Audience Engine: Making Personalization and Segmentation Simple

We recently sat down with Kyle Fish, Lead Product Manager, Affiliate at Rakuten Advertising, to get the low-down on his team’s latest work set to revolutionize the industry, Audience Engine.

An affiliate veteran, Fish (as he’s known to his colleagues) has not only watched the industry evolve but was part of some of the biggest affiliate product releases during his 8 years at Rakuten Advertising. Fish is passionate about ensuring our clients and publishers can stay ahead of the curve and have access to the tools and tech that outdeliver on performance.

Hey Fish, thanks for sitting down with us today. Let’s kick things off with a quick Audience Engine elevator pitch:

Audience Engine is a unique commissioning technology that makes audience targeting and personalization possible and accessible via the affiliate channel. The goal is to allow publishers to charge different commission rates for the audiences that they have.

We want publishers to continue personalizing ad messages and reaching different types of consumers through their sites. If one audience is more valuable, say higher AOV shoppers or TikTok users, we want publishers to be able to tag them appropriately and get paid commissions for the incremental value they drive when a member of that segment converts.

How exactly does it work?

The process is pretty similar to how affiliate runs today. The journey starts with the publisher and advertisers deciding on a campaign and targeting strategy. Both parties then agree to specific commission rules for the target groups based on the publisher’s offering. This could be through email marketing to a segment of the publisher’s database, targeting media exposure to high AOV shoppers or beauty buyers the publisher knows about, or even posting on offer in their Instagram story.  Then, at the time of click, the publisher will pass the appropriate agreed-upon attribute, which maps to the advertiser offer with the agreed commission rules.

Audience Engine kicks in when the publisher (via the set attribute) tells the affiliate platform that a specific consumer group was reached or a personalized message was served to a particular user.

That’s interesting. Will it impact the customer experience at all?

Outside of a more personalized and relevant site experience, consumers may not experience anything different, and that’s the point! Depending on the publisher site, the consumer can receive any type of personalization – promotional offer, cashback rate, product category or brand. It’s up to the publisher how they want to market to their consumers, and the consumer will see what they want to show them.

Audience targeting isn’t new, what differentiates Audience Engine from other solutions?

When it comes to targeting, most people think of the display or search space which is based on SSP or DSP systems, 3rd party cookies and cross-site tracking technologies. In that instance, the publisher doesn’t necessarily get a say in the ads they show, instead, the placement is filled programmatically. Audience Engine is true affiliate.  Not only does it pay on conversion, but it also gives publishers the ability to use their unique sites and placements to run personalization as they would in a true affiliate model while getting paid for the increase in conversions they drive.

Publishers and their audiences have immense value. Being able to reach and target shoppers through trusted partners with the right message is extremely important, and something advertisers are willing to pay for.  With Audience Engine, publishers can sell particular audiences and placements at a higher rate.

Is there an industry problem that we’re solving here?

Audience Engine is solving the need for personalization in our channel. Personalization has existed in other channels since the beginning, it’s what all targeted campaigns are based on. Affiliate Marketing has never really had that. Our publishers have highly valuable, highly engaged audiences that visit their sites but haven’t necessarily had an easy way to monetize these through the affiliate channel. They’ve had to do it manually. So, the biggest value ad and problem we’re solving – is allowing advertisers and publishers to do the targeting they’ve always wanted to do through the affiliate model and in a privacy-safe way. Audience Engine tech isn’t a big lift in terms of a new platform, tracking, or integration – we’re already doing these things.

Additionally, Audience Engine allows publishers to utilize their 1st party data or the information that advertisers have (via CRM) to target consumers. Audience Engine doesn’t rely on 3rd party cookies or cross-site tracking to personalize messages. And that’s a big part of the goal. We want to utilize our serve-to-server and first-party tracking for affiliate and enable publishers to run personalization on their sites without requiring the use of 3rd-party technologies that may soon become obsolete.

It sounds like Audience Engine is about helping publishers do more. Can you expand on that a little?

Affiliate is almost exclusively driven by advertiser conversion data. Advertisers report transactions, and we pay based on that.  Audience Engine adds to that model by incorporating publisher attributes that are commissioned. It’s the first model of its kind.  We’re giving publishers the ability to sell what is valuable to the advertiser. Some publishers are doing this today via bonus payments, but it’s cumbersome and extremely manual. We want to support what our publishers do by giving them access to run personalization simply and efficiently through the affiliate model.

Last but certainly not least, will Audience Engine revolutionize the affiliate industry?

Yes! The capabilities of Audience Engine will become commonplace in the affiliate industry, and there is no reason this shouldn’t be standard practice. Advertisers want to run personalized and audience-targeted campaigns in some capacity. And almost all publishers want to offer it. What we’re talking about with Audience Engine is publishers getting commissioned differently based on the different audiences they convert.

Audience Engine will revolutionize affiliate marketing as advertisers and publishers work more closely on the campaigns they run. It won’t be as simple as grabbing a link and posting it on your site – that will always exist within the channel, but with Audience Engine, it will go far deeper.

Ready to take advantage of Audience Engine? Visit to speak to an expert.

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