeal to a large enough audience to make it worth the investment.

YouTube has a massive inventory that includes videos with only a handful of views. They give small-name creators the same opportunity to use their publishing suite as they do to the big players. Any one of the niche creators is small potatoes, but combined they garner tens of millions of views.

The long tail is about the power of the little guy in two unique ways:

  1. The cumulative power of many small creators adds up to more than a few big ones.
  2. The next big creator is more likely to emerge from the long tail than be discovered by company execs.

By tapping into the long tail, YouTube gets both of these benefits, whereas Netflix faces constant pressure to have mega hits and pick the right winners.

Make ‘em feel special

If YouTube had a lot of hoops to jump through before you could prove yourself worthy of creating on their platform, they’d lose these benefits.

If they offered small creators a low-quality experience with no features and guidance, they’d lose these benefits.

Instead, anyone can start a YouTube channel and is given the same access to their amazing video publishing suite. There are a few very minor hurdles to monetization, but almost none to getting started. They even have built-in celebration emojis dancing around after you publish your first video.

They make the smallest users feel like they matter just as much as the biggest.

On the other hand, most partner portals feel something like this:

Meme. Caption: "We have a great onboarding and enablement program for our partners." Picture of dog holding its own leash
Meme credit: Rob Rebholz

If your partner program is full of hoops and hurdles, is inaccessible, or feels like a bland, generic experience for all but your biggest partners, you are Netflix.

Don’t get me wrong, Netflix has hit some home runs by focusing on the big creators. You can too with big partners, but you face constant pressure to always hit home runs. If you can deliver orders of magnitude more at-bats from a vast ecosystem, all the singles and doubles start to add up.

If your program is easy to access, fun to join, and makes every single partner no matter how new or how small feel special, you get the two benefits YouTube has:

  1. The cumulative distribution of tons of small partners into customer niches you otherwise couldn’t reach.
  2. The serendipitous discovery of big partners who emerge from the long tail of small ones.

That’s how you create a future-proof, living, healthy partner ecosystem.

Commitment + ops = long tail success

You need full commitment to the long tail strategy. It’s a little scary and messy at first. You can’t go into it half-heartedly. You’ve got to align your department and leadership around creating a partner program that extends well beyond the 20% of partners who generate 80% of the current value.

But you need more than commitment.

You need a way to pull off a first-class experience for even the smallest partners. In a recessionary market, you’re not going to do it with more headcount.

You don’t have time to hold the hand of every new partner, but you can make it dead simple for new partners to self-onboard and start using your portal right away. You can ensure the process and the interface and the entire experience is seamless, intuitive, and valuable. You can ensure real, valuable enablement and engagement.

For example, at Impartner, we empower SMBs with powerful through-channel marketing automation (TCMA). One of the tools in our PRM enables partners to automate marketing through the use of Google Ads. Think of how when searching for a specific car in your area, you get served ads for monthly specials from local car dealers based on your query.

Our PRM allows you to automate those types of ads to reach new unknown prospects. It gives SMBs a chance to implement local Google Ad campaigns for all of their channel partners – requiring little effort at the local level. By tapping into TCMA, you can reach the long tail of your market while increasing the efficiency of your organization.

Building the right tools takes some upfront investment. But once it’s done right, you can scale without limits and tap the long tail of partners you didn’t even know existed.


If you want to optimize your partner program, you need to capture the long tail. You can do this by making an incredible onboarding process. Automate your process, but also make every partner feel special. Give the little guy the same treatment as the big players and let your partners know that they matter.

Don’t miss out on the big returns from many niche partners.

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