This past October, I had the opportunity to attend the first Amazon Advertising conference, Amazon AdCon. The event brought together over 400 Amazon advertisers with dozens of Amazon Advertising’s employees. The intensive two-day conference in Seattle where we learned about the present and future of Amazon’s platform.
Amazon Advertising has experienced exponential growth over the past few years. In less than five years, annual revenue from the ad business has grown from less than one billion dollars to over 10 billion dollars. Amazon is now capturing nearly 10% of all U.S. digital advertising spend. To put that into perspective, Amazon is now the third-largest digital advertising business in the U.S. Only Facebook and Google are larger with 22% share and 37% share respectively.
The Future of Amazon Advertising and Amazon Shopping
A recurring theme at the event was Amazon’s focus on moving away from being a product catalog to evolving into a brand shopping experience. The change won’t happen overnight, but Amazon began introducing features that will pave the way for this evolution earlier this year and previewed a couple of new ones at AdCon.
Amazon grouped these new and evolving features under a category called Branded Experiences. Five core components are included under this category: Brand Store, Posts, Follow, Amazon Live Streaming, and Sponsored Brand Ads. Many of these features bring a social shopping component to Amazon for the first time that is similar to the functionality found on Instagram.
Amazon introduced Brand Stores in July 2017 for sellers enrolled in the Amazon Brand Registry, vendors, and agencies. Companies can bring their brand to life through rich media, text, prominent logos, and colors on the brand store. During AdCon, speakers mentioned that stores will receive additional organic visibility and be easier to find in future updates to the site. A brand store page provides a number of advantages over product detail pages. In addition to better product and brand presentation, there are no competitor ads or third-party sellers. We have been experimenting with A/B tests that compare conversion rates between ads that drive to brand store pages versus product detail pages.
Posts is a brand new browse and discovery experience on Amazon focused on brand-shopping. The feature helps shoppers discover new products and see what’s new from brands by browsing feeds of brand-curated content. Posts link to product detail pages, making each post in a feed shoppable. Each post also includes category tags so shoppers can continue exploring posts in related categories. Razer was one of the first brands to join the Posts beta. We have seen great engagement and hundreds of thousands of impressions during the first month. My hope is that Posts will eventually provide revenue reporting and the option to link to an uncluttered brand store page in the future.
In 2020, Amazon shoppers will be able to follow brands through the “Follow” feature. This is similar to following a brand on Instagram. Follow buttons will be located on Posts, in the Brand Store, and Sponsored Brand ads. It wasn’t fully explained how the Amazon website will be personalized for shoppers following your brand. Hints were given that followers will see your brand’s Posts more and be shown new products as they shop the store. I imagine that you will eventually be able to target followers of your brand through advertising as well.
Amazon Live Streaming
Amazon Live Streaming debuted in February 2019. There are two ways to activate live streaming. Brands can broadcast their own live streams through a new app, Amazon Live Creator, at no charge. The other method is paid product placement through highly produced QVC sessions that are produced by Amazon. I am interested to see where Amazon Live goes in the future. The current quality of the content is a peculiar mix of highly produced professional videos from large brands alongside low-quality iPhone videos from smaller sellers.
New Sponsored Brand Ads
Sponsored Brands, formerly called Headline Search Ads, was the main focus for Amazon’s discussion about product search ads during the conference. The other ad unit, Sponsored Products, received little fanfare despite still receiving the majority of Amazon search advertising spend. I imagine this was due to the conference’s focus on building a brand and brand identity. Right before the conference, a new Sponsored Brand ad unit called “Store Spotlight” was introduced into beta. The ad unit showcases multiple brand store pages, brand logo, and a customizable headline ad. For the first time in an Amazon ad unit, every link in the mobile-only ad unit links to a brand’s store page.
According to Merkle’s Q3 2019 Digital Marketing Report, brands are seeing YoY sales grow faster through Sponsored Brand ads. Amazon’s ad revenue tracking is limited to last-touch and 14-day attribution, which is likely obscuring the total impact Sponsored Brand ads are having on sales. Many categories are experiencing dramatically higher cost-per-click costs on keywords as more competitors join the ad platform. It will be interesting to see how the new Sponsored Brand ad unit performs against the other search ad units in Q4 testing.
To highlight this new strategy, several brands were showcased that were built primarily through Amazon or experienced significant growth when moving to the site. The most highlighted brands during the conference were Hippeas snacks, Tuft & Needle mattresses, and I and Love and You pet food. I was proud to see Razer’s brand store highlighted for following best practices during a session.
What’s Next for Amazon and Amazon Advertising?
I don’t believe Greek philosopher Heraclitus was talking about digital marketing when he said “the only constant in life is change,” but his quote nicely sums up the field. All signs point to Amazon Advertising continuing to grow in importance in the years ahead. This is especially true for brands that sell on Amazon, but the site’s rich audience data can be used by other companies as well. Many companies that don’t sell on Amazon, such as automakers like Ford or attractions like Universal Studios, are using Amazon DSP banner ads to reach shoppers with highly-targeted ads.
My advice for all marketers is to spend significant time evaluating how Amazon and Amazon Advertising should fit into your marketing strategy. If you are already a brand on the platform, take advantage of every beta you can get invited to and invest time in building out branded experiences. Think of your brand’s presence on Amazon in the same way you carefully consider the brand story being told on your website or retail display. You don’t want to get left behind during the shift from retail to e-tail as more and more Amazon native brands gain market share every day.
If you are new to the Amazon platform, I highly recommend reading the new book “Amazon for CMOs.” The book is also a great resource to provide to your boss or an executive team that is navigating Amazon for the first time.