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Event Planning & Management
21 April 2020 

12 Imaginative Events and Activations from Rakuten

Jacob Thomas
12 Imaginative Events and Activations from Rakuten

Learn how to host diverse gatherings from Japanese business leader, Rakuten, with real examples from the brand.

Rakuten is a Tokyo, Japan-based organization that was founded in 1997 by Hiroshi Mikitani. The company began as an online shopping marketplace and quickly became one of the most popular websites in Japan. In the early and mid-2000s, Rakuten began to acquire other businesses and expand into new markets such as travel, finance, and entertainment.

Today, Rakuten owns more than a dozen different companies and hosts events for many of them throughout the year. Keep reading to learn more about these events and how your company can host similarly effective gatherings.

1. Rakuten DealMaker

Rakuten DealMaker - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: PerformanceIN

Rakuten Dealmaker is an event series with planned stops in cities such as Scottsdale, New York, London, and Sydney in 2020 (pending federal and state public health and safety guidelines). Past gatherings brought hundreds of people together to learn, strategize, and network with top online performance and marketing professionals. In fact, over 4,000 one-on-one meetings were scheduled in 2019 alone! Overall, it’s a great event, which is why big-time brands like Wells Fargo, Macy’s, and Sephora sponsor it.

Key Takeaway: You work really hard to plan the perfect event. You book the perfect venue, plan the right mix of educational content and entertainment options, and secure amazing speakers. Don’t you want to squeeze every drop of business-building juice out that gathering? Of course you do!

Turn your stand-alone shindig into an event series. Take your conference, training seminar, or trade expo on the road and host it in multiple cities around the world. If you do, you’ll reach more people with your company’s message and improve event ROI.

2. PI Live Advanced

PI Live Advanced - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: PI Live

In Rakuten’s own words, “PI Live Advanced is a one-day performance marketing conference focusing purely on how e-commerce brands can optimize the planning, execution and return from their performance marketing strategy.” For marketers, this is a must-attend conference. We should mention that Rakuten doesn’t host this gathering by itself. The company partners with PI Live to craft the event magic attendees’ get to experience.

Key Takeaway: A well-rounded event strategy should include partnership events as well as independent, self-hosted gatherings. By partnering with like-minded, non-competing brands, you’ll be able to share the cost and planning responsibilities with another company. You’ll also have help marketing the conference or seminar, which could lead to better attendance.

3. Rakuten TV NBA Viewing Event

Rakuten TV NBA Viewing Event - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: Rakuten Today

In 2017, Rakuten partnered with the NBA to promote the game of basketball in Japan. This partnership has allowed Rakuten to provide Japanese fans with access to NBA content via its Rakuten TV service. To help promote the partnership, Rakuten TV has organized numerous in-person events such as this one: an NBA Finals viewing party with special guest, Kemba Walker, the all NBA point guard for the Charlotte Hornets (now Boston Celtics). On May 31st, 2019, 650 people crammed into the Shibuya Stream Hall in Tokyo to watch the basketball game and hear Kemba answer questions.

Key Takeaway: Experiential marketing is all the rage — as it should be! Every event your company hosts should be an experience for attendees, whether it’s a show-stopping industry conference or an intimate local training seminar. Here’s the truth: successful events are more than a collection of keynotes and workshops. They’re immersive encounters that attendees remember for years after they conclude. Do your best to craft one-of-a-kind experiences for your audience and your events will be much more successful.

4. Digipalooza

Digipalooza - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: Rakuten Overdrive

One of the companies that Rakuten now owns is OverDrive, an American distributor of ebooks, music, and other digital content. Many grade schools, universities, and public libraries use OverDrive to help educate and entertain students and local citizens. Digipalooza is OverDrive’s international user group conference that’s hosted in Cleveland, OH every other year. Library and school partners, publishers, and others enjoy the conference’s “unique blend of education, networking, and fun.”

Key Takeaway: People attend events for many different reasons: to break up their routines, to learn new information, to visit new cities. When it comes to business events, networking opportunities are also important. Improve your audience’s perception of your events with activities that allow attendees to easily meet and get to know each other. Work networking sessions, breakout discussions, and after hours celebrations into your next event’s schedule. Your audience will thank you for it.

5. Rakuten Breakfast Festival

Source: Twitter

Have you ever wondered which restaurant serves Japan’s best breakfast? Rakuten Travel (a division of Rakuten) does, which is why they made the Rakuten Breakfast Festival to find the answer. Since 2010, the festival has hosted 32,000 “breakfast masters” to show off their skill and compete against their peers for the title of Japan’s best breakfast. The fun cuisine competition invites members of the public to try dishes and judge offerings.

Key Takeaway: Proper corporate event management should include a variety of different event types. With this in mind, take a page out of Rakuten’s book and incorporate competition into your gatherings. You could, for example, sponsor a sporting event, cook-off, or e-gaming tournament. Or, you could simply plan a fun competition for interested attendees during your regular gathering. Many tech conferences host hackathons, for instance. Whichever you decide to do, a little friendly competition will help attendees connect with your events on a deeper level.

6. Rakuten Cup

Rakuten Cup - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: Rakuten

The Rakuten Cup is a historic event that featured “world-class soccer clubs FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC playing against each other in Japan,” as well as Japan’s own professional team, Vissel Kobe. The event gave Japanese soccer fans the chance to see some of the game’s greatest players in person. They also got to watch their country’s own teams compete against them. As you can tell by the name, Rakuten was the main host and sponsor of this sporting event.

Key Takeaway: While Rakuten does own multiple baseball teams and one soccer team, they aren’t known around the world for being a “sports company.” That’s why the Rakuten Cup is a great reminder to market our companies in adjacent industries via the events we host.

For example, what if your tech company sponsors a local tennis tournament? Or what if your financial services business partners with a local restaurant and hosts a “Tax Lunch” where diners can order food and get their most pressing tax questions answered by your representatives for free? There are an infinite number of options available.

7. Rakuten Optimism

Rakuten Optimism - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: Rakuten Today

Rakuten Optimism in an annual event held in San Francisco, CA. The gathering aims to educate thousands of attendees about digital innovation in e-commerce, marketing, and more. Some of the amazing speakers at the 2019 conference included Marie Kondo, the host of the hit Netflix show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo”; Daymond John, the founder and CEO of FUBU and a regular on ABC’s popular show Shark Tank; and Jennifer Fleiss, the Co-Founder of Rent the Runway. Besides the great educational content, Rakuten Optimism also features awesome entertainment. In previous years, mega stars like Usher have performed.

Key Takeaway: The need for great speakers can’t be overstated. Most people attend events because they want to learn from top personalities. But don’t worry, you don’t need to secure international celebrities to ensure your conference or trade expo is a success. You simply need to book knowledgeable professionals who your audience will recognize and want to hear from.

8. Rakuten Umaimono Festival

Source: YouTube

This annual “feast of food and drink” event gathers top Japanese chefs into the JR Nagoya Takashimaya department store to cook tasty treats for hungry attendees. Many Rakuten services are also present at the Umaimono Festival. For example, event-goers experience the company’s offerings, including a “My Coupon” booth, which was created by Rakuten and can recommend products based on characteristics like age and facial expressions.

Key Takeaway: Never underestimate the power of food and its ability to bring people together. Whether you’re hosting an employee appreciation event, an exclusive training seminar, or a curbside marketing activation, delicious food will increase interest — especially if said food is free.

9. Halloween on Parade

Halloween on Parade - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: Rakuten Today

Halloween on Parade invited Rakuten employees to “eat, drink, and be scary.” Sounds fun! The holiday-themed event featured a company-wide photo contest, a cafeteria party where workers could mingle and show off their costumes, and numerous face painting booths. What a cool way to celebrate the people who work for Rakuten!

Key Takeaway: Need some new corporate event ideas? Just look at your calendar and plan a gathering around a popular (or unpopular!) holiday. For example, you could host a community Christmas gathering during the holidays or a fun employee party on Halloween, like Rakuten did. Holiday-themed events are great because people generally celebrate them anyway. Invite your audience to celebrate with you, while treating them to top-notch content, plenty of networking opportunities, and great entertainment options.

10. Kobo Writing Life Podcast

Kobo Writing Life Podcast - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: Kobo

The Kobo Writing Life Podcast is exactly what it sounds like: a podcast about the writing life. If you’re a writer who’s interested in self-publishing your work, you’ll love this audio experience that features industry experts sharing practical advice to help you reach your goals.

Key Takeaway: The Kobo Writing Life Podcast comes out every Tuesday, making it a weekly event of sorts for fans of the show. Remember, not every event your company hosts needs to be a big blow-out affair. Look for unique ways to reach your audience. From executive dinners to podcast episodes, the smallest event marketing strategies are often the most impactful.

11. LendIt Fintech USA

LendIt Fintech USA - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: Lend Academy

Pop quiz: which annual event brings together 5,000+ attendees, 1,000+ banks, and 800+ investors? If you guessed, LendIt Fintech USA, you’re absolutely right. The 2020 gathering has been postponed due to COVID-19, but when it finally happens this fall, attendees will have the chance to learn from executives at Plaid, FDIC, and Goldman Sachs.

Key Takeaway: LendIt Fintech USA isn’t a Rakuten event, but the company does sponsor the gathering. Have you ever considered event sponsorship? It can be incredibly beneficial! Securing sponsors for your own events will reduce financial strain and help with event branding. Sponsoring other events in your industry will allow you to connect with your target audience without having to plan an entire conference or training seminar yourself. As long as you find the right partners, there’s really no downside.

12. ShopTalk

Shoptalk - Rakuten Event MarketingSource: AlphaGamma

Finally, we have ShopTalk, an annual gathering that brings together 8,000 attendees to create the future of retail. Keynote speakers include executives from some of the biggest companies in the world and the conference features an abundance of networking opportunities. All in all, it’s an excellent event for folks in the retail industry.

Key Takeaway: We just talked about sponsoring events, but why stop there? Try demoing and/or exhibiting at conferences and trade expos in your industry as well. This is another way to get face-to-face time with your target market and is an amazing B2B event marketing strategy.

Main Takeaways: Host an Event Like Rakuten

Rakuten hosts a wide variety of events and marketing activations every year including must-attend conferences, creative experiences, and top marketing initiatives. We shared a lot of valuable information in this article, but here is the main gist of what we covered:

  1. Expand Your Event Horizons: Rakuten is part of many different kinds of events. Some they host themselves, others they sponsor; some are typical conferences and some are creative experiential gatherings. We encourage you to expand your event horizons. How can you push the boundaries? What new kind of event can you host?
  2. It’s All About the Experience: It doesn’t matter what kind of event Rakuten is hosting, it always provides great experiences for attendees. Work hard to secure top speakers and promote your conferences in creative ways. Surprise your audience whenever you can and make your gatherings memorable. If you do, they’ll keep coming back for more.
  3. Think Outside the Box: To build off of our first two takeaways, brainstorm new ways to reach and entertain your audience. For example, you can host a competition, incorporate food into your gathering, or plan an event with a fun holiday theme. Think outside the box to craft one-of-a-kind gatherings.

Now that you have the knowledge to host a Rakuten-level event, invest in event software and really make sure your next gathering is as successful as it possibly can be!

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