The Difference Between a Two-tier Affiliate Program and Multi-level Marketing (MLM)

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Barbara Boser

Yū Affiliate Partner

Is the Yū Beauty Affiliate Program Multi-level Marketing?

I get this question fairly often. And the short and sweet answer is no it is not. The Beautiful Yū Affiliate Program is a two-tier affiliate program, not MLM (multi-level marketing).

What is the difference between MLM’s and Two-tier affiliate programs?

MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) and two-tier affiliate programs are both strategies utilized by companies to promote their products or services through networks of individual participants. These models share the common feature of leveraging personal networks for sales but differ significantly in their structure, focus, compensation methods, and notably, the initial investment required from participants.


MLM: This model features a hierarchical structure where individuals (distributors) can earn income from their own sales of the company’s products and from sales made by distributors they recruit (their downline). This recruitment can extend through multiple levels, creating a large network of distributors.

Two-tier Affiliate Programs: These programs involve a simpler, two-level structure. Affiliates earn commissions on their direct sales or referrals (first tier) and on sales or actions by affiliates they recruit (second tier), without the incentive or ability to build deeper levels of affiliates.


MLM: Focuses significantly on both selling products and recruiting new distributors. In many MLM’s the model often emphasizes recruitment over direct product sales as a major avenue for earning by paying additional commissions/bonuses tied to the number of new distributors recruited. 

Two-tier Affiliate Programs: The emphasis is primarily on selling products or services. While recruiting new affiliates is an available option to enhance earnings, additional income from recruiting new affiliates is only earned from actual product sales new affiliates generate. (you never earn from simply adding new affiliates) There is also no requirement to actively recruit new affiliates in order to participate.


MLM: Features a complex compensation structure that includes earnings from direct sales and a percentage of sales made by the downline. This often includes various bonuses tied to recruitment and sales milestones.

Two-tier Affiliate Programs: Offers a straightforward compensation model, with commissions from direct sales and additional earnings from sales made by recruited affiliates, limited to two levels.

Initial Investment

MLM: Most MLMs require participants to make an initial investment, such as a signup fee or the purchase of a starter kit of products. This upfront cost is a distinguishing feature of MLMs, as it’s often pitched as part of the business opportunity but can pose a barrier to entry for some individuals.

Two-tier Affiliate Programs: Generally, these programs do not require an upfront fee or the purchase of products to join. This lowers the barrier to entry, making it accessible to a wider audience who may wish to earn commissions without a significant initial investment.

Regulation and Perception

MLM: This model has faced scrutiny and regulatory challenges, partly because of the requirement for an initial investment, which, coupled with a strong emphasis on recruitment, has led to comparisons with pyramid schemes. MLMs operate legally but are closely regulated to ensure ethical practices.

Two-tier Affiliate Programs: Face less regulatory scrutiny than MLMs, primarily due to their focus on product sales over recruitment and the absence of required initial investments. This model is perceived as more closely aligned with traditional affiliate marketing practices.

In summary, while MLMs and two-tier affiliate programs both utilize networks for sales, MLMs are characterized by their multi-level, recruitment-intensive approach and often require an initial investment from participants. In contrast, two-tier affiliate programs focus more on product sales with a simpler compensation structure and generally do not require a significant upfront financial commitment, making them more accessible to a broader range of participants.

Are You Ready?

Join the Yū Beauty Affiliate Program and start earning commissions on one-time orders, residual commissions on subscription orders, and referral bonuses. No purchase required to become an affiliate.