On Wednesday (April 19), PerformanceIN joined over 500 marketers at Rakuten Marketing’s Symposium in London, an annual event across major cities that sets out to bring together industry leaders to learn, share ideas and network.

Kicked off by Rakuten Marketing’s CEO, Tony Zito, the event attracted a diverse speaker line-up including Increasingly founder Sri Sharma, tech journalist Ben Hammersley and head of affiliate partnerships at Culture Trip, Daisy-Blue Tinne, among many others.

Bot takeover

Wired journalist Ben Hammersley launched into the first keynote session entitled “Have your robot talk to my robot,” a thought-provoking presentation tackling how – from Amazon Echo to IBM Watson toys for children – AI tech is increasingly permeating people’s daily lives. He also cautioned attendees that 2017 will be a “tipping point” for this trend.

For Hammersley, though, a future where AI thrives represents a gulf of opportunities in the making.

Influencers here to stay

Already a massively popular strategy for brands, influencer marketing is still in its teething stage in terms of the ability to measure success, and this set the hotly-anticipated panel session featuring Rakuten Marketing’s own analyst, James Farr, and senior director, Maureen Appenteng, joined by Cult Beauty’s marketing director, Jenny Chiu, and influencers Jim Chapman and Lily Pebbles.

For brands, the challenge is how saturated the market has become, resulting in a tough job picking the right influencer for the right campaigns; “The challenge today is everyone is a blogger,” commented Pebbles.

Then there is the issue of performance measurement, with 75% believing that determining the channel’s ROI represents its biggest challenge, according to eMarketer. For now, the answer lays in measuring good old traffic.

On the other hand, for bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers, it’s important to prove the value they bring to the table – new traffic lead gen, loyal audiences and tight relationships with their followers, as well as genuine opinions based on quality rather than quantity of content.

The panel also discussed the future of influencer marketing – where it’s heading (more work done offline) and how it will change (influencers will get involved in campaigns at earlier stages).

Going global

The afternoon’s sessions began with a global theme as Mark Haviland, Rakuten Marketing’s managing director for Europe, and Adam Weiss, GM & SVP of the group’s affiliate network, shared the keys to success for expanding into the US and APAC.

After a brief state of play for marketers in those regions, Haviland and Weiss went on to discuss a deeper understanding of trends there, including the use of holidays and special offers to drive sales in the regions.

The session offered practical tips on how to carry out a successful expansion – such as focusing on the knowledge of the target region, using local occasions to adapt to the culture and doing extensive research ahead of time to truly understand local norms and popular products.

Data divide

Being at the heart of performance marketing, data was inevitably part of every conversation at the Symposium, but focusing on the divide it causes was the particular focus of a session with Rob Burr – Pentland Brands, Phil Eligio – Time Out, Olu Gomes – Rakuten Marketing, and Marco Ricci – Adloox.

With complex questions around data ownership, strategic decisions and transparency coming into play, the panelists took a dive into the challenges of clicks as the most common measure, the need to end ad fraud and a case for a move away from viewability.

Publisher innovation

Closing the event was a choice of strategy sessions. Rakuten Marketing’s Karl Wood, Urb-It’s Frederick Killander, Increasingly’s Sri Sharma, The Culture Trip’s Daisy-Blue Tinne and RewardStyle’s Jessica Wong gathered to talk innovation in the publishing industry.

Many “non-traditional publishers,” such as the companies represented by the speakers, are proving innovation to be at the core of where their focus lies, with cross-selling machine learning, on-demand services and mobile developments being top trends emerging in the space.

Stay tuned: PerformanceIN caught up with Zito for an exclusive interview to be released in the coming weeks.