Amazon’s marketing strategy: 5 ways to win on social
Whether you work in digital marketing or not, Amazon is a fascinating company. According to Forbes’ 2018 ranking, it is one of the top 10 most valuable brands in the world, along with giants such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Toyota. Yet the platform is not done conquering, and has been spreading its reach in multiple sectors way beyond simple e-commerce. At a time when big retail chains like Payless, Gymboree and Shopko are closing physical stores by the hundreds, what can we learn from Amazon’s marketing strategy?
In this article, we’ll look at five marketing tactics used by Amazon to maximize its performance on a global scale, from partnerships with social media platforms to its Amazon Prime loyalty program and its specific strategy on social.
Table Of Contents
1. Amazon: The Queen of Cross-Platform Promotions
2. The Evergrowing Amazon Prime Community
3. Amazon’s strategy on social media
4. Amazon Reviews: a Social Network of Its Own
5. The Amazon science of recommendation
Amazon: The Queen of Cross-Platform Promotions, from Instagram to Twitter
One of Amazon’s biggest strengths lies in its ability to promote its products on other platforms. The retail giant successfully manages to leverage the popularity of other channels to lead back to Amazon product pages.
Did you know that Amazon partnered with Snapchat to create a visual search tool? Using their Snapchat camera, users will now be able to scan an actual object or its barcode, prompting the pop up of a detailed product card. With just one click, the user will be redirected to the Amazon platform to buy the scanned product.
Then there is Amazon’s affiliates program: users are now allowed to insert affiliate links to promote the products displayed in their boards.
On Instagram, you can of course add a link to your story or profile to lead back to an Amazon product page. But the platform has taken this whole concept a step further with the introduction of its Influencer program.
The idea is to let selected social media influencers create their own “storefront” on the Amazon platform with all their favorite or recommended products, and to give them a commission whenever someone converts from the page. This added incentive redirects traffic from their social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube to the Amazon universe.
This system is however bound to evolve in the long term with the rise of Instagram Checkout, which will force Amazon to find ways to maintain its conversion rate without leaving the social media platform.
Action point: when do people crave new products? When they see them in their everyday life, either through their peers or a window display. Rather than trusting the consumer to eventually end up on its platform, Amazon has found a way to hijack the consumer journey by giving them the shortest path to product purchase. Analyze your target audience and identify the channels where it spends the most time online - how can you make their customer journey simpler?
The Evergrowing Amazon Prime Community
At first look, you may wonder how Amazon Prime differs from the discount cards we all sign up for at our local supermarket chains. But, it is much more than your average discount membership. There are countless advantages: signing up for the service means faster delivery, more discounts, even access to a whole world of exclusive media content...
Straight up, bless Amazon Prime. That ish has saved me on more than one occasion. Thank you for letting me procrastinate until the last possible moment. You a real one. #NotAnAd— Lilly Singh (@IISuperwomanII) July 8, 2018
That faster shipping is one of the main reasons why people accept to pay about $100 a year for their Amazon Prime membership. Yet Amazon has managed to make so much more out of this community of consumers.
Once you’re in the Amazon Prime orbit, you irresistibly find yourself drawn to other types of products and services. Let’s just have a quick look at some of these Amazon offers and how they translate into actual marketing tactics:
Faster shipping: 2 days or less. That’s really fast. And it is one of the main reasons new customers sign up for the program. The fact they’re able to get the products they want in under two days, makes it almost as convenient as buying a product at your local store.
Discounts in online and physical grocery stores: Big savings. All of your grocery shopping can also be done via Amazon at a discounted rate, whether you prefer shopping online or visiting Amazon’s recently acquired Whole Foods supermarket chain.
Access to content: Binge-worthy media. Endless videos, movies, series, ebooks, and music, all take a significant market share away from companies such as Netflix, Hulu or Spotify.
And many more.
N.B. This might be why Hulu and Spotify have recently teamed up for a joint offering!
The marketing tactic here is clear: diversification. Amazon Prime is used as a way to generate income from other sources than the mere e-commerce platform.
The numbers are even more telling when it comes to the ROI of Amazon Prime: in 2017, Prime members spent an average $1300 a year on Amazon, almost twice as much as regular customers. The subscription revenues of the program are equally staggering: with 100 million people signed up for Prime in 2018, the e-commerce giant collected a total $3.96 billion US dollars in the last quarter of 2018 alone.
The company even created a specific “day” to offer discounts to its community and raise its profile: Amazon Prime Day. Or at least it used to be just a single day, back when it was introduced in 2015 to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of Amazon (and of course, as a marketing campaign to boost summer sales). The event has grown to last over 36 hours in 2018 (for a total 4.18 billion dollars in sales), and we have yet to see how long the “day” sale will span in 2019.
Overview of the online mentions and engagement
surrounding Amazon Prime Day in July 2018
(data collected using Talkwalker Quick Search)
The goal here is clear: this event is meant to convince more Amazon customers to buy a subscription to Amazon Prime, so they can benefit from these great deals, which, the platform claims, are even better than those offered around the Black Friday period.
Action point: what Amazon does best is focusing on the customer experience. In this case, they correctly identified that their core advantage is to provide all the products a person could want in one convenient place. Amazon Prime allows its members to take that experience one step further. Be like Hulu and Spotify: find new partners for your loyalty program and build your own tribe or community that will address different areas of the life of your consumers!
Amazon marketing strategy analysis: what about social?
When it comes to social, there are two sides to Amazon’s strategy. We’ve already discussed the earned mentions and traffic in previous sections, but how about the platform’s own social media marketing channels?
Amazon's marketing strategy on Twitter
Main Twitter handle: @amazon
Twitter followers: over 3 million
Mainly used for: (humorously) engaging with customers (149 replies over the last 30 days, versus 3 regular tweets and retweets).
Some days it was a little ruff! pic.twitter.com/HukJjUMOOJ— Amazon.com (@amazon) February 14, 2019
Amazon just seems to love Twitter. Aside from the company’s main account, which counts over 3 millions followers, the e-commerce platform has literally dozens of official accounts for different purposes (e.g. @AmazonHelp for support questions, @AmazonNews for company updates, etc.), for different products and services like Amazon Pay or Amazon Echo, as well as for different geographical markets (@amazonmusicjp for the Japanese market, @AmazonMusicIN for the Indian market, etc.).
Amazon’s marketing strategy on Facebook
Official page: Amazon.com
Number of followers: 28.3 million
Mainly used for: company updates & product promotion through a comprehensive video strategy.
The official Amazon Facebook page seems to also be a crucial customer touchpoint, with tens of thousands of external posts and comments being published every month. Amazon uses their official Facebook page to promote their company news, and feature product promotions through influencers of all sizes.
Social media analytics from Amazon’s official Facebook page
(data collected by Talkwalker from March 9 to April 8, 2019)
The social media managers do not post very frequently (8 posts in the last 30 days), but seem to have a strong predilection for videos on this specific platform (75% of all content published in the last 30 days).
These analytics corresponds to a wider trend in digital marketing: the rise of video content. By 2021, 80% of all online content is expected to be in video format, which will present new challenges for brands in terms of content creation and analytics.
Amazon’s marketing strategy on Instagram
Official page: @amazon
Number of followers: 1.7 million
Mainly used for: interviews with artists and authors & product promotion through video content.
Amazon’s strategy on Instagram is very similar to how it uses Facebook, except for company news updates. However, their creative use of Instagram stories also allows them to promote interviews with artists, authors and influencers, with the option to swipe up to purchase their music, books or other items on Amazon.
Screenshot from Amazon’s
Instagram Stories’ Highlights
Amazon’s marketing strategy on Pinterest
Main account: Amazon
Number of followers: 79,686
Mainly used for: product promotion through thematic mood boards.
On its Pinterest page, Amazon groups a selection of its best products in several thematic lifestyle buckets such as Back to College, Wedding Registry Finds or In the Kitchen to attract different consumer groups back to its own product listings. You’ll note however that Amazon’s community is significantly smaller than on other networks. Also, when compared to some direct retail competitors such as Target (over 792,000 followers) or Walmart (over 295,000).
Amazon’s marketing strategy on Twitch
Main account: AmazonGames
Number of followers: 18,340
Mainly used for: promotion of Prime community games.
You may have heard of Twitch, a live-streaming platform well-known in the gamers’ community which has become more and more mainstream with the rise of the esport disciplines. However, did you also know that Amazon owned Twitch? It bought the platform all the way back in 2014 for a little less than $1 billion US dollars.
In the last five years, Twitch has become an integral part of the Amazon DNA by becoming yet another bullet point on the list of Amazon Prime benefits. Prime members get access to free games.
Action point: set up a monitoring system of the social pages of your competitors so you can analyze your audiences and compare digital strategies. Your social media pages are the places where your consumers will interact most with your brand, and you need to be able to compare your performance on each of these platforms.
Amazon Reviews: a Social Network of Its Own
Amazon reviews are a fascinating ecosystem that develops within the platform’s product pages. As you know, every customer has the option to post reviews of a product he or she purchased, or a seller he or she has interacted with, in either written or video form.
Amazon was one of the first platforms of its kind to offer such a system back in 1995. At the time, “many people thought the Internet retailer had lost its marbles”. The idea of letting customers rant about their purchases on a public platform was simply unthinkable. Here we are decades later, with hundreds of millions of Amazon reviews accumulating in every corner of the platform and significantly influencing the purchasing behavior of 93% of consumers, according to a 2017 survey conducted by Podium.
Amazon Reviews will have you reading 3,486 comments just to order a shower curtain— 73-9 and they LIED 🏁 (@CuffsTheLegend) January 1, 2019
Yet as the social networks it so resembles, Amazon has had to deal, over the years, with the headaches of fake or paid-for content that damaged the integrity of the review system. The first step to fight inappropriate reviews was to give the option to visitors to rate the reviews of others, based on their helpfulness (or lack thereof).
NPR spoke with several people who write Amazon reviews for pay, from a college student in Puerto Rico to a stay-at-home mother in the Midwest: https://t.co/uDQhTuciKn— NPR (@NPR) July 30, 2018
Then the platform got much more serious, with a sensational crackdown in October 2016 (then a second, similar one in 2018), that saw hundreds of thousands of reviews being removed from the platform, and several of its most prominent reviewers’ accounts being blocked by Amazon.
Back in 2017, a former Amazon top reviewer shared her experience in Digiday’s Confessions series: “Prior to the crackdown, vendors could provide you with an item for free so that you could review it for them. Since that policy change, vendors are not allowed to do that [other than for books], and reviewers are not allowed to accept items for free in exchange for a review. So, if one was reviewing in order to get free items to review, it affects them a great deal. I know that a top reviewer was removed by Amazon recently all of a sudden, for no reason.”
Action point: get real. Amazon’s review system can best be compared to the current state of influencer marketing: customers are wary of fake or paid-for reviews, and are looking for authentic feedback from their peers. Look for ways to create memorable (and shareable experiences) that will give an incentive to micro-influencers to share their experience with their social circles, rather than paying celebrities to push sponsored products.
The Amazon science of recommendation
Do you remember the last time you clicked on an Amazon recommendation? They are so innocuous, appearing at different stages of the customer journey to suggest that you may also like another Amazon product. Or worse: other customers also bought this other item. Are you missing out?
This strategy is working out quite well for the platform with a staggering 35% of what customers purchase on Amazon being issued from its recommendation engine, according to McKinsey.
One of the specificities of the AI technology that powers these recommendations is that it feeds on account data from all Amazon services - from your Whole Foods purchases to the questions you ask Alexa. Amazon has successfully broken down its data silos to provide its customers with a cohesive experience, no matter how they interact with the e-commerce giant.
Amazon recommendations also appear at different moments of the customer journey. Prospects will not only find a customized Amazon homepage heavy with products they might like, but will also encounter specific suggestions on the product pages they visit, in the search engine recommendations, as well as when they’ve just paid for a product.
But that’s not all. Email marketers, this is for you: Amazon’s most efficient recommendations are actually the ones that arrive directly in the mailbox of its previous customers. Here’s a great article with a detailed example of Amazon’s emailing strategy, as analyzed by a fellow digital marketer in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
Our fellow marketer admires the different angles of attack presented in this series of follow-up emails sent by Amazon after she considered buying the camera in the platform (best sellers for different brands, sweepstake, deal of the day on previously visited product, etc.).
Yet she deplores the low level of personalization shown in the email: the deal of the day was not available to her region of the world and required Prime membership, her name was only twice in a series of 10 emails, etc. All of these weaknesses could have easily been fixed through better segmentation of their emailing database, and probably increased their conversion rate.
Action point: digital transformation is key to personalization at scale. Segment your audience and customize your messages as much as you can. Your customers do not want to be presented with irrelevant information. AI-driven technologies make it easier than ever for businesses to provide customers with a uniquely personal journey.
Amazon, the ultimate consumer-centric brand
Since the creation of the platform back in 1995, Amazon’s vision has been “to be Earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
Over 20 years later, that focus on the customer is still alive and well, as exemplified by the focus on experience we find in all of the tactics described. Amazon has become a standard and inspiration for all online marketers who want to take their brand to the next level.