Monday, September 01, 2014

Successfully Marketing and Promoting A Consumer Product on Amazon … On a Shoestring

 A Budget-Conscious Guide for the First-Time Retail Entrepreneur

By Ned Barnett


Amazon is an amazing international marketplace – in some senses it has become the world’s largest flea market.  Its closest competition is eBay, which has dramatically increased their “Buy it Now” category, taking away the uncertainty of auctions.  However, Amazon – by virtue of its ability to pick-and-pack and ship (i.e., fulfill orders), it’s incredible trust factor among online purchasers, and its ability to collect money from credit cards – stands apart from eBay, which is primarily focused around PayPal payment systems (not surprising since eBay owns PayPal). 

Both can be effective, and both can work in tandem, but for the purposes of this evaluation, Amazon has some unique features ideal for the first time retail entrepreneur.

The following is a step-by-step guideline to effectively marketing and promoting retail consumer products being sold on Amazon.

Preliminary Steps

Product:  First, find or create a product. Many successful products are private-label versions of commercially-available products, some are custom-made (or manufactured exclusively on behalf of by the seller) and some are widely-available products purchased and resold without rebranding. 

Focus on one product, or one product line (variations on the same product), rather than trying to offer a wide range of differing products. A key reason for this is simple – each new product or product line will have to be promoted separately, to different and distinct audiences. 

Better, at least at first, to focus all of your marketing efforts – and your marketing investments – on a single product/product line.  Expand into other lines later, only after your first product line has reached a sales plateau.

Details of this product-selection process are really beyond the scope of this evaluation, but successful products are usually under $50, are uniquely-labeled (so there cannot be head-to-head price competitors) and something of a nature – or of a perceived premium quality – not easily available in local retail stores.

Storefront:  The next thing to do is set up a storefront arrangement with Amazon, complete with pick-and-pack and ship (fulfillment) arrangements and a means by which Amazon can pay you (i.e., how they can make payments into your checking account).  This is easy to do and the guidelines on Amazon are clear. 

Set-up:  Get the initial batch of product to Amazon, so they can begin fulfilling orders as they come in.

Now you’re in business and ready to start promoting your product or product line.

Marketing and Promotion

Marketing on a shoestring:  Marketing and promotion is everything you do to get people to your Amazon page, so they can buy your product.  Obviously, “free” is better than “paid” (in most cases), but sometimes you’ll have to pay, at least something, to get the word out.  Make sure that this is an investment with a positive ROI, rather than a cost of doing business.  And also remember this key to paid marketing and advertising – “anything worth paying for is worth getting for free” – which is why social networking and public/media relations are so effective, and so valuable.

Google Ad Words is a fairly safe way of advertising – since you’re paying for clicks or views or some other measure that could actually lead to sales, it has more potential than traditional print or broadcast ads. However, I don’t recommend this – it’s an option, and it might be a good one, but it’s not a “shoestring option.”

One other key here. Remember about “truth in advertising,” and know that there are Federal agencies looking for (and punishing) fraudulent claims.

And – if you’re selling dietary supplements, remember that the FDA will shut you down if you make unsubstantiated health claims.  Any claims you make should be “equivocal” – for instance, this “may help” or it “encourages” positive outcomes.  You can cite credible third parties who make claims unconnected to your product, but do be careful.

Press Releases:  This is a potent way of generating awareness and interest, especially if you are both regular and frequent in your creation of press releases.   However, to do so, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1.     They should be written as “news,” not as “commercials.” They should read as if they could be dropped into a newspaper, magazine or ezine as legitimate content.

2.     Whenever possible, cite third-party experts – research studies, for instance, or news from non-profit trade associations.  If you’re quoting from published research or information, include a link (for added credibility).

3.     While facts can be presented without “attribution,” opinions should be presented by a named spokesman, such as:  “our new breakthrough in the liposomal delivery of fat-soluble vitamins delivers 43 percent more bio-active vitamin molecules than capsules or pills,” according to Bob White, President of Liposomal Vitamins.  “This means you get more health benefits from our 1,000 mg vitamin than you would from 2,000 mg of any other vitamin on the market.”

4.     Your goal here is to get coverage – either by reprinting the release, or by interesting the editor or producer in a one-on-one interview for a longer article, or for broadcast purposes.

5.     Be sure you post your release (and coverage) on your website, and announce it on Facebook and other social networking sites.
Press releases can be posted on many free sites – Google “Free Press Release Placement Site” and you’ll get links to a number of free services.  They are worth what you pay for them, but they do help you get the word out.  When you do post a press release, also place it on your website, announce it on Facebook and in other social networking sites (see below) and even consider doing a video blog about the subject matter covered in the press release.
Wire Releases:  However, for really big news (and you should do this at least once per quarter – or more frequently if you have the budget), you should place it on a paid distribution service such as BusinessWire.  With BizWire, you have to select a geographic distribution – my advice is to pick the lowest-cost geographic area you can justify, rather than paying extra for going national.   There are three reasons for this:
1.     When you place a release on BizWire, it is automatically picked up by several hundred news-aggregator sites. Some are small, but Yahoo Business and MSN are included.

2.     When you use BizWire, you also get free distribution to all topically-appropriate distribution lists they have.  This puts your release in the hands of someone who might actually use it.

3.     You save money while getting most of the coverage you’d get from a higher-priced distribution on BizWire.
Of course, if your release gets picked up, post links on Facebook and Twitter and your Website, brag about it on Facebook groups, and do all you can to make sure the people who should know about it, do know about it.

Tapping into Breaking News: The news media is always looking for fresh new faces to help put breaking news into perspective – which means you, as an online retailer and expert in the product and its market space – might just fill their needs.  Here’s what you do:
·      Create Google Alerts for key words relating to your product and market space

·      When news breaks, if you have something to say, write a quick blog about it, summarizing your perspective on the news

·      Email the appropriate news media – or put out BizWire press release (if you have the budget) encouraging editors and producers to check out your blog, as an example of what you could say to their audience in an interview.  “Tease” it in the email – don’t give it all away – but get them to the blog.
I tested this approach out in 2008, and wound up on Cavuto (Fox) five times, on Imus five times, on 56 other radio programs and gave more than 100 print and online print interviews.  This approach works, but only if you’ve got something important to say. If not, wait for the next breaking news story – don’t risk your credibility by “commenting” on everything.
Product Reviews:  This is probably the most potent deal-closer you can have – favorable product reviews.  Once consumers find your product (because of your marketing, or through serendipity), a selection of intelligent, well-informed and favorable reviews will help sell the product.

To get reviews, enlist your network of family and friends, asking them to write reviews and post them to Amazon.  An important “hint.”  However, before they write their reviews, get them to buy the product first, then wait till it’s delivered. Amazon shows preference to reviews by people who’ve actually bought and received the product.  In addition, make sure the reviews are “in their own words,” and do something to relate their reviews to something about themselves.  This “personal testimonial” carries a great deal of weight.

For example, and in part of writing this guide, I reviewed a recent purchase from Amazon ( The product is a book about a fairly obscure WW-II British combat aircraft.  In the review, I noted that I’ve purchased (with satisfaction) other books by the same author, and also noted that my interest in this fairly obscure aircraft was a bit of a “guilty pleasure,” which will appeal to others with the same kind of interest.

You will want at least three strong and positive reviews to begin with. However, keep track, because if you get a negative review (hey, it can happen), you’ll want at least three more positive reviews to offset each bad review.

Also publish the reviews on your website and on your Facebook page, and link to them on Twitter and other social media sites. 

Testimonials:  Encourage satisfied clients to also create video blogs/ video testimonials/ video reviews that can be posted on Facebook and YouTube and on your website, and promoted extensively.  Video product reviews – when done naturally by “real people” (instead of actors or shills) can be very powerful.  Make sure they use their full name. Nobody gives any credence to “Bob W. of Omaha” – but some will give credence to “Bob White of Omaha, Nebraska” and all will give credence to a video testimonial that begins, “Hi, I’m Bob White, of Omaha, and I’d like to tell you about my experience with this great new product I found on Amazon.”

In creating testimonials (and also social media word-of-mouth), enlist family and friends, but also see if you can network with college students (for the right products, of course). There’s something about a “.edu” email account that seems to add credibility.  While you don’t want to wear out your friends, family and other contacts, do your best to enlist them to supporting you on an ongoing basis.

Website:  With the advent of WordPress (with design templates) and low-cost domains, it would be foolish to NOT have a website. Here, you can place product photos and product specs, kudos and testimonials from satisfied customers, press coverage about the product and the product’s market space, and – a link to Amazon where your product can be bought and fulfilled.

The Website should have the following:
·      About the Product
·      Link to Amazon under “Buy the Product”
·      FAQs about the Product
·      Kudos and Testimonials
·      Blogs and video blogs
·      Third-party research about the product (if appropriate)
·      A “News” section with
o   News about the product
o   Press releases you sent out
o   Press coverage you got
o   News about the industry or market space
·      About the company (optional, but potentially helpful)
·      Links to Social Media
·      Sign-up page for an e-Newsletter (which you should then create) – this is a way of capturing email information from prospective or ongoing clients

Two Keys to Social Networking Success:  People look for two things from Social Networking – content (new information) and conversation (humanizing and connecting on a personal level).  Both are important. Content draws them in, and conversation puts a human face on your product.  Anybody who posts a message to a blog (comment), Facebook post or Tweet, you should be sure to respond, and not in a “form letter” fashion.  This doesn’t mean you have to become pen pals, or be driven into endless debates – but it does mean you should be “social” (hence the name, “social media”).

Your goal should be to become a “Subject Matter Expert” (someone others turn to for information) or even a “Thought Leader” (someone others turn to for direction and advice).  To do this requires consistent high-quality content supported by at least the illusion of personal relationships.

Blogs, Video Blogs and “Content:” You can extend your reach by creating a Blogger Blog-Site (its free, and since Google owns Blogger, it gets scanned right away) about the product and its market space.  Write about the product. Invite users to write about their experiences with the product.  Write about research or other news in the product’s market space.  Keep writing.

Blogs can be as short as 250 words and as long as 1,250 words.  In writing and publishing blogs, frequency is more important than length – if it’s too long, break it down. I recently wrote one blog for a client, then broke it down into four blogs before we published it … and got roughly four times the mileage.
When you reprint these blogs on your website and on your Facebook page, change the headline and the first paragraph (this is for SEO reasons).

White Papers and Case Studies:  Longer content can be published as “white papers” and as “case studies” – these can be helpful, and should be reprinted or downloadable from your website. These should focus on research behind your product, or examples of successful use, or other useful content.

Others’ Blogs:  Also, seek out others’ blogs (on their own blogsites) and comment on them. This is considered an ethical and effective way to attract this other blogger’s audience to your blogsite.  Do one of two things:
·      Agree with the blog and respectfully add one or two additional points to the author’s message; or,

·      Respectfully disagree with the blog, then very respectfully offer two or three points for readers to consider.
In either case, be sure to add your own blogsite, website or Facebook site (but only one, not three) to your signature at the end of your comment.  And if you’ve also blogged on this subject, provide a link to your blog on that same topic.  Remember, be respectful, be helpful, be part of a conversation (never a confrontation) and it will help you attract people to your site.
Chat Rooms:  Participating in Chat Rooms is like commenting on others’ blogs, but in real time. If you’ve got the time (or can find students or others to make the time on your behalf), and if the chat rooms are “topical” to your product, this can help.  Or, like Twitter, it can become a vast time-sink, that offers no measurable return but takes up time that could be more profitably used posting to groups or finding other ways to invest your marketing time.
Books and eBooks:  Come up with a title for a book related to your product. Then, for each blog you write, indicate that it is taken from “the forthcoming book – Title.” This will give your blogs added credibility, and when you’ve got 20 or 30 or 50 blogs published, go ahead and pull them together into an eBook and publish it (free) on Amazon.  You will make money on it (not much), but you’ll also gain huge credibility with customers and the news media as a real “author.”
Video blogs:  These should be about the same topics as the written blogs, but they should NOT be spoken from a script – and they don’t need highly professional production standards. If a video blog looks over-produced, it will be deemed “commercial” and actually lose credibility.  Video blogs can run from 90 seconds to three minutes (five if you’ve really got something to say). If you need to go longer, it’s no longer a video blog – it’s a video (subtle difference).

Video blogs should go on your website, on YouTube, and with links, on Facebook and other social media. 

Facebook: You’ll want to put up a Facebook page about the product.  However, the rules about “corporate” pages on Facebook seem to change daily, so to keep from being obsolete, I’ll assume you either know how to do this or know a 15-year-old who can teach you how.  On this page, which will include a link to your product page on Amazon, you can post copies of product reviews that appear on Amazon, as well as comments from satisfied consumers, news about the product and its industry, copies of press releases and blogs and … well, you get the idea.  It becomes your Social Networking hub.

Paid Promotion On Facebook:  Facebook is now pushing paid promotion of your posts on Facebook.  They’ll offer it at a price, but the price is always negotiable. Do this rarely but occasionally, and only for the most important posts you’ve got (such as a new packaging or new feature for your product).  Don’t fall prey to them on every post, or you’ll be spending more than it’s worth.

FB Groups:  Also on Facebook, beyond your friends, you can join “groups” and post things on the groups.  Typically (though not always), groups frown on blatantly-commercial posts.  Start by getting yourself known on the group, by posting three-to-five new threads or comments that are directly relevant to the group (topically). Then you can start with “hey, look what I just found” … followed by the occasional research-based comment.  Also, this is a great place to enlist your family-and-friends network, getting them to join groups and post, too.

Does this work?  Yes! For one web-based client, I joined 200 topically-appropriate groups, reaching well over 100,000 total members (of course, not all members pay attention to each post, but that’s your “universe”) and, in the course of two months, we drove the unique users from under 3,000 to over 10,000, with an average of 3.5 visits per month and 40 page-views per visit.  Those, for a web-based business, are great numbers.

Provide a link to each new e-Newsletter you create, and invite “friends” to sign up (this way you capture their email info, not just their Facebook contact info).

Twitter:  You pretty much have to be on Twitter, if only because it’s expected of you.  Here are a few tips:
·      Tweet links to your Facebook page announcing new blogs and other new content. 

·      Write at least three times per week (and as often as 18 times per week) helpful brief information based around your product.

·      This comes to three per day on business days, two on Saturday and one on Sunday.

·      Vary the times of day to reach the maximum number of your followers.

·      Use Hootsuite to write and pre-post a month’s worth of Tweets to help you avoid having to come up with something new each day.

·      Always respond to anyone who writes to you on Twitter, if only a thank-you or acknowledgment

·      If news breaks in your field, search for relevant “hashtag” trends and post your comments about this news.

·      Frequently (but not always) post tiny-url links back to your website or Facebook site

  Create a “Network” on YouTube (it’s free) and post all your video blogs, longer videos, TV news coverage about your product or its market space, customer video testimonials, etc.  The rest of what you can do on YouTube is covered under “Video Blogs” (above).

The Rest of the “Also-Ran” Social Media Sites (Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin, etc.):
  These all have some merit, and all take some time. Use them as you deem appropriate to your product, your time and your interest level.  However, don’t go into one of these halfway – either commit to it or steer clear.

Packaging:  In your product packaging, put in information about your website, your Facebook page and other sites – Amazon won’t give you the name of the customers who buy your product, but if you include information in your packaging, you’ll still reach them.

eBay:  While Amazon does offer fulfillment (which is valuable for those who don’t want to spend their lives in the basement or garage, packaging orders for shipment – and because of the volume shipping deals they can negotiate, it actually costs less than DIY), there is still value in putting your product on eBay, not as an auction item, but as a “Buy it Now” item.

You can set your own shipping price (to cover your hard costs, at least).  The value here is to make sure you reach people who you’d miss on Amazon.  This is not an alternative to Amazon, but a useful add-on, to make sure you don’t miss out on business.

Measuring and Tracking:  To the best of your ability, figure out what promotion works – then focus all your efforts there. Not all marketing works immediately, but if you give it time, and after a fair trial, if an approach doesn’t seem to work – cut it and focus on what does work.


Amazon is a remarkable resource for the start-up retail entrepreneur. Do it right and, if you picked the right product, you’ll be amazed at what you can generate in terms of income.  But the keys are:
·      Pick the right product

·      Do the right marketing

·      Cash the checks
Good luck!

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