How is big data going to impact the performance marketing industry? 
Big data is going to drive the performance marketing industry forward and help all stakeholders be more efficient.  The affiliate channel usually tracks between 10-20% of an advertisers’ online spend, and has an extremely efficient ROI.  Think about the growth we could achieve if we became even 10% more efficient through data sharing!  Currently, Rakuten Affiliate Network is able to pass real time data to a publisher on whether a customer is “new” to an advertiser across our network.  That information can help a loyalty publisher show greater cash back, or a coupon publisher show a new customer offer in real time.  Coming soon will be even more use of data in real time to help advertisers reach their sales goals, while achieving even more efficient spend.

As networks begin to announce new optimization platforms, exchanges and “operating  systems,” does this mean that investment in proprietary platforms will become a key competitive advantage again? Can commodity platforms like Tune and Cake keep up?
I consider the best solution to be one that is scaled, large, and a suitable “neighborhood” for your brand.  A scaled, large network combats fraud due to the magnitude of data passing through the network, and through investment in personnel and technology that is ongoing.  The “neighborhood’ you reside in and the network effect of recruitment for your and like-minded brands also helps your program grow from within.  Without these two things, you will need to invest in more people and technology yourself – the expertise lies in the networks.

Over the last two years has it become harder or easier for newbie affiliates to enter the industry and make money? Why?
I think it’s become easier to enter the industry and make money in the past two years.  Affiliates have a great deal of choice for how much work they want to put into their site to monetize.  If they want to “set it and forget it” there are monetization tools via javascript code that they can put on their site to automatically monetize links.  If they want to individually select and maintain banners, they have this option as well.  Additionally the appetite from advertisers for influencer or blogger partners has increased dramatically.  So, it’s not only easy technically, but also from a relationship perspective – advertisers are hungry to partner with smaller affiliates who are building their audience so that they can grow together.

If you were a CMO for a major brand, what would be the three most important questions that you would ask prospective network partners?

  1. How have you driven success for other brands similar to mine in size, and who have similar goals
  2. How are you investing in building out your network to recruit new publishers?
  3. How are you demonstrating your thought leadership within the affiliate marketing space?

Melissa Feemster is the General Manager and SVP for Rakuten Affiliate Network (formerly LinkShare), and serves as the voice of its clients and shapes feedback into new projects and products for the business. She focuses on client retention, account optimization and new business opportunities. Melissa has grown up through the client services organization at Rakuten Affiliate Network, having joined the Chicago office in 2004. Prior to that time, she worked in account management at Ogilvy, in brand management at the Campbell Soup Company, and in corporate communications at McDonald’s Corporation. Melissa holds an MBA in Marketing from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and a BA from DePauw University.