Firstly, we hope you and the team are keeping well. How are things over at Rakuten Advertising during this time?

Nick Stamos: As a global company, we have worked hard to keep in close contact with all of our employees and learn from our teams around the world. This has been extremely helpful in keeping our staff safe, which is our top priority. We were proactive and sent our staff home in the early stages of coronavirus lockdown. Now, we have extended our work from home policy for most employees until the end of 2020. Our technology roots have allowed us to perform well in this virtual work environment, so we’ve been able to support them in that way too.

Just like every other business, we’ve adapted well to the new workplace, thinking about how to navigate the changing landscape and to pivot to ensure we address the changing needs of our customers. The discussions we had with customers at the start of the year have a different focus now, but we are guiding them through these challenging times. 

The last few weeks has seen the performance marketing industry shift and adapt in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. What are your thoughts on the industry’s response during this period?

NS: The performance ecosystem has done an excellent job of arming clients and publishers with critical consumer insights, strategy and support they need to succeed through this period. Affiliate marketing is uniquely positioned to help brands through these challenging times. As true partners to brands and publishers, we offer diverse traffic and pay-for-performance models, meaning we can reduce the risk for brands and help keep customer engagement high. By doing this, we also aid publishers by helping to create fruitful partnerships.

We’ve seen some notable shifts across our network that we’re constantly working to communicate to clients and provide recommendations on how they can tailor their strategies to meet the environment. For example, the pandemic is impacting markets at different levels of severity and at different times. By better understanding these ebbs and flows, we can gauge audiences’ receptivity for marketing in a way that reflects people’s emotions. While it may still not be the right time to sell hard, it is important to refine market strategies that drive engagement and build brand love. Ultimately, brands that are customer-first in their marketing strategies will come out of this crisis best. By offering valuable experiences, brands can drive future loyalty.

From your perspective, what trends have you noticed in the last few weeks that have affected the channel? (programs, relationships, verticals etc.)

NS: Shoppers are looking to make their money go further. Overall, consumers are regaining a certain level of confidence in spending, but they have also become more selective about what they are buying. Brands should consider partnering with publishers that are able to provide additional incentives to consumers. We’re seeing cashback, loyalty and rewards publishers addressing this need – they are encouraging people to purchase whilst offering value. 

Let’s talk about Rakuten Advertising. Particularly during this time, how has your business adapted to the pandemic and what sort of strategies have you implemented to support your clients?

NS: To say that the environment for our advertisers and publishers has changed in these last few months is an understatement. We’ve sharpened our focus on what we feel is at the core of delivering performance-driven results: leveraging our unique combination of human expertise and proprietary technology, data and inventory. We continue to deliver on the strategy that we set out at the beginning of the year, but we’re looking at it through a different lens. Our clients now have a different consumer landscape to navigate, which is influencing how we do business to best serve our clients and publishers.

We’ve made a point of emphasis of sharing our unique data and insights to help our clients understand consumer behaviour and make strategic, data led decisions on campaign optimisation. We firmly believe brands can use affiliate marketing to communicate messages of care at any time​. For example, brands can partner with publishers to showcase entertaining content that lifts people’s spirits or emotional messages that show the responsibility they are taking. Influencers are helping people find products that will keep them safe. Through authentic partnerships brands can stay front of mind with their customers and publishers can show measurable impact.

With lockdown restrictions easing, what sort of opportunities and expectations can we expect in the coming weeks for the performance marketing industry?

NS: Consumer purchases have changed through the different stages of the pandemic and they will continue to change as we adapt to the new normal. People have become increasingly aware of buying anything deemed ‘non-essential’. In the coming months, affiliate marketing will play an important role for shoppers as they search for ways to reduce the reticence around ‘non-essential’ purchases. 

This will be particularly critical as we approach the final quarter of the year, which is such an important time for clients. Our most recent data shows that while 40% of consumers globally have decreased their household spend due to Covid-19, over 70% of shoppers don’t plan to decrease their spending for 2020 peak shopping days, suggesting that shoppers are positive about Christmas shopping. Even better, 31% are looking to spend more on their immediate family over the winter holidays. 

After a challenging start to 2020, this lack of intent to curb spending during peak shopping periods is good news for brands and retailers. There will be an opportunity to drive revenue success in the second half of the year and into 2021.

Lastly, as we enter the second half of the year, are there any updates from Rakuten Advertising we should keep an eye out for?

NS: Our focus will be continuing to support our clients through the busiest quarter of the year, helping them engage and attract customers. We have stepped up by offering more levels of service, more opportunities to get in front of consumers, more personalised offers and more resources to understand consumer behaviour. To that end, we’ve just released our consumer insight report into peak shopping which includes actionable strategies for brands to employ during this time.