Affiliate: A Saving Grace For Marketers In The Wake Of Third-Party Cookies – Forbes

With the death of third-party cookies looming over marketers’ minds, the industry is pushing for new solutions that will help replace that data. But there are already existing strategies that marketers can leverage today that don’t require cookies for accurate targeting.

I sat down with Anthony Capano, Managing Director, North America at Rakuten Advertising – the leading advertising technology company – for a chat about what marketers can expect with the death of third-party cookies, how affiliate can help provide them with a future-proof solution, and much more.

Gary Drenik: With the death of third-party cookies at our doorstep, what do marketers need to do succeed in the future?

Anthony Capano: We’re losing access to third-party cookies because we used them irresponsibly. Instead of leveraging third-party cookies to create authentic, personalized advertising that enhances the consumer experience, we leaned into aggressive tactics that left them feeling like advertising is too annoying and intrusive.

As an industry, the loss of third-party cookies should be a wakeup call – authenticity is the only path forward for winning over consumers. Marketers need to create ad experiences that take into account the many nuances of consumer profiles, from their demographic and location to the context of the content they’re consuming and what else they might be doing at the same time. This means doing more to truly understand who their consumers are – beyond just the things that marketers might see at face value.

For example, a nutrition supplement company may know they’re targeting an athlete, but they will be most successful if they can uncover the moments when that person is in the right mindset to be receptive to an ad. While the consumer may indeed be an athlete, they also may be a mom, a student and a wine enthusiast. She’s a great person to target on paper, but she’ll be more receptive to a supplement ad when she’s watching a YouTube video from her favorite fitness blogger than when she’s Googling local wine tours. This also means that brands need to customize their digital marketing strategies to optimize the right channels, platforms and partners to reach consumers in the right moment.

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Affiliate marketing is a powerful strategy for addressing these kinds of nuances in digital targeting… It gives advertisers control over where their content appears and insights into the context in which it is framed. Dynamic commissioning also provides advertisers with more levers to pull to incentivize targeted consumer behavior.

Beyond empowering brands to do more sophisticated targeting, investing in digital marketing strategies, like affiliate marketing, will also help them capitalize on the ecommerce surge that came as a result of the pandemic. A recent Prosper Insights & Analytics study showed that nearly half (45%) of consumers believe that the shopping habits they picked up throughout the pandemic will continue going forward. By investing in affiliate, marketers will be able to capitalize on this trend and own share of wallet for the long-term.

Drenik: What makes affiliate a future-proof strategy?

Capano: Affiliate provides consumers with the authentic ad experiences that they have been asking for without any reliance on third-party cookies. Instead, affiliate marketing leverages strong publisher relationships and contextual targeting to reach consumers in the right moments and environments when they’ll be most receptive.

One of the most unique features of affiliate marketing is that it creates experiences that consumers proactively opt into. With the rise of privacy regulation over the past few years, consumers have demanded more control over their advertising experiences, with many opting out of the tracking that enables targeted advertising. But data shows that consumers actively seek out deals, influencer recommendations and even ads when they add value to their shopping experience. This is even more true depending on the category. A recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey, shows that 38% of people are influenced by digital media when making a purchase decision for electronics, and 32% claim the same for products in the apparel industry.

Because of the trusted relationship consumers have with the publishers they turn to for reviews, recommendations, rewards and more, affiliate marketing is an effective way to reach and influence consumers in an environment where they are not only receptive to advertising, but also have intent to buy, whether they’re in the research or purchase phase of their shopping journey.

By leveraging affiliate, that same nutrition supplement company will be able to reach its target consumer in a way that aligns with her priorities, interests, and behaviors. When she’s reading a blog post about a high-performance diet from a trusted influencer, she’s likely to be receptive to an ad for nutritional supplements that will help her achieve her goals – especially if it come in the form of a recommendation from the blogger that’s backed by an affiliate link. Beyond just contextual relevance, publishers like these have strong loyal readers who turn to them anything from general information, points of inspiration and more. This includes recommendations for new products to buy.

Drenik: How does affiliate deliver better ad experiences for consumers?

Capano: The control advertisers have over contextual relevance in affiliate marketing is a key driver behind affiliate’s authenticity. Other advertising strategies, which have heavily relied on third-party cookie tracking, are great for brand awareness and achieving reach. But beyond blacklisting and whitelisting sites and terminology, marketers have limited control over the environments where their ads appear. What sets affiliate apart is the intimate experience it creates when ads align with content the consumer proactively sought out, in a setting that is comfortable and familiar to them.

By integrating content into environments that are proven to be influential, affiliate marketing creates advertising that is complementary to the consumer’s online experience, rather than being invasive and out of place. That seamless integration is more authentic and native to the reader, which leads to higher levels of engagement and better advertising performance.

Drenik: How will advertisers and publishers need to work together going forward?

Capano: One of the biggest shifts within the advertising industry as a result of the loss of third-party cookies is the increase in demand for first-party publisher data. Publishers now find themselves in a position of power, as they hold the key to valuable consumer data that marketers previously were able to access with ease.

Marketers need to work more closely with publishers and build better relationships in order to have a truly equal partnership. Across the Rakuten Advertising network, we’re seeing publishers are more incentivized to share data with marketers who invest in building a more equitable publisher/advertiser relationship – including rethinking their commissioning strategies to compensate publishers for the influence that they have on a purchase decision, regardless of whether or not they drove the last click.

Dynamic Commissioning capabilities aren’t new to affiliate advertising, but last-click attribution still dominates. This shift in publishers’ favor, as well as the increasing influence of content publishers and influencers, should be a call to action – it’s time to adopt more diverse commissioning strategies. Not only is it time to finally reward publishers for their full impact across the customer journey, but it’s time to treat affiliate marketing as a dynamic channel that can deliver a diverse range of business objectives. Conversion is a considerable benefit, but affiliate can effectively increase awareness, promote discovery and inspire loyalty, which all ultimately work together to achieve greater ROI. As powerful a strategy as affiliate marketing is, it is not being used to its full potential today.

Drenik: How is Rakuten Advertising helping its customers navigate the post-cookie landscape?

Capano: At Rakuten Advertising, we’re well-poised to drive success for both our advertiser and publisher partners without relying on third-party cookies.

Within our affiliate network, we provide Rakuten Advertising Enterprise Web Services, which is a server-to-server tracking process that is secure, reliable, flexible and includes real-time reporting – all entirely unaffected by cookie blocking technology and the absence of third-party cookies.

Rakuten Advertising is also strongly positioned within the vast Rakuten ecosystem and has the benefit of access to first-party data across all Rakuten-owned properties – from OTT streaming platform Viki to online messaging app Viber, cash back leader Rakuten Rewards, and beyond. We have been able to harness that data to deliver better ad performance across our owned media properties and deliver personalized targeting capabilities to affiliate marketing.

We are able to deliver exceptional service to our advertising partners – backed by decades of expertise and legacy knowledge, a wealth of first-party data and a massive global publisher network. In an environment where strong relationships with publishers are crucial to success, our value is unparalleled.

Drenik: Thank you Anthony for taking the time to chat about affiliate marketing in the post-cookie world.

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