Shannon Curley featured images for the Seller's Edge podcast blog article.

Selling With Purpose: Ways to Build a Better Brand on Amazon

April 29, 2024
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Shannon Curley featured images for the Seller's Edge podcast blog article.

Get a stronger sense of ecommerce branding and marketing strategies with Shannon Curley, the Director of Marketing at Carbon6. Shannon brings a wealth of experience across diverse industries, including toys, tech, and gaming. Read the full transcript of her conversation with host Jonathan D’Ambrosio on the latest episode of The Seller’s Edge, as they discuss understanding customers, crafting a message, and how to stand out from the crowd.

Episode 12 of The Seller’s Edge, Shannon and Jonathan talk about:

  • 01:26 – The Impact of Branding
  • 02:20 – Educating Consumers about FBA Sellers
  • 04:24 – The Foundation of a Brand
  • 05:27 – Ideal Ways of Knowing Your Customers
  • 06:43 – Balancing Aesthetics with Information
  • 07:36 – Why Having an ‘About Us’ Page is so Important
  • 08:28 – The Risks of Exclusion
  • 09:07 – How Companies Endanger Profits
  • 11:36 – Always Be Authentic
  • 13:06 – Copy vs. Visual Design
  • 15:33 – The Power of Before/After Images
  • 17:03 – How to Use Colors in Branding & Logos
  • 20:17 – Why Brands Fail to Compete
  • 22:13 – The Potential for Growth in E-Commerce

Key Takeaways:

  1. Know Your Customer And What They Want
  2. Establish A Dtc Brand And Sell On Amz
  3. Concentrate On Providing Information & Value
  4. Be Inclusive
  5. Don’t Underestimate Images
  6. Be Original To Stand Out.
  7. Learn How To Drive Change

Full Transcript of Episode:

JONATHAN: I found, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but a lot of brands on Amazon don’t even have a brand. They’re just like there. They’re just like their products are out there. They don’t really have any sort of brand ethos or any of those things. And I’m curious if one, if that’s something you’ve noticed and if there’s some insights you have for that. 

SHANNON CURLEY: You know, I think it’s funny because it’s kind of a chicken in the egg scenario. Like, even when I tell people that I work in the Amazon industry and tell them, you know, yeah, we’re trying to help, you know, connect online entrepreneurs to opportunity and whatever, most people stop me and say, wait, what do you mean? Like there’s entrepreneurs on Amazon and I have to walk them back and say, yeah, actually, like, people have their own stores, their own businesses, whatever. A lot of people don’t know that period. So I say it’s kind of a chicken and the egg situation because how do you know that you have to build a presence and build a brand and build, you know, a true name for yourself when your customer might not even know that that’s a situation at all in the first place? Amazon’s interesting because you kind of have to marry two sides of it. There’s the side of it’s Amazon and people just want things quickly and they just want them cheaply. And that’s how we experience it as, as consumers ourselves. That like, you know, I have Amazon prime and I love it. I impulse buy the shit out of things on Amazon. On the other hand, it’s simple. And so people aren’t necessarily delving into the brand story. They’re not necessarily, you know, looking for your quote, unquote, why? To use the marketing terminology. 


SHANNON CURLEY: For example, in the pet category, that’s a inherently more people oriented, you know, empathetic category. People do probably put a little bit more effort into that. If they’re buying treats for their dog or a toy for their cat, they probably are scrolling a little bit more than they are if you’re buying, for example, a hammer. So in that case, you know, they might be interested in a story that says, I started such and such shop because I used to rescue dogs or I still rescue dogs or whatever. Something like that might pull up the heartstrings because that’s a category that is inherently tied to the heartstrings. But like I said, on the other hand, something like a hammer or, you know, dishwasher pods, it’s like when you go for a recipe, right? You google a recipe and you don’t need to hear their life story about, like when they first discovered apples and that’s how they decided to make an apple pie. You don’t need that for your buy now option, but you might need it for something else where you want to be scrolling and doing a little bit more research.

JONATHAN: I love that answer. And I love that you brought up the thing about the recipes online because it’s definitely a pet peeve of mine where they just go into like the history of shrimp or something like that. 

SHANNON CURLEY: Yeah. And, you know, it’s funny is I think that’s most people who don’t understand SEO don’t recognize that what that is. But if you try to explain to anyone SEO, you can tell them, like, for example, when you’re trying to look for a recipe and you have to scroll for an hour to get to it, that’s because they’re trying to rank higher on Google and everyone goes, oh, yeah. 

JONATHAN: Although they do have the jump to recipe buttons now, which I find extremely useful. 

SHANNON CURLEY: You don’t want to read about it?

JONATHAN: I mean, it depends on the subject, really. And the writer, can the singer out distance the song is the question, right? 


JONATHAN: And when you start and you’re looking at a brand and whether it’s a brand that you’re inheriting to refurbish or it’s from scratch, like, how do you approach it? What’s the, what sort of things are you looking at to build that brand story? 

SHANNON CURLEY: I would say it’s more valuable if we’re talking about building a brand story and building avatars, for example. It’s more valuable for us as creators to understand our customer than it is necessarily for the customer to see someone they can identify with when they’re purchasing a product on Amazon. I don’t need to tell you a story about why you need dish soap, but I do need to understand that when someone’s looking for dish soap, it’s because they have a very quick need to clean something up. You know, like, so let me show you right away in my product imagery that it is going to take, you know, this dirty dish pan and make it clean. Let me show you that you’ll need one paper towel, not five. Like, there’s ways for me to tell a quote unquote story that aren’t necessarily a story per se in the sense of, you know, something inspiring and motivating and encouraging. But, like, definitely telling you the story of how we’ll get you from problem to solution.

JONATHAN: What’s the best way for you to do that? Do you think it’s a focus group? Do you think it’s talking to customers? Do you think it’s looking at reviews, looking at competitor reviews, all of those things? 

SHANNON CURLEY: Yeah, I think it’s a combination. I like to a b test creative a lot because if you do that, then especially if you do the open ended a b testing and ask them for comments, you kind of hear about the things that they’re looking for. Same thing with reviews. Unfortunately, the reality of reviews is that most of them are negative. But you learn from negative too. As much as we want to screenshot the positive reviews and say look at what we did this quarter, it’s way more valuable to see the negatives because negative comments give you areas of improvement. Positive comments just tell you a good job. And it’s interesting too because that kind of ties back into the educational content. I think even though people aren’t necessarily going to your product storefront or they aren’t scrolling all the way down and looking at your additional videos and things like that for a more complicated product, specifically, if you’re leveraging video to explain how a product works, then they might come to the site because they’re annoyed, right? Because something doesn’t work about the product. They’re there. They’re coming back to the site because they want to leave a negative review. They want to be like, this thing sucks. But if they come back to the and there’s a video up there that maybe they didn’t see before, but now they’ve purchased the product, they click the video. Oh, that’s what I was doing wrong. My bad. I’m not going to leave that negative review. Or better yet, I’m going to leave a positive review because their customer service is dope and they anticipated banknotes. 

JONATHAN: I’m curious if you have any good examples of ones that balance the are good at balancing telling a brand story while informing customers? 

SHANNON CURLEY: I mean, I always go back to the pet story, like the pet category because it’s my favorite, honestly. But also it’s the easiest one. It’s a no brainer, right? People want to see happy animals, you show them happy animals. I used to do brand work for a pet company and nothing was more effective. It didn’t matter what we put in like we would a b test our images and nothing would be more successful than just simply showing like nine smiling dogs in every single image. You know, the brands that are most successful with telling stories and getting to the point on Amazon, I think, are brands that start on DTC, because they’ve already established a brand presence somewhere. And so they already understand the mechanisms that make a brand successful and they’ve seen what people engage with outside of, and then for them, they’re, you know, basically taking a model that already works and they’re pushing it into the Amazon marketplace. Having an about us does go a long way, especially when we’re talking about like, values driven marketing. And there are considerations even within the cleaning category that I mentioned. Like, of course, sustainability is hugely important, very popular topic. So that in your brand story is a good opportunity to say, you know, I care a ton about the environment. Here are some initiatives I’ve worked on, or here’s my background. I’m a scientist or whatever it is, there’s an area to build that kind of brand story when again, you kind of understand that there is a more personal, human element to that buying choice. I saw it a lot in kitchen too, because there’s 10 billion different types of, like, baking trays on Amazon. But if you do care enough to go, and of course I’m biased because my job is to go in and make sure listings are optimized and things like that. But if you go in, you know, there’s, there is a difference between buying from a mom who’s like, my kids and I cook together than buying from a blank page. Yeah, I would 100% agree with you there. 

JONATHAN: Yeah. Especially in the home category. I think the only category that I think that stands out to me, that probably can be lifeless is electronics or like automotive. To all the guy categories of the. Male dominated categories. 

SHANNON CURLEY: That’s unnecessary gendering. Women drive cars too, Jonathan. 

JONATHAN: I think it is important. That’s a good conversation to have. 

SHANNON CURLEY: Yeah, it is. And frankly, one that we don’t have enough. Although I do it all the time and I’m not doing it to make people’s lives difficult. I’m just like, hey, here’s something to think about. 

JONATHAN: Yeah. I think it’s being stuck in old ways of unlearning things that we’ve been taught. I know that a lot of brands, especially having worked in agencies and in house too, just because people seem to be very married to their ideas, people feel a danger of not wanting to branch out into different territories. They almost want to kind of twofold, right. You have the people who have a mass appeal, who don’t want to focus in on a specific person in a campaign, and then you have people who are the opposite, where it’s like they have one tailored person that they’re starting with, whether it’s on their DTC site and the person that they’re appealing to, and then you want to go to a broader demographic. So have you found that in your experiences, clients have that same hesitance and, like, is there a way to kind of shake them from that? 

SHANNON CURLEY: Yeah, I mean, I’ve had that experience a lot. I used to work for a toy company a long time ago, and I would constantly suggest ways to, like, shake up our, you know, photography and things like that to be more inclusive and, you know, not having, quote unquote boys toys and girls toys, but, like, all kids can play with all toys. And that was just so much of the pushback on that was, you know, well, but we don’t want to lose the other customer if we start doing this thing. And as much as you’d like to, you know, be that person on the higher moral ground who says, well, you know, if you lose that customer, then, like, you didn’t want them in the first place. That’s also just, like, not how business works. But I think, again, it kind of comes down to product. Like, toy is a category where you should push it because there are children of all backgrounds, all, like everything, right? There’s children are diverse, period. It’s not like you’re selling a beard trimmer, which has a much more narrow audience. If you are in a category that lends itself to going broad, I think you should try to go more broad. And it doesn’t mean necessarily that that’s going to skyrocket your sales, but it does offer the opportunity for you to move yourself into a different category or move yourself into a different customer base. But I get it. Like, I’ve heard it a million times. I’ve heard it in so many different scenarios of, like, well, that just doesn’t fit with our brand or that doesn’t fit with our current customers, and we don’t want to risk losing our current customers. And again, the morality side of me is like, everybody should be included, but the business side of me is like, I get it. But there’s also a calculated risk to not opening your brand to more people. So I think it honestly just goes back to that values conversation of, like, is your value to welcome as many people as possible into your brand, or is your value to hyper target a very specific niche and just focus on them and focus on retention and hope it keeps working? 

JONATHAN: Yeah. And it seems like, and I’m sure you’d have a good insight into this and thoughts on this? Because it’s a conversation you and I have had before in different ways, but it seems like the world is moving in a direction where values driven brands matter more. As far as sustainability is concerned, as far as Dei efforts are concerned, I feel like that counts for a lot. Is that just the romantic in me, or do you think that that’s just the world going that way? 

SHANNON CURLEY: I mean, I definitely romanticize it, too, so I’m right there with you. But I think it is going that way. And that has to do with a whole bunch of factors. It’s generational factors, it’s the cost of things. So if you’re putting up more money for things, you want them to be better quality, whatever that means to you. I think sustainability is just a hot topic, I guess, pun intended, because the world is on fire, you know? So I think that’s true, but I think that is, it’s going to be interesting to see. If I had to predict, I think we’re going to see a lot more, not that we don’t already have a ton of DTC brands on Amazon, but I think we’re going to see a lot more DTC brands becoming available on Amazon because I think people are going to still want to read those stories and want to see the mission driven initiatives, but people still want to be able to buy it on Amazon because it’s one day shipping and they have prime. I think there’s going to need to be a lot more necessary relationships between the DTC side and the Amazon side because people use Amazon for convenience, but they don’t necessarily use Amazon sellers for trust. And I think establishing a brand outside of Amazon and then pushing to Amazon is going to be more successful in the long run. But again, it really comes down to knowing your audience. Right. Because I care less about buying shampoo for myself than I do for my dog. Great. And I care less about buying conditioner for myself than I do buying body wash for my kid. Like, there’s just you. So you really have to know what your customer is the most interested in. It depends on the product. If I’m buying something complicated or expensive on Amazon, on like a car part, which I’m not sure if it’s going to be compatible, or a new microwave, then I’m going to want more information on it. I’m going to be a little more educated on it because I’m taking more time to qualify that purchase versus like, you know, if I’m buying a roll of toilet paper, I don’t really care what it’s all about as long as it’s two ply and it gets to me in a day, you know, like there’s just differences. And that’s both understanding what’s pushing a customer to buy that product, period. But also, why are they buying it on Amazon? Okay, and they’re buying it on Amazon because they want it quickly. So even, even if they do want more education, it’s still cursory education. It’s still not super, super in depth. Because if I really cared about buying a microwave, I’d probably buy it from, you know, best buy and have a warranty and have the manual able to be downloaded and all this stuff. But if I’m just like, whatever, I can get a crappy microwave for cheap. I just want to make sure it’s not going to blow up in my electrical socket. All good little depth, little depth in that information. But it doesn’t need to be, you know, a novel. It’s be bold, be brief, be gone. Um, and it’s annoying because I don’t like catchphrases, but it’s also super valid because you want your content to make an immediate impact, but you also want to make sure you’re not wasting your customers time. And so you show them the product, you show them how to use it, and then you’re out of there. That’s it. You don’t got to do anything else than that. Just make sure that you’re communicating your message. But it doesn’t have to be a college seminar on how to work a microwave. It’s easy to think about story and brand story in terms of just copy. But also this is an area where design makes a big difference. So you can create listing images that have a design that appears more sustainable by having light greens worked in and things like that. And different typefaces lend themselves to feeling more sustainable. So there’s a lot to do with visual identity that I think, especially with the sustainability conversation. You know, if you see two side by side images of dish soap and one of them is in green and the other one is in electric neon red, you’re probably going to associate the first one with sustainability and not so much the second one. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. Yeah, I guess that is the storytelling is the visual storytelling. And then, I mean, for me, I’m such a sucker for, like the before after photo on a, on cleaning supplies, like, whatever the visual equivalent is of ASMR. That’s what before, after and cleaning supplies does for me. I’m like, ooh, ooh. Yeah, I do want that. Like, I. My tub isn’t that dirty, but if I can make it that clean, let’s go for it. You know, like, there’s. I think there’s that connectivity, too, which, as a side note, for sustainability is really important to show. Because what’s one of the most common, you know, things about sustainability is people say, well, the product doesn’t work as well. It doesn’t have all those good, good chemicals in it. So, like, you do actually have to show the effectiveness of the product in addition to that, because you have to dispel some of the myths of, like, well, it’s not going to work as good. It’s going to work fine. 

JONATHAN: Yeah, I do. I am a sucker for the before and after, too. And just as a side note, I don’t know if there’s an account I have to send you on Instagram that is just them cleaning rugs. Like, really dirty rugs. And it’s the most satisfying thing to watch when they do, like, the deep clean. 

SHANNON CURLEY: And it just comes off and it just goes from brown to white. Yeah, just a little things. 

JONATHAN: Well, it feels like a piece of your soul is being cleaned. So there’s a catharsis to it. Like, you feel like you’ve been. 

SHANNON CURLEY: Yeah, for sure. You feel like you yourself are that rug and you have been cleansed. 

JONATHAN: Exactly. I mean, isn’t that universal? Isn’t that how everybody thinks about it? 

SHANNON CURLEY: Just me. Oh, okay. 

JONATHAN: But going back to the before and after, it’s interesting that you brought up the visual component, because I forgot how much you can actually achieve visually and in such a concise way, too. 

SHANNON CURLEY: There was this really interesting research study maybe ten years ago or something, and it was getting people to try to recreate from memory the most popular logos and everyone, you know, so it was like Starbucks, Best Buy, Walmart, whatever, just like a laundry list. And what was super interesting about it was that pretty much everyone messed up the actual design, but everyone got the colors. And that just speaks to color psychology is actually pretty intense and pretty pervasive. And so even if it’s not your logo per se, although it could be, because if you’re pushing for sustainability, then you’re going to want a logo that has, like, a leaf and is green. But people also just inherently are going to associate colors with different meanings. And it’s important to keep that in mind, too. I mean, I don’t want to go too deeply into it, but I kind of nerd out about the visual identity stuff. Like you can also, in terms of logo design and things like that, too, there are elements of your logo that you can change while keeping colors or vice versa. I mean, it’s interesting that, like, Dunkin donuts look so completely different from Starbucks, but for all intents and purposes, they do the same thing. But nobody in the world is associating Dunkin donuts with sustainability, but they both look like coffee. 

JONATHAN: It’s interesting when you talk about something like competitors between Starbucks and Dunkin donuts and going back to your, like, before and after, especially on Amazon, because I noticed a lot of creatives that compare their product to the competitor in an ambiguous way. They don’t actually call it their. It’ll be like competitor b, competitor C, and just like a nameless. It’ll be like the migs and hop guns. Do you think that there’s value to that? Especially, does that depend on the product category? Have you seen differences with that performing better for cleaning products versus something else? Or do you think that there’s a good best practices in general when it comes to competitors? 

SHANNON CURLEY: So I think when it comes to non name brands, it’s useless. I think if you say myself, cleaning supplier number one on Amazon versus cleaning supplier number two on Amazon, it’s not going to mean anything to anyone because they don’t know your brand in the first place. But if you can say, my cleaning solution works better than Clorox or works better than Lysol, then that has a difference. But it’s like comparing the every person to an Olympic athlete, you know, like if the other person could really be an Olympic athlete, great, like, I want to hear about that and that’s going to sell me. But if you tell me that, you know, every person won versus every person, too, you’re going to be real close in a race that doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, I still don’t want to watch that race. And I think that that’s mainly my problem with it, is just because it’s not really telling me anything, especially when they’re just like these shadow brands that don’t mean anything. Right? Like this thing you’ve never heard of is better than this other thing you’ve never heard of. Like, okay, okay, yeah. 

JONATHAN: But it is something that people try a lot. 

SHANNON CURLEY: Yeah, they do. And I get why they do, for sure. But in my experience, it hasn’t worked particularly well, although it is another instance where even just tweaking your verbiage can make a difference. Like, I’ve done campaigns where we have, instead of, you know, versus our competitors, we do where we win. And that kind of positive connotation, I think people latch onto more than, you know, more than beating down your competition. You’re just bolstering up your own authority. And that goes a longer way in my experience. 

JONATHAN: Yeah, like, I think if your copy is consisting of, like, we don’t kill horses, like this other company, then to make our product, that’s probably not the best way to go about it. I do like the ways we win scenario. Angry Orange is a really good example because I feel like so many of their competitors weren’t doing what they were doing. So it’s a great scenario of which, hey, here’s this product. Let’s look at the competitors and be aware of what they’re doing. But let’s do something a little different, because I think a lot of people’s approach, in my opinion, or in my experience, is that people will look at competitors and try to do exactly what competitors are doing to try to get a leg up on them, which I think inherently is just counterintuitive. 

SHANNON CURLEY: I think. Uh, yeah, I’ve seen that, too. And it’s funny, I. This is related, I swear, but last night I went to see, like, a local production of who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Which is like, a three hour long play, mind you. So big commitment. But I was reading in the playbook that the director had never seen the play before, had never seen the play before, and had never seen the movie before, obviously knew that it existed in some capacity. It’s one of the most famous plays at 60 years old, at one of Tony blah blah blah. But they had never seen anything. And the production was incredible. And all of the reviews of it have been like, I’ve seen six different iterations of this show. The show is the best. This was the best rendition of it I’ve seen. And I mentioned that just to say that sometimes if you don’t let yourself be influenced and you just interpret your own thing, you’ll do better, because it’s the influence that’s going to make you blend in, but it’s your own perspective that’s going to make you stand out. 

JONATHAN: I think you nailed it, because that’s the thing that I’ve always been having trouble to articulate to people. Like, I don’t want to synthesize what everybody else is doing. I want to say something that’s original and tell an original story because that’s really the only way to stand out. 

SHANNON CURLEY: Well, and I think there’s so many kind of what we were saying with the logos, like, there’s so many different ways to stand out. Even if you’re following the general conventions of something like, you know, everyone in the cleaning category is going to have a before and after, but your color scheme might be different or you might have a before and after and you have a cat your slide for some reason. But just those little things do make you stand out. And it doesn’t mean that you have to reinvent everything, but you should definitely reinvent parts. 

JONATHAN: Yeah, for sure. That’s solid advice. In what ways do you think sellers can contribute positively to the industry and drive change?

SHANNON CURLEY: I think that there actually needs to be a lot more public education, that e-commerce generally and Amazon specifically are an area in which you can be entrepreneurially successful. I think so few people know that that’s actually an avenue to. Yeah, there’s a limited pool that can become financially independent working off of Amazon, but even just as a side gig and a side hustle, it’s an opportunity. And in my current role, a big reason why I started at this company was because our mission to go back to the idea of missions and guiding principle has been to lower the barriers to entrepreneurial success, to create ways in which it is easier to launch a product on Amazon and see it be successful and start seeing money come into your account. And so I think there is good to be found in it. It’s not without its difficulties, of course, and its challenges. But if you happen to get lucky and hit a product that goes viral and people love it and they want it, it can be a huge change maker in the life of a lot of people. And I think everyone should still maintain a very healthy skepticism about Amazon and about any kind of big conglomerate like that. It is a platform that is global, that is gigantic, that prioritizes customer experience, and that sells everything you can think of under the sun. And if you can find your one thing or your two things, or whatever it is or your category that you think you can do really well, go for it, because the worst that can happen is you just aren’t successful, but you still have your prime membership. 

JONATHAN: I can’t imagine a better note to end on. So I’m just gonna. That was perfectly sad and I appreciate that. Um, and you’re as insightful as always, so I appreciate you taking the time to talk. 

SHANNON CURLEY: Yeah, no, it was great. I was very happy to do it. 
JONATHAN: All right. Thanks, Shannon.

Want more insights? Check out more episodes of The Seller’s Edge Podcast.

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