With 54% of product searches taking place on Amazon, it is now the world's largest ecommerce platform. What types of brands is Amazon right for, and what do you need to know to succeed on the platform?
This week on The Inbound Success Podcast, ROI Swift founder Carolyn Lowe shares her advice for brands considering selling products on Amazon.
Carolyn has a long track record of success developing marketing and advertising strategies for companies selling on Amazon, both as an in-house marketer who helped 5X revenues for a baby brand, and now as the owner of an Amazon agency.
In this conversation, she covers everything from who Amazon is right for, how to set up your product listings, and how to develop and manage your advertising strategy.
Highlights from my conversation with Carolyn include:
ROI Swift is a digital agency that focuses on three to $50 million companies. They are a Facebook agency partner, Google agency partner, Amazon advertising partner and Klaviyo email marketing partner.
Amazon is a good place for brands that sell products beyond their website (ie. in stores), and are not direct to consumers.
The exception to this is brands that sell things that are "heavy and cheap."
Unless you have complete control over your product distribution channels, odds are that your product will end of up being sold on Amazon by someone else, whether you choose to list them there or not. So it's better to sell them there yourself and take control of the channel.
One of the risks of selling on Amazon is that they can see all the data about how much product you're selling, and who is buying it. In some cases, this has led Amazon to create and sell its own private label versions of successful products.
Another risk is that you become dependent upon Amazon for the bulk of your sales and something happens that causes Amazon to delist your product.
Amazon isn't just for B2C brands. The platform has a growing number of B2B brands, particularly in the office products space, that are selling successfully on it.
Due to the fees that Amazon charges and the cost of shipping, Amazon is not a great place to sell products that retail for under $15.
You can either fulfill your products yourself and just pay Amazon a referral fee of eight to 17% depending on your category. Or you can pay the referral fee plus pay the FBA fee, fulfilled by Amazon. That will get you Prime shipping which in some cases, gets you same day or next day shipping if you have enough inventory with Amazon around the country.
Amazon actually has a calculator that sellers can use to determine the profitability of their products based on their price and weight.
Before you get started on Amazon, you should begin by doing keyword, market and competitive research, just as you would if you were advertising on Google.
69% of the searches that take place on Amazon are not branded, meaning people are searching for a product type, not a specific brand name. This offers brands a great opportunity to gain market share if they have a solid strategy.
If you have a US PTO trademark for your product or brand, you can get access to Amazon Brand Registry, which unlocks a host of tools and analytics.
When you list a product on Amazon, you get a 2,000 word description and 7 images, one of which can be a video. Carolyn advises brands to use that opportunity to include a 20 second product or unboxing video in their listing.
Amazon's algorithm is based on the relevancy of your search and velocity of your product, which means that the more product you sell, the higher you will get listed.
That's where Amazon advertising comes in. Amazon now earns more than $4 billion in advertising every year through on-Amazon and off-Amazon ads.
Sponsoring your product can help ensure it gets seen when someone is searching by including it in the three sponsored product spots at the top of search results.
Cost per click on Amazon can vary dramatically, from 30 cents to $11 depending upon the product category, but Carolyn generally sees ROI on Amazon at 5X what it is on Facebook.
Sponsored brand, sponsored product and product targeting are three common ad formats on Amazon.
Amazon DSP allows you to retarget customers off of the Amazon platform.
Amazon is now launching local news podcasts which will provide advertisers with new options for geotargeted ads.
The first 30 days of a product listing on Amazon are critical, and building momentum through sales is important, so advertisers should consider strategies like using Facebook ads to drive traffic to their listings, or sending out email blasts.
Reviews are also vital, and Amazon offers a variety of options for getting reviews in ways that comply with its terms of service.
One of the biggest mistakes that companies make when they sell on Amazon is they structure their pricing in a way that is not profitable.
I'm your host Kathleen Booth and this week, my guest is Carolyn Lowe, who is the co founder and CEO of ROI Swift. Welcome Carolyn.
Carolyn Lowe (Guest): Thanks for having me, Kathleen.
Carolyn and Kathleen recording this episode.
Kathleen: I’m excited to have you here for a couple of reasons, one of which is, we're going to talk about something that we really haven't covered on this podcast yet. And I'll tell you, in almost 150 episodes, it's hard to find those topics.
So I'm really excited to talk about it, but also for the fact that, you know, you're someone who has been in marketing roles, but you've also been in roles where you've really grown companies. And I think that's such an awesome combination.
About Carolyn Lowe and ROI Swift
Kathleen: So really looking forward to picking your brain, but in the meantime could you please tell my audience a little bit about who you are and what ROI Swift is?
Carolyn: Sure. Thanks Kathleen. Happy to.
So I started my career in marketing many, many years ago, but I'll just go back 20 years to Dell computers. Dell technologies, in 1999, moved me down here from Boston to Austin to help run the consumer marketing division.
People were buying their first computers and it was all done through direct mail and catalogs and phone, believe it or not.
So I really loved that small and emerging part of Dell. We were last in market share. We were behind a company called Gateway that's now out of business.
So going from virtually nothing to number one, I really enjoyed growing that part of the business. And then I went on to run other divisions.
And after that I worked for a global market research company and then I had two kids, and it's hard to do global travel with little ones.
So I took some time off and just consulted while my kids were young. And then I went back to work for a mom and baby company in 2014 and really loved helping them grow. I ran their e-commerce and their Amazon business.
After a year of doing that, I decided I wanted to do that for more companies because it just felt so good. So I started ROI Swift about five years ago with a focus on three to $50 million companies really working on their Amazon. We're a Facebook agency partner, we're a Google agency partner, we're an Amazon advertising partner and we're Klaviyo email marketing partners.
So that's what I've been doing for the past five years. And we've helped over 102 companies grow. Our goal is to help a thousand. So I have 898 to go until retirement.
Kathleen: I love that and I think you have dramatically undersold yourself because when I read about you, the mom and baby company that you worked on, you grew that dramatically in just 18 months, correct? What was the actual revenue growth in that time?
Carolyn: They are a private company and they did get acquired by Reckitt Benckiser so I don't know if that number is public, but I can say we were 5X from the time that I started until the time that I stopped working. It was considerable.
Which businesses should sell on Amazon?
Kathleen: I saw that and I sort of sat up and said, "Oh, I need to talk to her." So Amazon, that's really what drew me to having this conversation because we haven't talked about it much on the podcast.
In fact, I think the only real conversation I've had with anyone in the past 150 episodes about Amazon has been about publishing content through Amazon direct publishing and Kindle eBooks and that sort of thing, which is awesome also, but really here, we're talking about marketing your products on Amazon.
So to kind of lay the groundwork for this conversation, let's start by talking about who is right for Amazon, and who should be looking at selling on Amazon.
Carolyn: That is a great question because Amazon isn't the right platform for everyone. It's definitely for brands that are sold beyond just their website. So if you're carried in Target or Walmart or REI or any of the other big retailers, someone's going to put your product on Amazon.
I'm mentoring, pro bono, a beauty brand right now - an emerging beauty brand. And even though they don't sell on Amazon, they only sell on their website, their products have made it to Amazon. So we highly encourage folks to own that.
And then the folks that shouldn't are the folks that are 100% DTC and control their channel and they can own that customer. There's no reason you need to give up margin or, or give up the customer to Amazon.
So those are, I think, the two, and then the products that don't work well on Amazon are a lot of times what we call heavy and cheap. So, think about a case of sparkling water. It's harder to make money on than, say, a $40 blouse.
Controlling your brand presence on Amazon
Kathleen: Absolutely. Now I have a couple questions on that. You peaked my interest. One is, you mentioned companies finding their products on Amazon. I think for a lot of people, you know, who might be heavy Amazon consumers, but not experienced Amazon sellers, that might sound a little confusing.
So how does your product wind up on Amazon if you're not selling it there?
Carolyn: Good question. So Amazon, as you know, is a marketplace and their goal is to bring the best value to the customer. So as long as it's legally the same product, it has the same UPC code, Amazon doesn't care.
They want the lowest price for you, the customer, because they are all about customer trust and customer value.
So we see people all the time in like CVS or target with these little scanners, and they don't work for CVS or Target. They're scanning real time. They're called retail arbitrage. And they're trying to find what's the lowest price, or they'll find products on Target and they'll buy them all up and then resell them.
So many times that I've worked with folks and asked, when I sent the seller an email as a representative of a brand and said, "how did you legally acquire our products? We have no record of selling to you" and they'll send me, nine times out of 10, a Target receipt that shows that they bought stuff on clearance at target and threw it up on Amazon.
Kathleen: Wow. It reminds me so much of the early days of eBay.
Is Amazon right for B2B brands?
Kathleen: It's interesting. So the other thing that I wanted to ask you about this is, what about B2B? Because you said really anything where you have, let's say, over a $15 transaction value and that's not D2C I always think of Amazon as being a B2C play.
Is it a good place for B2B companies who have products to sell?
Carolyn: It is, especially in the office space. So about six years ago, I was invited to Amazon headquarters. There were 250 women. They invited the top 250 Amazon women's sellers in the country.
And so it was a whole day with the leadership team at Amazon's headquarters. We met with the heads of global marketplace, the head of B2B, the head of launchpad for emerging brands.
And so B2B was just getting going, and you used to have to have an invite. Like, six years ago, you needed an invite to be in the B2B part. And now, as you can imagine, I've worked for Dell as a public company.
When you're as big as Amazon, finding new revenue streams, you've got to think big. And so obviously, now international expansion is big for them and the B2B side is big for them.
You know, they want to overtake OfficeMax and Staples and all of those things. And so Amazon now does have a great B2B offering and a lot of folks can give discounts for bulk quantity. So I worked with a company that sold compostable coffee cups and they did a great B2B business on Amazon.
What's the risk fo selling on Amazon?
Kathleen: Interesting. Now the other thing I've heard from people who have sold on Amazon, or have thought about it, is that they get really nervous. It's like a double edged sword.
They're like, I want to go and sell on Amazon because I can reach a huge audience and it's great exposure, but I kind of don't want to go and sell on Amazon because as soon as products are successful, Amazon starts to sell it. And you can't compete against the platform itself. So what's the story there?
Carolyn: That is definitely a concern. Amazon has launched a whole bunch of private label brands in the supplement category. In the wellness category, they have Solimo, which is their own brand.
They also have a competitive advantage because they know what everybody's buying and they know where the holes are. They know what everybody's searching for and what they're not finding. So they have the best product market research out there because they have all your data.
And so that is a concern, but I also warn brands, don't just put all your eggs in the Amazon basket. Definitely build your brand outside of Amazon.
There's plenty of folks that have built seven figure businesses on Amazon and just are on Amazon and that's fine. But then you're beholden to Amazon.
We've had clients who do eight, 9 million a month on Amazon and they get a shutdown by mistake. Amazon makes a mistake and closes their listing and they're out millions of dollars.
That's why Amazon is a double edged sword. It's a great place — way, way cheaper than going out through radio and TV and digital and spending a bunch of money. But there are some risks if you are just on Amazon or more than 50% of your revenue is on Amazon.
What to know if you plan to sell your product on Amazon
Kathleen: Now I know we need to get into how to market on Amazon, but I do have one other question, and I don't even know if this is one that you can answer. I don't know if this is within your area of expertise, but I advise one company that made a product for children and families. It was like an actual hardware product that was geared towards positive parenting, and I learned a lot from the CEO and the founder of that company.
He talked about how, when you're going to sell on Amazon, there are ways, if you want to make it super easy, you have to have your packaging a certain way so that it can be Prime shipped.
Are there other things that companies who are saying, "Hey, I think I might want to sell on Amazon" should know that go beyond how you market, how you package or how you actually create your product to kind of optimize it for sale on Amazon? Does that make sense?
Carolyn: Yes, that does make sense. So I had a very interesting and similar experience. I advised a friend who had a product for toddlers. And what we found was that he wanted to sell them and they were $5 each. And I said, "You're never going to make any money.
So you have to do a three-pack, put them all in one package, do this packaging." There's all these different tiers of fulfilled by Amazon.
So you can either fulfill it yourself and just pay Amazon a referral fee of eight to 17% depending on your category. Or you can pay the referral fee plus pay the FBA fee, fulfilled by Amazon.
That gets you Prime shipping. In some cases, it gets you same day or next day shipping if you have enough inventory with Amazon around the country.
And so I said, "Well, your products do need to be $15 at least to make money when you're done with all these fees. So let's do this."
And then I've also worked with another company in the natural cleaning space where those fees are based on weight. So you want to get the highest price you can for the lowest weight.
So we said, you know, you're paying more for a two pound something when, if it's four pounds, you're only paying 30 or 40 cents more for those extra two pounds.
So there's that sort of sweet spot. And I always advise people, before they launch something, to go into the Amazon calculator and it'll spit out and tell you exactly what all your fees are.
So before you launch, we like to have clients do a P&L and say, "Okay, can you make money based on your margins, based on all the Amazon fees? Does it make sense before you jump in?"
Getting started on Amazon
Kathleen: That makes a lot of sense. So it seems like there's some real homework to do on the front end before you make the decision to wade in.
So assuming someone has done that and decides that Amazon is a really good platform for them, where do you start when it comes to thinking about how to market your product and how does that even work on Amazon?
Carolyn: That is why we exist, because Amazon doesn't make it easy. Sometimes I think you doing your taxes yourself is easier than selling on Amazon.
Kathleen: Oh, that sounds terrible.
Carolyn: That's why we exist - to help them out. And so I think the first place to start is to do keyword research and marketplace research, just like you would if you were going to launch a product. You want to look at the competitive landscape.
You want to look at how many people are even searching for this on Amazon. Do I have any searches for my brand?
69% of searches on Amazon are non-brand. So the good news is, only a third of the folks are looking for products by name. So that's really helpful. A lot of folks will just look for, like if you're pregnant, a pregnancy test or something like that, and they're not looking for branded ones.
Kathleen: Is there a keyword research tool baked into Amazon? How do you know if somebody is searching for your brand? Is there a way to know that?
Carolyn: There are some third party tools we use, and then we also have access as an Amazon agency partner to some beta tools that a lot of sellers don't have access to.
So a lot of this, you can get if you have a brand registered. So Amazon is really helping brands now by this brand registry process. So if you have a US PTO trademark that's live, you can get access to some additional tools.
And then we have access to third party tools and then some additional beta tools as a partner. So we'll do that keyword research. Just like you go on Google and you do keyword research, it's the same thing on Amazon. There's a couple of good tools. And so we'll do that.
And then we'll also inspect the competitors. There's other third party tools where you can inspect what they are ranking for and what terms they are ranking for and how should I write my copy and how should I write my description?
So that's usually the first thing we'll do is assess the market, and find out what people are searching for. We also will skim reviews to see what people like about competitive products or don't like about competitive products and really sort of weave that into the product description.
You get seven images and those seven images are key, so use a killer image playbook for those seven images. There was someone who was a little too small for us to work with.
They only had a few products, so I told her what to do with her listing and she came back two weeks later. She said "My conversion rate doubled from 15% to 30%."
Carolyn: That is just so rewarding to hear that the actual data and science, and there's probably seven or eight other companies that we can easily point to and say, these are the changes we made on their listing, and their conversion rate went up 30, 50, a hundred percent.
Kathleen: So let's get into this a little bit deeper. It sounds like, from what you're saying, the first thing that a company needs to do, if they want to sell on Amazon, as they start to take the steps of getting their brand presence set up, is register their brand. Is that right?
Carolyn: Yes. Through Amazon brand registry. You don't have to do it first, but it's probably easier to set up your seller account first and then, go ahead and do your brand registry.
After that, selling on Amazon, you can do a professional account for $40 a month. So you set up your seller account and then they have a separate tool that you just go in, you put in your information, you put in your trademark number and it's really great because it allows you to have more control over your listings.
Carolyn: If you are the registered brand owner, Amazon gives you more leeway with who controls, since there's so many people that could sell your product. It used to be whoever the best seller is versus, as a brand owner, somebody else could be making changes to your listing.
And it's really nice that over the last three to four years, Amazon has given brand owners more control.
Kathleen: So when you set up that brand registry, what are the things that you need to have ready so that you can set up a really great presence on Amazon?
Carolyn: So the brand registry itself is pretty easy. You just need to go out to US PTO and grab your serial number and your registration number and have all your information.
Where do you sell your products? And usually then they go ahead and they'll send an email, like a verification code, to the lawyer on file with the trademark.
So you just have to get that verification code from your trademark attorney and input that into Amazon and boom. All of a sudden you'll have brand registry, which means you can add much better content to your listings.
So at the bottom, there's a description. And usually you just get 2,000 characters. That's it. Like, a paragraph. With a brand registry you can do enhanced brand content. So you can go in and it can be about the company, there can be more videos, there can be comparison charts.
So you get a ton more access to that. You get access to sponsored brand videos and you get access to some of those tools where you can do market research. You can put in your product code and see all the competitors. And you could see click through rates and conversion rates on search terms.
Best practices for building out your product listing
Kathleen: Wow. That does sound useful. Now, in terms of videos and photos and things like that, how do you advise companies? When they're thinking about starting to create those assets, what should they be doing to optimize their presence?
Carolyn: That is a terrific question. We see this all the time because people will come to us and they'll have maybe four or five photos, and they'll just be different shots of the product. And really, you want call outs, you know, you can have six, and then if you're a brand owner, your seventh image can be a video.
So we highly suggest a 20 second product usage or unboxing video. The other great thing too, is that a lot of times people will be searching when they're in their office, so they have their sound off.
And so we always advise folks, when you do video, make sure you have that text over so that when people do have their sound off, they can still watch the video and get the content. So those are some key things to winning on the images and the videos.
Kathleen: So that's the brand listing itself, but what about for product listings? Are there any best practices or things that you see people trip up on when they set them up?
Carolyn: Okay. Yes. I'm sorry. And I was talking about that for the product.
Kathleen: I'm sorry.
Carolyn: That's okay. It's videos across Amazon. Amazon has also launched video in search results. So instead of just having products in search results, you can now have a video and we've seen great success with that for some of our clients where it stops them and you get more than just a listing. It's a video. And we know that folks are clicking more and more on those videos.
So we're seeing better return on ad spend on those videos. As you're scrolling down, say you're searching for a picture frame and you scroll down. And instead of just a bunch of listings, you see an actual video? And you can put a video and say why your picture frame is so much better? You know, it's white, it stands up on its own, the clips don't fall off, whatever, those things that drive people crazy about most picture frames - you can put all those in your listing.
Developing your Amazon marketing strategy
Kathleen: Great. So how does marketing work once you have your listings set up? Where do you go from there?
Carolyn: It's a lot like Google, so you don't just put a listing up and show up on page one the first day, right?
As you know, that organic listing takes time and the way Amazon's algorithm works is, it's based largely on relevancy of your search and velocity of your product. So it's a vicious cycle where you need to sell more to show up on page one, but you can't show up on page one until you sell more.
Kathleen: So it's "the rich get richer."
Carolyn: So that's where Amazon advertising comes in. Amazon has now surpassed Microsoft in terms of advertising revenue. They recently announced that they had over 4 billion in advertising revenue.
So again, when you're a company as big as Amazon, you need to find big revenue streams and advertising is a big revenue stream. So there's on Amazon and off Amazon advertising. For folks that are selling on Amazon the best way, and the most efficient way, is to run those sponsored products.
So when someone searches for picture frame, there's two to three results that show up first above the organic listings. And that's how you do it, just like Google paid search ads.
Kathleen: And how do prices compare to Google ads for example?
Carolyn: Well, it's interesting. We've seen cost per click as low as 30 cents, and we've seen it as high as $11, so it's really category dependent. What we know is that the return on ad spend is so much better.
Typically, your return on ad spend on Amazon is four to five X for most products in a 40 or $50 price point. So that's really good. We usually see that advertising cost of sale around 20% is pretty good. So, you're paying 20% of the revenue to get the sale, but that also helps increase your organic because more people are finding you, more people are buying you.
We've also seen the reverse happen where if you run really inefficient advertising, it actually hurts your organic results because you send a whole bunch of people through that don't buy. Amazon does not want to send anybody to a listing where the customer doesn't purchase, just like Google.
Amazon advertising formats
Kathleen: Yeah. So what are the different advertising formats on Amazon? You mentioned a sponsored product. Are there other ways that you can advertise on the platform itself or is it really just getting the product higher on the listings?
Carolyn: So there are a few different ways. The first one at the very top is what we call a sponsored brand. So there's typically only one of those and it'll highlight two or three products depending on whether you're on mobile or desktop. And then that can send you through to your brand storefront.
And that's where you can showcase all of your products. It's almost like your own mini website. There's some great ones out there. Prana sports product clothing has a terrific storefront. A couple of our clients have fabulous storefronts that we really love.
So that's one. The other one is the sponsored products where you can buy search terms or you can run an auto campaign and Amazon will match and show your product in the search results when it looks relevant or it's in the same category as another one.
Another one we really like is product targeting. So a lot of times we will find the competitors in the space that are rated below in terms of ratings and maybe priced at or higher. And so those are ones.
So when you go to, say, the product page for your competitors' picture frame, yours will show up and you have maybe four stars. They have three and a half stars and yours is priced maybe two to $3 below.
So we can do this really honed in targeting by individual product, which is really, really nice.
Managing your Amazon advertising account
Kathleen: That's so fascinating. So when you look at managing an Amazon advertising account, what percentage of your time is spent setting it up versus the ongoing tweaking? Because from everything you're saying, there could be an incredible amount of setup just to get those granular targeting options in place. But then it also sounds like when you set it up that way, it sets the stage for a lot of ongoing management.
Carolyn: Yes, it is. It's not like a set and forget. It's like Google, right? You can't just throw a Google AdWords campaign up there and leave it and forget it. We've seen so many people do that, both with Google and Amazon.
We actually just had a call yesterday with a client. We said, "You know, you wasted about 30% of your spend."
On-Amazon vs. off-Amazon advertising
Kathleen: Wow. So you mentioned that there's on Amazon advertising and off Amazon advertising. What is off Amazon advertising? I don't even know if I was aware of that.
Carolyn: So Amazon has had it for a while. It's gone through many different names. It used to be Amazon marketing group, AMG, and now its Amazon DSP, so display.
And so Amazon will help you do two things. If you want to retarget off of Amazon, you can do that as well. So someone goes to your product listing and they don't buy, and then Amazon will serve up your ad around other properties around the web and follow them around. So just like you would do retargeting on your own website, you can do that with Amazon as well.
And then they also have display prospecting, so you can set up your product and they know everything about everybody who's bought your product. They know everything else. They know all of their interests.
So you can also do display prospecting through Amazon. Those are typically not as profitable as on Amazon where the people are searching. But it's definitely better. We've had some clients do tests with off Amazon advertising through DSP, and then also through the trade desk. Amazon doesn't have quite the reach of trade desk, but the targeting is so much better because they know so much more about the person.
Kathleen: Wow. It's just awesome. But also so creepy to think about how much they know about us.
Carolyn: So scary. The latest is the Amazon podcast launch. Amazon is going to be launching local news type podcasts. And I think the really interesting thing about this is, as you know, Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. And Amazon knows everything about you.
So from an advertiser standpoint, when you buy podcast advertising, you may only know, here are the types of people that listen to Snacks Daily, which is one of the podcasts I listen to, and here are the people that listen to this podcast. But now Amazon knows who are the people that listen to this podcast and they buy children's snack food.
So if you are a children's snack food brand, you can just advertise to those people on that podcast who are listening to, who buy children's snack foods.
Kathleen: And if you're local to a certain geography, all of a sudden it opens up the possibility for brands that are geo-targeting to get even that much more specific.
Carolyn: Geo-targeting is perfect because you might be a brand that's only sold in certain regions and your demographic might be different in the South versus the East, et cetera. So I just think that Amazon has probably so much data on you that you're going to start to see Amazon go beyond just a marketplace.
Retargeting with Amazon
Kathleen: Well, it's inevitable. They're going to take over the world. It's a good thing that you're an Amazon agency. You're well poised to ride that with them. Is there any way, like with Google, you can put pixels on your website and you can then retarget from your website off to Google?
Is there any way, with Amazon, to link someone's visit to your website, to the way you advertise to them on Amazon?
Carolyn: There's a couple of different ways. Amazon recently launched attribution and so you can tag outbound links and you can get reporting on that. Depending on your category, it's cheaper to actually run Facebook ads to Amazon than it is to run on Amazon advertising. It typically doesn't convert as well as sponsored products, where people are actively searching, but it is great to drive.
And then those first 30 days are really critical for Amazon in terms of how your product ranks. So what we have found is that when we run Facebook ads, the nice thing is, we can tag them now and Amazon will report on that attribution.
Gaining momentum in your first 30 days on Amazon
Kathleen: Oh, that's nice. It sounds like, from what you're saying, in your first 30 days of listing a product, it's really important to think of your marketing slash advertising strategy holistically and not just as "what I'm doing on the Amazon platform." Like, so I'm here at a new site, you're driving traffic to it from Facebook. Are there other methods that you use to get that momentum going in the first 30 days?
Carolyn: So for our brands that do have good sized email lists, we will suggest that they go ahead and send out an email campaign with maybe like a 20% off coupon for an introductory offer for their folks. A lot of our brands will do that.
What role do reviews play in your Amazon marketing strategy?
Kathleen: That's great. And then this is the other question I've been dying to ask you, which is, what role do reviews play in your Amazon marketing strategy?
Carolyn: Well, that is a good question, Kathleen. So when was the last time you bought a two star product on Amazon?
Carolyn: Right. So I think you just answered your question.
Reviews are critical. The magic number is between 21 and 26. That's about where people start to say, "Okay." When you only see a few reviews, you're like, "Is this a new product, or is it a lousy product, or is nobody buying this product?" Right? So if you only see a few reviews, you try to figure out why there's only a few reviews.
So I think reviews are critical. One of the board members I know for a natural products company, she worked with one of the women from Oxo. They make everything for your home and they had a great mantra, which was, if your product is not four stars or above, take it off. Go make it four stars and bring it back.
A lot of brands just don't do that. Reviews will kill you. You can live for so long at three, three and a half stars, but longterm, you're not going to make it because people are going to find out and do the research and say, "Oh, you know, this is a three and a half star product." I can make a better product and people will come out with a better product.
So unfortunately, we've had a couple of brands who had product quality issues. And so they had a three and a half star product. And for years they never fixed them. And then, you know, competitors came on and made it better and cheaper.
So reviews are critically important and there's legal ways to get reviews and there's illegal ways. So we want to warn people, do not mess with Amazon. When it comes to reviews, don't do fake reviews. Don't pay people for reviews. You will eventually get caught. You may not get caught today, but they will suspend you.
Kathleen: So I feel like this is a chicken and egg situation though, because you need reviews. It's kind of like you were saying before with the rich get richer, your velocity of your product sales are going to drive getting seen more. If you have more reviews, you're going to sell more, but until you sell more, how do you get more reviews?
So how do you advise sellers to get those reviews? And, hearkening back again to the company I advised, I recall there is a strategy for getting those reviews before you do your big push or your launch. How do you handle that?
Carolyn: So there's a few legal ways to get reviews. One is Amazon's early reviewer program. So for each SKU, they charge you $60 and they will go out to the customers who have bought your product in the early days, like in the beginning, and solicit reviews. It's up to five reviews or up to a year, they will try to get five reviews for you. So that's always been helpful.
Most of the reviews we've seen from early reviewers are four or five stars. They're legitimate reviewers or people who've tried the product and Amazon has vetted them.
There's also Amazon Vine, where you can now only do 30. That used to only be available to people who sold directly to Amazon. But now you can do it through seller central and you can have up to 30 of your products sent out to Amazon's vetted product reviewers.
So they will say, "Okay, great. We have this new product. It's a picture frame." People will sign up for it, they'll get a complimentary one. And you know, Amazon will just ship it from your fulfillment inventory at their warehouses. If you have a four or five star product, those reviews tend to be four or five stars.
And then there's also some third party review services that plug into your Amazon where you're allowed to send one product review email. So, we like feedback. We like the HTML format where you can put a picture of the owner and the founder of the company in it. You have to ask as if you're asking as Amazon. So it has to be objective. You can't say, "If you didn't like the product, don't write a review," but we we've had a client get slapped for saying, "Just respond to this email instead of writing a review."
And they got slapped on the wrist for that. So like I said, it's not worth it if you get caught, but those are the three legal ways that we use to get reviews.
Nurturing your Amazon customers
Kathleen: And then correct me if I'm wrong, but when you sell on Amazon, you have people who buy your product. What is your level of access to their information? Normally, if you're selling on your own site, you get people's contact information, and you can nurture them for follow on sales, for reviews, for all kinds of things. Are you able to email these people? Can you export their information? What are the rules around that?
Carolyn: Legally, Amazon owns the customer. We've seen folks put stuff in the boxes. Not our clients, but I've ordered from Amazon. I got some energy gels for running, and I got a QR code in the box. And it said, if you'd like three free gels, sign up for email and you scan the QR code and sign up for their email list.
So that's how they did it. Not quite within Amazon terms of service. You're not supposed to market to Amazon customers, but this was inside the box. And so there's sort of gray lines that people use to get some information or learn more about those customers.
Kathleen: So if you don't have anything like that, are you then sort of making a deal with the devil, when you advertise on Amazon, that you're not going to be able to reach out to your customers at all? Or is there some limited ability through Amazon, or that's it?
Carolyn: Yes. It's Amazon's customer. So yeah, they really don't like you to put marketing materials or anything that drives them off Amazon into the box. You can put it on the packaging though, you know?
Top mistakes companies make when they sell on Amazon
Kathleen: Yeah. Interesting. So, what would you say are the top three mistakes you see companies make when they sell on Amazon?
Carolyn: The first one is definitely, people sell unprofitable products. So again, we worked with a natural cleaning company. We've grown them about 10x in two years on a month to month basis. And they were selling $8 products that were heavy, that didn't make money. So we went through and we said, okay, stop selling all these products. Let's bundle these together, make a profitable product, and go from there. So they're off to the races.
So one of the first mistakes we see is that people sell unprofitable products.
One of the other mistakes we see is that people don't get a hold of their advertising. So we'll do a free audit for any brand that's doing like 20,000 or more a month on Amazon. Usually there's enough there to audit. If they're doing less than 20,000, we can't really audit because there's not a lot of data, but if they're doing more than that, we'll do a complimentary audit. And more times than not, we'll see a whole bunch of wasted spend on Amazon, in advertising.
So that's the other big mistake we see.
And then the last one we see is just the listings themselves. We'll see people put good products with bad listings and they won't even know what numbers matter.
So to us, the two things that really matter are sessions and conversions, how much traffic is coming to your page and how many of those people are buying. It's just like your website, right? How much traffic and what's your conversion rate? And those are really the two levers that you can use on Amazon.
Carolyn's advice for companies thinking of advertising on Amazon
Kathleen: Interesting. So any advice to companies that are thinking about going forward with this, who don't have experience with Amazon advertising?
Carolyn: I would say definitely talk to someone. Talk to someone like us, or like our agency, or an individual that knows what they're doing, and ask them those questions. Ask them how big is my market share? What are my competitors doing? If they can't answer those questions for you, you probably shouldn't be working with them.
So if you're going to work with an agency or you're thinking about talking to an individual, ask them how many searches are there for my product a month? Are there any branded searches? What are my competitors doing? How competitive is the market? And, how big is this and how much do you think that I could potentially make?
We don't have a crystal ball. We can't say "You're going to make X," but we can say "There's this many non-branded searches. And yes, this is a good category." If we see non-branded searches of less than 10,000 a month or less than 5,000 a month, it's a really small category and it probably doesn't make sense. You can do it, but you're not going to make a million dollars a month in this category.
Brands that are successfully selling on Amazon
Kathleen: Got it. Now, I feel like it's easy to go on Amazon and see examples of big brands with big budgets doing an amazing job. Are there any smaller brands that you can think of that are great examples of companies who have awesome Amazon strategies that somebody could go and search Amazon and see what they're doing?
Carolyn: Yes. When I was with UpSpring as an employee and then as their agency they didn't have a big budget.
And the nice thing about Amazon is, it's all pay to play. It's cost per click. It's not cost per thousand. So, you know, you could really scale.
I mean, we were doing low, low, low five figures, barely five figures, and on Amazon, and now they're a seven figure Amazon store.
I would go and look at what the folks in your space are doing, pull up some of those competitor listings and read their reviews and see what people like and don't like.
But as a small brand, it's easy to get on. But it's also easy to make a bunch of mistakes. So a lot of times we'll see that people have set up their products all wrong or set up their account all wrong. And so, a lot of times it'll take two to three months to unwind the messages that were made.
It's a little bit better now with brand registry, but that's why we like to work with brands from the onset or from the early days. So before things get too out of control.
Kathleen's two questions
Kathleen: Yeah. That makes sense. You don't have to clean up somebody else's mess. Shifting gears for a minute, on this podcast we're all about inbound marketing. Is there a particular company or individual that you think is really killing it with inbound marketing?
Carolyn: Right now, there are a few that I can think of. And there's a few that I think are doing what you're doing, which is terrific, which is having podcasts. I think that a lot of folks that I've seen do it and do it well, are doing what you're doing with podcasts and really delivering value to folks. So I really love your podcast.
And in terms of other companies, there's Austin Brawner who has an eCommerce podcast, which I think is pretty good too. And from what I hear, he does pretty good with inbound on that.
Kathleen: Oh, well, I'll have to check that out. Now. The other question is, most marketers I know suffer from the same challenge, which is that digital changes so quickly and it's completely overwhelming and they often feel like they're drinking from a fire hose. So how do you personally keep yourself up to date and educated?
Carolyn: Good question. We have a paid search team, paid social and Amazon team, and all of those folks listen to podcasts. You would be amazed what you can learn. And they follow Reddits. And then we also, because we're a Google and a Facebook and an Amazon agency partner, we get access to a lot more insights and what's going on and what's coming and betas and things like that.
So I think it's, it's a little bit of a little bit of folks staying on top of the industry. And also, we're blessed and lucky that we have agency partner status with a lot of the partners, so we know what's going on from the inside.
How to connect with Carolyn
Kathleen: That's great. All right. Well, if somebody is listening and wants to get in touch with you and learn more about what ROI Swift does or ask you a question about something that you talked about today, what's the best way for them to connect with you online?
Carolyn: Well, you can go to our website, and don't judge us because we are the cobbler with no shoes. The best way to get ahold of us is go to our website and fill out a form. We'd love to talk to you. You could just reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You know what to do next...
Kathleen: All right. I'll put that link in the show notes. So head over there if you want to check that out. And in the meantime, if you are listening and you did learn something new, which, I mean, I learned a ton, please consider heading to Apple Podcasts and leaving the podcast a five star review. Just like on Amazon, podcasts need reviews too. So I would love it if you would do that.
And of course, if you know someone else who's doing amazing inbound marketing work, tweet me @workmommywork because I would love to make them my next guest.
Thank you so much, Carolyn. This was a ton of fun. I learned a lot today.
Carolyn: I enjoyed it immensely. Thanks Kathleen.
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