Looking towards 2021: 4 ways to take a customer-centric approach to advertising

By Ryan Mayward, Global Head of Agency and Adtech Sales, Amazon Advertising

In the advertising industry, we’re used to change. Every year, customer behaviors shift, new technologies become widely adopted, unforeseen events occur, and we adapt. Even so, the changes that occurred this year were particularly significant. They touched all areas of our lives. It’s no wonder that we’ve spent much of 2020 focusing on and responding to these changes.

Yet, during this time, I’ve found that it’s helpful to take a step back and consider what hasn’t changed—what remains constant. There’s a great quotation from Amazon CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos that sums it up nicely. He said: “I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two—because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.”

At Amazon, one thing that’s remained constant is our customer obsession. That’s been core to our business from the beginning and still is today. Everything we do is with the intention of improving the customer experience. In the case of advertising, it’s helping our customers—whether they’re Fortune 500 companies, global agencies, or startups—give their customers the very best experience. We try to anticipate what customers need and use technology to build solutions. For example, when we developed Stores and Amazon Live (just to name two), we sought to create products and experiences that businesses and their customers would enjoy and want to interact with.

Striving to improve the customer experience won’t change for us. Here are four areas that I think will be worth focusing on in 2021—and years into the future.

Branding at every stage of the funnel

We all know that there’s no order to the customer journey. Our customers are on more channels and engaging with brands, all day, every day. They’re interacting with brands while researching products and shopping, but also while they’re checking their email and social feeds, and streaming their favorite shows, songs, and podcasts. In this environment, customers go through the shopping journey out of order. Often, they go from discovery to consideration and purchase within minutes.

Given today’s shopping journey, it’s time to pivot from the idea that branding only belongs in upper-funnel activities, like video or out-of-home. With today’s non-linear customer journeys, each touchpoint—including traditionally lower-funnel touches—is a chance to showcase your brand and connect with customers. And with 70% of global customers saying trusting a brand is more important today than in the past, according to a 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, each touchpoint, whether typically thought of as upper- or lower-funnel, is a discrete opportunity to build trust. Highlighting your brand at each interaction—through creative and messaging—can help forge connections that drive inspiration, consideration, and demand.

But it doesn’t end there.

Offering value at every interaction

A customer-centric approach to advertising also means anticipating customers’ needs. What if you could stay one step ahead of customers? What if you could provide them with value at every interaction?

Amazon recently launched the Climate Pledge Friendly program, for example. We know that customers care about sustainability; 79% of consumers and 83% of millennials, consider sustainable packaging when making a purchasing decision, according to a 2020 McKinsey global survey. To help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products on Amazon, we added a Climate Pledge Friendly label to more than 25,000 products—in categories ranging from grocery and household to fashion and personal electronics—that have one or more of 19 different sustainability certifications.

With customer-centric advertising, we can take a similar approach. As advertisers, we have insights that help us learn what’s performing and what’s not, so we can iterate accordingly. But we can go a step further. Rather than just improving performance, we can use insights to be more proactive and helpful.

For example, everyone dreads that moment when you’re about to use a product and realize that you’re out. Like when you kick off a marathon laundry day, and find that you’re down to your last drop of detergent. What if you, as a brand, could help customers avoid those moments?

Let’s say you’re a laundry detergent company. And your analytics tell you whether most of your orders are one-off purchases or re-purchases. You can also see average time between purchases. Suppose, hypothetically, you learn that 36% of your orders are re-purchases and the average time in between purchases is 54 days. You can use these insights to give loyal customers a friendly reminder when it’s time to buy. You can also reach out to first-time buyers around the time when they’d be running low, to inspire repeat purchases—and keep them from running out on those marathon laundry days.

Creating a seamless, frictionless, omni-channel experience

Because of today’s non-linear, multi-channel customer journey, offering customers a seamless, frictionless, omni-channel experience is important. As an industry, we’ve made progress over the last few years. Customers now have more opportunities that span online and offline experiences. Like buying online and returning by mail or in-store, and 1-click shopping. Customers want the flexibility that comes with these options. According to a recent Ipsos survey, 40% of customers are increasingly focused on convenience. In fact, one recent survey found that of US internet users, 43% tried curbside pickup and 13% used a mobile phone to pay in-store for the first time this year.

At Amazon, we’re always trying to eliminate friction from the customer experience. Customers at the Amazon Fresh grocery store in Woodland Hills, California, for example, can choose to use traditional shopping carts and a regular checkout experience, or they can use the new Amazon Dash Cart, which helps make a quick shopping trip even quicker by skipping the checkout line. Customers simply place their bags in the cart, sign in using their Fresh QR code in the Amazon app, shop, and exit through the Dash Cart lane to automatically complete their payment.

Or take audio. Today, 74% of households that own at least one smart home device have a smart speaker. People set their speaker to wake them up with their favorite song, remind them to take medication, and provide dinner recipes. Knowing how seamlessly smart speakers are woven into people’s daily routines, we’ve developed audio ads that allow brands and advertisers to encourage further customer engagement. Within an ad, a CTA could, for example, prompt a customer to engage with their Alexa device with a voice action such as, “Alexa, add Jimmy Dean breakfast to my shopping list.”

Building a thriving digital community
Building a thriving digital community has been an important objective for several years. But it’s taken on new meaning this year. We’re online more. Americans will spend an estimated 7 hours and 31 minutes on digital media daily in 2020, up from 6 hours and 43 minutes last year, according to eMarketer. Between all the video conferences—not to mention the shows and movies my family and I have streamed together—I know I’m online more. We all are.

But in a year when being together in person hasn’t really been possible, digital communities are taking on greater importance. Being able to share content and experiences together, alone, has provided us with much-needed moments of connection. Take Twitch, for example. At any given time, more than 1.6 million people are coming together to watch, chat, and interact on Twitch. What’s the draw? It’s live—which gives people a reason to tune in. It’s also immersive. But more than that, viewers can interact with each other and the host on-screen, creating a community. All brands can consider those factors while building their own digital communities.

Ryan Mayward is the Global Head of Agency and Adtech Sales at Amazon Advertising. Ryan joined Amazon in April 2021 from Simulmedia, where he was the Sr. Director of Ad Sales. Before that Ryan built the national programmatic sales team at NBCUniversal. Ryan lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two daughters.