online shopping

Increased expectations for more seamless online shopping experiences have pressured brands and retailers to seek new methods for sustained consumer engagement. And companies such as Rakuten Marketing, an advertising technology company, partner with digital brands to strategically connect with shoppers.

Tony Zito, the chief executive officer of Rakuten Marketing in the Americas, Europe and Australia, leads the global organization in the delivery of consumer-centric, omni-experience marketing solutions. Zito’s first foray into business included the founding of Precision DataLink in 1995, which was acquired in 2001. He later founded MediaForge, a widget company that was acquired by Rakuten Marketing in 2012. Zito has been honored as a two-time finalist for Utah’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Here, Zito talks to WWD about effective advertising strategies, omni-experience marketing solutions and how consumers can optimize online shopping experiences.

WWD: How have brands’ and retailers’ digital advertising strategies interrupted consumers’ online shopping experiences?

Over the last 20 years, there has been outstanding innovation in ad tech, but Rakuten Marketing commissioned a survey of 2,500 global consumers revealing that many think online advertising experiences have only gotten worse over time. Among the respondents, 82 percent say that too much advertising interrupts their online experiences, particularly ads that pop up and cover content, pre-roll video ads and ads that are delivered through push notifications. Perhaps most troubling is that 67 percent of consumers associate online advertising with other disruptive content, including fake news.

tony zito

Tony Zito  Courtesy image.

Frequency is another big issue for consumers — 56 percent have felt that a single brand was advertising to them too frequently, and 47 percent ranked “less frequency” as the top thing they hope would change about online advertising. Women are especially sensitive to ad frequency, being 5 percent more likely to notice when brands advertise too much, and 16 percent more likely to choose “less frequency” as the top thing they’d change.

WWD: What was the impetus behind Rakuten Marketing’s “Save the Web” campaign?

As consumers become more disenfranchised with online ads, the rate of ad blocking is going up — already costing the industry more than $20 billion in ad revenue and the cost isn’t limited to ad blocking. Brands also lose customers, engagement and revenue to bad ad experiences.

Forty-six percent of our survey respondents said they have proactively opted out of receiving ads in ways besides ad blocking. Forty-five percent of consumers will abandon a site if the ad experience is bad, and 28 percent will avoid the site altogether. Twenty-six percent will clear their cookies to stop receiving ads from a brand, and 19 percent will avoid brands they associate with bad advertising practices.

Save the Web is an initiative to improve brand, publisher and consumer relationships by increasing the amount of good advertising that brings value to consumers and halts the need for ad blocking. In doing so, we’ll be positioned as an industry to create more revenue opportunities for the brands that rely on advertising to monetize online, and will protect the free internet model that consumers enjoy.

WWD: Why is it important for businesses to embrace “omni-experience” marketing solutions?

Ad customization is extremely important to consumers. The Rakuten Marketing survey results revealed that 70 percent of consumers value advertising that aligns with their likes, lifestyles and interests, and that connects them with more options and better discounts. Employing an integrated, or omnichannel, marketing strategy is critical to establishing the seamless, personalized ad experiences that consumers want, and that have the power to influence them through the shopping journey — from discovery to purchase. It’s also important that brands ensure their marketing channels are strategically aligned to most effectively acquire new customers and nurture loyalty in this era when they are competing with big third-party platforms to sell their own products.

To run an effective integrated marketing strategy, brands need to stop looking at advertising metrics as if they only exist in and of themselves, and start looking in the context of the broader consumer journey. Armed with insights into what influences consumers, advertisers can meaningfully tailor integrated marketing campaigns to match consumers’ relationships with online advertising, and how they like to shop online. When done effectively, it reduces the number of ads that are served to people who aren’t interested in the content, avoiding wasted ad spend and addressing the issue of too much ad frequency.

WWD: What are some of the methods brands and retailers have employed to improve their online advertising?

Brands have a wealth of data on their consumers, and the most successful retailers are those who are finding ways to harness its power to fuel ad strategies that are truly customized, whether they’re acquiring new customers, nurturing leads or building loyalty. A key part of this is considering how marketing strategies are working together to influence consumers across each of those objectives, and tailoring campaigns so they work together to drive the best results.

Brands are increasingly investing in digital advertising strategies that are aimed at awareness and loyalty, as it is becoming easier to measure upper-funnel performance indicators such as engagement, site traffic and customer lifetime value. Through data, we’re learning more about how lower-funnel strategies, like retargeting, are impacting upper-funnel objectives, like building loyalty — while only 27 percent of first-time purchasers will purchase a second time, 45 percent of two-time purchasers will purchase again and 66 percent of those who have purchased five times will purchase again. Armed with these kinds of insights, brands are better positioned than ever to customize their ad strategies to drive full-funnel performance and deliver the best possible ad experiences for consumers.

WWD: Would you elaborate on some of the ways consumers can improve their online shopping experiences?

There are ways consumers can avoid advertising they don’t like without blocking advertising altogether, while still receiving the benefits of good advertising, such as being introduced to new brands, products and deals:

• Know your privacy options — consumers can “opt-out” of ads they don’t like.

• Learn how to clear your cookies when ads are bothering you. However, also understand if you do clear all your cookies that the advertising you get will be more random and less aligned with what you’re shopping for.

• Use customized advertising in your favor. Doing a Google search, seeking a coupon link, or even leaving something in a digital shopping cart might connect you with special discounts or promotions you wouldn’t get otherwise.