Rakuten Advertising has led the Blue Book rankings for more than a decade. It is a level of success that has been sustained by a focus on customer service, their strength in strategic services and continued innovation and evolution. At this moment, performance marketing is growing rapidly yet is likely to be disrupted in unpredictable ways by AI-driven Chat, Search and other marketing technologies. We thought this would be a perfect time to get together with Anthony Capano, Managing Director, North America at Rakuten Advertising. In this interview, we discuss the evolution of Rakuten Advertising, the changing landscape of performance marketing, and Rakuten’s new partnership with Mavrck.

1. Rakuten Advertising is more than affiliate marketing, how is that reflected in how Rakuten Advertising operates on a global level?

What Rakuten Advertising does best is help brands and advertisers find their next customer on a global scale. Everything we do is grounded in performance. From affiliate to display, search, social, and influencer marketing. With these performance-driven solutions, and our years of expertise, we help our partners around the world create ad experiences that work across channels to reach customers and inspire them to take action. And thanks to our robust portfolio of digital media properties across the globe and our network of active publishers and partners, we deliver these experiences to the right people, at the right time, in the right place, to get real results.

What sets us apart on a global level is our strength in strategic services and vertical expertise. We don’t just have a presence in every key global market, we are established leaders with local experts, strong publisher relationships and dedicated teams to help global clients tap into new markets with confidence. This strong foundation has helped us become the leader in global affiliate, helping brands test new markets and grow their business.

It’s also why we’ve invested in building the best platform and network across regions. For example, we’re about to roll out a new technology that lets brands and their publisher partners leverage their collective data to serve the most relevant ads to users – just in time as cookies start to sunset.

When you combine these with our core offerings across channels, our business reflects a durable digital marketing technologies and strategies that help our clients reach audiences globally. And we’re just getting started.

2. What is changing about performance marketing, how are you seeing this reflected in multi-channel and cross-channel strategies?

At every step of the customer journey there are new opportunities to reach audiences, no matter which digital channel. Engaging consumers in data-driven and personalized ways is more important than ever before, and affiliate marketing has reliably accomplished that. We’re seeing affiliate strategies evolve to encompass the entire sales funnel and other complementary channels—especially influencers.

We’re entering one of the most exciting performance marketing periods. More now than ever, marketers are viewing affiliate as a solution to connect with consumers throughout the customer journey and make an impact on the bottom line.

Affiliate marketing is more than just performance. Growth in data and technology has helped change the perception of affiliate from just a performance lever that a brand pulls when it wants to drive sales, to a full-funnel strategy that can help support every aspect of the customer journey—from prospecting to purchase, and into life-long loyalty.

New technologies are on the verge of disrupting the industry entirely, like ChatGPT and AI-powered search engines. We’re seeing massive shifts in the business models of companies that relied solely on advertising revenue now explore new avenues, such as subscriptions for verified profiles. I expect we will continue to see new publisher types emerge and affiliate continue to play a key role in how those publishers monetize. As more publishers emerge, more cross-channel opportunities will come as a result.

As marketers continue to prepare for a cookieless future, affiliate is going to continue to move in that direction. Without access to third-party cookies, contextual targeting and personalization are becoming more important, and the affiliate industry has found ways to pair first-party data with contextual targeting to help publishers deliver more personalized affiliate links than ever before. That, paired with the rise of new publisher types—from influencers to rewards shopping platforms and loyalty programs—opens the door for the affiliate channel to expand.

3. Rakuten Advertising launched a new partnership with Mavrck to support influencer and creator marketing. Tell us more about what this partnership means and how it benefits advertisers.

Influencers have become an essential piece of any full-funnel affiliate strategy. By partnering with a leader in influencer marketing like Mavrck, we can provide our advertisers a whole spectrum of influencer offerings with the flexibility and scalability to meet their unique needs.

Influencers are a crucial publisher type for marketers in many industries. We want to ensure we’re providing our partners with the best-performing, most robust group of influencers to meet their individual objectives and by partnering with companies like Mavrck we can do just that.

We also recognized that our client’s needs vary quite a bit in influencer marketing, and no one size fits all approach is truly effective. Finding the right creators that fit with our client’s brands, with a following that mirrors our clients’ target customers, that are known in a particular key region, and are accessible at price points is no small challenge.

While we built a strong network of partners, that delivered exceptional results, we want to offer options to our clients be it platform only or fully managed via a team of in-house experts that could help fully integrate affiliate campaigns with content creators. Mavrck is known for having the best enterprise platform out there, and combined with strong services team that could help run performance campaigns across several channels.

By incorporating these influencer offerings into our suite of affiliate, media, and digital services, we make it easy for brands to manage their entire marketing strategy in one place and deliver real results.

4. How do you describe how Rakuten Advertising has evolved in the last couple of years, what makes your network different?

When Rakuten Advertising started out over 25 years ago, our goal was to provide brands with a new approach to performance marketing that directly tied their ad spend to conversions and sales. We pioneered this industry and today remain the top partner to brands looking to build their affiliate program. But we didn’t sit still. We expanded into other channels through strategic acquisitions and investments in our people and technology. This allowed us to evolve into one stop shop that provides brands with a full funnel approach to digital marketing.

When a brand works with us, they can quickly test and scale messaging, tactics, and strategies across affiliate, programmatic display, paid search, and social – saving them time and boosting overall performance in a highly synergistic way. Our approach works and we’ve continued this path of innovation and growth. A few years ago, we centralized ad inventory across the Rakuten ecosystem at Rakuten Advertising letting brands reach consumers on some of the most popular messaging, CTV, and e-commerce surfaces – again adding it to the mix of opportunities for brands to build campaigns that touch consumers across their digital shopping journey and sharing insights that lifts overall campaign performance.

As we expand into influencer marketing, retail media, and leveraging personalization and targeting, we’ll continue to invest and build on our expertise providing clients with an even bigger performance boost across channels. This is what sets Rakuten Advertising apart and is why our clients work with us year after year. We understand their goals, we outthink their competition, and we outperform in the market.

5. What can we expect from Rakuten Advertising in 2023?

I’m excited about what’s in store for us this year. First, we’re delivering exciting technology offerings, including our influencer and publisher-advertiser data solutions I mentioned previously. These solutions will help clients build even better and more robust affiliate programs.

Second, we’re focused on maximizing ad spending for clients. Regardless of what happens with the economy, our internal consumer data shows a lot of opportunity, and we’re using these insights to help our clients optimize their messaging and campaigns. Consumers are traveling more than ever since the pandemic but are looking for deals. So, we’re working with our clients in the hospitality, cruise line, experiences, and airline space to target these consumers and put the right deal in front of them. Similarly, we’re helping luxury brands find new Gen Z customers. We’ve discovered that many Gen Zers are choosing to delay moving out of their family homes and using what they would have spent on rent to purchase high-end goods. Our owned and operated platforms like Viki, which have a loyal Gen Z following, have proven well-suited for our clients looking to reach this demographic. We’ve been able to build compelling campaigns across our platforms and other channels to maximize returns even as ad spending fluctuates.

Third, we’re helping our clients build global affiliate programs. We have an international services team that helps localize campaigns and helps brands not only find the right publisher partners but also develop the right strategy, messaging, and offers that will work in each region, country, and community.

6. What does the future of attribution look like?

We’re seeing attitudes about attribution changing in the affiliate space, particularly among publishers who want impact throughout the customer journey. However, quantifying or tracking their influence is difficult and it’s only getting harder. Third-party cookies are disappearing and privacy measures are increasing, so finding the data to help piece together the full story of a specific purchase is a challenge.

Attribution has become complicated over the last few years, and no one has completely figured it out. Many players are trying to develop a unified approach to attribution, but an industry standard has not yet emerged or taken hold. There are many reasons for this: new regulations, privacy concerns, and a focus on collecting and using first-party data. The last point is why we’ve developed technology to help brands and their partners leverage their collective data to offer personalized experiences and better targeting.

We’re can’t predict what the future of attribution will look like, but we are closely monitoring what’s happening in the market and working with other players to develop standards. We expect these standards and technologies supporting attribution to become more evident within the coming few years.

7. What does the performance marketing industry need to do to increase its share of marketing budgets?

The industry needs to find ways to inform C-level marketers on the many different benefits of affiliate. To-date, many CMOs still think of affiliate as a sales lever. We need to be prescriptive about our messaging and demonstrate the value that affiliate brings throughout the entire funnel. As we approach the deprecation of third-party cookies, affiliate finds itself with a significant opportunity. If we can capitalize on this moment and educate marketing leaders on affiliate as a post-cookie solution, then we will see affiliate budgets grow.

We all know that affiliate marketing is the resilient revenue driver, regardless of economic conditions or the growth strategy in play. For example, affiliate marketing can support market expansion by raising brand awareness and driving conversions or develop a new pipeline of high-affinity customers by tapping into the loyal followings of like-minded publishers. Leaders and marketing teams should invest a more significant share of their budgets in affiliate marketing because it will yield some of the best returns – but performance marketers need to educate their leaders on this point and make the case.

It’s been shown over and over again that performance marketing, and in particular, affiliate marketing delivers.

About Anthony Capano

Anthony Capano is a Managing Director, North America at Rakuten Advertising. Prior to this role, Anthony was responsible initially for the Rakuten Advertising APAC business, launching in 2013, and more recently overseeing the international markets of EMEA, APAC, and Latin America.