- Lena R. Liberman
- On October 9, 2017
- 0 Comments
One of the keys to Amazon’s astonishing success is that it is incredibly tight-lipped about projects in the works. Whether it’s product development, service offerings, acquisitions, or program enhancements, we tend to only hear about such things when they actually roll out rather than when they are upcoming.
It’s a good strategy. What Amazon gives up in terms of hype-building lead-up, it gains in surprise disruptive force and expectations control (a new feature or service, especially a free one, can’t be very disappointing if one didn’t know it was coming and thus had no expectations). This is, in my opinion, part of why Amazon Prime is such a success. As customers, we’re paying extra to get fast, free shipping (and we buy more as a result). Everything else is [surprise] icing on the cake.
Glimpses of Features in the Works
All of this said, sometimes we do get a glimpse of something in the Amazon pipeline, something that is not quite ready for primetime (or Prime) but slips out just long enough for some hardcore Amazon watchers to catch it. This happened in August in the form of a promo gone awry with the Echo Dot (whoops!) and it cost Amazon. Recently it happened in a more-deliberate manner as some sellers saw a beta option for extending their auto-targeting campaigns to the Amazon ad network.
Yes, Extend to Amazon Ad Network (Whatever That May Be)
Because this was a limited beta release with no announcement or documentation, there are more questions than answers: How many sellers received the option? How long will the beta run? When can we expect a full rollout? What are the guidelines, limitations, and settings options? What exactly comprises the Amazon ad network? While I hope we’ll get clarification soon, I think that what’s more important than what we know here is what we might try to imagine.
It’s long been said that the online advertising duopoly of Google and Facebook would be disrupted by Amazon. Exactly how and when no one knows. The “Amazon ad network” seems like a step in that direction, albeit one that is limited to sellers and products purchased via Amazon (in this case with the Seller Central beta). I think that the bigger Amazon-as-an-ad-platform is far more wide-reaching and that Amazon has a lot of catching up to do to rival Google. However, it might not be catching up so much as reinvention and leverage. After all, ads are about selling things and Amazon has more data about that and in more granular detail than seems fully fathomable. So when they go full in on advertising as a rival to Google and Facebook, I think it’s going to be very big and very different from existing ad models.
Intra-Amazon Ad Opportunities
Back to the beta. Here I want you, as an Amazon seller, to take what I’ve written about how much data Amazon has—and not just aggregate data but individual data that is ridiculously granular and personalized—and I want you to think about how good Amazon already is at utilizing that data on its own site. Targeting in terms of companion products and also-viewed and might-likes and add-ons is highly specific and accurate and lucrative.
Now I want you to apply that specificity and accuracy and revenue potential beyond the website that is Amazon.com. I want you to think about what the “Amazon ad network” might comprise. Let’s start close to home with Amazon’s own extended products and services. Imagine your relevant product ad alongside a definition looked up by a user who clicked a reference link while reading a Kindle eBook. Imagine your product positioned in an Amazon original series or suggested first as an Alexa answer to a user’s question. That’s powerful stuff, the kind of stuff that could make a brand.
Extra-Amazon Ad Opportunities
Step outside of Amazon’s directly branded world and think about the other companies in the Amazon family and imagine ads and cross-marketing in and with those. Sure, we all know that Amazon just acquired Whole Foods. That seems a likely possibility for the extended ad network. If I were a purveyor of natural products or health foods, I’d seriously consider any opportunity that got my products visible to Whole Foods shoppers either online or in-store.
Now go beyond that and let’s look at Amazon’s holdings and imagine the advertising possibilities when (when not if) ads jump the Amazon.com fence into the larger network. I’m not going to delve into the full list of Amazon acquisitions and investments (let alone Bezos holdings). It’s massive (and a little frightening in its breadth and depth), it contains many companies that most of us won’t recognize, and it is frequently changing as Amazon buys and sells holdings small and large and consolidates brands, products, and websites and identities (Think Quidsi.com, which was the parent site for Diapers.com, Wag.com, Soap.com, BeautyBar.com, and more where the focus was on domestic needs and getting deliveries of these home staples quickly. Amazon couldn’t make Quidsi work so now Quidsi.com and all of those subsites that were rolled into it now redirect to Amazon pages.)
As I wrote, the list of Amazon holdings is massive and tricky. Inc.com does a very nice job taking on the task of examining Amazon’s holdings and author Zoë Henry provides the helpful step of breaking out these holdings by industry. For our purposes—understanding the scope and implications of what might be part of “the Amazon ad network” to which sellers may broadcast their ads—I’ll base my take on Henry’s structure and give some examples that I think are important and may resonate with readers of this post. Again I ask that as you read the information below, you think about advertising reach and just how much Amazon touches . . . and then you imagine more and beyond.
Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Search Technology
This includes a number holdings, most notably A9.com, which powers the Amazon search. Anyone who has ever used Amazon to search (which is to say, everyone) has used A9 technology and knows just how smart it is when it comes to matching user intent with product results. A9 is also at work behind numerous other search engines and it is cataloging all of those searches and relevant results as well.
Also in this category is Evi Tech, which is behind the development work that became Amazon’s Siri-rivaling digital assistant Alexa, the ghost in the machine of all of the Echo devices and the fast-growing Echosphere). Amazon describes Evi as “a pioneer in a new class of Internet search technology that’s aimed at dramatically improving the consumer Internet and mobile search experience. To answer users’ questions, our technology relies on a large store of machine-understandable structured knowledge. With this knowledge combined with natural language understanding and machine inference, Evi is developing the world’s most-intelligent search tool.”
And since we’re talking about data and Alexa, let’s talk about the other Alexa, namely Alexa.com, which is the go-to analytics service for website traffic info and rankings and metrics of all sorts. Alexa.com knows pretty much everything geographic and browser-based about every visitor to every website. So consider an Amazon ad network that harnesses the power and knowledge of A9, the Alexa assistant’s skills, and Alexa.com’s metrics. The specificity and power to target users and to serve ads based on that information is just unbelievable.
Computing and Cloud Services
Sure there’s Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player and all of the storage where we upload media, including our highly personal photos and documents. That’s big in terms of data, but now go bigger and think about Amazon Web Services. According to Amazon, AWS is “a secure cloud services platform, offering computing power, database storage, content delivery, and other functionality to help businesses scale and grow . . . The AWS Cloud provides a broad set of infrastructure services, such as computing power, storage options, networking and databases, delivered on demand.” Who uses AWS infrastructure? Hulu, Ancestry.com, Blackboard, Netflix, Kellogg’s, Adobe, Airbnb, Yelp, Dow Jones, Novartis, and so many more big companies and brands . . . Now consider ad integration with all of those companies.
Amazon owns Annapurna Labs, which makes computer-server chips that power Amazon devices such as the Kindle. They also own Touchco, which develops touchscreen technology. With the recent push of Amazon devices, the writing’s on the wall in terms of where Amazon is headed in terms of Amazon hardware expansion and home/lifestyle integration. I’m not entirely certain how this would play out in terms of ads, but it seems worth mentioning as hardware gives Amazon more opportunities for proprietary branded vehicles (phones, tablets, etc.) by which it can collect data.
Clothing and Accessories
As if clothing selection on Amazon isn’t enough, Amazon also counts Zappos, ShopBop, and Fabric.com amongst its holdings. Just imagine an ad for the necklace you sell appearing on a ShopBop page where Amazon has matched the color scheme to the dress the user is considering. That doesn’t seem much of a leap considering how good Amazon already is at recommending companion purchases.
You’re probably familiar with Bill Me Later and Amazon Payments, the latter of which is the result of a few Amazon acquisitions that were used to create the program and then shuttered as Amazon Payments took center stage. Amazon also has its own rewards-based credit card with Chase Bank. This means that Amazon not only knows what you’re buying and who you are, but it also has a pretty good sense of your financial situation. Imagine logging on to Chase to make a payment on your Amazon rewards credit card and having products suggested to you on that payment page based upon what you purchased using that very credit card earlier in the month.
Food and Beverages
I’ve already mentioned Whole Foods and the possibilities there for data crossover as well as advertising cross-promotions in-store and online. Amazon also delivers groceries through Amazon Fresh and Amazon Subscribe & Save. It’s also involved now in a meal-kit delivery program and a restaurant-delivery program. These are amazing opportunities for print (no, it’s not dead) advertisements as well as coupons and they are delivered directly to the consumer, which is an automatic impression.
Media: Broadcast, Production, and Publishing
In media, Amazon gets back to its roots as a bookseller but now leverages the power of all sorts of platforms for creation and delivery. And all are rife with advertising space and opportunities.
- Audible is already seamlessly integrated with the Amazon.com shopping experience for books, news, radio, and original audio programming.
- The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) syncs up the massive film-and-TV database with Amazon video purchases (streaming and physical DVDs and Blu-Ray discs) and rentals.
- Twitch.tv is a live streaming video platform that focuses on video gaming and gets millions of visitors.
- AbeBooks is a leading purveyor of used, rare, and out-of-print books.
- Double Helix Games is a video game developer best known for “Killer Instinct” and “Silent Hill: Homecoming.”
- Box Office Mojo is a website that tracks and communicates the box office performance of movies. It’s tightly integrated with IMDb.
- Brilliance Audio is a publisher of audiobooks, including those by many independent authors.
- BookDepository is the fastest-growing bookseller in Europe.
- ComiXology is a cloud-based digital comics service with content from over 125 publishers as well as thousands of independent creators from around the globe.
- CreateSpace is a self-publishing platform that allows independent filmmakers, musicians, and authors to publish their work and distribute it on demand.
- The Washington Post is a little newspaper of which you may have heard. This is actually owned by Nash Holdings, LLC, a company Jeff Bezos created for the purpose of acquiring the newspaper.
Social Networks and Volume Deal Purchasing Sites
Amazon owns Goodreads, a social-cataloging tool that is ranked in the top 350 most-trafficked websites in the world. It’s chock full of communities and discussions, which makes it an advertising goldmine in terms of reach and recommendation power.
LivingSocial is also Amazon’s. Think beyond a banner ad or a link. What would you pay to have your product advertised as one of the time-sensitive deals and to reap the benefits of the potential sales volume that might result? Or what about your product as a daily deal featured on Woot? Yep, Amazon has that covered as well.
Back to Reality . . . for Now
I realize that this is a lengthy post with a lot of names and details and possibilities and that I’ve asked you to stretch and to imagine a way beyond the little that we currently know about the Amazon ad network beta. I also realize that Amazon is incredibly innovative to the point of unpredictable and this beta could go anywhere. There is reason to be very optimistic as an opportunity to get your product in front of new audiences is a great opportunity. And we’re not the only ones who are excited about the potential of the Amazon ad network. Chad Rubin at Skubana reacted with “This is HUGE! I believe it will lead to Amazon dominating the Google Ad Network . . . Google’s only answer will be to create a marketplace (or buy one).” What a game-changer that would be.
In typical Amazon-moves-pretty-fast doings, there have been new developments and new takes on the advertising issue between the time of writing this article and posting it. Two just-published links of interest, both from Digiday:
- How Amazon Is Readying Its Blitz on the Ad Industry
- Uh-Oh, Google, Amazon Is Dominating Server-to-Server Bidding
I’ve no doubt all of this just confirms that Amazon is moving fast and beyond its own sites and holdings. Expect a very-busy 2018 in terms of game-changing advertising platforms and opportunities.