When we talk to prospective clients, we always hear the same thing: After finding a market gap and building up a consumer base, Amazon sellers are finally ready to turn to branding. Though costs need to be kept to a minimum when a seller first starts out, the story goes, investing in branding is a surefire sign that the company is moving into the next tier.
Unfortunately, old habits die hard. Project managers pay lip service to branding, but when it comes time to put their money where their mouths are, plans fall apart. Turns out the skills rewarded in the lower levels of e-commerce—e.g., frugality, boldness—are anathema to becoming a bigger player in the industry. To borrow an example from a different part of the tech sector, there is a reason Facebook dropped the motto “Move fast and break things” all the way back in 2014.
As every successful marketing professional knows, branding takes time. Even if you somehow develop a genius strategy in a single brainstorming session, it would be impossible to convey your desired image to the world overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Apple or Nike. Successful branding takes patience, a quality not particularly abundant in the world’s entrepreneurs.
Reluctance to spend money now for results down the line is the number one reason why Amazon sellers are hesitant to commit dollars to branding. But there is a philosophical reason as well. Many CEOs will say, and not without reason, that today’s shopping culture no longer rewards brand loyalty. Legacy brands like Levi’s and J.Crew sold quality clothing to satisfied customers for generations, a fact that puzzles anyone who has purchased their wares recently. Companies go bankrupt, and their brand names get watered down as they are passed around from holding company to holding company.
If branding doesn’t guarantee quality, then what is the point? Especially on Amazon, brand or no brand, aren’t all products subject to the whims of the almighty algorithm? Isn’t any money set aside for branding better spent researching “key terms” to try and win on search?
This logic, while understandable, is shortsighted. Having a strong brand is a fundamental step in making your products “algorithm proof.” For the most part, Amazon’s A9 algorithm rewards keywords and sales. If your brand becomes powerful enough that people are actually searching for it in addition to the title of the item, it benefits both of these criteria. People will not only be more likely to buy your product (leading to more sales), but they will also turn your brand name into a key term of its own.
In many aspects of society, trust has become hard to come by. Earning consumer trust may be harder today than ever before. But that does not mean it is not worth fighting for. Most companies have a sense of this, as they invest in email “loyalty programs” to seek out repeat business. These efforts always fall short. Consumers do not just want to be catered to, with coupons and early product access; they also want to feel understood. That is an impossible ask when many sellers make it painfully obvious they do not even speak English.
Developing a strong and successful brand is a process that takes longer than most managers would prefer to wait. The initial steps, however, can yield immediate results. Showing your customers that you care about who they are and the world they live in—this is Marketing 101. And it cannot happen from 8,000 miles away. That is, unless you have help from someone on the inside.