Affiliate marketing and its retail revolution – with Rakuten Advertising's Rakhee Jogia

In conversation with Rakuten Advertising’s International MD, Rakhee Jogia, we talk about the revolutionary shifts in marketing, from ‘The Great Resignation’ and sustainability to what Amazon got right.

Rakuten Advertising’s DealMaker Europe 2022 event was all about bringing people together. With huddle rooms for networking and a scavenger hunt to follow, it was certainly a very different atmosphere to pre-pandemic times. 

‘Since the pandemic’ is a tiresome phrase and bores us all with its overuse, but the world we live in now, both for consumers and performance marketers, quite simply, will never be the same again.

Performance Marketing World met with Rakhee Jogia, MD, International at Rakuten Advertising, at the event to talk about the changes that are here to stay, what this means for technology and business, and how marketers can prepare for what’s to come.

Three main shifts: technology, behavioural, transparency

Rakhee spoke about three shifts that she has seen as a consequence of the pandemic: a technology shift, a behavioural (or lifestyle) shift, and a transparency shift. How do these major changes affect the relationship between consumers, retailers and publishers?

“People are much more vulnerable and want to align themselves to things they really care about,” Jogia said. 

“You can see that this form of expression really came through during the last three years, for example, activism is completely decentralised in the way it works today. You can get your hands on any type of information, within any channel, right or wrong. There's a bad connotation to that as well as good. It shows that individual messaging is so powerful at so many different levels.”

Consumers are leaning towards purpose-driven brands as conscious commerce is on the rise but how important is it for brands to think about sustainability in their practice? Jogia is clear on her view.

“I think it's very important. If you're thinking about it now, it's almost a year too late. You see it everywhere, mainstream, on products, the way people talk to you, the way they sell. There is a huge shift for retailers to be more responsible. 

“For example, Adidas has a commitment to make sure its products are made from eco-friendly materials. Zara not only has an eco brand, but you now have to pay for the return deliveries, to reduce their carbon footprint and also encourage people to go back to store. So what you're seeing is a natural shift that retailers are having to be more sustainable.”

(Credit: JOT Photography)

“‘The Great Resignation’ is going to revolutionise the way we work”

Alongside the shifts in consumer behaviour and tech over the last three years, ‘The Great Resignation’ has caused a digital skills shortage and left companies scrambling for talent with a loss of legacy knowledge.

But, says Jogia, "the name ‘The Great Resignation’ does it an injustice; it comes across as a negative term.

“I think what we need to do is recognise where it came from, why did it happen? We automatically woke up one morning and realised we don't have to work the way we have been doing so for so many years. The nine to five, the five days in the office, it doesn't exist anymore. Everyone has opened  their eyes at exactly the same time to go, ‘my life could become completely different’. The schedule I work, the flexibility gives me the choices I am now able to make. 

“I firmly believe if you have a healthy organisation inside, then you are able to provide a really brilliant service outside. ‘The Great Resignation’ for me is going to completely revolutionise the way we work. It's here forever and it's going to constantly shift and change. 

“I look at corporations and see that they've just mandated their team to come back four or five days a week. So what you have is a competitive marketplace offering flexible working. You can decide when you'd like to come in, once a month, four days a week, book a space to work where you like, and have three months in any country you want to work in. These are the options that people are getting these days. The employees have the power and the choice to be able to figure out what they want for themselves.”

With performance marketing skills developing at warp speed, it's not enough to attract new talent, but keep it too. As churn rates rise, Jogia pointed to flexibility and a change of mindset to boost staff retention.

“The companies that are flexible do an incredible job of acquiring talent and taking talent long term. I think maybe traditional industry churn rates were 25%, so increasing to 40% is okay in the future because that flexibility gives people choice and that's what is more important to people today than it was yesterday.”

“It's almost the Amazon model re-created”

The shifting tech landscape has already seen some major developments over the last three years, with even more to come. Payment models are evolving as Apple also joins the Buy Now Pay Later party.

The combination of payment models and tech shifts is an area to keep an eye on, according to Jogia. “If you bundle those two things together, it's incredibly powerful. For example, look at Amazon. It has built an incredible model in that you can click something, search it, check out within the platform, and the payment's locked in and they have a logistics centre in and around the region to get something the next day.

“I think that model is going to expand; to be able to access something like a QR code to purchase something. I think that's going to unlock a lot of direct to consumer (D2C) opportunities, a lot of D2C brands that sell through supermarkets or pharmacies to get something in the hands of the consumer.

“With a digital wallet now taking off, you combine those two things together. It's almost the Amazon model re-created. If you get the distribution right, then what you've basically recreated is that macro system of getting something in the hand of the customer at their convenience. 

“Our mobile phones are so powerful to be able to get what you want, with an in-built wallet that's powerful in itself. So I would say watch that space, because now these connected, physical and virtual experiences mean that you can buy from anywhere. You can do anything from anywhere. And where does that take the next level of living, working, shopping, everything?”

Metaverse or Farmville? 

Conversations about the metaverse are divisive, contradictory and are clouded by uncertainty over how it should best be used. With only a few brands getting involved, should marketers be watching and waiting, or jumping in headfirst?

Jogia says: “There's actually affiliate programs today to help coach people on how to create content in the metaverse. It's kind of going through its education phase at the moment, like early education to help people understand how you create a universe in the metaverse. When I thought about it, I thought, ‘Oh my God, it's like Farmville [a Facebook farming game], and here's how you create a farm!’ It's almost the same thing.

“I think the education isn't there yet. There's always a turning point on adoption and we have to remember that with the metaverse you need the hardware. But, how do you get the hardware in the hands of the consumers to be able to get that mass scale?

“When the mobile phone came along, Apple’s iPhone was the catalyst and apps were developed off the back of that. That's a brilliant way to connect those two. So when does that tipping point take place? And then what are the use cases? The more you get the hardware in people's hands and the more they're in this space creating, it's that piece that will start to recognise the real opportunities.

“I'm seeing a lot of brands experimenting with AR virtual dressing rooms, a store, they're doing some incredibly creative things. So I hope it will transfer pretty easily if and when this takes off.” 

(Credit: JOT Photography)

Affiliate marketing unlocks creativity 

Affiliate marketing has a bad reputation and people are close-minded to what it is, according to Jogia. “They see it as a discount or coupon reward channel which is lower funnel. And that's not the case. I spent most of my career on the publisher side, developing these partnerships, understanding what they offer from a consumer value proposition perspective. 

“We talk about the power of the channel and how innovative, resilient and cutting edge it is. Often I think traditional marketers will look at their budgets and go, ‘it's above the line, it's the branding, that is high impact,’ and they are right. But this channel can unlock so much creativity around live streaming, working with card linking networks, it's all about connecting to the consumer.

“When we inherit a program, we've had clients give us complete control. What we were able to do is completely change the media mix of their program itself – being open minded to innovation and business models, and not being closed off to seeing a business model thinking they're a coupon or a cash back.

“You can work with them where they're never going to discount your brand, but you're gonna tap into an audience in a different way. You're still going to be in a brand control environment and monitor that. Remember, with affiliate, it's very one-to-one in terms of connection to make.”

Connecting local and market expertise

Alongside London, Rakuten Advertising hosts DealMaker events in Toronto, Texas and Sydney, incorporating all regions of their global business. Jogia impresses the importance of connecting local and market expertise, and iterates how the events attempt to connect their operations together to increase their local presence and become more of a global outfit. 

The events provide opportunities for brands and marketers to create connections for their affiliate programs and learn how to get the most from their partnerships. Jogia emphasises the value of affiliate marketing and lends some advice to companies embarking on a program. 

“It depends on where your starting point is, what your goals are, what you're trying to achieve. You could be a well established brand who has market share such as the UK, for example, but you've never had a chance to really expand your brand in a new market. Affiliate programs are a brilliant strategy, because you might not recognise that there are audiences that resonate more to your brand.”