Rakuten LinkShare's Managing Director, Liane Dietrich, and the company's new Chief Commercial Officer, Mark Haviland, take time out from the recent Technology For Marketing & Advertising 2012 event London to chat to A4u. Topics discussed range from Rakuten's influence on Linkshare and what the future brings to how Haviland's media experience can be brought to bear on the performance marketing industry.
What sort of input is Rakuten providing into LinkShare’s everyday business?
Rakuten bought LinkShare in 2005. We were the first non-Asian acquisition they made. It was slow in the first couple of years except in 2006, that’s when Linkshare came to the UK. That was all Rakuten. Rakuten gave us the funding, gave us the kick. One of the five principles Rakuten abides by is, “speed speed speed!” So they said to make it happen, let’s stop talking. Let’s make it happen. That was the first thing they did that was a big splash.
Since then there has actually been quite a bit behind the scenes in terms of our dedication internally to process, our dedication to making sure we’re delivering well to the customer and doing it effectively internally; professionalism, a lot of different things. But now that there’s been more momentum in the global marketplace and their acquisition activity, everybody else hears more about it as well. They bought priceminister in France, Tradoria in Germany, Buy.com in the US, Play.com here.
I’d say in terms of how we’ve run as a company, its been probably a couple of years that we’ve felt the power and felt the help they’ve been able to give us. They’re a Japanese company so we focus more on metrics than we used to. We empower people to make change in the organisation, change their own processes. They’ve always had an impact. I think it’s just more visible because more brandings are now under the Rakuten umbrella. Now they’re more visible since changing the logo.
What does Mark’s media background bring to LinkShare?
LD: Think of affiliate marketing, think of performance marketing. We don’t think about affiliates as much as we do about publishers these days. The whole industry has been evolving and so it goes beyond just the old school affiliate. There’s so much more to the definition of publisher. I think Mark’s background in terms of marketing and in terms of being at CNN and even being in the entertainment industry with Disney. Those are some really well run companies. It brings a whole new perspective to open up affiliate marketing. It’s not to think of it in an old-fashioned way, but to really keep our eyes open to all the opportunities and all the new definitions we can really make the most of.
Mark, what are you looking forward to most about transitioning from media to affiliate marketing?
I guess one of the biggest changes going from companies like Disney and CNN was speed. While service, quality, structure and process were key to them. Speed was never something that they put a lot of focus on and that is a massive change in this kind of industry where things happen in a second, in a minute, in a day. That wasn’t true and still isn’t true in those other organisations. They plan 18 months out in advance and they take a long time to get things done. In a sense rightly so.
In this organisation getting a lot of good quality things done fast is what our clients need us to do, is what out publishers need us to do and is what our stakeholders in the business need us to do. That’s an exciting change for me personally. The thing that’s equally exciting and isn’t a change is the service side. Linkshare has always had a very high reputation in service. Lend that with Rakuten that has an even greater focus on service and hospitality and all the things come with it. That’s something that CNN and Disney particularly spent a lot of time on perfecting. Working for a company that has that primary focus on quality and speed, you can do a lot with that.
What one thing that you’ve learnt from previous experience, could you put to use for improving LinkShare?
MH: In my background, there was a word that was often overused. I’m yet to understand whether it’s overused here. That word was authenticity. You can say a lot of things. You can stand up and present keynote presentations, you can talk to clients or press about a lot of things, but unless it’s genuinely true and you then can go back weeks later to prove you’ve done it and been authentic in what you’ve promised to not only the press but also your clients and partners and your internal colleagues. Unless you can be authentic about it, you’re not really going to go far. Sustainable strategies are authentic. You can get a lot of press by being inauthentic, but that will only last in the long term if there’s truth there, if you’re actually authentic.
What does 2012 hold for Rakuten and LinkShare?
LD: I think that the two big things we’re talking about today is having Mark join, and the new Rakuten/Linkshare branding are indicators of what’s up for 2012. We’ve been really focused on doing what we do really well and we’ve done a very good job so far. The awards have shown that. The performance of our advertisers and our relations with our publishers have shown that. The bigger company in having an additional strategic eye on things shows not just how can we do what we do really well and opening that to other departments, but also what else should we be doing and how should we be thinking about opening that up. How should we be redefining that as well? I think in 2012 we’ll continue to deliver excellence, but I think we’ll expand that and redefine it. Internally we have a lot going on in terms of making sure we’re doing things very well, but I think externally you’ll start to see us reach into a few new areas also.
Mark, would you like to add anything?
MH: From a personal perspective with some of the things I’ve focused on more this year and what Liane has eluded to is having two strategic pairs of eyes on the business. It will help the teams probably step up a bit who they’re targeting and how they’re targeting and the quality they’re getting. The people that really need to understand the value of ecommerce are the people at the very top of these advertising organisations. Many of whom have covered traditional offline business and I think it’s part of our job to spend more time with people at the top of the business to support our direct contacts; the affiliate marketing managers, the online managers, the digital marketing managers, and give them more of the tools that they need to expand their digital programme. They need us to help them tell the affilate marketing and the performance marketing story internally. I think that’s something I’d like to spend some more time on here. It’s going to be an interesting part of the process.
How’s LinkShare looking to lessen the reluctance to invest in M-Commerce?
LD: Well phase one is to make the information available. So we are refreshing the testing we’ve done in the past for all of our advertisers so that it’s very clear which ones have affiliate marketing tracking across each of the different types of mobile devices and that information is available to our publishers who integrate with the dashboard.
We know that there are mobile publishers out there who reach out as well as the ones who necessarily aren’t allowed to talk. We want them to have the information of who’s safe to work with so that they can start building momentum with their business models. That they’re going to get tracked traffic and that then their businesses can grow and become louder and more of an established piece of the market place.
Voucher Codes are fantastic. It’s one of the two or three that people mention, but we know that there are dozens out there. Not that I want to create more competition for them, but I want to create more competition for them! I want the space to grow because it’s such a good place for advertisers to get involved in mobile even if there not fully interested in mobile themselves.So I want the publishers to get involved in that.
The first thing we can do is let them know who they can partner with and then from there we can figure out what tools they can need. Our dashboard is available as a mobile dashboard. A publisher can log on and pick up a link. So that tool is available to them. That’s great! We just need everybody to be more onboard. The results of our testing showed they were glad we were sharing the data with our publishers, but it’s not that great right? It’s not 100% yet. It’s nowhere near 100% yet. We need to get it to that point.
What’s currently holding advertisers back from truly benefiting from M-Commerce?
LDWell to benefit, you need to invest. There’s no R without I. So it’s on there mind. Working with Hotwire PR we did this study here last year where people are going to be investing their money and certainly everybody was saying we’re going to be investing in mobile. They don’t know how to do it, they’re really scared. It does take a lot of money to get that initial run going and the investment’s not that quick.
The interesting thing is so many of the first strides in mobile have been replicating the internet circa 1998 maybe. They each managed to create their own standalone. Some of them have done a fantastic job and built really robust sites. Those that have said there’s an entire app dedicated to a retailer. Think how crowded your screen will be: how many screens you have to flip through to to get to that. We need more aggregation, we need more of an integrated experience than just one destination app. Figuring out the best way for them to spend their money is what’s made them so slow. That’s why they haven’t got to benefit because it’s a tough world to dive in.
If they had decided to do it five years ago and really looked like pioneers and built a WAP app, they’d really have chased down the wrong path. They’re being a little bit cautious. Even though there are exciting new venues that we know people are going to be spending on, we’re still not that far away from a recession. So people still want to be smart with their spending, which is a good thing because affiliate marketing is smart spend so we still know we’re going to be a favoured channel.