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Episode 125
September 13, 2019

Amazon: Equal Opportunity Addiction

Brands and consumers alike are addicted to Amazon. In this interview Kiri Masters, Author of "Amazon for CMOs", joins us to talk about her new book launch, how brands are battling addiction to the big-A, how consumers are being lured in with everything from advertising to QVC-style programming, and how everyone from Lady Gaga to Mitsubishi are competing for your attention on the world's biggest store. Listen now!

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Brands and consumers alike are addicted to Amazon. In this interview Kiri Masters, Author of "Amazon for CMOs", joins us to talk about her new book launch, how brands are battling addiction to the big-A, how consumers are being lured in with everything from advertising to QVC-style programming, and how everyone from Lady Gaga to Mitsubishi are competing for your attention on the world's biggest store.

Main Takeaways:

  • Today, Brian and Phillip are joined by Kiri Masters, the founder of Bobsled Marketing, author of the upcoming book Amazon for CMOs, and co-host of the Ecommerce Braintrust Podcast.
  • With its plethora of sales channels, many brands don't know how to find the perfect Amazon solution to sell their products on the platform.
  • What are some best practices for being successful in selling your products on Amazon?
  • Amazon has grown exponentially in recent years, but what do the next few years hold for the eCommerce giant?

First Meetings Up Until Today: The Kiri Masters Story:

  • Phillip and Brian first met back in February of 2018 when they were on the Ecommerce Braintrust Podcast talking about voice commerce. (Now that's on brand.)
  • Bobsled Marketing is an agency that helps brands with their Amazon channel across branding, marketing, and operation support.
  • Kiri started Bobsled Marketing about five years ago after a completed unrelated career in banking.
  • It's a passion of Kiri to not just keep their passion and learnings at Bobsled to themselves, but to share them with the world.

The Amazon Buffet: Many Different Choices for Many Different Companies:

  • Phillip asks Kiri to give some examples of the advice they give and the expertise they impart to their clients when it comes to Amazon.
  • As an agency, Bobsled mainly deals with mid-market companies that have already done well in their own sales channels but need some clarification around Amazon-specific sales channels.
  • If you're not educating yourself on the different business models within Amazon, then you are already behind the curve.
  • There are so many different paths and options you can choose with Amazon so it can be challenging to align your brand with the correct channel if you are not educated in its structure.

A Missed Opportunity: Why Don't More Brands Sell on Amazon?

  • Kiri is still surprised at the number of household brands that do not have a presence on Amazon: but why are they not present on the platform?
  • A lot of the information that you find written about selling on Amazon is geared towards the "wantrepreneur" crowd and not towards established brands.
  • Amazon brings in about 50% of the eCommerce market, so not considering Amazon as a place to sell your product is missing a crucial portion of your retail strategy.
  • Amazon serves as the point of discovery for a large portion of online shoppers.

Starting With Amazon: What is Different About Brands that Start on Amazon?:

  • Amazon is creating an addictive product not only for consumers but for brands as well.
  • There is an organic problem on Amazon when brands cannot control the shift to retention marketing that has become a trend in online retail.
  • On one hand, Amazon doesn't want merchants or sellers to interact directly with customers, but on the other hand, with regulatory issues like taxes, Amazon takes a backseat.
  • The lack of direct connection with the customer is a major pitfall with brands who sell on Amazon because they are giving up any data that they would otherwise collect on their shoppers.

Feeding the Beast: Selfish Trajectories for an Ecommerce Giant:

  • Amazon has started to share customer acquisition metrics with the brands and sellers that are selling on their platform.
  • All of the metrics that they are now launching look great on paper, but it still all circles back to Amazon building a self-serving advertising business.
  • Lady Gaga launched her makeup line on Prime Day, but what does this mean for Amazon going forward?
  • Amazon's private label strategy upsets a lot of brands because the extent of data that Amazon has on its shoppers seems much more significant.

Is the Future Bright or Dark?: Insider Insights Into Amazon's Trajectory:

  • Kiri believes that Amazon is trying to fill gaps in their assortment rather than becoming an OEM manufacturer.
  • Amazon is starting to look more like a social media channel every day as they are pushing more towards content creation.
  • If Amazon is looking to create a massive marketing powerhouse, they need to vastly broaden their offerings at the top of the funnel.
  • Amazon has to make its platform stickier to keep people more engaged as everyone is competing for real estate in the attention of the consumer.

Amazon Live: Marketing Through Informational Videos:

  • Brian asks Kiri and Phillip if they had watched Amazon Live, a QVC-like video stream that can showcase brands on the Amazon platform.
  • Amazon Live is a pay-to-play channel but shows that Amazon is offering a lot of different ways to leverage the Amazon platform to get their products noticed.
  • As brands with backing come in with larger budgets, a lot of the smaller brands might not be able to compete with the spends.
  • Do you think offerings like Amazon Live will help smaller brands compete with larger brands for awareness?

The Cost of Amazon: How Much is Too Much to Spend for Acquisition:

  • The acquisition cost to get customers on Amazon is high, but after spending that much to get a customer, that customer belongs to Amazon.
  • Anker started out selling exclusively on Amazon but used customer feedback and intelligent data capture to grow the brand.
  • Digital native vertical brands like Glossier and Away have stated that they want direct connections with their customers and have stayed away from selling on Amazon.
  • Other brands have a mote of sorts around their brands from Amazon because they require extension customization like Care/of and Madison Reed.

Digitally Native Brands vs. Amazon: Is It Possible to Compete?:

  • Kiri asks Brian and Phillip if they believe that digitally native brands can compete without having to sell on Amazon in the future?
  • Brands are now able to put together a tech stack that is quite similar to what Amazon Prime can offer.
  • Amazon set the expectation for how brands have to interact with their customers in regards to logistics and fulfillment, and now brands can deliver at a palatable price point.
  • Phillip brings up Nike, Allbirds, and Tumi to demonstrate a way that brands will eventually begin to differentiate between brand and product

Amazon for CMOs: What's It All About?:

  • Amazon for CMOs is co-authored by Kiri and her friend Mark Power who also runs an Amazon agency (but they are still friends).
  • Kiri noticed that a lot of frank and honest conversations about Amazon between Executives was happening behind closed doors and this advice was based on your network and ability to connect with these people.
  • Kiri and Mark wanted a resource for the Executive audience that brought the voice of the industry into the book and talks about how brands are doing things.
  • The book also contains about 15 interviews with CMOs and Executive at large retail companies.
  • If you want a free copy of the book, they will be giving away free Kindle editions during the launch week of September 24th if you sign up on the site.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Amazon:

  • Brian asks Kiri the standard question of where she sees Amazon heading in the next few years.
  • Kiri sees some external factors coming into Amazon's future, and a lot of those on regulation, which will lead to AWS splitting off from Amazon itself.
  • AWS was built for Amazon internally initially, so if it is separated, will the retail division have to pay market rates for AWS?
  • Anti-trust in the United States has broken apart companies that eventually came back together, so there is a cyclical nature to splitting up large corporations.

Brands Mentioned in this Episode:

As always: We want to hear what our listeners think! Where do you think the next few years will take Amazon in regards to becoming a marketing giant? What are some of your best practices for selling your products on Amazon?

Have any questions or comments about the show? Let us know on, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. We love hearing from our listeners!

Retail Tech is moving fast, but Future Commerce is moving faster.

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Phillip: [00:00:01] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. I'm Phillip.

Brian: [00:00:22] And I'm Brian. And today we have an amazing guest, Kiri Masters, the founder of Bobsled Marketing and author of upcoming book "Amazon for CMOs" and also co-host of the Ecommerce Braintrust podcast. Welcome, Kiri.

Kiri: [00:00:40] Thank you, guys. So great to be here. I have been a huge fan over the last couple of years.

Phillip: [00:00:47] Well, you were on the show once before. A long time ago.

Brian: [00:00:51] No, no, no. Other way around. We were on her show. We were on her show.

Phillip: [00:00:57] Ohhhhh.

Kiri: [00:00:58] That's right. And like two years later you guys finally returned the favor. Thank you for bringing that up, Brian.

Brian: [00:01:04] Ohh. Ohh. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:01:05] Yeah. I set that up to make us look really bad.

Brian: [00:01:09] Yeah, well done. Well done.

Phillip: [00:01:10] Well welcome, Kiri. I feel like we do have a relationship going back quite a ways. But for those who aren't as familiar with you or Bobsled or the Braintrust, could you fill people in on who Kiri Masters is?

Kiri: [00:01:28] Sure. So Bobsled Marketing is an agency that helps brands with their Amazon channel across advertising, marketing, operational support, things like that. And so I started that company almost five years ago after a completely unrelated career in banking. And really at this sort of really pivotal time in the Amazon environment, where a lot of brands are having an "Oh my God," moment, "We need to figure this out, and we don't have people inside an organization that really know much about how this works." So as an agency, we're at the crest of that wave. And I love putting our best practices and thoughts out there in content, through our blog, through the podcasts that I host called E-commerce Braintrust. I write for Forbes Retail, as well. It's a real passion of mine to not just keep our learnings and best practices to ourself, but to really share that out to the community because there's a lot of confusion about Amazon.

Brian: [00:02:37] Yeah. So true.

Phillip: [00:02:37] You can say that again. I think some of it's from the... There aren't too many companies in the world that are a platform for so many things and mean something different to so many people. To my kids, Amazon is the thing that turns the lights on and off in our house. And, you know, it has a couple TV shows that they watch. And to other people, it's the infrastructure that runs their whole business and to some others still, it's the thing that's helping assist ICE in facial recognition. But I digress. It means so many different things to so many people. And I think people tend to also equate them to marketplaces, which I think is really where the core focus is for what you do.

Kiri: [00:03:22] Yes, exactly. I think that how Amazon helps ICE with facial recognition might need to be a separate episode for you. Just saying. Not my area of expertise.

Brian: [00:03:29] That's a trend. That's a trend in our show.

Phillip: [00:03:37] Yeah. Yeah. I'm curious. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about the focus of what you do, what you do specialize in in the world of Amazon and marketplaces and the kind of advice that you give to people who are trying to grow their business by using it either, as a direct channel or as part of a larger strategy.

Kiri: [00:03:55] Yeah. Well, that's a big question. So we typically, as an agency, and the people that I generally end up speaking with are mid market sized companies who have really established themselves either in brick and mortar retail through wholesale accounts or even through their own e-commerce direct channel. And they know that Amazon's important. They know that shoppers are searching for their products on Amazon and that it is a channel for them. They might have a little confusion around whether Amazon's just a distribution channel or also a marketing channel for that reason. And I'd love to talk a little bit about how it's really, Amazon's really grown into being both. But they recognize that Amazon is not a core competency for them, and so that then they're often going out and trying to find a consultant or an agency to help them. They might also be interested in hiring an internal person or team to accomplish the same thing. [00:05:01] There's lots of different approaches to figuring Amazon out, but I think it starts and ends with education. If you're not educating yourself about the different business models with Amazon, if you're not educating you somewhere around the different programs, and there's a million programs coming and going every week. The most recent one, which is really interesting, is sort of a hybrid of their wholesale model and their retail model where Amazon is setting the price of products on their platform. And if you're a merchant who is just using their FBA infrastructure, Amazon will set the price for you, and pay you a guaranteed amount for that sale. But then that means that they can change the price however they want according to market forces. [00:05:51] And so with a program like that, you read about it in the news, and as a brand you like, "OK, well, that's that's interesting. But what does that mean for me? Should I do it? Like what's the downsides? What's the upside here?" It's really difficult with all of the news and the changes to know what is the best approach for me and my brand given our margin, given our retail relationships, given our customer base, given our business priorities, it gets complicated real fast.

Brian: [00:06:24] Yeah. That's it's quite confusing. Like there's so many different things you can take advantage of at Amazon. And navigating through their different services and programs and offerings. And it can be challenging, especially if you're introducing a new brand, or entering Amazon for the first time. It's pretty intimidating. How often are you seeing businesses enter Amazon for the first time or launch a business on Amazon? Is that something that you see come through a lot in your agency?

Kiri: [00:07:00] After doing this have four and a half years, going on five, I'm still really surprised at the number of brands, like household name brands, that come to us and say "We haven't really been engaging with Amazon. We've been dialing it in for the last few years. No one's really looked at it. We just fill out the purchase orders, and that's it." And I'm still shocked with the prospects that come to us. And some of these brands I'm like, "Wait, you haven't figured it out?" And it is still surprising to me that some quite large brands have not really invested in the channel. And then, of course, there is a, we were just joking before the show that [00:07:54] a lot of the information that you find about Amazon is really written or geared towards a wantrapreneur crowd. And because Amazon has kind of become this cottage industry for early stage entrepreneurs to launch a brand and like just stick their label on something from Alibaba and try and generate sales on Amazon through that method. Which there isn't anything wrong with that, per-se, it's just that most of the information, the volume of information that's out there, is really written for that crowd. So if you're a mid-sized company and you're trying to figure this out, it's difficult to get good quality up to date information. [00:08:36]

Brian: [00:08:37] That's really interesting. As a consumer, I feel that, you know what I mean? Like as a shopper on Amazon. Which, by the way, I need to go back and do some analysis of my shopping online. But I think I'm probably pretty consistent with the average shopper where like 50% of my online shopping is actually through Amazon. If not, maybe more.

Kiri: [00:09:00] Yeah.

Brian: [00:09:01] Because that's the most recent number. I think it was like 48 or 49% of all online shopping in the US was done on Amazon. Which is just crazy. And actually it's crazy, 50% of that is through the third party marketplace. So there's a huge opportunity. I can't believe that more people aren't selling through the marketplace or just coming on marketplace for a first time. Given that is 25% of the entire web sales go through that third party marketplace on Amazon. It's like skipping the Internet, almost.

Kiri: [00:09:44] Yeah. Well, that's a question that I have for you guys because I guess you're not purely just talking about e-commerce on this show, but you talking about retail, and with Amazon comprising 50% of all e-commerce, you don't talk about Amazon as much in relation to that breakdown, it seems to me.

Phillip: [00:10:10] Well, I mean, definitely there is a bit of a gap on our expertise there. I would say that we do talk about consumer brands. And it's interesting that in this day and age, you know, the place of discovery for some consumer brands for a good portion of the population is I think Anchor has become a household name, especially for aftermarket or sort of OEM style parts and accessories for electronics. And that's a brand that I think gained their notoriety and their direct to consumer strategy from the foothold that they had on Amazon. So I think that the sense of the perception is changing, but the playbook isn't so established for a brand that launches purely on Amazon to scale out.

Kiri: [00:10:53] Yes. And that's an example when we're talking about brands that got their start on Amazon. Anker is kind of the lone, suddenly the biggest example, but there isn't a whole lot of other examples out there that show just how deep Anker went on Amazon, used it as a platform for R&D, and figuring out what their slogan looks like, what customers want, and how to do basically everything. They squeezed every last drop out of Amazon, and now they're in 30 countries, airport stores, Best Buy, everywhere you can buy electronics. But I think due to the relative maturity of the platform, even though Amazon's been, in a retail sense, around for 20 years, we're only really probably just starting to experience those brands who are Amazon first really coming out into the wider world. [00:11:55] Because I think what I also hear from a lot of brands that sell on Amazon, as having Amazon as their primary revenue stream, is that they get addicted to Amazon. And doesn't that just sound like what happens to consumers as well? Amazon is creating this addictive product not only for consumers, but for brands themselves.  [00:12:16]

Brian: [00:12:16] Yes.

Phillip: [00:12:16] Yes. My sense is with, at least consumer brands on Amazon, yeah, they get addicted. [00:12:20] But I think that now with Amazon's paid performance platform, where you have now an infusion of brands that do have capital backing who can compete for top position, you also have an organic problem on Amazon that brands are going to have to figure out how to navigate, where you use that pay for performance is also addicting. And we see it in other areas like direct to consumer where you have massive venture backing is fueling higher customer acquisition costs and lower return on investment. And so a lot of the strategy shifting to retention marketing, and I wonder how you do that in the world of Amazon where you don't necessarily control that relationship with the customer. [00:13:09] I'm not sure if that's something that comes up on your end of the business very often.

Kiri: [00:13:14] Yeah. [00:13:15] That is a major downside of Amazon from a brand's perspective is the loss of any direct relationship with the customer. And I find this, to be critical of Amazon for a second, which might end up being more than just a second... They speak out of two sides of their mouth on this issue. On one hand, they don't want merchants or sellers to be able to interact directly with customers. And in their language, they just refer to "our customers," Amazon's customers, over and over again, like this is not your customer that's buying your product from you. This is our customer. And you're using our platform to get that sale, so they're our customer. But then with regulatory issues like all of this hoo ha around sales taxes and who's required to collect sales taxes, and Amazon keeps saying, well, we're just a platform. We are just bringing sellers and customers together and facilitating the transaction. That's all we're doing. So we shouldn't be required to do all this tax administration. But then they keep talking about "our customer." [00:14:31] No, you can't contact them. No, you can't re market to them. No, you can't like drive them off our platform. So, you know, I think that all of this tax scrutiny is going to come to a head pretty, I think pretty soon. There's just so much of a spotlight on Amazon around taxes, antitrust, all this stuff that, you know, that the government is coming after them on. Something's going to have to give there. But this, to go back to the original [00:14:59] question, this problem of having a connection with the customer is a massive issue that most brands have with the platform, because that's what they're conceding at the end of the day is data, and having that customer list. You just can't have it on Amazon. [00:15:20] I will also say that on the data front, they have started to really open this up quite significantly, but only on the seller side. So they've launched all these new metrics, like a particularly interesting one early this year, called New to Brand. And it's for all of the orders that you got through advertising. You can see how many of those shoppers bought from your brand for the first time on Amazon. So that's a really interesting metric that was never available before. And this goes to the point of looking at Amazon not only as a distribution channel, but as a marketing channel. And this is a customer acquisition metric. And Amazon started to share this, and it really surprised me. But the reason why is that Amazon is building a very profitable advertising platform, like you said. And this is one way of showing advertisers, "Hey, if you spent more money on advertising... 10% of orders came from new customers. Don't you want to increase that?" [00:16:38] So I think that all of the metrics that they are launching now look great, and I'm glad that this sharing more data, but it still all comes back to them building this advertising business, which is exciting, but yeah... [00:16:59]

Brian: [00:16:59] It's Amazon-centric. It's sort of selfish.

Phillip: [00:17:05] And full disclosure, Brian was formerly employed at Amazon, so we'll keep that in mind.{laughter}

Brian: [00:17:15] You know, I actually think there's another sort of discrepancy in the messaging here, which is that [00:17:22] you see Amazon encouraging brands to do brand building on the platform. With no connection to your customer, brand building can be a very empty echo chamber. [00:17:38] And so you see on Prime Day, Lady Gaga launch her beauty brand on Amazon. What kind of message does that send to the rest of the market around how you should be using Amazon to sell? Have you talked to any of your customers about that launch? And what you think that means for how Amazon's going to proceed going forward? Because I think it's pretty groundbreaking.

Kiri: [00:18:09] Yeah. This has two messages to me. One is Amazon's private label strategy. And this upsets a lot of brands, because if you're Casper, and you're spending all this money on Amazon, you're spending media dollars there, and everything's good. And then next minute, Amazon launches their own private label mattress that's like two hundred and fifty dollars... That doesn't seem right to a lot of brands. Now, having said that private label in a retail store environment has been around forever. And Amazon is not doing anything particularly different to what a Target would do. Like a Target would have all this data around what products are selling well, where is there are gaps in our assortment? Okay, let's go and create a private label brand in that space. Amazon's really doing the exact same thing, but it just for some reason, it really sticks in the craw of these brands on a different level, I think. And I think it's just because the extent of data that Amazon has about shoppers seems more significant. And my hypothesis on this having looked at the spread of Amazon private label brands and where they kind of fall from a dollar comparison standpoint, [00:19:44] it's my strong belief that Amazon is really trying to fill in gaps in their assortment rather than become an OEM manufacturer. I don't think they've got a particular interest in like being, you know, creating a house of brands or anything like that. I think that they're just trying to fill in the gap between the cheap stuff directly from China and the big national brand that is riding on their hundred year history. Amazon's coming in, identifying gaps and saying, "No one's in that space. We want to keep customers on our platform as much as possible. And so we really need a product at a $32 price point because there's no one playing there right now." [00:20:27] And then the second point about the Lady Gaga's Haus Laboratories brand is how [00:20:33] Amazon is looking more like a social media channel every day. Have you noticed that there's like editorial reviews, there are influences everywhere, there's store fronts, there's live video like QVC...? [00:20:47]

Phillip: [00:20:45] Oh yeah.

Kiri: [00:20:47]  [00:20:47]And so this is a big push to Amazon's doing into content. [00:20:51] And they've just never been that great at top of funnel stuff, to be honest. Like, it's always been very, quite transactional and really good at that mid lower funnel part of activities. But in terms of product discovery, they have not really done that great of a job. And so if they're looking to build this massive advertising powerhouse, which I think they can and should and will, then they need to be doing more. They need to have more offerings at that top of funnel level. [00:21:22] So I think that that is why they're working with more influencers, doing live video, doing more editorial content, all of that stuff. I think all paths lead back to their ad platform. [00:21:33]

Phillip: [00:21:33] I think they're also learning, in some ways, from other modern brands who are competing for the attention of the consumer. The consumer wants to be entertained 24/7. And believe it or not, there's not enough means of actual brand focused or brand centered content. That's why you see lots of brands rushing there. I was watching a 2 p.m. Web Smith and Shoelace webinar yesterday about how digitally native brands can linearly scale themselves out of having to be addicted for pay for performance. And there was really interesting maturation of brands that have been around that are performance marketing centered brands who are building content platforms. And I think you see that the other end of the scale where it's not just from, you know, the Outdoor Voices of the world who are, you know, putting out content, or Mailchimp puts out content now. They've got video. But it's also [00:22:41] Amazon has to make their platform stickier to keep people engaged because everybody's competing for attention or real estate in the psyche of the consumer. And I think that's a really interesting problem to have to solve for, because eventually the skin care brand that, you know, could have been successful on Amazon as a direct play now has to compete with Lady Gaga's fame and this sort of press that goes along with that. And I think that that's a really interesting conundrum. [00:23:11]

Brian: [00:23:12] Did you watch Amazon TV at all? Have either of you watched Amazon TV?

Phillip: [00:23:17] No.

Brian: [00:23:19] They basically had an almost QVC sort of style, a live TV show running throughout Prime Day. And I didn't know that you can just go watch it, I think, anytime?

Kiri: [00:23:29] Yeah.

Brian: [00:23:30] I should double check that. But this is yet another way that upcoming brands can sort of spend money with Amazon and get their products highlighted and featured.

Kiri: [00:23:42] Yes.

Brian: [00:23:42] I watched it for like maybe two minutes on Prime Day just to kind of get a feel for it. And it was like. Wow. They're just going through the lightning deals one by one effectively, and they're talking about the most random of products. This is clearly a pay to play channel. So I think that what Amazon's doing, and this is back to your point, Phillip, is they're offering a lot of different ways that they use these brands can leverage the Amazon platform to get their products noticed. And so let's say, you know, price gets driven up in one area. They're making other avenues available to maybe brands that don't have as much spend to help them still be successful on Amazon. I think that eventually it will all be overtaken. But a lot of these channels are relatively new. So like you said, Phillip, as brands with backing come in and start to really like drive up price, then it might be difficult for some fo these smaller brands to compete. That said, a lot of these brands with backing, I don't know that they necessarily want to sell on Amazon. That might be the one sort of like balancing factor here. A lot of, you know, digitally native vertical brands that we've seen introduced have stayed away from Amazon very purposeful.

Kiri: [00:25:06] Yeah.

Brian: [00:25:07] Because the cost of acquisition is high, and then you're not actually acquiring a customer. That's the other thing.

Kiri: [00:25:13] Right. Not your customer.

Brian: [00:25:14] Because if you want to build a brand on Amazon, you're not acquiring customers, you're just maybe you don't see a flood of money come in.

Phillip: [00:25:21] I'm curious what Kiri thinks. She was talking in our preshow about the spectrum of involvement in Amazon, and personas of companies that exist out there. Could you go into that a bit?

Kiri: [00:25:30] Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So there's a spectrum of involvement between actively invested on Amazon, which I'd put Anchor into that camp, which we already discussed briefly. But essentially what they did, they launched on Amazon, they were only selling through Amazon for years, and they used, really smart about it, scanning their product reviews and competitive product reviews for specific feedback on what they needed to update about their products. And using all of that customer data and qualitative and quantitative data to inform what they were going to launch next or what new products category they would go into next, and now they're this very successful brand. And not for nothing, like 10 years ago when Anchor was doing this, there was not nearly as much data available to them as there would be today. So I think if Anchor could have done it back then, in a cut throat category of consumer tech accessories, I think it's certainly possible to do the same thing. And we'll see just how many other examples pop up. That's certainly the most notable. And then we've got on the other end of the spectrum, actively unengaged with Amazon. And to your point, Brian, these new retail, digitally native vertical brands are not on Amazon. Glossier and Away have both kind of come out and said we're not going to be on Amazon because we want a connection with our customer. Ultimately, that was their rationale. So I think that in the case of those two, suitcases and makeup, there's nothing really super proprietary about those products. What they are riding on in that case is this extremely strong, loyal brand that they have built. And I think that that's interesting. I'm interested to hear you guys thoughts on how sustainable that is over the longer term. And then there's also some brands that I would say have more of a moat around their brand because their products aren't suited to an Amazon environment because of personalization. And there's two examples of this I'd give. One is Care/of, which is a supplement company that was co-founded by the ex CMO of Bonobos, which is another non Amazon brand. And so Care/of is collecting customer information and personalizing the product to them. So if I say I'm a vegan, and I have an office job, so I don't get a whole lot of daylight, then they're going to make sure that my supplements are in a vegan formulation and have more vitamin D in my formulation or something like that. So that's one example of personalization. And the other one I like to talk about is Madison Reed, which is an at home hair coloring product. And they have been really successful because of their personalization onboarding experience with customers as well, because the big complaint in that category is finding the correct shade. And so Madison Reed does extensive sort of quizzes and things like that to make sure that the customer gets the right shade from the beginning. But that wouldn't be possible on Amazon, except if you knew your shade and you can repurchase. So, yeah, I'm curious to hear your guys thoughts, since you cover content so much for these digitally native brands. Do you think that someone like a Glossier or in Away, you know, if we're talking about 10 years later, will they be able to maintain that groundswell and maintain their loyalty enough to stay differentiated enough to not have to be on Amazon?

Brian: [00:29:28] That's a great question. And the answer is yes. I think...we actually predicted at the beginning of the year that brands now have the ability to put together a tech stack that is quite similar to Prime and also be able to build a brand separate from Amazon that really it makes Amazon... Amazon set the expectation for how brands have to interact with their customers in terms of logistics, fulfillment, and so on. And now brands can deliver on that for a price that's, you know, palatable. We've theorized that maybe even the cost of selling in brick and mortar is actually quite a bit more than putting together a tech stack as a mid-level retailer that is on par with an Amazon-like experience. So you can use Shoprunner, and personalization tools, and all of these different tools that give your customers a very similar experience. Now, obviously, Amazon is great because you can just find everything there. [00:30:39] But brands are building up relationships with customers that are... They're thinking about the lifetime of the customer, not single purchases at this point. So brands like Away, brands like Glossier, like you mentioned, and a ton of other brands that have actively decided not to use Amazon as a strategy have a million different ways of building up not just a loyal customer following, but ways of reaching new customers as well without the help of Amazon. [00:31:14]

Phillip: [00:31:15] I would kind of agree. I think the horizon is further out, though. I think the horizon is when a brand transcends the product... Right, because we have a lot of product focused brands right now. Nike is not necessarily.. when you think it is like the best marketing engine in the entire world, it belongs to a product company, like a company that actually is a manufacturer. Nike is excellent at this. And Nike themselves have created ways to be everywhere by expanding category and offering that is differentiated to the marketplace that they're in. They're in outlet. They're in premium. They do exclusives. They do direct to consumer. They you know, they are everywhere. And I think if you take the horizon out, 15 years maybe, a company like Allbirds, who is actively uninvested, might have a wide enough product category or have been purchased by a Nike to where a differentiation of the product to understand like I want to affiliate with the Allbirds brand, but it's not the Allbirds product that we know as the wool runner. There will be a way to expand into a category, and I think you could do this today with Away, or any of them could do it. I mean, even Tumi has a consumer brand. Tumi sells in outlet, and they're a luxury lifestyle luggage brand. So I think that if you take it out far enough, you know, the engine of need to grow and have more consumer adoption will necessitate playing in marketplaces like Amazon. But it's going to be a long time from now. And it will only happen when Samsonite, you know, finally comes around to acquiring Away, or something way more exciting than that. I would predict that Away is actually an acquisition of like a Hilton or a Marriott sort of, you know, in that it's part of the, it's the journey between, it's not just a consumer brand around the product, it's a journey between the act of being out in the world and traveling. But anyway... Yes, I think so. I think that you can do it. But it's going to take a little while for those brands to have to have reached a certain saturation in the marketplace that will necessitate them having to do it to grow.

Brian: [00:33:33] I think you're stumbling on something here, which was the acquisition piece. There's going to be a lot of [00:33:37] acquisitions. There are gonna be multiple, multiple acquisitions in this space. But you're going to see a lot of brand... You know, there's going to be a lot of additional innovation. Like, I don't think that bigger brands and conglomerates are just gonna own everything. Actually, it benefits them to just continually have a healthy set of up and comers that they can acquire when they want, and to maybe even invest in some of them. And sort of let them sit out there on their own. See how they fare. Have that startup culture, have that culture of innovation that is very difficult, very difficult to run in some of these big companies because of bureaucracy and so on and so... [00:34:26]

Phillip: [00:34:26] Entrenchment of ideas and that sort of thing.

Brian: [00:34:27] Exactly. Yes. [00:34:29] So it benefits them immensely to just let those other brands kind of go out there and win for a while until they feel like they've won enough where they can acquire them and definitely have a winner on their hands. [00:34:43] And so, yeah, definitely see a lot of success ahead. Some of these brands, like Phillip said, are going to be brands that we know for 15 years, and some of them are gonna be brands that get, you know, filtered into a product assortment of a larger brand. And sell on Amazon.

Kiri: [00:35:02] Well Samsonite...

Phillip: [00:35:04] We don't know how to shut up, Kiri. Sorry. We have a lot to say.

Kiri: [00:35:04] {laughter} No, it's all good. Well, Samsonite... I spoke with the Chief E-Commerce Officer at Samsonite, Charlie Cole, for my book, and they are very forward thinking with Amazon. And you think about like the Samsonite and Tumi brand's premium position in the market, they still feel like Amazon is a really important channel for them, even for luxury brands. And if you've rewound to five years ago, a lot of luxury brands would not have touched Amazon because they felt like it was sort of below them. And there's still a few categories, like beauty I think is one, where there's still some of that thinking going on right now, like in the luxury beauty space. But that whole positioning of Amazon, not just as a place to buy your day to day essentials and sundries, but as a place to discover and research and buy anything from a five hundred dollar suitcase all the way down to you like your toilet paper. So I can't really think of another company that is able to span so many demographic thresholds and spending thresholds and different types of products like that. It is pretty fascinating.

Brian: [00:36:39] Yeah, that's awesome. By the way, we love Charlie Cole, a friend of the show. He was on a month or two ago.

Kiri: [00:36:46] Oh, good.

Brian: [00:36:47] Speaking of your book, I'd love to hear more about "Amazon for CMOs." What's it all about?

Kiri: [00:36:52] Yeah. So "Amazon for CMOs" is co authored with my friend and colleague, Mark Power, who also runs an Amazon agency. But we're still friends. And so we just saw this real phenomenon happening where a lot of the frank and honest conversations about Amazon between executives at these sort of mid-sized brands is happening behind closed doors, at happy hours, at retail conferences, and so if you're going to get some really good advice from someone, it's really based on your network and how often you can meet up with these people. So we wanted to put a resource together for executives at retail companies and even non endemic brands that, for example, Mitsubishi, who Mark interviewed for this book, as well. Mitsubishi doesn't sell their cars on Amazon, but they advertise there, and they capture that Amazon shopper through their media buying on Amazon. So we wanted to bring a guide back to this executive audience that was not just me and Mark's opinion of what you should do, or here's how this works, and this is what you need to do about that program. We wanted to really bring the voice of the industry into this book, as well, and talk about how different brands are actually doing it, how they're approaching innovation, how they're approaching the the walled gardens between Amazon, Facebook, and Google, and trying to make sense of, you know, where they're spending the money, and what is an effective channel. So we cover a lot of ground in the book from those aspects to really a requirement of the CMO, or whoever is really in charge of Amazon, to get the rest of their organization on board as well, [00:38:47] because it's not just the job of marketing. It's also there's big decisions and collaboration needed with your operations area, with logistics and customer service. You need to also have your sales group onboard, as well, so that you're all in sync across your different sales channels, in stores and whatnot. [00:39:06] So once we've sort of mapped out what do we needed to talk about here, what questions do people have, it blossomed into a pretty hefty book with about 15 interviews that we did with CMOs and executives largely at retail companies.

Brian: [00:39:24] Wow, that's super cool. I'm so excited to read this book. I love a good interview. And then hearing, you know, all these CMO's opinions in one spot sounds amazing to me. To be able to compare them and sort of contrast what they say. This is going to be a great book. I'm really looking forward to it. Congratulations.

Kiri: [00:39:47] Thank you. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:39:47] Where can people find the book?

Kiri: [00:39:48] Well on Amazon naturally? And we're launching on September 24th. We'll have Kindle, paperback, and we will certainly produce an audible version, as well. But I'm not sure that it's going to be fully ready for the 24th of September with the other versions. But if you want to get during this... I'm not sure what the show was going to air, but if you want to get a free copy of the Kindle version, we will be giving that away for free during the launch because interestingly, with books on Amazon, there's not as many rules around promotions and reviews as there are in other categories. That's a little hack I'll tell everyone about, but it's a little more of a Wild West than the rest of Amazon, which is interesting.

Brian: [00:40:40] That is interesting. Well, we like to close out the show with our favorite question, which is looking ahead to the next, you know, the near future and then also looking ahead maybe three to five years out, what do you see as the future for Amazon? Are they going to offer Prime, you know, on other people's sites? Or... What do you see ahead?

Kiri: [00:41:06] Oh, I see some external factors coming into Amazon's future and a lot of them around regulation and all the anti-trust speculation right now. So I actually believe that AWS is going to be spun off from Amazon. I think that that is the best division of their company to spin off. But I think that there's just so much scrutiny on Amazon now. It's only going to continue heating up. And I think that they will either be told or decide of their own volition to actually sort of break up the company a little bit in order to fly under the radar just a little bit more.

Brian: [00:41:49] Good prediction. I like that a lot. So you think AWS is gonna get split off for something like that?

Kiri: [00:41:54] Yeah, I think AWS is the best candidate because it will be able to stand on its own two legs. And then playing that out into what that looks like for retail, I mean AWS was built for Amazon internally initially, and I'm sure all of their infrastructure would be built on that system. So if AWS is then separated out, will the retail division have to stop paying market rates for AWS and then increase their cost basis for running retail? What do you guys think about that?

Brian: [00:42:31] Certainly been on my mind, I can say that.

Phillip: [00:42:33] There's an interesting dynamic there. I think one could look backward not too far in the past to see how antitrust in the United States has helped break apart companies like Ma Bell and eventually, you know, those companies all come back together. And now we're back to a big conglomerate. And so I think there is something like a cyclical nature here to that. I think you also have then a sort of, while they have a natural monopoly in some areas, you know, splitting them up might actually worsen than that in a bunch of ways, because they're probably beholden to other parts of the business to, you know, to create and innovate for Amazon internally. And if they were released from that, what else could they do that could deepen their stronghold to actually build for market need? And I think that that might be, I'm just pontificating, but I digress. Yeah. The next few years look like they're gonna be pivotal. Really, really interesting. And thank you, Kiri, so much for your time and all your expertise. It's been amazing to talk to you. I can't wait to read the book. And just as a reminder, for people who are listening, where can they find you online?

Kiri: [00:43:53] You can learn more about the book at And if you want to connect with me personally, the best place to do that is on LinkedIn. I think I'm the only Kiri Masters that will pop up in search.

Phillip: [00:44:10] Awesome. Thanks for joining us, and thank you for listening. We want you to lend your voice to this conversation. You can do that at  You can also like and subscribe anywhere we're podcast are found... Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Premium and on any Amazon powered smart speaker device with the phrase "Play Future Commerce podcast.".

Kiri: [00:44:30] Wohoo.

Phillip: [00:44:32] And as we now say, the future of commerce is what you make it.

Brian: [00:44:37] And we help you shape that future. Thanks for listening.

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