John Deming from @Website Publicity recently interviewed Rob Ouellette about his recent success in the Amazon channel for Vermont Smoke and Cure.
What is the one thing you would point to as being instrumental for Vermont Smoke and Cure’s success in Amazon?
Right product, right place, right time. The jerky and dried meats category is seeing tremendous growth on Amazon right now. On top of that Amazon has proven its value as a growth engine for small brands who would not otherwise have the visibility of much larger brands. Investing in marketing programs such as AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) was key to driving trial and gaining brand impressions from consumers both in-category and in adjacent product categories, which ultimately led to our brand seeing the success it is seeing today on Amazon.
Are there any changes you have noticed recently in Seller Central for the better or worse?
As a seller as well as a vendor I find it interesting that AMS sponsored product ad campaigns are now available for sellers. I see additional AMS campaign types becoming available for sellers in the future as well. Another interesting tool that was recently added for brand registered sellers is enhanced brand content (EBC). This is essentially A+ content for sellers and a great tool to increase the search value/competitiveness of your product pages on Seller Central. For those sellers looking for a way to make a case to be a vendor, adding enhanced brand content would be a great way to show Amazon that you are serious about building your brand on platform.
On the flipside, support for FBA multi-channel fulfillment and Seller Central has always been a pain point. I’m sure many Sellers and Vendors alike can insert personal experience here_____________.
If I am a company that has never sold anything on Amazon, which account would you recommend, Seller Central or Vendor Express?
Seller Central. Based on my experience with Vendor Express (VE) I do not agree with those who see VE as a “stepping stone” to Vendor Central. The best way to prove yourself as a potential Vendor is to sign up for Seller Central and register your brand with the Amazon brand registry. As you begin to recognize sizeable volume through Seller Central, I would begin to contact Amazon Seller support and mention your interest in becoming a vendor and being invited to Vendor Central. One thing I have learned with Amazon in general is that, if the volume is there, the opportunity to become a vendor will also be there. There may however, come a time when both sellers and vendors use the same platform to manage their Amazon business. I believe that Amazon is pitting both platforms (Seller Central and Vendor Central) against each other with the intention of ultimately consolidating everything under one platform, most likely Seller Central. That means that Vendor Express will become obsolete as it seems to exist in a strange no-man’s land between two highly viable platforms in the Amazon ecosystem.
When reviewing your competition on Amazon, what are the key factors you are researching?
VOLUME! Who are the brands/ASINs (SKUs) driving the most velocity within your category or in adjacent categories? One of the most powerful activities I have done on Amazon is “follow the volume”. This philosophy translates into so many different aspects of a brand’s marketing strategy on Amazon, from product detail page content, to AMS targeting. The important thing to remember though, is to utilize tactics that are working well for some of the top movers in your category while also conveying a unique brand identity and value proposition to consumers. Striking this balance is how brands put themselves in a strong position to succeed on Amazon.
Is it easy for smaller companies to start selling their products on Amazon?
Absolutely! I have coached a small company with this very thing. The easiest part of the process is getting started and your products listed on Amazon. In general the set up process is very intuitive. Beyond the setup process, there are a lot of potential obstacles to overcome depending on 3rd party competition for your products on Amazon. It is best to be super vigilant upon launching your products on Amazon so that you can understand the sales landscape for your ASINs and optimize your listings accordingly. Registering your brand on Amazon’s brand registry makes owning the content on your product detail pages much easier and is a safeguard against third party sellers changing your content every time they win the buy box.
What are some of the surprises or lessons you have learned along the way?
Lesson: Amazon reviews of your products matter! (1/4 shoppers check Amazon reviews in-store. 1/3 refuse to buy a product without positive reviews)
Surprise: Amazon FBA does not practice FIFO (first in, first out) inventory management. Even though their support team has told me both “no” and “yes” when asked on separate occasions.
Lesson: Not all Amazon marketing programs are created equal. Take the time to evaluate the goals/potential impact of any marketing program offered through Amazon to insure it aligns with the growth goals for your business.
Given the competitive set is intensifying their marketing efforts on Amazon, how do you plan to stay ahead of the pack?
Once organic market share for any particular brand has been captured on Amazon the focus really needs to be on data in order to continue your growth trajectory. However, instead of having data for the sake of data, I believe it should answer two fundamental questions. 1.) How can I continue to grow sales with new-to-brand consumers who are already shopping in my category? and 2.) Does this data allow me to successfully target/acquire new-to-category consumers who are shopping in adjacent categories? At a high level, I want to maintain competitiveness in-category, but I also want to take aim at the loftier goal of growing the category by getting my brand into the consideration set of Amazon shoppers who would readily purchase our product, but are unaware of the category or have not purchased jerky and dried meats products in the past. The data that I utilize will need to effectively answer those questions.
Last question, what are some products or companies that aren’t necessarily in your category that you think are doing a great job on Amazon and why?
Jack Link’s: A great example to follow for quality detail page content. Their product pages demonstrate that they have an in-depth knowledge of high volume keywords and they put them to use throughout their content in a way that adds value to shoppers.
Quest Nutrition: A leader in the sports nutrition/nutrition bars space and they invest very heavily in protecting their market share through innovation and hefty marketing program spend, (currently the #2 best-selling ASIN in Grocery & Gourmet Food). RXBAR is another brand to watch here as well.
Soylent: As a fellow brand that has used the Amazon Launchpad program I have had my eye on this brand for a long time. Although their packaging isn’t going to win any awards, the meteoric rise of this product on Amazon (now the #15 best-selling ASIN in the grocery & gourmet food category) is in no small part due to the fact that it is simply a great product! The reviews listed on the first page are enough to make me want to order it straight away. Soylent is a great combination of consumer word of mouth, authentic brand story and product quality. Something all brands should to emulate in their own authentic way.