Two men looking at a mobile deviceFollowing the launch of our 2021 Peak Planning guide, members of the Rakuten Advertising International Collective (RAIC) met earlier this month to discuss how the strategic use of the affiliate channel is driving success during major retail events.

It’s a well-known fact that the 2020 peak period was an unprecedented one, and as we head into the 2021 season, brands and publishers should be looking to strategically optimise the affiliate channel. Yasin Pehlivan at Webgears stated in our recent RAIC meeting, “Everyone has high expectations this year because there was uncertainty around how consumers would purchase in 2020, yet the affiliate channel saw great performance. Consumers are continuing to spend, meaning brands and publishers need to monitor trends closely.”

One trend that will be prevalent in 2021 for those countries that do not have lockdown restrictions in place is O2O. Speaking specifically on the US market, Courtney Baumbach from RetailMeNot highlighted that “while COVID-19 has trained many consumers to shop online, we’re getting requests from retailers who want help driving consumers back in stores. We’re keeping an eye on the Delta variant, but based on current trends, there is still a big in-store focus, which also includes ‘Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store’ campaigns.”

An O2O approach will work for those regions that have consumers returning to the high-street. In contrast, the situation will be different for others, such as Australia (currently, their largest cities are in lockdown). And for some consumers, there will still be hesitancy to return to bustling shopping centres.

While trends and the need for differentiated marketing strategies will differ region to region, one thing was evident from our recent RAIC discussions – peak shopping is no longer only about the big days. The retail calendar continues to evolve and participating in local events is equally as important as focusing on established peaks like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Peak planning goes beyond Cyber Week

Peak planning is more than Cyber Week. Consumers are shopping earlier each year and, as they do so, are evolving how they interact with brands and complete purchases. Simon Bird, CEO of RevLifter, commented, “In general, we’ve noticed sales periods lasting far longer than usual. Some brands have been pushing sales since June and are still yet to enter clearance. For August, that’s unheard of. We’ve also seen consumers borrowing more due to low-interest rates. Retailers that offer credit or work with ‘buy now, pay later’ partners will benefit when peak season begins.”

As a result of consumers shopping early, publishers run their own events and have adapted opportunities to leverage the new buying cycle. For example, Australian cashback publisher ShopBack is launching an ‘umbrella’ campaign that gives brands exposure opportunities and packages running from October through to January 2022, ensuring they have a presence throughout the entire period.

When it comes to leveraging consumers desire to shop early, RAIC members were unanimous – this is a period for brands to utilise a full-funnel approach. Build brand awareness through search and discovery strategies in the early months, so that come November and December, consumers are familiar with your brand and primed to purchase.

It isn’t only advertisers who should be shifting their strategies to incorporate the earlier buying cycle. A partnership approach from publishers is key for everyone to experience performance success. An idea reiterated by Angelica Boue at Afiliza “It’s important to follow the key dates, create media kits and talk with advertisers. It’s equally as important to reach out to brands and ask for their plan as they may be hosting their own events that we can support.”

The western calendar vs local calendar

Over recent years there has been a rise in the number of local retail events popping up around the world. Singles’ Day in China has overtaken Black Friday as the largest shopping day of the year. Click Frenzy in Australia continues to dominate the local calendar while Brazil week is gaining momentum as consumers can make tax free purchases throughout the week.

As Rafael Bonfa at Alibaba Brazil explained, ‘we’re seeing a shifting retail period in Brazil, with the entire month of October becoming big for sales. The market is no longer only concentrating on Black Friday.” And this is largely due to the rise of local events.

Exploring the local events available to brands in the regions they work in creates new opportunities to deliver a high-performing peak strategy. Partnerships with publishers will be essential for brands to ensure they are using the channel strategically to engage consumers throughout the path to purchase. Publishers are a wealth of information and should be sharing data insights with brands to help deliver the best performing campaigns.

Alex Short, Founder of PerformID (MyAmexShopping.com), echoes this: “partnerships are all about sharing best practices and trusting your partners. They’re the ones that know what works best for their consumers, especially when working in a new or different market that doesn’t necessarily follow the same retail calendar.”

Study, test and learn

Across the board, RAIC members agreed that the best approach to Peak Planning – aside from getting in early to secure placements – is to study, test and learn.

It can be tempting to trial new strategies during busy periods, and it can also be risky. If brands are too reliant on something that hasn’t been tested and that strategy doesn’t meet expectations, it will be nearly impossible to recuperate those losses. The early buying cycle of consumers and expanding retail calendar provides the perfect opportunities for brands to test new strategies throughout September and October. From here, brands and publishers can both study the data and results, taking learnings to make optimisations during the larger peak periods.

As Jeff Unze from Beyond CN puts it, “right now is the perfect time to get marketing down and complete any technical integrations, it’s the time to experiment with innovation.”

We’ll be sharing more insights from RAIC on how brands and publishers can prepare for optimal performance during peak periods. Subscribe to our blog via the sign up box on the right of this page for the latest insights.