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Who better than Jason Sudeikis, the embodiment of relentless optimism in his role as Ted Lasso, to keynote the exclusive Rakuten Optimism 2024 event! A collaborative effort between Rakuten Rewards, Rakuten Advertising, and other Rakuten brands, Rakuten Optimism has drawn over a thousand attendees to Carlsbad, CA, this week.

Rakuten Optimism is a platform for advanced industry insights and a transformative forum for fostering business relationships. Its rich blend of inspirational and practical content, great networking events, and thousands of one-to-one meetings have facilitated valuable connections between brands, agencies, publishers, and creators. Let's delve into some of the event's most notable highlights so far.

INSPIRATION

Optimism 2024 offered great inspirational content to remind everyone of our industry's vitality and how the right people, technology, and strategies unlock limitless potential.

A Conversation with Jason Sudeikis - Interviewed by Monica Padman

Jason Sudeikis, the star of Ted Lasso, is set to engage in a thought-provoking conversation with Armchair Expert Monica Padman. He will share his insights on the power of optimism, storytelling, and how to create stronger connections with audiences. Sudeikis's discussion on captivating viewers and building meaningful relationships through compelling narratives is a major event highlight. A favorite Ted Lasso quote encapsulates the spirit of this conference:

“I believe in hope. I believe in believe.”

It’s a great reminder that optimism isn’t the only thing we need to succeed, but we cannot succeed without it.

Partnerships Reimagined: Pushing the Boundaries with New and Strategic Partners

Harry Dixon, Cofounder and CEO of Checkmate, Doron Ostrin, Founder and Co-CEO of Thanks, and Jack Farina, Director and Head of Partnerships at Link Tree, had a lively discussion led by Rakuten Advertising’s SVP and Head of Publisher Partnerships, Ceres Cueva. This valuable panel session dove into emerging and fast-growing partnership types and shared how brands and publishers can create more productive partnerships. The experts discussed the meteoric rise of influencer marketing and the need for tailored programs and messages that breakthrough in an increasingly cluttered ecosystem. Further, they noted the far-reaching impacts of social shopping and how creators are becoming merchants. They also chronicled the innovations in the cashback and loyalty segment. Cashback partners now offer so many consumer touchpoints (sites, apps, extensions, etc.) that they are fast becoming go-to partners for full-funnel programs.

World Class Affiliate: A True Global Approach to Affiliate Marketing

This thought-provoking session highlighted the global scope of affiliate. Brittany Ellam, Global Senior Digital Marketing Manager for FitFlop, Kim Zorn, Global Partnerships Director for Princess Polly, and Aurelie Bouvart, CMO for LVMH’s 24S, spoke with moderator Susan Schwartz, VP of Client Services at Rakuten Advertising, about success factors for global affiliate and the importance of both international expertise and local market knowledge. They emphasized cultural understanding and strong payment and distribution capabilities for international success. The panel also discussed how the right technology enables the teams to manage on the single market, regional, and portfolio levels. One of the big takeaways was the importance of taking a full-funnel approach to marketing internationally, especially in the earliest phases of brand development.

CONNECTIONS

One-to-One Meetings, Industry Meetups, and Networking Events

Optimism gave attendees thousands of opportunities to forge new and stronger connections to power growth. The powerful event app facilitated thousands of one-to-one meetings throughout both days, supplemented with partner showcases, industry networking events, and valuable social gatherings. Rakuten events are well-recognized as great places to do business.  

STRATEGIC INSIGHT

Optimism gave us a range of sessions on honing more effective growth strategies.

Card Linked Offers 101

The card linked offers (CLO) space is showing healthy growth as:

More brands gain experience in how best to leverage the channel

CLO companies make further technological and measurement advances

Speakers Laura James, Manager of Affiliate and Partnership Marketing at Ashley Homestore; Brian Robbins, Head of Performance Marketing of LG, Nikki Yorgiadis, Director of Publisher Development at Gen3 Marketing; and Moderator Erin Warren, General Manager of Rakuten Card Linked Offers Network; discussed CLO’s unique challenges and opportunities. One strength of the channel is its ability to drive both online and offline sales at scale. As brands work to integrate sales channels, CLO offers a powerful tool to impact transactions across the entire merchandising ecosystem. Several speakers revealed how the channel showed strong signs of sales incrementality in match-back analysis. While measurement challenges still exist, these and many other brands are bullish on how CLO will drive growth in the years ahead.

The Changing Luxury Shopper

Rakuten Rewards has been working closely with the Vogue Business team to understand today's luxury customers' motivations and shopping behaviors. Yasmin Li, Director of Performance Marketing at Veronica Beard, appeared with Anusha Couttigane, Head of Advisory at Vogue Business, discussing monumental shifts in luxury shopping trends and what they mean for brand marketing and pricing strategies. One of the biggest changes in luxury has been the shift of much shopping and buying to online. Historically, luxury shopping has been a tactile, in-person experience, but that changed as digital became more central to how we interact with the world. The pandemic was a huge inflection point in this evolution, as was the adoption of full-funnel strategies in performance marketing. The experts also discussed the diversity of the luxury buying audience and how partner types running the gamut from cashback to influencers can play important roles in the digital success of a luxury brand.

Journey Innovation in Travel: Navigating Uncharted Territory with Emerging Consumer Trends

Rakuten Rewards and Rakuten Advertising have been leaders in uncovering the importance of full-funnel performance marketing in the travel sector. This panel session with Rebecca Rosen, Digital Marketing Manager for MSC Cruises, Kristina Elkhazin, Head of Ads at Klarna, and Beth Benedict, Rakuten Advertising SVP and Head of Industry for Finance, Travel, and Technology, delved into the enormous opportunity to broaden how affiliate is leveraged throughout the travel buyer journey. Since many travel purchases are highly considered, finding the right partners and messages for different journey phases can help brands drive extraordinary growth. Our speakers discussed how CLOs, influencers, and loyalty partners drive positive outcomes throughout the travel industry.

INNOVATION

AI and Affiliate

Multiple sessions focused on the growing role AI plays in the affiliate landscape. Every industry is at a critical inflection point with AI, and this event displayed many ways that the Rakuten Rewards and Rakuten Advertising teams are leveraging AI in major product advances.

One of the most anticipated Optimism sessions is the presentation from Ting Cai, Chief Data Officer and Senior Managing Executive Officer of the Tech Services Division at Rakuten Group. He offers a visionary presentation on how AI is changing everything and why every brand needs a strategy to infuse AI throughout all aspects of its business. Rakuten is using its scale, technical expertise, and unique data assets to build useful and rewarding AI solutions that can grow business, empower employees, and delight customers. These innovations are having a global impact.

Optimism also debuted a major study on consumer perceptions of AI in online shopping experiences. A growing number of people have positive experiences with AI, including with shopping chatbots and virtual try-on. They shared video verbatims expressing how people look forward to AI enhancing personalization and generating ideas for merchandise they might like. It’s clear from the data that people are looking forward to the fusion of human experts and AI for the best shopping experiences. 

In the company’s many product breakthrough presentations, it’s evident that Rakuten Advertising and Rakuten Rewards are early movers in AI for affiliate. Here are some of the most noteworthy developments: 

AI Partnership Discovery: A new Rakuten Advertising tool, AI Partnership Discovery is designed to make it easier to find the “best next” partners for specific categories. In this application, AI maximizes partner fit by using the past sales record of a publisher in a particular category. AI uses a deep analysis of product names for purchases to assess the effectiveness of each publisher to specific categories and segments. You can search at three different product specificity levels.

AI in Global Insights and Analytics: The Rakuten Advertising Insights & Analytics Portal offers a broad range of new reports that leverage AI to enhance insights available for every Rakuten Advertising client. Some highlights include Forecasting that leverages AI to predict performance for specific program attributes, Placement Recommender identifying the ideal ad placements based on the brand’s unique KPIs, and new Benchmarking tools so brands can compare their performance with category norms. Anomaly detection is also an area of significant focus so that the platform surfaces insights to aid in program management and optimization. AI is turning challenges into opportunities with deeper integration and more reliable data.

Audience Engine: Audience Engine is a first-of-its-kind technology that leverages publisher first-party data to drive precision targeting and personalization. Already one of the fastest-adopted new products for Rakuten Advertising, Audience Engine empowers publishers to package and leverage their audiences and data easily. The extraordinary performance gains are helping brands secure more budget for the channel and create insights that can be leveraged across the marketing mix. AI is poised to expand the range of capabilities available here.

Brand Safety and Compliance: The Rakuten team discussed various ways AI is being applied to enhance the company’s renowned safety and compliance solutions. Implementing AI is part of the company’s ongoing commitment to a combined technology + experts focus—an approach that drives the highest level of accuracy of any affiliate network or platform. AI-powered anomaly detection is a valuable capability here so that Rakuten Advertising can spot problems before they have a material impact on client and partner performance/revenue.

RECOGNITION

Rakuten Optimism showcased some of the best affiliate initiatives of the past year to highlight great work and inspire us all.

Rakuten Golden Link Awards

The Golden Links, the highly anticipated annual industry awards event, celebrated outstanding brands, partners, leaders, and programs from the past year. This year’s host was Preacher Lawson, who burst onto the scene several years ago as a finalist on America’s Got Talent. He has since garnered many television credits and just recorded a comedy special for BET.

See the winner's roster on the Rakuten Advertising Blog to learn who won the Golden Links.

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Like the wildly popular character Ted Lasso, Rakuten Optimism underscored the importance of vision, positivity, and teamwork for achieving our full potential as businesses and an industry. It asked attendees to elevate their thinking and learn about many remarkable industry and product developments that will help us continue our 20+ year industry growth record. It helped forge new partnerships and inspired a sense of unity in a divided and polarized world. And it reminded us all that our industry's future is bright.