Does a merchant or an advertiser need a digital marketing/ad agency in addition to their normal affiliate network partner?

Adam Weiss:  As with any aspect of developing a strong digital marketing strategy, this largely depends on the needs of the advertiser, as well as the strengths of the network with which they work. The most important thing to consider is that when a merchant uses an agency to manage their affiliate program, they should ensure that the agency is tapping into the resources that the network can provide to extract all the potential out of their program. From insights and benchmarking to strategy and support, the power of the managed service offering that a network provides lies in the fact that it can combine both proprietary technology and data with deep expertise.  And thus, the merchant should insist that the agency and network work closely together to drive maximum success.

If they sometimes do need both, then where is the dividing line? How should a merchant aim to split the responsibilities?

Adam Weiss:  I would recommend considering the strengths of both the network as well as the agency. For example, a strong network will likely have robust analytics as well as benchmarking data that they can share, to which an agency wouldn’t necessarily have access. Conversely, agencies may have a particular strength in a geographic area that could benefit the merchant when it comes to publisher outreach. The merchant should play to each of those strengths and have both parties take responsibility for any corresponding deliverables. Regardless of who gets what tasks, the key is to have consistent, direct communication across all parties involved to ensure clarity and accountability.

If you were going to launch a business as a publisher today, what business model would you adopt to make money? What geos would you target and why? 

Adam Weiss:  There are many factors to consider when launching a publisher business.  When determining the best model, here is what I would do. First, you need to understand the strengths of your team and the types of consumers you want to reach.  Are you a team of strong content writers, social influencers, or do your strengths lie in technology built around customer offers or loyalty? Also, do you have a particular vertical that you want to service—do your strengths lie in retail, fashion, electronics, travel or finance? Next, you need to decide on the region or regions in which you want to launch. It would be beneficial to develop a strategy that includes the US, EU and APAC. The US and EU are fundamental for any successful business and should be a priority, and APAC has huge growth potential.  Ecommerce in the Asia-Pacific region is predicted to reach $1,488.42 billion in 2017 and exceed $2 trillion by 2020, according to eMarketer. There is also a plethora of emerging technology available to support brands and publishers who want to expand internationally.

When deciding on geographies you want to target, it’s vital that you understand consumer behaviors in the regions you want to invest to ensure positive revenue growth. For example, we know that Loyalty and reward programs, cashback and content are among the most popular publisher models throughout Asia.  Similarly, we know that Korean consumers respond exceptionally well to content. Having access to a plethora of data on your target audience is critical. Whatever model you choose, publishers need to speak to their consumers in a way that resonates best in the market.

Many publishers struggle with data management and understanding how their own media buying flows through into affiliate commission. How much help should they expect from their network? 

Adam Weiss: A publisher should work with their network representative to help them better understand their analytics and conversions. Many clients are utilizing attribution tools from their affiliate networks that can provide a better understanding of how a publisher site interacts at different stages of the sales funnel. Publishers can work with a network to tap into this, and look to the multiple tracking and reporting options within their network’s dashboard for deeper analysis.  Lastly, an affiliate can also work one-on-one with a network representative to clarify any data related questions.

Adam Weiss, Rakuten
Adam Weiss is the General Manager & SVP for Rakuten Affiliate Network (formerly LinkShare), and is responsible for the P&L and strategic direction of the North American & European affiliate business. Adam has held multiple roles within Rakuten Affiliate Network, having joined the company in 2003. Prior to that time, he held publisher-facing positions at and 24/7 Media.