What separates companies that succeed on Amazon from the rest?
When you’re launching a product in a saturated product category, it’s hard to stand out from the competition…
But if you know the right strategies, you can rise to the top…
Fernando Campos, co-founder of MarketplaceOps, is here to share how he helps brands supercharge growth on Amazon.
- How to get reviews (even when you’re just starting out)
- What advertising strategies actually get results?
- Pricing your product for a saturated category
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is how to launch products on Amazon in a saturated product category.
Here to speak with me is Fernando Campos, who is the co-founder of MarketplaceOps, an online marketplace management and strategy firm that helps brands supercharge their growth on Amazon and Walmart. Fernando has generated more than 150 million in revenue for his clients, and sold to businesses in the Amazon space. His companies were ranked in the Inc 5000 in 2019 and 2020, and made it onto the entrepreneur 360 list for several years. Fernando, welcome to the show.
Fernando Campos: Thanks so much, Steffen. Excited to be here.
Steffen: Fernando before we start exploring today’s topic, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in your career and what led you to MarketplaceOps?
Fernando: Yeah, thanks, yeah. So I graduated from college, went into finance, because I thought that’s, you know what you’re supposed to do. I went to USC, and naturally everybody that kind of go at the time, it was like, you know, if you’re smart, and you’re driven and ambitious, you kind of go out for investment banking. And so I really wanted to go into investment banking. Sadly, I graduated in 2009, during like, not the best of times, but I did start my career off in finance. For me, it was awful. I absolutely hated it.
I looked at everybody above and realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. And so I quickly realized that I needed to kind of figure out and so I interviewed everywhere. And I kind of landed at this tech startup called betterworks at the time. And I went to probably like a 70% pay cut. It was brutal. Basically, you know, cold calling restaurants making $20 per close, 100% commissioned role. And the company kind of scaled extremely quickly and then imploded after a year.
And then it kind of taught me a ton about like, you know, raising money in startups and everything else. But that kind of took my career to like, really, I feel like where it started was at a company called AnyPerk. It was a YC backed company in San Francisco, I was employee number two, the director of sales. And I, I was convinced to join actually, because the CEO is really young, like very driven, ambitious Japanese guy that was just like, hey, you got an amazing background based on the company that just failed. Like, come join us.
And we can build this together. And like, I think I was just so excited. I was probably like, 26, at the time. I was there for two years helped to grow from pre-product, to pre-customer, pre-anything really, to do millions in revenue. And yeah, left as the head of sales, like owned probably like 95% of revenue for the business. And I feel like that was kind of like, okay, I’m confident I can build businesses as a b2b SaaS. And, you know, one of my best friends from college, Nick Kim, and I’d actually worked at betterworks before.
We were grabbing lunch, and it was just like, you know, we both built really successful, helped build successful businesses for others. It’s like, it’s our turn. And so we both turned in our notice we had literally kind of no idea what we’re going to do. We kind of had an idea that, well we knew, one that we didn’t have the discipline to like work on at night, because we were already like working pretty crazy hours with our jobs. But we and then two was that we wanted to do something in E-commerce, because we both come from like tech startups, but we weren’t technical.
And so we wouldn’t really succeed there. Or we wouldn’t have a competitive advantage. And so we decided on E-commerce, we kind of messed around with Shopify for maybe like, five months or so. And it was brutal. Like, our conversion rates were low or margins were low. And when we forecasted how long it would take us to going back to making six figures, i was like, I’m going to run out of money. It was 18 months, I think. And that was I’m gonna run out of money in like eight. Like, we need to like figure out something faster. And so we kind of threw away like the passion project that we were working on, and then decided, like, look, we just need to make money.
And we had heard that people were buying and selling stuff on eBay, like importing from China, reselling on eBay. And so we’re like, okay, whatever, let’s just do that. We’ll make money and then we’ll figure out something else. And in the meantime, we’re also driving for Uber in the evenings just to like, extend our runway. Because like for sure I went from like, head of sales, like living like the highlife to like, man, I’m like driving for Uber like pretty broke. And then it’s funny. We were like kind of planning. We’re working on the eBay business.
And then we’re working on my best best friend and business partner’s apartment at the time. And then he receives like this Amazon package. And then we’re just like, why are we selling on ebay if we buy everything on Amazon, but this is like, you know, 2014. So it’s not as well known that you can even sell. Like, at the time honestly, I thought everything was just sold by Amazon. And so we started like Googling and researching. And then I realized that there’s a third-party marketplace. And so we just drop everything. The eBay business, the old business like, and then just like, heads down, like, okay, we’re doing Amazon.
We learned about private label, hired a coach. And yeah, in the first month live on Amazon, we launched with a few products, we ended up doing more than like the five months on Shopify combined. And we’re like, whoa, like, this is like the future. And, yeah, I mean, we did extremely, we’re very fortunate. We’re in the Home and Kitchen category. And we did like 2 million the first year, then jumped up to like eight to 10, like, and then just skyrocketed from there. And then so in 2020, we sold a lot of those brands.
It was pretty big at the time, we also started other like, fun things that we’ve done in the space. But yeah, we’ve, we started Pixelfy, one of the leading, like, link shortening tools in the space. That I got acquired by RebateKey last year. And then now, what we’re primarily focused on is MarketplaceOps, one of the leading Amazon strategy firms. And so, yeah, we have about 70 employees now all in. Very global. And that’s kind of our story.
Steffen: Looks like you took a few turns before finding kind of success with Amazon, basically. But it totally assures, right, that, you know, sometimes it takes a little bit to kind of be successful, you know, it’s not the first thing you do that it kind of gets you on the right track. I mean, if it does great, but sometimes just, you just have to elbow grease, right.
You just have to keep doing things and have tried, you have to keep trying at the end of the day. Now, coming back to Amazon, what always, what always interests me is what separates really successful companies on Amazon from the rest. So you know, as you said, you kind of were in a kitchenware space and you scaled really quickly, your brands, right? So what makes the 1% different to the rest?
Fernando: Yeah, it’s a good question. Like, you know, back when we started, like 2014, 2015, I think you could basically create a product, throw up like good images, you could buy reviews at the time, and your product is pretty much going to sell. Like it wasn’t nearly as saturated. The competition wasn’t as sophisticated. And so generally, things that you threw up, like would actually sell. Like, there’s like a crazy story of someone that wanted to create their own private label brand in supplements.
And they wanted to test it. So they just bought like 20 units at like Target or WalMart, like put them into other bottles with their label on it just to test. And even at a crazy price they sold through and they’re like, okay, this is crazy. I can sell this on Amazon. And so, which obviously, there’s no chance you could do that today. I think today, what you’re really separates the good sellers is, I mean, Amazon has already simplified E-commerce in so many ways, right? They take care of the support, they take care of the fulfillment, they take care of like, you know, the customers.
You just have to like, get them to click on your listing over someone else’s right. But I think in those narrow categories that you still have to focus on, like product development, advertising, like the content, you’d have to really like start mastering those. I think before you could have a few of them weak, like maybe your supply chain is weak, maybe your advertising weak. But now I think it’s about, like, if you think about as like a knob, like you need them all to be just generally like around like eight, nine or 10.
And I think if you’re able to do that by building teams, then you know, delegating, having a business partner, and really nailing all of those like as close as to nine to 10 as possible, then I think you’re gonna succeed. But I think if you’re constantly running out of stock, or you’re not really investing in like really good design and testing those designs, like using like let’s say an Intel V or like seller metrics, whatever, then I feel like it’s just too competitive now, to really like kind of not be mastering every area or every pillar of Amazon.
Steffen: Now, some of the listeners might be very familiar with what is required to set up a product or to sell a product on Amazon, some might not be. Quickly can you, can you talk about which elements are important when you want to sell a product or products on Amazon. You know, you talked about obviously creatives, which is the visual part right? The imagery that you have there. You talked about content, which is the product description, everything else. What else? Oh, sorry. You also talked about obviously availability. So do you have enough products available to sell basically. What else is there that people need to look at that really is important?
Fernando: Yeah, I mean, I guess like, sorry, I think overall is I would be thinking about the strategy of your keywords, I think is huge. So, you know, generally there’s like non-branded and then branded terms, right. And so, if you have a really strong d to c presence, or maybe you’re in retail, maybe you have a, whatever, you’re, you’re an influencer, then you can, you can drive people to Amazon. And then you’re gonna go after like more branded keywords naturally. If you’re a brand new brand, no one’s like really aware of you, then, then to be successful, you’re gonna have to go out for like, the non-branded or unbranded keywords.
And so that might be like, whatever Tumeric supplement or like facial cleanser or things like that, where people are not specifically looking for a brand. So I think your strategy of how you select those keywords, what you’re going after, is really important. I think your advertising strategy is extremely important. Like, where are you spending. To kind of expand on that it’s like, your relevancy is extremely important, both in keywords, and then your advertising, right. And so going back to that example, if you’re, if you’re saying, let’s say immunity supplement, that’s so broad.
It seems like for some people, it can be very specific. But you know, there’s obviously vitamin C, there’s things there’s elderberry, there’s all these things that can help you with your immunity. But there’s also all these different types of forms, right? Can be a certain, like liquids, tablets, powders, whatever. And so just getting really specific to the product that you’re really trying to sell. It’s like, yeah, we’re doing an elderberry liquid with like 300 milligrams, like blah, blah. And then making sure that there is demand on that, like those non-branded keywords.
And Amazon has a lot of like phenomenal tools now, like brand analytics, like the search terms report, there’s the product opportunity report. So you can kind of see relative strength of those keywords, how they’re trending over time, who are the best sellers. And I think a lot of that is extremely helpful in terms of like, you really want to prioritize what you’re advertising to what you’re going after, to the highly relevant keywords that also obviously have like high volume. And then you kind of you kind of work your way down from there.
But yeah, other areas, supply chain is huge. Like Amazon is, is really tightening up in the last few weeks. Their q4 storage, because they’re they’re just overstocked, they’re closing down warehouses, because they’re projecting a smaller q4. And so that means you need to be tighter with your inventory, you need to like be really proactive about like, the kind of hacks in terms of getting more space, do you have an account manager like submitting to try to get more through them?
I think those are like probably the biggest things. But yeah, if you’re good at digital, on Amazon, but if you’re good at digital marketing, then you’re gonna crush on Amazon, if you know how to drive, Facebook traffic, Google traffic, TikTok traffic, leveraging influencers. But all of that, like outside traffic is generally rewarded, you know, on Amazon, and so that is can be really meaningful as well.
Steffen: I want to touch on a few things that you mentioned before, we can go a little bit deeper here. So obviously, the topic today is launching products on Amazon in a saturated product category. If you are planning to launch a product in a saturated product category, from a content perspective, you know, you’ve done your research, you’ve done your research, you know which keywords are important for your product to kind of be found. How can you still stand out from the other products that are similar in their product category? How do you do that?
I’ve been in paid search, for example, since 2004, back in the days that paid search and SEO. Back in the days what we did from SEO, I mean, Google would slap our wrist so badly these days, you know, beside the fact it doesn’t work anymore, right? You know, keyword spamming, and you name it right. Talk a little bit about how can you prepare your content once you have identified the keywords that are relevant for your product to actually properly compete with the products that have already established themself in your category.
Fernando: Yeah, it’s a great question. So yeah, if you’re looking, let’s say you’re looking into supplements category where we have a lot of expertise. Yeah, if you’re going into Tumeric, or you’re going into like, vitamin C, vitamin D, a lot of these listings are gonna have 5, 10 20,000 reviews. And so yeah, to your point, it’s like, why is someone made a purchase mine that has 50 against someone that’s like, got 15,000 And so I think it’s really important to be aware of that. And so if you’re gonna go after the same keywords that this, you know, this 800 pound gorilla has, then you have to be that much better.
You need to be like exponentially better in terms of your entire execution. In terms of the product, in terms of the marketing in terms of your main image, drive a higher click through rate. And so, you know, generally, I think where I would start is really spending a lot of time on the offer, and figuring out like, okay, well, these guys are gonna have 15,000 reviews. By the time I launch, he’s actually gonna have more maybe 16 or 17,000. So what do I think, as a consumer, I can offer that’s gonna make it better.
And it doesn’t have to be like completely like, you know, like rocket ship like innovation, you know what I mean. It could be just doing like a two pack. It could be just offering more capsules, because they’re offering 60, you’re realizing that everybody’s offering 60, and you’re going to double it at 120, because you have the margins to support it. It could be adding in extra ingredients, or that help with absorption or that just differentiate the product. You know, I think I’ve seen like protein powders that combine MCT, MCT oil.
So it’s just a little bit more specific to like the Keto niche. But I think thinking about how do you make it different, because if you’re just going if they’re selling like a 60 count, Tumeric capsules, and you’re just coming in with another 60. But they got the 15,000 reviews, then you have zero chance, right. But it’s about, you know, first like, ideating a product that really resonates with a certain percentage of people. But and then I think it’s about making like data driven decisions, using like a polling software.
So again, like Intelliview is a big one, PickFu is a big one, telemetrics is a big one. And then all of them are phenomenal, because you can just grab three of your closest competitors or main images, and then you can test it against a few mock ups of yours. And so now, for our clients, like we’ll even run this poll if they’re thinking about a product, because it’s way better to figure it out earlier, before you spend a ton of time on R&D, and taste tests and like quality control and pricing and all that stuff. I’d rather find out earlier that it might work or might not.
And then I’ll have more conviction. And so you can basically let’s say it’s, you know, three competitors and ours. So evenly distributed, we each get 25% of the votes. But and then now you run the test that of the main image, and you’ll include like a mine’s gonna have 50 reviews, they’re gonna have 10,000, 15,000, whatever. And then you can see the distribution of like positive and negative votes for each of the and then actually get like real feedback, like an online focus group. And then it’s telling you like, hey, oh, I don’t like the picture of this dog, for instance, or I don’t like this color pink it’s too bright.
And then things like that. They’re just helping you, and your design team kind of modify. And then I’m looking at the distribution of the votes. Like some of our best-selling products will get like 70% of the votes with like three other competitors. So where it should have been 25% evenly distributed. And so I think that’s a great way of helping us understand with data before even like launching the product. Do we think we’re gonna win in this category? Because our offer is that compelling, if that makes sense.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, you also talked about advertising strategies. Talk a little bit about that. How important is it to not only just put your product up on Amazon, but also, you know, to drive people through advertising there? And then second question to that is, when you talk about advertising, you’re talking about running advertising, on Amazon’s platform, so on Amazon, or are you also talking about running advertising outside of Amazon to drive people to Amazon?
Fernando: Yeah, it’s a good question. Yeah. So the first question was, yeah, is driving ads on Amazon important. 100%. Like, if you’re just starting out, I mean, there’s some theories, like larger brands, just cutting Amazon, and then their ad spend, and then their profit goes up, really substantially. We don’t do that. I think, just naturally, that might, will probably work maybe for 6, 12 months, but eventually, like Amazon is going to penalize you. And then you’re gonna, you’re gonna start dropping in rank, and it’s gonna be hard to recover, truthfully.
I think also, if you’re in consumables, then if you have a high good product and a high repeat purchase rate, then it often makes sense to be acquiring people new to brand, because then you can get them to Subscribe and Save. And that can, you know, easily represent like 35% of revenue, which is, which is huge. And so yeah, I think yeah, summarizing the first question, yeah for sure. Advertising on Amazon, it’s pay to play like at this point in most categories, you have to do it.
What we specialize in is more on Amazon platform. We don’t do Facebook, TikTok, Google, YouTube. It’s just not our skill set. And we’re like, we try to hyper-focus on Amazon. But yeah, I think for most brands, personally, I would just start with Amazon and get to a certain size, maybe a few million a year and then then start like, and then expanding out personally.
But I think if you haven’t hit that, like, threshold, let’s call it 3 million a year, then I think there’s more to be done on Amazon. Whether it’s introducing more products or getting more reviews or all of that kind of stuff. So I would just prioritize that. And then you have, you should be profitable, have extra cash flow, to be able to like, test new initiatives, like the off Amazon marketing, stuff like that.
Steffen: Yeah. You talked about a few things that companies can do in order to stand out. You know, we talked about imagery, even before you would start developing a product, doing testing on if a product would resonate. Imagery. You talked about, you know, maybe having a slightly different offer, although it’s the same, air quotes, product, for example. You know, a bigger bottle size, or, or more milliliter, or ounces in, you know, in the bottle itself. How important is price in a consideration to kind of entering a category that is really saturated?
Fernando: Yeah, great question. I mean, price is definitely, really important on Amazon. I think, especially leading into a recession, I think it’s gonna be even a, you know, increasingly more important, but I think it just really comes down to the value, right? Like, let’s say, this is an example. Let’s say you’re selling iPhone cables, right? If you come in, like, it’s gonna be a race to the bottom. And so but if you’re like, you know, they were probably originally selling for like 10 bucks each or whatever, 20 bucks each.
But then if you were the first one to come in with two at 15 bucks, like, I think you would have killed it, right? Because no one needed just one iPhone cable. So I think you could always like pack to your FBA fees are going to be less because it’s not going to really charge that much more to do the second one. If you have your bundling as a two-pack, not just like having to go order two on the listing. And then your product cost is for sure going to be less than that, like the difference in margin. And so I think that is like a really smart way of merchandising. Obviously, you can’t do that today, because now there’s like four and five packs on the iPhone cables.
But that same concept applies in different categories, supplements, beauty, things, and I think it’s definitely doable. Thinking about it, like from like, if you go shop at Costco, like you can’t buy anything, like one of anything, pretty much, unless it’s like, a TV. But if you’re getting like three, four, like you’re gonna have family pack, right. And so there is that Costco consumer, on Amazon. And that’s a easy way of innovation. And you’re able to pass on savings on the customer, obviously, and then also still have a really healthy margin.
Steffen: Interesting. That’s, that’s a great thought I when you started talking about that I immediately thought about Costco. So do you see that a lot with brands on Amazon, that they’re more moving towards multi, or several products of the same as kind of, you know, what they sell instead of just an individual product?
Fernando: Totally, yeah, I see it all the time. And in a lot of different categories. Toys, beauty supplements, like yeah, all over the place the electronics for sure, whether we’re doing like multipacks, sometimes you’ll see in beauty, there’s like a morning, like kind of topical and then an evening one. There’s just different types of sets, or, or even like complementary products that like, you know, we were helping a client with like instapot accessories for a little while.
And they would just like throw everything in there everything that you would use with an instapot. Very, very clever, but it’s like, almost like a starter kit. You buy an instaspot and you buy this. And it’s just all the things that you can you would ever want. And so I think just generally, those are some of the cool easy ways to or easier ways to innovate without actually creating something completely new. Interesting.
Steffen: Interesting. We talked about a lot of things that are important to kind of set your product up on Amazon and to sell it. One thing, and you mentioned it a few times. One thing we haven’t talked about is, which is review. Obviously you talked about, you know, back in the days, in the early days, there was a lot of let’s buy reviews, right. It’s like the same as I mentioned earlier with keyword spamming in the early days of SEO right. There’s always something that someone identified that works.
And then a lot of people do it until, you know, the platform then starts you know, slapping you on the wrist and then taking them away, right? Because you want authentic reviews from people. How important first of all are reviews from your perspective? And then how do companies especially when you start out, how can you solicit a lot of reviews from your buyers? Is there a special approach that you’ve seen works in order to really collect reviews?
Fernando: Yeah, it’s a good question. Do you want to know, yeah, the gray hat ways or only the white hat ways or do you mind I guess, both.
Steffen: Well, go ahead.
Fernando: Yeah, it’s a good question. Okay. So let’s start with the white hat. Like, the first thing that you can do that’s allowed, is you can automate rating requests. And then the ratings are a little bit different than reviews because it doesn’t have words, it’s just like the one through five star. A lot of software out there can just automate that, like seller rise is great one. And so that’s one thing. And so as your product gets momentum, you have more sales, it’s automatically requested for you. Next one is vine. Vine is a good program as well. The downside is that vine reviewers are known as harsh.
And so if you have a product that could be subjective, like maybe taste, or I don’t know, you haven’t had enough time to really test the quality of it, I would not do that. Because like you see that happen with like, a lot in the grocery category, actually, of all things where people will, like, they’re so excited that they submit it to vine, and they just get like an onslaught of these three star reviews. And it just like kills a listing, and I feel so bad for them. But like, you know, I didn’t get a chance to talk to them.
They’re like, what do I do? I’m like, honestly, you like might need to start over with a new listing and a new SKU, just because you just got like, kind of wrecked. And then it’s hard to overcome that average, right? Like, they say, like one one star review is like 20 5 stars, in a sense. And so those are basically the two, the two kosher ways, pretty much, I think. Yeah, as you get varying level of like very much in the gray or black, I think you can have, you know, friends and family do it to a small extent. You can do post purchase funnels, which is usually leading from like an insert that goes into a specific landing page.
You can have it, I hope Amazon isn’t listed, we have a geofence. So that like, you know, it kind of takes people out that are in like the state of Washington, and maybe they see something different. But and then basically using that to like do some kind of incentive as a way of incentivizing. Maybe it’s another free bottle or free complimentary product that helps them use it, things like that. Then yeah, other ways that you can do it.
This one’s cool. I have heard of if it. If you have a good product, and let’s say you, you’re confident, like Vine will work, what a lot of people do is they’ll create like, five listings, they’ll apply them all for Vine, and then they’ll merge them all together. And so they’ll combine all the Vine reviews, you know, basically by separating them out as different listings originally and then combining them. Or if you have a this one’s actually probably less than the gray.
But if you have, but it’s still probably in the gray, just to be clear. But like if you have a hero SKU, you add it in and it’s similar. Add it in as a variation, leave it there for a little while, it’ll drive some sales, and a certain percentage of those will leave reviews. And then you separate it out later. And then that way you already have the reviews. And so those are some of like off the top of my head that we’ve implemented over the years.
Steffen: Interesting. Fernando, unfortunately we’ve we’ve come to the end of today’s podcast episode, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on you know how to how to get a product that is completely new to the Amazon marketplace, in a saturated market place and, you know, successful. If people want to find out more about you or MarketplaceOps, how can you get in touch?
Fernando: Yeah, I mean, our website is probably the best place. marketplaceops.com. But if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email Fernando@marketplaceops.com. Or you can follow me on LinkedIn, and I post a lot of content there.
Steffen: Okay, perfect. And as always, we leave that information in the show notes so it’s easy to find. Thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
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