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How can brands selling on Amazon use influencers?
January 5, 2022
Several years ago I wrote a short piece on how Amazon began taking a harder stance on incentivized reviews, so long as those incentivized reviews weren't through their own internal platform. In the five years that have passed, demand from brands selling on Amazon to somehow work more closely with reviewers has not waned. Periodic purges of reviews by Amazon do still exist and the old strategy of garnering outside incentivized reviews is riskier than soliciting on platforms more open to influencer work.
Here, I discuss some of the ways you can effectively boost sales on Amazon using a unique mix of influencers and bloggers, while minimizing risks.
Amazon's internal program, Vine Voices
Before focusing on outside platforms, let's look at Amazon's own: Amazon Vine Voices. This is an invite-only, closed influencer network pairing selected influencers with brands willing to pay for the privilege. Thought of as an extension of on-platform advertising to off-platform advertising, the enrollment fees for brands are, at present, approximately $200 per unique product listing (referred to as Amazon Standard Identification Number, or ASIN), plus the cost of product.
Is Amazon Vine Voices worth it for a brand?
I am of the mind that just about every program is worth testing out and Vine Voices is no exception to that philosophy. If a brand is new to selling on Amazon and is using the Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) service, it can be worth it. Keep in mind that Amazon has several restrictions on the use of the program. For example, your product may not have more than 30 reviews already, you can only receive a maximum of 30 reviews to the product while on Vine, and you're only able to promote five products at a time in this manner. Why those restrictions are in place may not make a lot of sense, especially for those that operate in heavily competitive categories, but as a primer to getting started with reviews it can be helpful.
What about when more reviews are needed?
This is where brands need to be aware of the risk, as Amazon does reserve the right to remove reviews and products at their whim and with little recourse. For brands selling on Amazon, one needs to recognize who owns the playground in this situation.
The least risky method is to not try and circumvent Amazon's review policy in any manner, but instead use Amazon as a fulfillment to your other influencer strategies.
Don't overlook Instagram
The most common influencer strategy involves Instagram. Already known as a top influencer marketing strategy for brands looking to sell online, there are some twists when the goal is to also improve product term rankings on Amazon.
In this instance, the first method is to identify a group of influencers that would be willing to review the product in question and their expected compensation. Once determined, the pitch should be tailored to the specific market the influencer operates in. Some strategies involve using a 100% off coupon for the influencer to acquire the product or to have the influencer purchase on their own accord and use a contract or influencer network liaison to ensure compensation occurs afterwards.
For this specific strategy, you shouldn't care about the review itself on Amazon; should it occur, it is incidental. Instead, the focus should be on the creation of the content type best suited for driving maximum sales to the Amazon product page from Instagram. This usually happens with a static post with a bio link takeover for a period of time and then a permanent comment directing the audience where to purchase the product on Amazon.
What you would get here, aside from the obvious sales, is volume and searchable intent. The overall volume of sales that might occur from the profile link is a signal for Amazon's product ranking, but so is a random user specifically searching to find the product and hunting for the specific brand in question. Provided the product is of a high quality, a certain percentage of purchases will result in a review on Amazon as well; depending on the influencer's sway over his or her audience, even that can be dictated with a simple "if you love it, let the world know" styled directive.
YouTube can play a role as well
Similar to Instagram we have YouTube, which is where many in the Amazon Vine Voices program come from. Product reviews on YouTube have more variety and are perfect for attracting authoritative voices as a mechanism for establishing expert level recommendations towards a brand's products on Amazon. A strategy that works in this manner starts with influencer identification and pitching like one would with Instagram, but expect to pay more as categorical experts are worth the hours of efforts they put into finely crafted videos.
Once compensation is settled, focus on presenting the product as a solution to a problem rather than a blatant advertisement; "how to" videos are a major source of YouTube queries and being listed as the solution to a problem will yield major sales. What's better with YouTube than Instagram is the product URL can be listed in the description for those looking to purchase, which should result in easier sales conversions.
Advanced strategies on YouTube for Amazon's sake involve creating lesser known influencer reaction videos that reference the original expert video and have the other influencers attempt to recreate the problem to solution pathway. This has a positive cumulative effect not only in the overall sales volume required to get the videos created, but in the brand share of mind for both product category as well as problem-to-solution share of mind.
How about blogs?
Building upon the YouTube strategy, we enter some of the most advanced tactics a brand can engage in while still adhering to Amazon's reviewer guidelines. YouTube videos are Google's preference, and given the desire to result as the solution to the "how to" queries on YouTube's search engine, the same holds true for Google itself. With both, the goal is engaging influencers for their blog posts.
If YouTube videos were not commissioned previously, then the approach is much like a brand would use when approaching YouTubers: looking to create an expert level blog post that explains the problem encountered and the product as a solution to that problem, as well as providing links to the Amazon product page. Usually, this can be doubly compensated if the blogger is also using Amazon's affiliate program in order to earn additional revenue beyond a brand's pitch.
The more interesting version, though, involves embedding a YouTube video review into a blog post while also linking to the product page on Amazon. This method is more intriguing because it drives views, links back to the YouTube video for Google search benefit, and of course maintains all the direct sales capabilities of having a direct product link existing in the blog post. As a final benefit to this strategy, more novice bloggers can be used to embed the video and then share their own experience, along the lines of how reaction videos doing the same can exist on YouTube.
Just getting reviews
A final method that we won't get into too much detail on involves the most risk. Amazon publishes lists of top reviewers and top products in each category. There may be thousands of reviews associated with people who have publicly discoverable profiles, and of course networks exist that have onboarded tens of thousands of reviewers with valid Amazon reviewer profiles. Brands can, and do, seek out such reviewers through a combination of these sources.
The simple advice one cannot stress enough is to never insist on a certain review score; nothing will turn a reviewer off more and increase the likelihood that your product is removed. Insist on honesty in your reviews and rely on your product's quality and the expertise of your influencers to help drive why it is the optimal choice amongst the sea of possibilities.