Rakuten-LinkShare Makes Case For Merging Retargeting And Affiliate Spend

yaz-iida-linkshare-rakutenIt would be generous to say the attribution puzzle is half-solved. A quarter or an eighth solved is more like it. But the direction is clear. Advertisers are getting better at allocating conversion credit to brand interactions up and down the funnel. Platform companies are helping them, but their efforts can sometimes seem clumsy, calling to mind photos of early flying machines.

Among the pure plays are Adometry, Visual IQ and Convertro. The big analytics companies are in it too, most notably IBM, Adobe and Google. And Facebook, through its partnership with Datalogix and its purchase of Atlas, wants to help marketers link media impressions back to sales. That's all attribution is, really.

Rakuten is another, perhaps unlikely contestant in the attribution scrum. With its acquisition of MediaForge last year, the Japan-based ecommerce and affiliate marketing giant hopes to convince marketers that they can more effectively attribute online ad impressions to sales by running affiliate and retargeting under one umbrella.

Some advertisers are biting. Lancôme recently consolidated its retargeting activity with MediaFORGE. Its head of digital Alessio Rossi told AdExchanger, "LinkShare manages our affiliate network. We're now making sure that between retargeting and affiliate, there's no overlap, and we can very clearly see the interaction between the two."

AdExchanger recently spoke with Yaz Iida, global CEO at Rakuten Marketing, which houses both the LinkShare and MediaForge businesses. Scott Allan, SVP Global Marketing, joined the interview.

AdExchanger: Is helping marketers consolidate affiliate with display ad retargeting a big part of your pitch?

YAZ IIDA: We have a weekly meeting as a whole company about the importance of integrating retargeting and affiliate marketing together, which we believe will create a unique value proposition to our clients. We have more than 50 clients to date after the acquisition of MediaFORGE. They are using our services for both affiliate and display. Almost every week we’re adding new clients and we are extremely excited about the growth.

Our clients really pay attention to the consumer funnel or consumer journey, and they try to maximize the opportunity as consumers go through the journey or funnel. We want to help our clients by making it easier to do the business at closed channels, from ecommerce to online marketing, and that means improving return on ad spend as they consider their attribution strategies.

We really feel that our clients are paying more and more attention to affiliation, and we want to be the service company that provides and meets their needs. The answer at this point is to combine affiliate marketing and retargeting together. There aren’t many companies doing that, so we want to be unique and one-of-a-kind.

What other components of the “advertising stack” might you look to add in the future?

This is a question we ask ourselves continuously as we evolve our services and technology. We’re looking at a wide range of opportunities to provide additional value for our clients... We are looking to add attribution, mobile commerce and O2O (Online to Offline), perhaps the leveraging of big data.

When you think about media mix modeling or attribution management, what do you think is the right kind of requirement for your company, in terms of what you offer there? Would you prefer to have clients like Lancôme bring their own attribution modeling solution, use the impressions that you can offer them and integrate that with a third-party solution?

Flexibility is really key. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but the core is to maximizing transparency, because our clients want to know what’s happening in different channels.

What do you think that says about the affiliate space and the opportunity, now that Google has decided to get out?

In my opinion, Google leaving this space has nothing to do with the value of affiliate marketing. It is purely their own decision.  Affiliate marketing, in some sense, is high-touch business. LinkShare provides the best link share service. It cannot be done by a machine. There’s a human element to it. What Google is really good at are machine learning and algorithms. They come up with brilliant algorithms that makes things easier. The service component and strategic thinking, how to create a relationship between advertisers and publishers – that’s how we add value.

Is the decline in cookie data, assuming that it’s real, a challenge to affiliate marketers and to your business?

For the Rakuten LinkShare network, we do not depend on third-party cookie data, so that is little concern for us. Of course, this is something we are closely watching. It is a concern if we can’t track.

SCOTT ALLAN: I think it really depends on the network and how their tracking technology is implemented. As Yaz mentioned, the implementation of our tracking does not rely on third-party cookie data, and we do not drop a third-party cookie that we require to track the referral of the traffic. In general, it’s not something that’s going to impact our affiliate marketing business.

Is cookie-stuffing a big problem? How do you guys help solve that one?

ALLAN: The industry players that have been in the business for a while understand how to monitor the success of a program and how to see those red flags. When you see a publisher that’s suddenly earning an extraordinary amount of commissions, or they’re seeing an extraordinary amount of clicks or impressions, we red-flag that and we investigate it immediately. We also do other things in terms of screening publishers as they’re coming into the network, making sure that they’re not coming in under a different company name and things like that.

The other thing is we’re a very transparent network in that we advocate that advertisers and publishers know each other. We encourage them to communicate. We encourage them to divulge as much information as they can about their respective capabilities.

It would seem the automation of digital advertising might pose a challenge to some affiliate publishers. Is that true?

ALLAN: There are ways that automation will find its way into the channel, and one of the things that we’re looking at now with MediaFORGE is allowing advertisers to offer the publishers in their program a link type that has retargeting capabilities in it.

For example, I may want to partner with Sephora. I know that I want that ad to be Sephora at all times, but wouldn’t it be great if the products that are displayed in that ad are related to the products that the shopper has browsed recently? Just to give it a bit more targeting, a bit more relevance than, say, a static banner ad.

Those are the types of things that we’re looking at now. I think we’re always going to have those direct relationships, and I think automation will find its way into the channel organically, especially as we look at ways to integrate channels over time.

From your standpoint, is the number of ecommerce companies growing, steady, or are we seeing consolidation?

IIDA: Oh, it is definitely growing. You are right about the consolidation, but ecommerce will grow. Surprisingly, there are still major brands who have not really put the effort into ecommerce, but those guys are waking up right now. As we sign up new clients and new brands, we definitely feel that they are really shifting gears towards online space, online ecommerce space in the future.

 

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