Chris Fryburger, founder of nReach and Amazon consultant, spent six months researching and interviewing branding, digital, and full-service agencies. The goal? To figure out where the Amazon experts were hiding, and to understand why. As it turns out, they aren't hiding, there just aren't that many of them. So before you click that Facebook Ad for the "Amazon expert that can take you to six figures next month," you might want to vet their references and develop some criteria for hiring.

A New World Order

Amazon is the new world of opportunity, and brands will need marketing guidance from  Amazon-savvy agencies. Everything is changing daily in this new world, and this unsteady terrain makes it difficult for anyone to really stay in expert territory. Within this new world order, Amazon is making the rules, and they are subject to change at any moment. On top of that, Amazon is a logistics business first, so while they might deliver from one side of this new world to the other, their dedication to helping sellers figure out how to maximize their Amazon profiles and advertising is minimal at best. 

Gray Isn't Good

For agencies, there are a lot of gray areas and blurred lines, and this could really be contributing to the lack of agency expertise when it comes to Amazon marketing. A lot of the big agencies and firms are hesitant to jeopardize their reputation when there are so many unknowns. On the flipside of that coin, Amazon represents dwindling budgets and a threat to existing marketing budgets, so it presents less as an opportunity, more as a threat to their current survival. The future of e-commerce belongs to Amazon, and Fryburger is hoping to close some of the learning gap, while protecting brands, with nReach, a customized matchmaking service that brings together Amazon sellers and trusted Amazon Service Providers.

Welcome to the Wild West

While everyone is, on paper, an Amazon expert, in real life, this label is used lightly and with slight recklessness. For this reason, Fryburger has created over 50 qualifying criteria, so everyone knows exactly what they're getting. As you can see below, there are "never dos" and there are "always look fors," and neither of these categories of criteria can be ignored. 

Slow Adoption Due to Rigidness

Agencies have been slow to adopt online and digital changes over the past few decades. This resistance is the byproduct of overly rigid structures aligned with tight margins for changing in-house teams, both of which really outline what makes up an agency. Mobile technology is nothing new. Consumers have embraced this change with open arms, yet many large brands, leaders, and agencies have not followed suit. For quite a while this rigidness bought time, but now it is closing doors. 

Should an Agency Do It All?

If an agency is well known for their traditional or creative work, they most likely aren't known for their digital and technological work, at least for now. But in the future, will agencies be required to grow in their capacities and services to remain relevant and operational? The answer is no, probably not, but those agencies that don't expand are missing out on the massive opportunity that Amazon represents. As Fryburger points out, brands come in and don't understand any of it, and so they hesitate. And their agencies don't really push it because they also don't understand plenty of it. This gap represents a new space for learning, where both sides should be picking up a new set of mechanisms that work inside Amazon's walls

Three Keys to Choosing an Agency that's Good Enough

So you get the point, you recognize the gap, you are ready to talk to a real expert or agency. When choosing, exercise caution and go in with a plan. The non-negotiables Fryburger pointed out were spot on for businesses looking for an Amazon marketing agency. Here are three "never dos" from this 20-year marketing veteran and Amazon expert: 

  1. Never hire an agency without ex-Amazonians. These people follow the industry, have a love for all things Amazon, and had access to insider information, which is invaluable. 

  2. Never hire an agency without true results you can see on paper. What are the increases in sales they've brought? What are their spend versus sales numbers? Have they achieved the buy box for a product or a series of different SKUs? Check the data and the references for legitimacy. 

  3. Never hire an agency without having some access to them face-to-face, especially starting out. Remote agencies and remote work is taking off, with companies spread across the globe, but there's something to be said for being able to connect with that team in person. It's also important to note that an agency with in-house teams and shared office space sometimes lends more legitimacy than a one- or two-person show working separately from their home offices. You want an agency that is all-in, that works together, that creates together, and that is easy to connect with.

Published on: Aug 20, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.