Learn to Plan, and Plan to Learn

The quickest way to win a game of chess is in two moves, The Fool’s Mate. But, chess wouldn’t be any fun and you wouldn’t keep playing if you lost (or won) in two moves every time. Instead, you learn and improve continuously. You’re at the table ready to play “the game” because you’ve recognized Amazon as a lucrative marketplace for your business needs. You’ve mastered the fundamentals, understanding the capabilities of each piece of the game and how they can work best together. Now you must build a playbook and learn how to optimize as the game unfolds. Here, we discuss the Golden Rule, two opposing styles of approach (aggressive and conservative), and the importance of simply having an optimization plan. All these allow you to anticipate, plan, and pivot throughout the game.
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Did you know after each player has moved just once, there are 400 configurations the board could have? Learning to plan is crucial. Publications like this one can help; so can blogs like ours!

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule of chess: constantly think two to three steps ahead. Every time you make a move, you actually trigger a series of mini-scenarios. These impact your second, third, and fourth moves to come. When you move, consider how your opponent might respond. Then, imagine how you’d respond to that. Repeat again and again. In the Amazon marketplace, too, you should never make a move without thinking about the outcome. What do you expect from your customers if you change something? What about your competitors? Asking this question enough will start to build a foundation for your own Amazon playbook. Every playbook starts with a single move, which you build upon as you learn to plan.  Eventually, you’ll have a framework of scenarios that consider the different pieces at your disposal, as well as various ways your customers might react to them. If you’ve followed the golden rule, you also have considered how you would respond to any number of customer reactions.  For example, if competing with a similar product on Amazon, consider what changing your price will do. If you make a specific claim about your product in a promoted advertisement, will customer reviews on your page support or poke holes in this? Having a playbook prepares you for shifts in the market landscape. In other words, you won’t get caught off-guard. As you prepare to turn your playbook into a plan of action, ask yourself: “How much risk am I willing to assume?”

Offense or Defense? Depends on You.

An important question to ask before (and during) the Amazon game, is what kind of player are you? Do you prefer to play the long game, more defensively, perhaps going into more niche markets? Or do you aggressively jump into crowded markets and push other folks around, going after pricing and competing directly against other brands? The approach you take depends on your business, your market, and how much risk you’re willing to take to justify potential gains. 

The Conservative Player

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Conservative players tend to be very analytical and responsive. They are more cautious and guarded when they choose to make a move.
A common opening in chess is the Sicilian Defense. It allows you to protect your prized assets while you decide how you’d like to attack the board later. This type of opening helps you analyze your opponent. Unsurprisingly, there’s a conservative parallel in Amazon sales. Often, it’s by focusing on what you can fully control, yourself, without using aggressive marketing campaigns or market strategies:
  • Design a Clear Label Prioritize yourself and create a concise or attention-grabbing title. From there, establish your primary photography, consider exploring beyond hi-res photography like an experiential video asset showing your product being used. Lastly, enhance your branded content by including clear product features and benefits.
  • Focus on Product Reviews Quality and volume can make or break your sales goals. It would be a mistake to rely solely on Amazon’s direct marketing mail response. So instead, introduce personalized (and automated) follow-ups to all customers based on their engagement with your brand. Future customers reading reviews (positive or negative) can also find value in brands that engage their own reviews in the comments.
  • Maintain and Defend Prices In most cases, our Amazon marketing agency strives to work with brands establishing premium price points. A defensive approach to pricing is keeping your product very close to the status quo of your competitors; nothing alarming here ensures your customers don’t run away.

The Aggressive Player

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Aggressive players have prepared for offense. They assume more risk in the hopes of higher reward, especially in regards to how they engage competitors in the market.
Sometimes, players prefer to take on greater risk. One of the oldest opening plays in chess is something called the King’s Gambit, sacrificing a pawn to trap or attack your opponent. An unpredictable move can open the game to unexpected scenarios. From the Amazon perspective, what could be categorized as “blowing the game wide open?”
  • Introduce Sponsored Ad Campaigns Directly targeting certain demographics with sponsored ads can quickly increase sales in a high volume vacuum. Perhaps you have a low number of product reviews and want to quickly invest money to increase sales, hoping for more reviews. Ads can help get attention from potential buyers, thus increasing your review count and hopefully score too.
  • Bid Aggressively High per Click Throw your weight around. For example, bidding $2.20 per click rather than $1.35, likely results in Amazon placing you immediately front and center on page one for the same keyword. It creates a dominant effect, and can be extremely effective in the short-term if/when it pays off. Going into this type of play, establish a budget and know exactly what you hope to gain from it.
  • Challenge Competitor Brands A fairly aggressive tactic is directly challenging a competitor brand by buying words and phrases related to their brand and/or their product. Bidding on similar keywords can drive up the cost per click (CPC) for both parties, but it can sometimes siphon attention away from them to you. Far from a beginner’s strategy, this can be a lucrative playbook option for those who can identify the right times to engage. How about your competitor’s product page? (FYI – They are doing it to you already).
Like chess, we don’t recommend advanced tactics to beginners. When in doubt, it’s best to speak with a trusted, experienced partner before beginning new campaigns.

Optimization Plan

The most exciting — and sometimes most frustrating — element of a game is unpredictability. You can deliberate on your perfect approach, but it can disappear in the blink of an eye with a few clever, unexpected moves from your opponent. 
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It’s essential to evaluate your tactics against your KPIs. If things are going well, how do you stay ahead of the curve? If they aren’t, what moves can you make to optimize?
That’s why your ideal plan should be structured enough to guide you, but flexible enough to adapt in real-time. We always recommend our partners have an optimization plan in place to anticipate contingency scenarios. Often, our clients look to us for this level of proactive-reactivity.

Proactive-Reactivity

Proactive-reactivity starts with setting up key performance indicators (KPIs). By keeping a close eye on their performance, we know if the plan is working well or not. In chess, your KPI could be the number of enemy pieces you’ve captured. If you aren’t capturing as many as expected, you should reevaluate your plan. Not reacting well in chess might result in a loss. But not reacting well in Amazon may result in lost money or even going out of business. It comes down to dollars and impact on your ROI. Perhaps your KPI is sales volume, and you decided to run an aggressive campaign, bidding high on competitor’s keywords. How often are you checking to assess the results? Are you allowing enough time for data collection, wherein you feel confident in what the data is telling you? If costs are high but not resulting in conversions for you, you must optimize and make a tweak. Failing to do so is just throwing money away. A playbook begins by thinking one or two steps ahead. It’s the golden rule. Once you are comfortable predicting how your efforts will impact the market, you can think about more complex campaigns. You can start to understand positioning scenarios, aggressive and conservative approaches, and multi-channel executions. Most importantly, you should engage to the level of your comfort. When the book starts to get a bit too complex, you can always seek help from the experts who wrote it. We’re always happy to talk.

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