The Whole Foods acquisition by Amazon weeks ago was only the latest milepost in the latter’s inexorable march to the top of retail. The company sold $136 billion worth of products in 2016 – more than any other online retailer (and just over a third of what Wal-Mart did).
And we find that Amazon is big and gaining on Google for product-related searches (be they early or late in the purchase journey). This means that more and more purchase journeys will start on Amazon’s home page, and proceed via search to a variety of product pages all the way to a sale.
This changes a lot of things, but the upshot – to my mind – will be a massive outlay in product content and product-related experiences by manufacturers.
If we start with the current state of digital marketing, it’s not hyperbole to say that Google AdWords effectively takes the lion’s share of digital direct marketing dollars. Retailers and product manufacturers alike spend small and large fortunes and considerable brain power positioning themselves in paid search listings, and then on their sites in the hopes they can close a sale. Of the money spent on their own experiences, most is focused on user experience (UX), conversion rate optimization (CRO), testing strategies, and reacquiring people who abandon shopping carts. Some is also spent on content – usually in service of the UX, CRO and testing goals.
As many of those digital direct marketing dollars migrate over to Amazon, and migrate they will, a lot changes. On the Amazon site, all of the site experience issues fall out of scope for the product manufacturers. Most of what remains for manufacturers to control is the content they supply Amazon, and pricing strategy. What they lose in independence and control, they gain in simplicity and clarity: Provide enough evidence of product value to justify a margin-friendly price.
Efforts to pimp out Amazon product pages have history of success. In talking with people at 3M about home laminating machines, I understood they’d focused on making the richest content page for their products as possible (knowing parents would inspire each other to get one, then go search for one on Amazon). It worked; I was told household penetration for these machines skyrocketed in the US, and 3M grabbed a large share of that.
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What will it mean? What kind of product content should product manufacturers focus on?
I think we’ll see a fair amount of innovation, but largely under three main categories:
- User-generated content: UGC vendors are already doing brisk business helping manufacturers cultivate deep repositories of images showing all kinds of people using and enjoying their products. I expect this to expand considerably, and more expertise pour in to align the specific UGC, the specific product and the specific viewer (within the constraints of what Amazon will allow). Influencers will play an ever-stronger role in stoking this UGC creation and expanding on it.
- Interactive product exploration: Manufacturers need to get better and more effective at helping visitors understand the in’s and out’s of their products, how they differ from other products, and what justifies a particular price point. Interactive video will be one option here; currently, Amazon doesn’t make it easy to do this. That’ll change.
- Product validation: Online marketers understand trust marks – i.e. badges and symbols that communicate certification from trusted regulators or industry bodies. Badges are just a start; marketers can go much further to provide validation for their product’s promises and benefits, and work with trusted partners to do so.
Amazon is not the end-all and be-all, but it’s a massive presence in online retail, which is gobbling up more and more of all retail. Marketers will still need to work with other retail partners (online and off-), and they’ll still want to drive as much direct business as they can; the unavoidable effect of Amazon upping the product content stakes will benefit those experiences too. And it’ll have knock-on effects to services (witness the acquisition of Marketplace Ignition – an Amazon marketing specialist by WPP) and technology (product information management technology, for example).
The product content space race is on.
[As coda to this piece, I was just listening to P&G’s investor presentation at DeutscheBank’s consumer conference (recommended listening!) wherein they specifically called out the importance of the content on Amazon brand pages for the likes of products like Tide laundry detergent. They described the use of video, strong performance claims, strong value options for subscribers and positive ratings and reviews as the driving force for its high rankings in Amazon search for ‘laundry detergent’ and thereby strong sales.]