Rakuten Marketing CEO: ‘Our Breadth Of Data Goes Well Beyond Shopper Data’

TonyZitoRakuten Marketing is gunning to be a full-funnel ad stack.

Acquisition has been front and center in the Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten’s strategy, with investments in search, affiliate, display, mobile and attribution on the marketing services side. But there are different integration requirements since some of Rakuten’s acquired assets are consumer-facing while others are not.

“It’s complex because we made three or four acquisitions in the last [year] alone and there are lots of conversations about how to leverage those assets to create a better advertising experience for Rakuten Marketing customers,” according to Tony Zito, Rakuten Marketing’s CEO. “We have a lot of work to do to integrate, but that is certainly part of our strategy.”

As its parent company simultaneously snaps up consumer companies (it’s reported Rakuten has eyes for popular food app Yelp and celebrity and lifestyle publisher PopSugar), Rakuten Marketing continues its adjacent push to own more pieces of the cross-channel ad stack and to put the company’s B2C data to use for marketers.

In March, it acquired Deep Forest Media, a Silicon Valley startup that developed a mobile demand-side platform and probabilistic matching tool, which Rakuten has augmented with its own deterministic data supplied by the Ebates acquisition.

Zito spoke with AdExchanger about building Rakuten’s marketing tech stack and what data Rakuten Marketing is and isn’t using.

AdExchanger: What did you get from the Deep Forest acquisition?

TONY ZITO: We got a mobile DSP, but the primary purpose for the acquisition was cross-device tracking. Within Rakuten, we own a lot of different properties and a lot of deterministic data. Deep Forest gives us the ability to start to layer in our deterministic data with the probabilistic methodology they built. 

What was the benefit to purchasing, not partnering?

It makes our cross-device tracking more accurate than if we partnered with another company. We knew this was something we had to own. That buy was about delivering immediate value to our customers where we knew they needed it, with the mobile DSP and other functionality they bring to the table. It was a foundational acquisition that we will continue to develop products on top of.

At this point, are you piping in transactional data or are you limiting device matches to login information?

We’re creating audience segments and starting to leverage that [transactional] data as a proxy for modeling. We have to do due diligence mostly around respecting our publisher and advertiser agreements, for example, with Ebates. They have relationships with consumers that they own and they’re capturing lots of advertiser data in the process and they respect that. The challenge with leveraging that data is getting that data to a point where it’s usable, but does not violate those relationships

However, the industry has matured to a point where most of our advertisers and publishers are not as concerned as I would have thought, originally. They’re more interested in us delivering high-performing technology as long as we’re respectful of their consumer data.

We have many more data sources, too. Rakuten owns Viki, which is a video content site, and Viber, which is a messaging and communications platform for consumers, so that the breadth of data goes well beyond shopper data. A lot of people think we’re using historical Buy.com (now Rakuten) shopping data, but we have all these other mobile and video assets, as well as Slice for pricing data.

Speaking of Slice, is Rakuten Marketing benefiting from aggregate email/ receipt-level data?

What Slice does is provide a level of insight not only at the specific advertiser level, but also from a benchmarking standpoint. We can tell our advertisers through the receipt data they’re capturing, with roughly 99% accuracy, how any of them are performing against their competitors in any product category at the SKU level, or geographically, and we own the data to make it actionable. Slice is not technically part of Rakuten Marketing, but we are working very closely with them.

Facebook recently acquired shopping search engine TheFind. Rakuten earlier acquired PopShops. What’s the benefit of augmenting product-level data?

The concept of properly attributing purchases to the appropriate channel is a critical component to understanding and building an ecommerce business – knowing where your revenue came from. Product happens to be a foundational piece of ecommerce as well. Feeds power every website and, in some respects, they power every personalized ad. We view feeds as a fundamental foundation for retail, as is attribution. Our strategy is to get these fundamental pieces in place and operating cohesively to set ourselves up for more aggressive moves.

Recently, you’ve created programs like Rakuten Affiliate and Display. You’re also building out attribution. Is the goal to be this full-funnel platform?

The industry has been built around specific channels, but if the advertiser’s objective is to influence the consumer behavior from brand awareness down to conversion and beyond even to loyalty, we had to think about the entire journey not just the channel.

We’re not really going into a prospective client’s office and saying, “You should buy display media through us.”

We’re saying, “What are your goals?” And many say new customer acquisition or loyalty or improving average order value. And we say, “Here’s a mix of publishers you should buy across,” or, “You’re spending too much in search for this objective and maybe you should spend a little more in personalized lookalike modeling/prospecting to a certain demographic.” We’re looking at this more from the standpoint of ensuring proper attribution.

How does being a commerce publisher differ from being a traditional media publisher? How does it differ from Facebook?

The value of the audience in commerce has everything to do with reach and influence. On the Facebook platform, you have a big and engaged audience, which is very valuable. They’re doing a good job rolling out products to enable marketers to capitalize on that reach and engagement, but it is almost a more traditional publisher environment and a walled garden in that most of the success is happening within the Facebook environment.

A marketer has to look at their Facebook efforts as a siloed thing that they have to manage along with all of the other things they have to do. And Facebook represents a lot of inventory, but it’s not all inventory. And it skews heavily toward a certain demographic. For us, we felt like we didn’t want to pin ourselves to any one demographic. We wanted to help advertisers reach consumers across any channels that were influential. Facebook is a big part of that, but there are others that perform equally well.

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