Competition: Another Big DC Week for Tech (Where Do We Go From Here?)

When the leaders of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google come to Washington, you know there’s going to be a lot of posturing – and it’s usually not (just) from the witnesses.

The focus this past week was the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Law rather than privacy, security, and foreign influence – topics of previous high-profile hearings. Yet the out-sized attention on these leading executives and companies – all of them U.S.-based – is actually a testament, in my humble opinion, to the power of data, information, and innovation at work advancing the American and global economy. Has this exercise and accumulation of power been benign, beneficial… or harmful?

I’ve not been shy to tout the conveniences and benefits that we’ve accrued and enjoyed as a result of responsible data use. Yet I do not dismiss an investigation of harm, unintended or otherwise. Simply, I ask that in our zeal to rein in questionable practices, let’s flash a sign to policymakers: “Handle with Care.”

The world has embraced the Information Economy. It just so happens, not by accident, that the United States has both many global leaders (four of them visiting DC) and – it must be said – a long tail of innovative companies that want to grow, prosper, and potentially join the ranks of the next big, successful data-driven entities.

As Americans, we should do all we can to recognize our own advantage, and to encourage such business ingenuity – for a better world.  Transparency, control, and civil liberties must be protected… that’s all.

There’s a part of me – with my direct marketing heritage – that’s utterly in awe of what these companies have achieved, each of them forging their own paths to business success, and doing so in a way that has cultivated and curated data – marketing and otherwise – to create in each a global powerhouse. Digital has always been “direct marketing on steroids” (please let me know who coined this phrase), and many of these companies achieved their success through a fervor for measurability and accountability.

But the question of the day – antitrust – is a very serious charge. 

Practically every business revolution in the age of capitalism – oil, banking, computing, communications, digital, among others – have had to grapple with the question, how much power is too much? What constitutes “too big” in the Information Economy? Though no one has gone there yet, could there ever be a concept in the digital world as Wall Street’s “too big to fail” – in reference to our banking giants?

I myself don’t have these answers, but I do think it’s worth looking (again) to our digital and direct marketing heritage for some guidance. Certainly any new federal laws and regulation, such as for privacy, ought to be pragmatic in their approach – rather than overly prescriptive. We have a blueprint for a federal privacy law in Privacy for America, for example, which seeks to discern reasonable from unreasonable data uses.

Some consideration, please.

  • What if we held out that data collected for marketing use should be used for marketing purposes only? What non-marketing uses – product development and design possibly – might also be acceptable?
  • Should personally identifiable data collected for marketing use ever or always be anonymized for non-marketing use? Certainly, let’s make sure we can recognize consumers as they jump from device to device and across digital and offline platforms, if for no other reason than marketing or fraud prevention purposes. These aims grow the economy, serve consumers, and finance vital social aims such as news reporting.
  • Under what circumstances should private-sector data be handed over to government sources? What legal protections should govern such handovers – subpoenas and otherwise? It’s a borderless world. What access should foreign governments have to such data, about U.S. citizens or from other jurisdictions? It’s a fine line – or even a fuzzy blur – between anti-terrorism and unwanted surveillance of ordinary people.
  • And of course, there’s anti-competition. Data enablement and data sharing should grow the economy, foster competition, and serve consumers. Laws – whether anti-competition or privacy – should seek the same, and not undermine innovation. For example, the current demonization of third-party data feeds a frenzy that concentrates first-party data collection and power in “walled gardens” – where knowledge about customers’ marketing preferences often becomes incomplete and clouded. Could policymakers use their pen unwittingly to diminish the long tail of ad tech to detrimental effects? Even (some) Europeans have questioned what they’ve done.

As far as bias is concerned, add my voice to those who wish to do our utmost to minimize and eliminate protected-class discrimination in our algorithms and artificial intelligence – gender, race, religion, sexual preference – as we practice the art and science of commerce.

All the same, I have deep sympathy for this same task regarding political free speech: when and how we would ever attempt to define and remove political bias is dangerous territory. What is a lie? What is hate speech? What is a conservative or liberal bias?

There are no easy answers here. But I look forward to this public investigation, all the same. We need to understand fully where the Information Economy may overstep, overreach, restrict free speech, or undermine competition – even if these grievances are found to be remote.

6 Steps to E-commerce Success in B2B Seller Marketplaces

Amazon Business is expected to reach $52 billion in sales by 2023; Alibaba and eBay are also competing actively in the B2B space. But these e-commerce giants are only part of the story. How should B2B marketers get in on the action? Read on.

Amazon Business is expected to reach $52 billion in sales by 2023, and is growing faster than its consumer side. Alibaba and eBay are also competing actively in the B2B space. But these e-commerce  giants are only part of the story. Complex categories like oil and gas, chemicals, aviation and manufacturing are taking expense out of their selling processes by setting up industry-specific marketplaces. So how should B2B marketers get in on the action? Read on.

As buyers worldwide become increasingly comfortable with “remote buying,” this is the perfect time for B2B sellers to find ways to use e-commerce to improve their customers’ buying experience, eliminate costs from the selling process, and find new markets.

How to make sense of this all? Here’s a six-step e-commerce process to follow.

1. Develop a Strategic Approach

This is as much a distribution question as it is marketing question, so engage your entire go-to-market team to develop a strategy. Get started by asking these key questions:

  • What areas of our product line are suited to e-commerce? In B2B, the answer usually begins with the aftermarket, like parts.
  • How can we leverage e-commerce without causing strife in our existing distribution channel relationships?
  • Are there elements of our current selling process that could benefit from digital automation? The first step in B2B was e-procurement and EDI. Where else can we find opportunity for speed and savings?

Review Your Options

The landscape of existing B2B seller marketplace options is already well populated.  See what your competitors may be doing on the majors.  Then look at activity in your industry as a whole.  In aerospace, it’s ePlane and Honeywell’s multivendor platform GoDirect Trade. In chemicals, it’s CheMondis, launched in Europe to serve the global market. Manufacturers use Asseta for semiconductor parts.

Keep Close to Your Customers

Listen to how they want to buy from you. Especially your key accounts. You’ll find them your best source for actionable ideas for your digital transformation.

Revise Your Marketing Communications

Selling on marketplaces means a different approach from traditional lead generation and sales enablement, in two ways, explains Liz Brohan, co-CEO of CBD Marketing in Chicago.

First, it’s a direct selling environment, so you’ll need product images, videos, descriptive copy, and the keywords most relevant to buyers. This means giving up a certain amount of control, as your selling materials will have to comply with standards set by the marketplace.

Second, you’ll be on the same platform with your direct competitors, so focus on how to stand out and how to differentiate. This may be through thought leadership content, top quality video, and keen attention to your pricing. “On marketplaces, B2B marketers need to think about building brand awareness, almost like a CPG company,” says Brohan.

Ramp Up Your Own E-commerce

Most B2B companies expect e-commerce to comprise 40% of their topline revenue by 2025, according to Digital Commerce 360. Opportunity is everywhere. Not just parts and aftermarket.  Examine areas of your selling process that can be shifted to self-service online.

Watch Amazon Like a Hawk

It’s no secret that Amazon is revolutionizing B2B e-commerce. It continues to disrupt, experimenting with private-label products in categories like MRO and office supplies, thus going into direct competition with their sellers. Amazon also has introduced Dash Smart Shelf, an automatic replenishment system for office supplies. Businesses who chose to sell at Amazon Business are in for a roller coaster ride.

The opportunity is huge, and so are the challenges.  So let’s get busy cracking this new nut.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Concerned About Amazon’s Growing Digital Ad Business? Turn to Email

Amazon’s rise as an advertising force means more marketers will move their digital ad spend. To stay competitive, publishers need to think holistically about new income streams and strengthen predictable ones, like subscriptions. On all counts, email can help.

For quite some time the digital advertising world has been described as a duopoly between Google and Facebook with every other online ad platform picking up the scraps. That state of affairs has been changing over the last few years, with Amazon’s advertising business catching up and becoming the third largest ad platform in the U.S.

How close is Amazon to the walled gardens? The company is predicted to reach $40 billion annually in ad revenue by 2023 — right behind Facebook’s $55 billion in 2018. And per Juniper Research, Amazon’s ad business is expected to grow more than 470% over the next five years. It might not catch Google or Facebook to crack into one of the top two spots, but its rapid growth has turned the digital ad duopoly into a triopoly.

Amazon’s rise as an advertising force means there are simply fewer ad dollars available to those outside the walled gardens. When Google and Facebook reigned as a true duopoly, publishers still had a reasonable percentage of the overall online ad marketplace to share. Now, marketers who might have spread ad dollars across Google, social, and publishers will likely move that latter group’s spend into Amazon ads as a way to reach that same audience where they are making purchase decisions. This is especially the case for CPGs and retailers.

To stay competitive with Amazon, publishers need to think holistically about new income streams and strengthen predictable ones, like subscriptions. On all counts, email can help.

Subscriptions and Email

Subscriptions as a source of revenue got lost in the shuffle as publishers became more digital. For years, publishers have given away their inventory: outsourcing traffic to platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter — and hoping they would deliver better-performing ad revenue. But this has proven to be a losing battle, with third-party distribution contributing a small fraction of total digital revenue for most publishers.

As Amazon emerges as an ad powerhouse, publishers are reverting back to what works. Per a Reuters study, 52% of publishers said subscriptions and memberships would be their main revenue focus in 2019 versus relying on ad monetization. In fact, The New York Times has publicly stated they are looking to grow their online subscriber base to 10 million by 2025.

But how can publishers win new subscribers? Just adding a paywall to the website and hoping readers opt-in to paying for content they are used to getting at no cost on Facebook or Twitter isn’t going to work. They need to entice readers. This is where a publisher’s first-party audience data is so critical — and email is a good place to start.

Publishers pursuing subscription models who have developed their email newsletters and properties have a distinct advantage here. Using the insights that a robust email system provides, publishers can determine the propensity of each potential subscriber to purchase a subscription (who opens, who reads on other devices, etc.).

The email address’s significance for publishers isn’t just a way of sending email: It’s the key to marketing and identity in this mobile world. When publishers use their email newsletters as a tool to drive their subscriptions campaign, they’re able to continue that campaign to a known person with consistent messaging, and dynamic paywalling, wherever that person is paying attention, including across mobile devices.

New Inventory via Newsletters 

However, publishers shouldn’t just rely on subscriptions, as ad revenue will always be important. Many publishers are opening up their email inventory for third-party advertisers to bid on via programmatic advertising platforms, which creates an incremental, recurring revenue stream.

Why does it work? Although email is an older technology, it remains a highly effective and impactful channel for marketers. An Adobe study on email marketing found people still spend hours on the channel each day, with the average consumer checking work email 3.1 hours per weekday and personal email 2.5 hours per weekday. Furthermore, those email newsletters are a fraud-free, logged-in channel that represents a direct relationship with a publisher’s audience — a relationship that is not susceptible to the subtle algorithm shifts that can wreck the best laid-out marketing plans on other platforms. And these emails ads can be personalized based on what the email opener is interested in, according to the publisher’s first-party data.

With this, publishers can partner with retail and CPG marketers to run non-competitive, targeted, and personalized email ad campaigns. For the recipient, it’s all about relevancy. People only tend to get annoyed by advertising when it doesn’t seem relevant to them. But if publishers can connect readers with a brand that really speaks to them, that has a product or service they care about, it’s actually a pleasant experience and produces a good ROI for the brand, and good revenue in turn for publishers!

Amazon may be turning the online ad business into a triopoly, but publishers have the opportunity to go back to a business model where they keep control over their audience and data and still offer value to brand advertisers.

The Triple-A Approach to Succeeding at Digital Marketing in 2019

While it’s impossible to predict the new innovations advertising platforms will release in the year ahead, there are three trends and tactics marketers should be aware of that made a big enough impact in 2018 that are likely to be the cornerstones of digital marketing in 2019, and they all begin with “A.”

While it’s impossible to predict the new innovations advertising platforms will release in the year ahead, there are three trends and tactics marketers should be aware of that made a big enough impact in 2018 that are likely to be the cornerstones of digital marketing in 2019, and they all begin with “A.”

The triple A approach to succeeding at digital marketing in 2019: Amazon, Audiences and Automation.

Amazon Advertising Reaches the Big Time

Rumors circulated for years that the online retail giant could become one of the biggest media companies, yet advertisers just recently started taking these rumors seriously and jumping on the bandwagon. After an initial uproar when Amazon began showing up in Google Shopping results in Q4 of 2016 causing competing advertisers’ costs-per-click (CPCs) to spike, many retails shifted gears, choosing to partner with Amazon rather than compete against it, making Amazon’s growth inevitable. In fact, Amazon has already become the third largest digital ad publisher behind Google and Facebook, and according to a recent survey, 80% of advertisers plan to increase their budgets on Amazon in 2019.

For those advertisers who haven’t yet dipped their toes into Amazon advertising, it’s time to explore the self-service Amazon Marketing Services. Sponsored Products are usually a good place to start since the ads go live immediately, appear organic, and don’t require images or custom copy. Automatic targeting that adapts dynamically to trends and seasonality is available, eliminating the need to manually select keywords. Combined, these options make for a relatively simple process. Of course, an agency can help fine-tune an Amazon advertising program; especially if they completed Amazon’s power training which grants them assigned dedicated support.

Audiences Become the Priority

Having been a hot topic for some time now, in 2019 audiences will become unavoidable. While many advertisers already applied audiences to their advertising programs, not many have done so strategically. Imagine if step one of any digital program was building an audience to target with your program rather than building a list of keywords. Keywords would be supplanted as the most important aspect for paid search, replaced by audience targeting to positively impacting a client’s bottom line with a much more refined approach.

Refining an audience approach will be the single most effective tactic to win at customer-centric marketing; by focusing on the right person at the right time, with the right messaging, marketers set themselves up for victory. By focusing on audiences, marketers can move beyond the all-too-common channel-approach that limits cohesiveness in campaigns and limits effectiveness. The audience approach enables refined targeting, eliminating waste and delivering deeper, more meaningful insights.

Both Google and Bing have already made advancements in this area. Google expanded its audiences beyond website visitors and customer lists to in-market, custom intent and detailed demographics. Bing followed suit and introduced its new Audience Network which uses artificial intelligence to connect Microsoft data insights with LinkedIn’s to deliver the right message to the consumer. Advertisers can then target these audiences on Microsoft’s premium properties such as MSN, Outlook and Microsoft Edge.

Automation Enables Marketers to Get Strategic

Marketing automation tools maximize efficiency and increase revenues; they also eliminate tedious tasks, freeing up marketers to focus on strategic growth for their clients. While bidding automation has been adopted by most marketers at this point, Google has taken automation a step farther, introducing multiple fully-automated campaign types that require very little, if any, intervention during its Google Marketing Live in July 2018. The first campaign type was automated feeds for Shopping campaigns that get products online faster and simplifies maintenance; second was Hotel campaigns that simplify management and optimization; third was smart campaigns for small businesses, that are designed for local and small businesses that might not have the staff to focus on management and need an easy solution instead.

This continues a trend for Google, which already utilized automation in Universal App Campaigns and Universal Shopping Campaigns; these campaigns do not allow for marketer intervention beyond creative asset upload and budget changes. With the continued deployment of new fully-automated campaigns that rely on machine learning for optimization and management, Google has established a clear direction. It seems possible, if not likely, that Google will eliminate its manual offerings for Shopping campaigns and text-based campaigns the way it did with App campaigns. After all, Google is already testing responsive ads, which dynamically combine headlines and descriptions based on performance and the advertiser’s goal. There’s a possibility that completely automated campaigns will be the new normal for advertisers sooner than we think, once Google works out the kinks.

By understanding and adopting these trends and tactics, digital marketers should be able to deliver an A across the board on their campaigns, keeping clients happy and budgets flowing.

Understanding the Gender Effect of Technology Disruptors to Meet Consumer Expectations

Shopping preferences of men and women are diverging as each gender responds differently to disruptive technologies. This dynamic was highlighted in our new study, “Mind the Gap: The Gender Effect on Shopping Habits and Technology Disruptors.” In fact, according to the results, men are less likely to embrace disruptors like mobile shopping, Amazon.com, and discount retail than women.

Shopping preferences of men and women are diverging as each gender responds differently to disruptive technologies. This dynamic was highlighted in our new study, “Mind the Gap: The Gender Effect on Shopping Habits and Technology Disruptors.” In fact, according to the results, men are less likely to embrace disruptors like mobile shopping, Amazon.com, and discount retail than women.

Forty-four percent of male respondents to our survey cite being able to touch and feel a product as a main driver that takes them in-store, a sentiment shared by only 33 percent of women respondents. Surprisingly, men are much more likely to shop at full-priced retailers (42 percent) over discount retailers (18 percent), while women are more likely to shop at discount retailers (38 percent) over full-price retailers (31 percent).

Furthermore, only 22 percent of male respondents reported frequently shopping on mobile devices compared to 40 percent of women, and only 46 percent of men are frequently shopping on Amazon vs. 60 percent of women that are doing so.

As the retail industry continues to struggle to meet the evolving tastes of consumers, the results shed light on the importance for retailers and brands to rethink how products are dispersed between stores and online.

Women Are Driving Online Purchases

Not only are men shopping less frequently than women on Amazon and mobile devices, they’re making fewer purchases as well. Sixty-seven percent of male respondents made two or less purchases on a mobile device in the month prior to the survey vs. 62 percent of women. In addition, 22 percent of women made five or more purchases on Amazon in the last month vs. only 14 percent of men who did the same.

Men Are Less Likely to Use Amazon to Check Prices

Only 21 percent of men frequently use mobile devices to compare prices while in a physical store vs. 31 percent of women, and 54 percent of men say they check Amazon for products and prices before shopping elsewhere vs. 67 percent of women.

Women Prefer Discount Retailers More Than Men, But Online Discount Retailers Are Gaining Traction With Men

Top discount retailers are seeing a decidedly female in-store clientele. Only 13 percent of men surveyed frequently visit TJ Maxx vs. 30 percent of women. However, online discount retailers seem to be gaining traction with men, as 30 percent of male respondents frequently shop at online discount retailers compared to 22 percent at traditional brick-and-mortar discount retailers.

While predicting product preferences and pricing will continue to be a challenge given the constantly changing tastes of consumers, those able to “mind the gender gap” by tapping consumer-driven data to offer differentiated products that are priced right will be at a tremendous advantage despite these diverging shopping habits.

Amazon Tips Its Hand on Alexa Ads

Although Amazon maintains there are no plans to put ads on its Alexa voice assistant — the brains behind the Echo line of smart speakers — they’ve started asking advertisers what kind of ads they might pay for.

Although Amazon maintains there are no plans to put ads on its Alexa voice assistant — the brains behind the Echo line of smart speakers — they’ve started asking advertisers what kind of ads they might pay for.

I’ve been talking a lot about the development of voice search, AI assistants and smart speakers lately, and what they could mean for digital advertising in the future. (Maybe you’ve heard some of it …) But so far, the actual advertising side of that has been a guessing game. Here are a few advertising options, but clearly Amazon is letting the user base build before revealing the actual shape of its offering to brands.

But just yesterday, CNBC reported that Amazon has started asking serious questions about the viability of Alexa advertising. According to anonymous sources, they’ve gone as far as asking major CPG brands what kinds of sponsorships they’d be wiling to pay for:

With Alexa, where advertising is currently limited, Amazon is in talks to offer companies a variety of promotional opportunities, including some that are already being tested.

One experiment in the works is letting companies target users based on past shopping behavior. For example, Alexa may suggest to a shopper who previously bought Clorox’s Pine-Sol to consider buying its disinfecting wipes. Amazon is also looking to tap advertising in Alexa’s skills. Someone asking the Echo for help cleaning up a spill might be nudged to use a specific brand.

There are already some sponsorships on Alexa that aren’t tied to a user’s history. If a shopper asks Alexa to buy toothpaste, one response is, “Okay, I can look for a brand, like Colgate. What would you like?”

Although Amazon responded to that article by saying there are no current plans to advertise on Alexa, the conversations are certainly plausible, and they reveal some interesting ideas.

For starters, the promotional opportunities are all pretty singular. Unlike Google search ads, where you might see a handful of promoted posts, these ads sound like they’ll be exclusive, and presented before non-sponsored options are event mentioned. That’s a pretty powerful sponsorship.

Second, linking the direct-order potential of Alexa to what amounts to audio push-notifications for brand you buys creates a loyalty model almost as powerful as continuity programs.

Of course, these ad types are all just in the discussion phase, but Amazon is clearly aiming for an experience that’s more like targeted, data-driven online advertising than broadcast radio.

Playing the Amazon Game: Translating Big Data Into Big Dollars

Will 2018 be the year of Amazon (again)? The first week of the year is always filled with predictions, and there’s a good chance that most serious business predictions for 2018 will include some version of a call for businesses to respond to, react to, or create a new business model in order to compete in this age of Amazon.

Amazon boxesWill 2018 be the year of Amazon (again)? The first week of the year is always filled with predictions, and there’s a good chance that most serious business predictions for 2018 will include some version of a call for businesses to respond to, react to, or create a new business model in order to compete in this age of Amazon. Because the truth is, if you think that non-retail businesses are exempt from this challenge, you are wrong.

While Amazon may have started as an online bookseller, it is so much more than that now. It is, among many things, a cloud computing powerhouse, an award-winning original content producer and streaming content platform, a top-selling fashion house, a gamer’s paradise, the leader in AI and voice technology innovation, and the largest world marketplace for third-party sellers.

The company has innovated in pricing and subscription models, delivery systems and on-demand technologies and scared the heck out of those who previously thought their little corner of commerce was exempt from Amazon’s notice. No one is safe.

When Amazon enters a new industry or vertical — which the brand does with disquieting regularity — it changes the game for consumers and for businesses across segments and industries, challenging everyone and everything we thought we knew about consumer needs and how to sell stuff. Its impact is felt all along the business chain from suppliers and providers to adjacent businesses and directly to the consumer.

Amazon’s expansion plans and willingness to take risks, its consumer experience obsession, logistics expertise, consumer access and deep pocket investments have broad implications across categories. In 2017 alone, Amazon expanded through acquisition in non-retail directions including grocery stores (Whole Foods), cyber security (harvest.ai), gaming (GameSparks) and analytics presentation (Graphiq). And all these moves are strategically designed to strengthen its core offerings and consumer ties.

Amazon’s advantages also include a ubiquitous consumer presence in U.S. homes, (64 percent with Amazon Prime membership according to Forbes). This translates into tremendous data and insights into shopping patterns, price elasticity, promotion and offer value and critical consumer search patterns. And because it freely sells competing products, its marketplace supplies the company with nearly complete information on competitor strengths and weaknesses in not only sales data, but also consumer reviews.

This is in conjunction with the fact that it controls the marketplace and can therefore work the home-field advantage to highlight its own brands or those products that deliver the most value. In short, Amazon has a direct way to translate its big data into big dollars. This is increasingly important as Amazon aggressively expands its catalog of private label categories and products. Other key strengths include its forays into voice search, in-home electronics, alternate ordering methodologies and sheer operational excellence.

In terms of Amazon’s future endeavors, the brand has made recent investments, as well as public statements to include more acquisitions in AI and machine learning — maybe even in healthcare/genomics. And it’s probably safe to assume that we will see more proprietary devices like the Echo and Kindle that streamline consumer connections and reduce any friction in commerce while further building Amazon’s data advantage in the guise of consumer convenience and innovative experiences. Numerous patent applications in logistics, cyber security and cloud computing attest to its attention to the backbone that reliably delivers the Amazon experience.

Learning the Ways of Amazon

So how should marketers respond to such an intimidating competitor? I often think of Amazon as a wholly different planet filled with a lot of attractive consumers in active search mode for my products, but with its own set of customs, rules and laws. In order to commercially navigate on this planet, I have to familiarize myself with the environment and make some key adjustments.

  • My consumers may exist simultaneously in traditional sales channels and on planet Amazon as well as move frequently between the two. Therefore, I have to maintain a certain amount of consistency in experience and product as well as pricing unless I can distinguish an Amazon-only offering.
  • Amazon is built to provide consumers with easy access to a lot of competitive, comparative information. I better absolutely believe in the value and quality of my product before I enter this environment.
  • I must be ready to deliver at the potential scale and speed of the demand or otherwise risk a decrease in ratings and consequently, a downward sales spiral. This may require supply chain changes.
  • Planet Amazon competes directly with me and it has unfair advantages. I need to safeguard my margins to avoid giving them away.
  • The rules that helped me succeed in online marketing outside of Amazon may not help me succeed in optimizing search visibility or conversion rates within this proprietary world. I need to dedicate myself to learning the ad marketplaces, tools and options and be prepared for a dynamic environment that requires constant investment and learning.
  • I need to understand consumer expectations within this environment and work to achieve positive WOM and reviews/ratings to fuel sales.
  • I need to rethink my brand strategy within this saturated, pricing and ratings-driven marketplace.
  • I need to review my pricing strategy — including sales bundling — in light of the dense competitive field.
  • I need to carefully execute on CRM and other strategies I can control to build and develop sustainable direct connections with consumers outside of Amazon.

So by all means, plan your trip to planet Amazon, but do so carefully as it favors those that not only know its language and terrain, but also are willing to go at it with a full-fledged strategy.

Why Net Neutrality Is a Marketing Issue

The Net may soon have gate keepers, a price tag or a throttle — and that’s something we should all be concerned about. Marketers, in particular, should be paying attention and throwing their support behind Net Neutrality as both a concept and as a set of regulations because without those safeguards the critical connection points to consumers may be threatened.

“Rusty Lock” Creative Commons license | Credit: Flickr by webhamster

The Net may soon have gate keepers, a price tag or a throttle — and that’s something we should all be concerned about. Marketers, in particular, should be paying attention and throwing their support behind Net Neutrality as both a concept and as a set of regulations because without those safeguards the critical connection points to consumers may be threatened.

New online business models and innovations have thrived with the freedom of equal access officially protected first by the FCC in 2010 with the passage of the Open Internet Order. Many challenges and debates later, this order was expanded in 2015 in an effort to assure a level playing field.

The current administration’s FCC Chair, Ajit Pai, hopes to dismantle the regulations that allow smaller players to compete with huge ISPs like Comcast or Verizon that wield lobbying power and have deep, deep pockets and a big stake in the production and delivery of online content. This could happen before the year end and opens the door to scenarios that include the big ISPs blocking select content, slowing or speeding up select content or instituting pay walls for certain content.

It is easy to see how that may discourage access and innovation for new or smaller players or new offerings as the big power players will be free to throw obstacles in the path of contenders.

Especially now as video becomes ubiquitous as a critical marketing tactic and consumers use increasing bandwidth to stream content, this question needs to be asked: Will video advertising (in particular pre-roll) suffer from a tiered distribution model that forces some, but not all, to pay a premium to deliver that content? Will those consumers consigned to the slow lane stick around to see ads? Marketers may be forced to factor in delivery speed, access and other cost and optimization factors such that the ROI equations will differ based on who you are. This removes meritocracy and weights success not by the quality of your message or product/service but on whether you have the power to shift the odds in your favor.

To be fair, the world is not fair now. Large players already have advantages in cash, scale and access, but the removal of Net Neutrality would fundamentally weaken the very strengths that gave us so many innovations from Internet startups in the past two decades. It’s not a political issue, according to a variety of recent polls as citizens in both major parties overwhelmingly support Net Neutrality. It’s a potential abuse of power issue. Simple and scary.

Opponents of an Internet with fair and equal access cite a distaste for regulations and government interference; some even call it a solution in search of a problem. But the potential for abuse is huge and the impact will reverberate in our economy for decades if we allow power to corrupt the models that drive our fastest growing and most globally influential industries here in the US.

The likely result of the dismantling of the protections currently in place will be higher marketing costs, reduced access to consumers, diminished targeting and data capabilities and declining novelty in online ad offerings and services. That’s not the marketing advances we hope and work for. We can expect the void to be filled by other countries not operating under these adverse conditions for another blow to our global and economic position.

What to do, what to do? “The Internet-Wide Day of Action” online protest took place on July 12 this year and was broadly supported by nearly every company in the Internet game including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Yelp, Dropbox, Netflix, reddit and many others. But you don’t have to be a company to fight for equal access. Make your voice heard in online venues, on your website and with your representatives, sign the petition here at battleforthenet.com, or visit savetheinternet.com for more ideas.

How are you going to fight for equal access?

4 Ways Amazon Is Remaking the World in Its Image

Amazon’s impact on commerce is impossible to ignore. The pioneering e-tailer has nearly perfected the arts of e-commerce and logistics to bring customers the shop-from-anywhere experience we couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago. But a flurry of announcements and acquisitions have signaled the next stage in its plan for world domination.

Amazon logoAmazon’s impact on commerce is impossible to ignore. The pioneering e-tailer has nearly perfected the arts of e-commerce and logistics to bring customers the shop-from-anywhere experience we couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago. Order it today, and it’s in your house in less than two days from just about and vendor in the world.

But a flurry of announcements and acquisitions in the last week signaled the next stage in its plan for world domination.

Amazon has mastered a massive niche in warehouse-to-customer fulfillment via online order. Amazon is able to control most of the variables in that world, which allow it to optimize for price, delivery and overall customer experience. If you can control those three things, you can win a lot of business.

Amazon also doesn’t make much money. Oh, it makes more than enough to make Jeff Bezos absolutely filthy rich, but Amazon prioritizes growth over profits to an unheard of extent. That leads to price cutting and a lot of pressure on any other business in its markets. In truth, many retailers rely on Amazon for sales, but suffer from its competition.

Now Amazon is reaching far beyond its niche in ways that could rewrite other areas of commerce. And those innovations could remake the entire shopping word in its image.

whole foods logo1. Buying Whole Foods

The most notable move was snapping up Whole Foods, a favorite grocery chain among affluent customers, with stores in some of the most desirable retail real estate in America. Speculation on how Amazon will use that purchase has run rampant since it was made, but the advantages are numerous.

The obvious next step would be for Amazon to use Whole Foods as a jumping off point for home food delivery, a space it’s been trying to crack for years but never had the grocery distribution network to cover. That will allow it to apply the kind of logistical expertise it has in non-perishable goods to the grocery market, and compete with the PeaPods and Fresh Directs of the world.

It could also launch a subscription box service like Blue Apron; which is a big enough threat that it’s actually impacting Blue Apron’s IPO.

2. Amazon Prime Wardrobe

Of course, being an online retailer has limits. It’s hard for customers to try on clothes from the other side of the Internet. But subscription clothing services like Trunk Club allow users to try on clothes at home and only pay for what they keep.

Yesterday, Amazon announced its own version of that service, called Amazon Prime Wardrobe. Customers in the program can order clothes that come in a resealable box with UPS return labels.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIQh0O3wOdM&feature=youtu.be

Try on the clothes, pay for what you like (currently there would be a discount for keeping multiple pieces) and return the rest.

Add the Echo Look — which combines the echo personal assistant device with a camera for personal stylist-like functionality — and you have a transformative clothes buying experience.

3. A ‘Prime’ Low-Income Segment

I mentioned earlier that Amazon is in the business of growth more than profits, and perhaps no move shows that more than it’s price cut to Prime for low-income customers.

Amazon Aims to Shut Down ‘Showrooming’

First off, I’m a fan of Amazon. I can order everything from cat litter to sequined gowns, from dried blueberries to external hard drives. And I love that. So when I found out Amazon was granted a patent that prevents in-store price checking, well, let’s say there was a bit of a record scratch.

Amazon shopping memeFirst off, I’m a fan of Amazon. I can order everything from cat litter to sequined gowns, from dried blueberries to external hard drives. And I love that.

I’m a loyal Prime member, as well, and appreciate that when I’m too busy to make it to the store, I can order cat food for Apollo and have it delivered two days later.

So when I found out Amazon was granted a patent that prevents in-store price checking, well, let’s say there was a bit of a record scratch.

From The Washington Post:

Amazon was awarded a patent May 30 that could help it choke off a common issue faced by many physical stores: Customers’ use of smartphones to compare prices even as they walk around a shop. The phenomenon, often known as mobile “window shopping,” has contributed to a worrisome decline for traditional retailers.

But Amazon now has the technology to prevent that type of behavior when customers enter any of its physical stores and log onto the WiFi networks there. Titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” Amazon’s patent describes a system that can identify a customer’s Internet traffic and sense when the smartphone user is trying to access a competitor’s website.

Trust me, there has been MANY a time in which I pulled out my iPhone while standing in the middle of a Target aisle, unable to find the item I’m looking for so I give up and look on Amazon. While still in Target. Why? Because I don’t want to forget that I need to pick up whatever the item is (and can’t get at Target). And yes, I’ve also done some comparison shopping, because that’s the norm nowadays.

This patent is a little scary. Sure … it’s for use in Amazon’s own brick and mortar stores, on the store Wi-Fi, so it’s not widespread — yet —  but it seems a bit hypocritical. I mean, Amazon is the company that’s benefited wildly from showrooming!

But here’s the deal: This patent is the foot in the door for more of this to occur. Who’s to say Target wouldn’t be next, keeping me from searching online for houseware items I can’t manage to find in their store?

I understand that showrooming has been a real punch in the gut for some brick and mortar retailers, but it’s the new reality. You can either adapt and evolve, or you can do shady things like block someone’s online search … causing consumers to get ticked off and go elsewhere.