Strategic Commissioning Lets Marketers Tap Into Newfound Publisher Power

"The Sell Sider" is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today's column is written by Anthony Capano, North American Managing Director, Rakuten Advertising.

For far too long, publishers have gone unrewarded for their influence on consumer behavior. From driving awareness and attracting new-to-file customers to influencing conversion and inspiring long-term loyalty, publishers deliver on a diverse mix of KPIs for their brand partners. Yet publishers are too often only rewarded when their content is the last click before a purchase, leaving an increasingly prominent constituency of upper-funnel contributors, like content publishers and influencers, uncredited with the work they do in the customer journey. 

Historically, the control over publisher attribution has laid solely in the hands of advertisers, who are nursing concerns over proving ROI and incrementality. But today, with the end of third-party cookies looming, we’re seeing a shift in the publishers’ favor that, if acted on, can put publishers in an advantageous position to negotiate more recognition of their cross-funnel contributions. It’s a shift toward better advertiser/publisher collaboration that is long overdue. 

Gaining influence with a wealth of first-party publisher data

The first-party data that publishers have on their audiences is increasingly valuable in a cookieless future, putting publishers in the driver’s seat for targeting and personalizing consumer ad experiences. Tech companies have been developing new tools for marketers that aggregate and distribute publishers’ first-party data.

Reports show that publishers are skeptical of such tools, because if they choose to opt in, they feel they would be essentially giving up their newfound leverage on a silver platter.

That doesn’t mean that publishers aren’t willing to work with advertisers and share their data in any capacity. I’m seeing publishers in our network at Rakuten who are actually quite open to sharing their data – as long as the collaboration is mutually beneficial. The call now is for advertisers to prioritize stronger relationships with publishers directly in order to better optimize what publishers can deliver at all phases of the purchase journey.

Rethinking incentives as publishers gain power 

Realizing that publishers hold this power, advertisers need to adapt their affiliate strategies to reward them for their contributions beyond the last click, broadening commissioning strategies so publishers receive incentives no matter where the contribution takes place in the customer journey.

While publishers who drive conversions deserve to be appropriately compensated, so do others who thrive in the upper funnel and help drive brand awareness and new customers, or those who help drive long-term loyalty and repeat purchases. 

Whether the first-time purchase is more important than the repeat purchase is up to the merchant to decide. Advertisers who are transparent and open with their priorities when working with publishers will then be able to commission appropriately, and publishers will be more understanding of the rates that they earn. 

Appealing to publishers with diverse commissioning strategies

In order to appeal to a diverse mix of publishers, advertisers will need to be flexible in how they incentivize publishers and provide unique commissioning strategies based on their audience, priorities, content, etc. 

Take a retailer who wants to drive sales of a newly launched product line, for example. They can increase the commission rates for that specific product line, incentivizing publishers to drive traffic to that specific page. Or a retailer looking to build long-term loyalty can adjust commission rates to award publishers who drive more repeat purchases during a set window of time. By setting commissioning guidelines around specific business objectives, publishers have the opportunity to earn more money while helping advertisers drive their bottom lines.

Attracting dynamic publisher partners with the right incentives

Attracting and keeping the right publisher partners should be a top priority for advertisers. Now that publishers hold more power, advertisers need to do a bit more work to align themselves with the publishers making the strongest contributions to their business objectives across the entire consumer journey.

Those publishers understand their value and are in a position to demand more recognition, transparency and collaboration in return for their valuable first-party data. By investing in dynamic, flexible commissioning strategies, advertisers will be winning over publishers who have the most engaged audiences and can deliver the most value.

Follow Rakuten Advertising (@Rakuten) and AdExchanger (@AdExchanger) on Twitter.

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