The first meetings of the Rakuten Advertising International Collective (RAIC) took place last month. To say that we were pleased with how they went is something of an understatement – the enthusiasm, willingness to contribute openly and positively, knowledge and expertise was incredible.

You can read more detail on RAIC and its objectives in our earlier blog post, but in meeting the stated purpose “of sharing global best practices, insights and guidance from a diverse group of industry experts,” the first meetings definitely delivered.

In addition to Rakuten Advertising’s own team, we were joined by affiliate experts representing advertisers and publishers from almost every corner of the globe. Participants brought perspectives from fashion and beauty to finance and technology, and from publishers representing every model – content, cash back, card-linked offers and more.

How RAIC members are elevating the affiliate channel within their business:

One of the stand-out insights from the meeting is how affiliate and performance marketing is increasingly being seen as a strategic part of the marketing mix within brands, grabbing the attention of more senior marketing executives and being seen as supporting broad business objectives.

Carolina Paradas-Mandato, Global Senior Affiliate & CLO Manager at the world-famous Harvey Nichols, provided a great insight into the issue: “It can take a little while, but when the board starts taking an interest you know things are becoming recognised as strategically important. Senior management is focused on customer acquisition, and following that customer as their relationship with the brand develops and they become, hopefully, more valuable.”

And while affiliate and performance marketing might have often been regarded purely as a sales conversion tactic, Carolina painted the bigger picture: “Customer value isn’t wholly about value of individual orders – it’s about incremental sales as they move ‘around’ the store, exploring new categories. Our ability to measure affiliate and performance marketing against these KPIs – in addition to ‘lower funnel’ metrics around sales and revenue – is increasingly important. But it shows we’re becoming more strategically placed in the marketing strategy.”

There’s no complacency, however, as many brands are still working hard to convince the internal audience of the strategic value of affiliate marketing across the customer journey.

Josh Collins, Partnerships and Affiliate Marketing at Cotton On, one of Australia’s leading fashion retailers, talked about the challenge of showing the value of the affiliate channel: “There’s a lot we have to do to educate the business about the strategic value of affiliate and performance marketing, and it comes down to continually demonstrating how you’re supporting the business objectives at any time. The more information and visibility we can give the business about what we’re doing and how it’s contributing, the more buy-in we get to grow our affiliate marketing strategy.”

The impact of affiliate innovation:

Of course, affiliate marketing is about the partnerships formed between advertisers and publishers, and the RAIC meetings also demonstrated some of the innovation that’s being driven by publishers to broaden their offering to advertisers and in doing so grow their own businesses.

This was highlighted by Tom Howard, Head of Sales at ShopBack, the largest cash back and rewards platform in Asia-Pacific: “Our strategy is all about broadening our offering, and moving towards a ‘full funnel’ proposition. While cash back is our heritage, we’ve launched a price comparison tool to bring consumers to our platform higher up the funnel, have started to move into the content space and are working a lot with influencers. The more we offer ourselves, the greater our ability to follow the customer’s journey from search to sale. That can only benefit the advertisers we work with, and it’s interesting that we’re now building relationships with brand marketing teams as well as affiliate teams.”

This innovation by publishers – not only in broadening the offering from individual publishers, but in new affiliate models, from card-linked offers to live-streaming – provides advertisers with the chance to test new approaches to finding the right audience with the right proposition at the right time.

That said, as Kimberley Bechinie, Senior Project and Affiliate Manager at German audio product manufacturer Lautsprecher Teufel explains, proving the fundamental value of affiliate marketing is an essential foundation before testing new models, particularly when expanding programs internationally: “In established markets, where affiliate has already proven its value to the business, we have the ability and budget to test new publishers and those reaching niche audiences. This mix is important. The niche and specialist publishers allow us to reach a much more targeted audience, which supports our brand building and positioning with consumers who are particularly passionate and knowledgeable about audio equipment.

“While different publisher types allow us to show the business we can align to objectives beyond sales conversion. But when entering new markets, it’s important to establish the commercial foundation first, demonstrating the ability of affiliate to deliver revenue, and then expand.”

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be distilling more of the contributions from the meetings into a number of pieces of content. Central to these will be a blueprint for high-performance affiliate marketing which will act as a guide for advertisers using affiliate marketing models strategically, and a reference for publishers in broadening their own offerings.

The initial meetings have given us renewed enthusiasm and great optimism – not only for the potential success of RAIC as an industry collective, but for the ongoing success of affiliate marketing as a discipline.

Here’s to the next meet-up!