A Brave New Retail World: New Options for Brands to Drive Traffic to Amazon
Last month, Google changed its sitelink extensions policy, officially allowing brands to link product ads to select store pages they don’t own, starting with Amazon.com and Best Buy. This news represents another milestone in the transformation of e-commerce; another puzzle piece clicking into place for brands building a holistic, multichannel digital strategy. With this sanction, the growing number of brands that prefer customers to complete the purchase process on Amazon can more efficiently guide them there.
After a whirlwind couple of years for retail digital marketers, search might be only one of many channels that come to mind among the growing number of sponsored product and shopping advertising options revolutionizing e-commerce today. Still, search remains the largest, and by many measures the most effective, piece of the digital pie, well-recognized for capturing and converting high-purchase-intent customers. Taking a note or two from social advertising by offering increasingly visual ad types and optimizing for a mobile-first shopper, paid search can help e-commerce brands considerably. But whereas other publishers, like Facebook and Bing, have long allowed brands the flexibility to link to third-party sites from their product ads, Google strictly limited sitelinks to advertiser-owned properties. This policy may have helped deter fraudulent advertising when it was rife, but also kept some brands from being able to guide their customer pathways to purchase — something they’ve now grown to expect.
Retail’s Transformative Moment
Just a few years ago, many brands that didn't sell direct to consumer had relatively limited success with digital marketing. Options for generating demand and driving traffic to their products were few and largely dependent on the retailers that sold for them. Measuring efforts and investments was even fuzzier, and these brands — many of them major household names — struggled to make a strong business case for the return on investment of digital channels. Even as consumer behavior shifted to digital and mobile, ad budgets were better spent driving awareness and brand affinity at the top of the funnel through more traditional channels like TV and out-of-home.
A couple significant disruptions changed that trajectory. Forward-thinking direct-to-consumer brands emerged, challenging category leaders with hypertargeted messaging and creative on social media. An entirely new type of opt-in conversation began occurring between these companies and their target audiences, redefining engagement. New brand relationships, sticky ones, were built not based on legacy or even loyalty, but immediacy and relevance.
And, of course, Amazon settled into position as both the marketplace to beat and an advertising juggernaut. In Q4 2018, advertiser spend on Amazon increased 5X vs. the previous January, shifting assumptions about where engagement happens and who should drive it. Amazon rapidly evened the playing field for brands not quite built for direct-to-consumer selling, but hungry for more opportunity and transparency in their digital performance. Brands previously a step removed from the action online suddenly had options to boost their own in-store visibility, drive conversions and connect the dots between the touchpoints that led to them. Other retailers, like Walmart, are now following Amazon’s lead, providing brands with sponsored ad types, targeting options and better insights into what works with whom.
A Holistic E-Commerce Ecosystem
Google’s change to its sitelink policy is the latest opportunity for retail brands to build a holistic e-commerce ecosystem that engages customers at every point in the purchase funnel. The most sophisticated brands in retail — be they traditional retailer-based manufacturers or direct-to-consumer — jumped on the newfound opportunities, leveraging the best of each publisher and ad type to grow e-commerce sales. However, the opportunity to remain competitive still exists for those that haven’t capitalized yet.
To do so, brands should consider leveraging technology to drive efficiencies at scale and unveil trustworthy measurement both within and across channels. This will allow them to get craftier with their creative, allowing artificial intelligence to surface issues like ad fatigue, and machine learning to trigger responses to external signals (e.g., weather conditions). Employing more automation means brands can also get savvier with their investments, layering on new, promising measurement methodologies like incrementality testing. They can go beyond product advertising to uncover deep product portfolio insights about where to place their bets.
It’s a brave new world for e-commerce advertisers, and search, social and in-store advertising all offer something unique to brands selling online. The more holistic their strategy across the e-commerce ecosystem — from media mix to budget planning to campaign creation, management and measurement — the more in-tune brands become with how their customers seamlessly discover, explore and shop.
Margo Kahnrose is senior vice president of marketing at Kenshoo, a digital advertising technology platform.
Margo Kahnrose is SVP of Marketing at Kenshoo, a digital advertising technology platform. Kenshoo equips marketers with self-service applications to build their brands and generate demand by executing digital advertising across the world’s leading mobile and desktop publishers.