How can you make your advertising stand out on Amazon? Yes, there are proven ways to succeed. Brian R. Johnson, Co-owner Canopy Management, stopped by The Data Basement to reveal what works—and what doesn’t.
Brian is one of the pre-eminent thought leaders in the eCommerce and Amazon strategy space. He began his work at a time when training on Amazon advertising was limited and finding and analyzing information about the platform didn’t exist. Today, his agency has helped over 20,000 brands sell over a billion dollars on Amazon. He also created the first community, software, and training course for Amazon advertising and continues to build data and processes around it.
On our podcast “The Data-Driven Marketer,” Brian shared tips for improving your product listings. You can also listen to the podcast episode on your platform of choice. Get the full interview.
Amazon Advertising is a Thing!
Amazon advertising is a big business, which may sound surprising because not all ads are front and center. Its advertising rank within the top 5 of all ad platforms. “Certainly, that is a good portion of their net revenue,” says Brian. “They do several billion dollars each quarter just in advertising fees.” (6:30)
Amazon has continued to roll out over the last seven years and is ever-evolving. Like Facebook Ads, Google Ads, and other platforms, Amazon regularly tests new ad types.
Today, you can choose from 30 different placement options. Though most aren’t well known, Brian says it’s worth knowing everything the company offers. “It does a great job of getting the product, especially a new product, in front of shoppers, especially when they have well-established competitors who already own the organic search results for their products.” 6:25
So how do you advertise on Amazon’s platform without pulling your hair out? Let’s dive in.
1. Cross-Populate Your Products
There are many ways to scale your advertising on the platform, and one is by cross-promoting or cross-populating. For instance, you can position yourself in front of customers looking for products related to a particular celebrity, a related product, or other relevant products.
“Go into products typically bought together or related so that it becomes more of an impulse buy. If someone is looking for a different product, they’ll say “Oh, I want that product also,” or, ”That’s a good substitute.” So there are different types of ads you can run based on complements or substitutes.” (11:16)
2. It’s OK to Borrow from Your Competition
Amazon allows you to market your products in ways that pull customers away from your competitors; why wouldn’t you take advantage of this feature?
“That’s part of scaling—not only looking at some of the related product listings we can advertise on,” says Brian. “You can gain market share from your competition by going head-to-head with them and saying, “Hey, we’ve got a better product. We’re going to put our product ad right onto that Amazon product detail page of a competitor and potentially convert their shopper.'” (10:45)
3. Know Your Customer
The right platform alone won’t make you successful. “It doesn’t trump the homework you should be doing in understanding your target audience, what they buy, what are the pain points they are trying to solve, and going after those keywords and products.” (11:34)
The more you understand your customer, the more you will find ways to solve their pain points—even when not directly searching for your product category. This work helps you find the ideal keywords while further distinguishing yourself and increasing the chance of getting impulse buys while pulling in more sales and profits away from your competitors.
There’s no hack for understanding your ideal customer; it’s crucial to your advertising strategy. “If you do it, you’ll start speaking the shopper’s language, and they will realize that you’re talking to them. You’re going to get the sale. You’re going to get increased market share. You’re going to increase the profitability so you can be more aggressive in your advertising…” (27:25)
4. Understand Keywords on Amazon
Some of the above strategies may sound similar to other platforms, but Amazon works differently. You will find your average SEO strategies won’t work here, and that’s because it uses first-party data based on Amazon being a packaged goods company.
The good news is that the data is abundant. “As a seller or an advertiser on Amazon, we probably only get about less than 10% of the data that Amazon collects,” says Brian. (13:59) Plus, the machine learning algorithms are trained on the massive amount of data daily, resulting in a precise analysis the company can use to zero in on your customer’s buying behavior with surprising accuracy.
“They’ve gotten to the point where they’re so good that they’ll literally choose different types of advertising based off of what their confidence level is of the buying decision of that shopper in this particular search today—based off of past history, the time of day, and what tens of thousands of other shoppers in similar situations have done before them. They can predict, ‘OK, we have a high confidence this shopper is going to purchase today; therefore, these are the types of ads that we are going to show.’” (14:20)
5. You Can Still Use Other Amazon Advertising Ideas, but Test First
The previous keyword strategy may sound similar to the maximize conversions strategy on Google, but keep in mind this strategy is still new at Amazon. “They are still a bit weak as far as psychographic/demographic type of targeting.”(15:20) Still, you can benefit. “Amazon will actually offer it to us… ‘We’ll even adjust your bids based off of whether or not we think that there’s a high chance that this shopper is in a buying mood today.’”(15:40)
Keep in mind that it’s not a perfect strategy, and you may have more luck with others. Amazon still can’t achieve the complexity that Google Ads and Facebook Ads can.
6. Learn How to Mix Listing Optimization and PPC
Since you are relying on first- party data, what’s the ideal mix of listing optimization vs. PPC?
Like Google and most search engines, sales on Amazon occur on page one. Though that may sound like an ideal buying strategy in most cases, it isn’t always the best strategy on Amazon, and especially now.
Like most search providers, PPC was Brian’s recommended buying strategy for many years, but as more brands have joined Amazon, the effectiveness of PPC has reduced. Why?
One reason is growing competition—“Certainly during the COVID years. You get a lot more brick-and-mortar, traditional brands that have finally had to just say, ‘Look, we’re not getting as much through our traditional retail/brick-and-mortar sales channels. We need to go more direct-to-consumer, as well as use additional sales channels like Amazon.’ (17:40) This has led to Brian gaining more enterprise businesses over the last few years.
Another reason is Amazon product placement training groups use similar listing setup strategies, keyword strategies, listing structures, title formats, etc., leading to less diversity in search results.
“You go in to do a search for a specific product niche and find that everybody looks about the same. There is a common pattern. Nobody really stands out.” (18:50)
When adding increased reliance on smartphones, the added competition and similarity in listings create a type of banner blindness, and customers become less engaged.
“They kinda check out,” says Brian. “They just start thumb scrolling past everything. Their eyes aren’t really catching anything.” (19:40) This ultimately leads to indecision. “Especially in types of products that have a lot of variations.” (20:08)
With so many products packed into one search result, even having a listing on page one is becoming less effective. There are simply too many options for a shopper to sift through to make a final choice.
As these issues continued to build, Brian began to shift. “I started backing away from saying “advertising first” to “listing optimization,” to “conversion rate optimization,” to standing out from the crowd.” (18:21)
At the same time, advertising positioning remains integral. “We have to be able to position both the advertising and the listing optimization, especially the listing optimization, the SEO of product listings and ads—to first and foremost break away from the pattern, break away from the sameness that you see in a search result so that you even grab the eye of the shopper, get them to pause for a second to consider the image that you show or the title you have.” (21:30)
7. Improve Your Messaging to the Consumer
What’s Brian’s advice here?
“Really focus on improving the messaging to the consumer and really answering the question ‘What’s in it for me?’” (22:05) And do it quickly. How? By keeping your message as short and powerful as possible.
“If you don’t hook them within 5 seconds, if you don’t project to them, ‘What is the benefit? What’s in it for me?’ within 5 seconds of every point that you’re making in your listing, you’re not keeping them there. They’ve got way too much selection they can choose outside of your product on Amazon or any e-commerce channel they can easily switch over to – if you don’t keep their attention.” (22:55))
This means you have to grab their attention with a picture and a headline, so choose them carefully. This work is so crucial that Brian leads with that recommendation over advertising. A good headline and visual helps you stand out from your competition and get the click.
“You’re pulling them away from your competition more easily, and then you’re keeping them on your product detail page by hooking them into, “What are the benefits? (“What’s in it for them?”), which is going to increase your conversion rate. And your conversion rate of your product dramatically increases the profitability and effectiveness of the advertising.” (24:50)
8. Build a Budget for Amazon Advertising
How do you budget for advertising on the Amazon platform? “The general rule of thumb is however much you spend in sourcing your product—including getting it delivered to an Amazon warehouse— is the amount of money you should budget for your launch advertisement.” (29:25)
9. Don’t Focus on Impressions
On this point, Brian is very clear: don’t let Amazon manage your advertising. If they currently do? “Run. Run as fast as you can get out of that contract.” (30:45) Amazon does a solid job of getting your ad out there for customers to see, but it is horrible at creating conversions—and conversions are what you need most.
10. Test Different Ad Programs
Brian suggests taking a deep look at Amazon’s wide range of advertising options and testing into them. You can choose from keyword ads, product targeting ads, category targeting ads, image display ads with different creatives you can use, video ads, and more. “You may not have the manpower or the in-house creative staff in order to come up with all of the creative that may be necessary to run the ads properly, but you’ve got to start somewhere.” (31:25)
Along the way, Brian says to keep an eye out for any gaps in the competition and exploit them. This helps you gain market share and saves money through lower-cost, tightly-targeted ads that provide an effective conversion rate that directly improves the profitability of the advertising.
Bonus Tip: Influencers Work!
“If you can find an individual who is really good about reaching out to micro and macro-influencers across social media, that is probably going to be the most effective time and money spent as far as gaining traction with a product or a movie.” (33:40)
Plus, you may not even need to pay or cut them a deal, so don’t lead with that promise. Why? Because your product has value for influencers and their audience. All good influencers know that if they rely only on products that offer good financial deals, their followers will smell it and drop them flat.
To hear more detail about his suggestions and the unique world of Amazon, check out the entire conversation on The Data-Driven Marketer.