There is a reason Rakuten Advertising has been consistently voted our #1 ranked CPS network. They offer a massive partner network; real-time, multi-touch attribution; state of the art technology; and a reputation for excellence in customer service. It’s a compelling package that goes a long way to explaining their record of sustained innovation and success.
How do they do it? We recently met with Jeff Wender, Chief Revenue Officer for Rakuten Advertising, to discuss the future of performance marketing, moving the industry past last-click, conversion-only approaches, and why he expects affiliate marketing to take a more central role in brand planning.
Rakuten Advertising is now such a big company that it can be hard to get a feel for what it is trying to do. How would you describe your overall vision and mission?
Rakuten Advertising focuses on delivering performance done right so our clients can maximize sales through one of the most critical channels impacting their bottom line. With the affiliate industry at an inflection point, we’ve successfully cultivated a partner network made up of the best mix of content, influencer, and loyalty platforms to drive the industry’s evolution. At the same time, we ensure that our customers get the best service, data, and technology in the business.
In 2020, Rakuten Advertising united Rakuten’s media properties, data businesses and award-winning performance marketing network into one, which became an even bigger differentiator. We gave advertisers, publisher partners and agencies access to a global ecosystem of audiences, consumer insights, media, and content networks unrivaled in our competitive space. Whether launching a brand’s expansion into a new region, reaching incremental customers, or gaining unique insights and visibility into online shoppers, Rakuten Advertising offers solutions and strategies to fit your goals.
Also, we continue to advocate for expanding affiliate strategies that have moved the industry forward from being a last-click, conversion-only channel. We have done this by growing awareness and access to influencers, content, and niche partners such as iPorter, a South Korean concierge publisher. We supported publisher transparency by launching our Subnetwork Transparency reporting, resulting in more significant optimizations and stronger partnerships.
How is that reflected in how Rakuten Advertising operates?
A. Our core principles were built to drive continuous growth and development for our partners. We do this by continuing to build upon the strategic and incremental value of affiliate, making it far more dynamic. The goals of advertisers and publishers have changed. We help our clients understand the value of moving away from purely last-click models through industry and network insights and educational content. Our partnerships with influencer platforms, such as ShopStyle Collective, leverage data beyond traditional affiliate metrics and matchmake influencers with market expertise and data-led casting. Moreover, our partnerships with platforms like Acast enable brands to explore audio opportunities through the affiliate channel. These innovations position us as a go-to solution that meets a wide range of marketing objectives.
With so many different business offerings, how important is performance marketing to Rakuten?
A. If you look at Rakuten’s performance and e-commerce success globally it’s fair to say performance marketing is at the core of what we do. Savvy digital marketers are investing much more in affiliate, well-beyond simple performance strategies of two to five years ago. Publishers have always been compensated for their ability to drive the last click of a purchase. Yet, there’s so much more that advertisers get out of an affiliate investment than conversions. It’s also a sophisticated solution for delivering against upper-funnel objectives like prospecting, lead generation and lead nurturing.
So, we challenged outdated perceptions of the affiliate channel and helped advertisers understand the increasingly sophisticated mix of strategies and publisher models used to achieve their business goals. With new attribution capabilities and enhanced insights, marketers can adjust publisher commissions based on their observed level of influence and recognize the value publishers produce through the entire sales funnel, rather than just the conversions at the bottom.
Rakuten Advertising launched a new real-time attribution offering earlier this year in partnership with LeadsRX. What is this designed to do, and how will it benefit your advertisers?
A. We have a history of not only delivering results but proving their value and incrementality to our customers. LeadsRX builds on this by providing real-time, multi-touch attribution. Advertisers receive insights and technology to understand performance across all channels, including online and offline. Advertisers can optimize between real-time attribution methodologies – first touch, last touch, closer touch, any touch, linear multi-touch, weighted multi-touch, and algorithmic multi-touch – to best evaluate their performance based on which performance strategy they employ. This ensures publishers and strategies that initiate and influence consumer behavior are valued and enables account managers to make strategic recommendations and optimizations using on-demand actionable data.
How do you describe the difference between Rakuten Advertising and other large affiliate networks? Why should advertisers and publishers choose to work with you?
A. We focus our people and technology on one thing – maximizing performance. We not only devise custom client strategies that outperform others in the market but have the right technology under the hood to identify the right customers with the right offer, at the right time. For example, our unique Accelerate model supports businesses with staff furloughed or working reduced hours by having Rakuten Advertising take increased ownership of programs. Additionally, it reduces the risk for clients by operating on a pre-agreed cost-of-sale. We have driven a 23% increase in year-over-year order growth for same-store clients throughout a turbulent year for many sectors. This increase showcases how we’ve successfully helped our network during the pandemic and how we continue to drive performance for their businesses.
We also pride ourselves on providing the broadest partner offering globally, hosting over 130,000 publishers on our network that don’t work with any major competitors. Our approach to supporting publisher growth has led to us having the highest share of exclusive publishers, including partnerships with AMEX Korea, Hypebeast, Upworthy and LoveTheSales.
Through our “Publishers as Partners” initiative, we have renewed our focus on nurturing and developing new and existing publishers to our network. Service Level Agreements (SLA) are defined for managers working to onboard new publishers. Our technical assistance teams deliver 24/7 support in multiple languages via email and live chat functionality. Our Network Development teams support top-tier publishers who require insight-rich reporting and bespoke benchmarking to continue growth within the network. All publishers benefit from network insights shared through reports, blogs, newsletters, and our resource center. Of note, our APAC publisher support team goes above and beyond, working directly with clients from the UK, Europe, and the US to educate them on cultural nuances and the niche publishers catering to the market. Additionally, the team supports clients and publishers by acting as translators, providing local language support to strengthen relationships further.
What can we expect from Rakuten Advertising in the next 12 months?
A. Innovation that drives performance and supports our partners is at the heart of what we do. We evolve with the market and invest in products that help our advertisers and publisher partners achieve their objectives. To do this, we’ll continue to introduce new products and features that focus on capturing in-app transactions, improving commission capabilities, offering efficiency through personalization and strategic targeting, and driving improved performance powered by data.
How do you see performance marketing’s development and growth in the next few years?
A. In the next few years, we’re going to see an even closer marriage of affiliate marketing with social commerce, e-commerce, and even public relations. We’ll also see brands being more agile with budgets—they’ll still plan in advance for their critical sales periods, but they’ll leave some budget open to be more flexible so they can be nimbler with changing sales cycles. We’re also going to see affiliate marketing take more of a central role in brand planning, especially when it comes to influencers.
Jeff Wender is Chief Revenue Officer for Rakuten Advertising, responsible for Rakuten’s Performance Marketing, Media and Market Intelligence services. Prior to joining Rakuten, Wender served as Managing Director for the Nielsen Company’s Local Television Practice. With over 20 years of experience at The Nielsen Company and Texas Instruments, Wender has contributed across all aspects of media and content consumption across Digital, TV, smartphone, tablet and the consumer electronics industry, including roles in business development, product management, client service and strategy.
Before joining the media & technology industry, Wender served as Vice President of Marketing for American’s Promise — the Alliance for Youth, founded by the honorable Secretary of State Colin Powell to improve the lives of at-risk youth.