Amazon is Making Its Big Push - What That Means for Advertisers

 While you were sleeping...Amazon's been building a massive advertising infrastructure.

While you were sleeping...Amazon's been building a massive advertising infrastructure.

When it comes to digital platform advertising, the Google Adwords steam train has continued to lurch forward, and Facebook has iterated its way to an effective advertising platform, but Amazon has been curiously understated.

Yes, they've offered onsite sponsored opportunities for a while and have recently been more active in offering managed service buys through their network of platforms, but they've yet to provide an efficient, buyer-friendly method of placing ads at scale in the vein of an Adwords platform or Facebook Power Editor.

Until now. 

It finally looks like Amazon has decided to lean into the advertising market with verve. The question is: why? Why has Amazon neglected such a lucrative digital advertising market for so long?

The answer lies in Amazon's infrastructure.

While Google's been off taking moonshots (many of which have failed spectactularly), and Facebook has stumbled its way into high ad spending at the expense of content and user growth (prompting its recent algorithm adjustment), Amazon's been focusing on building an incredible (if not mind-blowing) array of synapses which combine to create a complex advertising infrastructure. Alexa, Whole Foods/Fresh, Prime Video, Kindle, Amazon Music - is there a part of human consumption Amazon doesn't currently touch? (That's a rhetorical question...for now).

Instead of focused on advertising revenue too early, Amazon has first deftly developed a massive framework upon which an advertising platform can sit. Once advertisers have access to these ad formats and audience data through this framework, the possibilities will be endless. Imagine, as an advertiser, logging into an interface to a campaign targeting users based on voice search data and buying patterns, using formats across video, product search, voice results, in-app and even in-store - all through one centralized interface. 

One might argue that Google is already there - which is certainly what they'd like you to think - if you think about it Google's advertising offerings boil down to search (including mobile), display network, Gmail and Youtube, with a handful of ad formats in the interest of unversal access and user experience. 

Ultimately, Amazon, Google and Facebook all share the same end goal. They want their brands to be the go-to source for nearly all important consumption, whether that includes products via shopping, or media (video, audio, news); and they are all racing to create as many experiential and data gathering ways possible to make that happpen (see: Alexa/Home, Prime Video/Watch/Red). The difference is how they've approached it. While Google and Facebook rushed to plug their ad platforms into whatever hardware was available, Amazon has been slowly building the success of those systems first. That's the hard part. The easy part will be layering the advertising platform on top and saying "Go".

Amazon's value proposition will soon be Adwords on steroids, with increasing reach, more advaced data, and a plethora of delivery mechanisms that even Google and Facebook can't match. Advertisers should prepare now to add Amazon to their digital media buys, because as soon as the platform is accessible, it will be a significant part of any successful strategy.

On Digital Marketing: Don't Overthink It.

Digital media is constantly evolving, with new and emerging channels seemingly becoming available each day. With all of the changes happening, it's easy for digital marketers to become distracted.

  Don't get lost in the chaos of digital media. Focus on what's important.

Don't get lost in the chaos of digital media. Focus on what's important.

How should you approach testing these opportunities without compromising your results? How can you keep learning new tools and technology while keeping your focus on existing campaigns? Where should you spend your time, energy and money for best results?

Importantly, you have to find the balance between testing and learning with new channels or formats, and leaning on what you know works. Often, digital marketers over-rely on flashy new opportunities, whether it's Snapchat, or augmented reality, or [insert buzzword here], without thinking about why it should matter to their audience.

Snapchat, for example, is a perfectly capable channel for some brands - depending on the audience, creative, and objectives - but it's very specialized in that you cannot simply take your existing strategy and re-purpose it for that format. It just won't work without a unique strategy. So, without a unique strategy, what will happen is you will test it out halfheartedly and you won't find results you expected, so then you'll write it off as ineffective for the rest of time. 

If anything, these new emerging channels have emphasized the importance of channel-specific strategies. It's possible to have an over-arching creative concept, but you'd better make sure that concept works for all the channels you're proposing, and vice versa.

It's easy to get lost in the maze of new digital channels. As a digital marketer, your job is to sort through the chaos and be an advocate for your company or clients, to make the best recommendations and set your campaigns up for success.  Despite the increasingly complex landscape, it all comes down to investing in understanding the following: the objectives, the audiences, and the channels. 


Focus on the objectives

Before anything, you need to set expectations for yourself and anyone else who is invested about what each channel will deliver. And in order to do that, you should fully understand what each channel is capable of achieving, and how you're going to measure it. 

Developing a measurement framework, outlining each channel specifically, how it fits into the overall business objectives and the marketing objectives, as well as specific KPIs and how each will be measured, will set you up for success as you go forward. By stating up front that you don't expect Snapchat to deliver direct leads, and you're okay with that since you're expecting it to deliver impressions which will drive engagement and awareness (and success of these things means X), you are setting the proper campaign expectations and you know specifically what success means for each channel. 

Give yourself a test budget

The reality is that new channels are usually the first to be cut or moved when the inevitable budget crunch comes along. Though this is fiscally responsible in the short term, it's also short sighted as you're not setting the groundwork for new channel testing and potential opening up new successful channels. To avoid this, set aside a specific testing/innovation budget which is solely used to test and learn. Although it's still important to measure how these tests will be deemed successful or not, you're also setting an expectation that an objective here is to learn what will work for the future. 

Providing a unique budget and solidifying the importance of that budget also helps to avoid that imminent reallocation exercise. Emphasize the importance of this budget and keep it separate from other digital marketing budgets so it's more difficult to conflate with the overall campaign finances, thus keeping this effort in tact. 

Think about the audience

Many digital marketers start with the channel or creative. For example, you may have a fun creative concept which would translate spectacularly into GIFs. Your product is also a hearing device for seniors.

As they say - just because I can wear spandex, doesn't mean I should wear spandex.

Your audience is the most important determining factor when it comes to marketing channel selection. After all, it makes no sense to place your ads/content somewhere where your audience doesn't reside. 

Identifying the best channels/environments for your audiences is an essential part of the planning process. Use as many tools as possible to help map out and prioritize channels - this may also reveal new channel opportunities that you hadn't thought of or tried yet. Tools to employ in this process may include: web analytics (top referring sources, audience demographics), market research and trends, surveys, social media research (Facebook page analytics, social listening tools), previous campaign performance. 

Understand the principles, then the tools

If you're going to select a marketing channel, you first have to fully understand that channel. Digital marketers often find themselves advocating for new channels to sound cutting-edge, but many have never even used them. I've listened to digital marketers pan the idea of something ("why would anyone use that?") and then turn around and recommend it in a plan because it sounds cool. If you don't understand or believe in the channel, why should your company or client? 

Before recommending something, you must first understand why something has resonated. Even if you don't believe it's useful, somebody does, and your job is to understand why, and how to leverage that to meet campaign objectives. 

As a digital marketer part of your job is to stay on top of these trends. This means downloading every new app, exploring new channels/tools, and reading everything about emerging trends and campaign examples. Similar to a fashion look-book, you should create a repository of channels, formats and platforms. For example, under social media you could have an entire portfolio of Facebook ad examples that you've seen and grabbed over time, trends, case studies and strategies. This way you keep yourself apprised of each channel, and you can easily reach back into your records to help identify the right channels and examples when the time comes. 

The New New Years' Resolutions - How Technology Can Help Keep 2018 Goals (Or Distract From Them)

It's January 1st, which means you've likely been bombarded with New Years lists. Allow me to add one more to the pile.

 Most New Years' Resolution lists look pretty similar. How will your goals be different, and what tools will you use to stick to them?

Most New Years' Resolution lists look pretty similar. How will your goals be different, and what tools will you use to stick to them?


Typically I stay away from angles like this because they're trite and easy to lose in the noise of all the other resolutions out there. But recently I've found myself in need of a realignment of sorts, or at least a reshuffling of priorities - so that's what I'm going to try to accomplish with my 2018 New Years' Resolutions. Many of these, frankly, work better as indictments of my 2017 (and earlier) behavior patterns than strictly a resolve to do specific things in the year to come. That is to say, most of this list looks backwards to diagnose problems, inefficiencies or deficiencies before looking forward to proposed solutions. 

The other thing I'd like this list to do is focus on how digital has fundamentally changed some of my behaviors, and why that's not necessarily a good thing (or, how to compensate for some of these shifts in behaviors and priorities). 

Finally, writing these items down and sharing them publicly is a form of accountability. If I think others are keeping tabs on my progress, perhaps I'll be more likely to stick to them. 

I've grouped my resolutions into some pretty basic and fundamental categories, because ultimately there are some pretty broad areas I'd like to improve in - and some specific goals I'm setting to get there. I've thought a lot about these categories and I believe they are somewhat universal, so I think they can be re-purposed for your own use and even reset year to year as your behaviors, priorities and focuses change. Really though, you'll find that most resolutions fall under one of these groups.

  1. Write
  2. Read
  3. Eat
  4. Move
  5. Save
  6. Be

(I'd also be remiss in not mentioning things like learning, and specific professional goals. I'm focusing my list on broader lifestyle goals but would certainly agree that professional improvement should be on everyone's list.)


I've resolved to write 50 blog posts in 2018, which equates roughly to one per week with some vacations built in. I've often heard/read writers state that the best way that they found their voice, style, and lane was to just write. I've also found that writing, especially about digital trends and strategy, helps me to crystallize ideas and collect scattered thoughts with greater clarity, which helps me be better at my job. The biggest challenge to date, besides just finding the time (which is really the worst excuse for anything) has been the motivation to sit down and push these ideas out into a cohesive concept. Part of this resolution will be to keep notes of these ideas as they come to me in a separate notebook, which will help me focus and build on initial ideas. I'll also carve out a specific amount of time each week to dedicate to researching and writing.

To help with this process I'll be using Pocket to identify articles/research to use as resources, and Evernote to keep blog notes and ideas.



I've resolved to read 12 books in 2018, or one book per month. Again this is a very personal list and I realize that many people would find this number to be quite low, but it's realistic enough for me given my family and work commitments. Most important will be queuing up books I'm interested in and dedicating time each night during the week to read (one of my main issues isn't reading per se, but finishing books, as I have a habit of reaching half of a book then picking up something else). I'm going to commit to reading a variety of categories, not focusing solely on one genre, including three books from the following genres: fiction, business, historical, and self-improvement. To ensure I keep at this I will create my reading wishlist and buy them all now, earmark them for each month in 2018, and go from there (suggestions welcome!). 

To help reach this goal I'll be downloading all books to my Kindle paper white.



Losing weight and eating right are pretty typical of most resolution lists. I do feel that I eat relatively well overall (there are some obvious ways to improve like not snacking, eating more veggies, etc.). I'm going to focus my eating efforts, however, on an approach that will have multiple benefits. I've resolved in 2018 to make myself lunch 4 days a week. I'll accomplish this by planning my meals each week, looking at my calendar to account for business meetings/lunches, and prepping food for the week via shopping lists and early prep-work. This goal won't just help me better control and improve what I'm eating, which will have ancillary benefits on energy and health, but will also help avoid eating out regularly which will help financially. I will earmark lunches now that I'll be able to dip into throughout the year so as to avoid wear-out.

I'll be using Amazon fresh delivery to help stick to this goal. By creating grocery lists and including items from my recipes each week I won't have any excuses to avoid making my lunches at home. I'll also set myself up to more easily order via voice search by creating custom lists and favorite items to help with reordering.



Again, exercising is pretty standard on these lists and I feel that I do a pretty good job of keeping active now, working out 5-6 times per week on average. My goal for 2018, however, is focused more on the types of workouts I'm doing and when I'll be doing them. Oftentimes my workouts happen later at night (past 8pm) which ends up eating into my reading-, writing-, work-, family- or general downtime.  By committing to working out in the morning 3 days per week I'll be freeing up my evenings for these other important activities. I also have found that, although I'm not a morning person by nature, I do feel much better after working out in the morning hours (once I can bring myself to get moving). Regarding the types of workouts, my typical week now includes 3-4 in-home HIIT workouts, 2 or so sports (depending on the season) and maybe a run or cycle class. I'd like to diversify my in-home workouts a bit more by returning to the gym (gasp!) and including more yoga classes to help with recovery and flexibility.

Luckily, we have all of these amazing health tracker tools at our disposal. I myself use a fitbit tracker now but really just as a guilty reminder of when I've been exceedingly lazy. In 2018 I'll commit to using these tools more effectively, by beating my steps goals each day and making sure to take walks throughout the day. I've tested out classpass and didn't find enough value in it at the time, but I may sign up for a smaller plan to ensure I try new classes and gyms more regularly.



There are so many ways and resources to be smarter financially in 2018, but somehow this one always ends up being the most difficult to stick to (probably because two kids and a house aren't cheap, and neither is eating out frequently!). The easiest, most obvious approach to this goal is simple: set a budget, and stick to it, which is exactly what I'll be doing. However, in terms of actively saving money, I've found that creating automatic systems to tuck money away has been the most effective method for me (so, automatically deducting a larger % for retirement, increasing amounts for kids college funds, etc). For the purpose of this list, I'm also going to be setting a more specific goal for saving which is to save for a big annual family vacation. Between work and personal obligations, we rarely take well-planned family trips - in fact this past year was the first full family vacation we've ever taken, and even that one was rather spontaneous and half-baked. By saving more effectively we'll be able to plan in advance and be smarter about our vacation.

To help save I'll be using Digit, which will automatically, programmatically deduct small amounts from my bank accounts regularly, based on income and spending habits. This way we'll be able to save without it impacting our behaviors too much, and we'll also be able to keep track of the savings to more consciously put additional money aside each month as needed.



My final goal of 2018 is a side effect of my (our) constantly growing reliance on digital tools and technology. I'm very rarely away from my phone, without the TV on at home, or without some audio playing. I'm committing in 2018 to consciously and strategically reject technology on a regular basis, which will mean having "no phone" hours of the day and setting aside mindfulness time. 

A tool I'll be using to help with this goal is HeadSpace, which will help with guided mindfulness practice. More importantly, however, will be focusing on the lack of technology at certain times. Each night I'm committing to 2 hours not looking at my phone, and I'll also be reducing my television watching time to focus on my reading and writing goals.


Sometimes the best thing we can do is to re-prioritize and make conscious decisions to benefit other areas of our lives. As much as new tools can help, they can also be a distraction. 2018 is all about finding out which tools are which and acting accordingly.

I Cut the Cord on Cable One Year Ago - Here's What I've Learned

It's been a year since my wife and I made the terrifying decision to get rid of our cable package. As kids of the 80's and 90's, we had grown up with traditional cable TV, from rabbit ears to the evolution of premium channels and the expansion of channel lists. However, our cable bill always seemed to be increasing, and after ballooning to over $200 per month we had had enough. 

tv screen.jpg

The Setup

We finally decided to invest the time and energy to research our options. Our main goal was to minimize our cable bill without losing too many of our favorite channels or programming. Although we expected to compriomise on some content, I wanted to avoid losing live local sports and news, my wife wanted to keep features like DVR, and we wanted to make sure we still had ample options for our kids. To achieve this, we landed on the following setup:

  1. Roku Express - One-time purchase of $30 per device (1 for each TV) - We started with the Roku after exploring AppleTV (restrictive technology and cost-prohibitive), Chromecast (poor UI/UX), and Amazon Firestick (restrictive technology and access). Roku was easy to setup and the UX was intuitive, as we were easily able to install and access any streaming services we planned on trying. 
  2. Digital Antennas - $30 per device per TV - these devices allow us to get free local television networks.
  3. Playstation Vue Service - $55/mo for most channnels + HBO/Movies - We tested both SlingTV and Playstation Vue. Sling had a better UI at the time, but we chose PS Vue because it offered both local sports channels (NBC Sports Boston and NESN) as well as some other preferred channels. Overall many of the channel options were the same and the cost was similar as well.
  4. WiFi Modem - $100 one-time - We purchased our modem to avoid renting from the internet service provider.
  5. WiFi Signal Booster - $200 one-time fee - We purchased the WiFi booster since we were relying much more heavily on the in-home internet and wanted to make sure we were maximizing speed and service.
  6. 25 MBPS Internet at home - We are paying $30 per month for this service and it provides enough speed to stream with little issue.
  7. Netflix, Amazon Video - We had these services beforehand and have been increasingly dependent on them for our content. 

Ulltimately, we paid ~$400 upfront for devices, and our monthly bill shrunk to under $100 for premium streaming cable, DVR, local digital TV networks (free) and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. 

What I've Learned

After the initial learning curve of getting used to a new interface and resetting expectations around offerings and content, I'm extremely satisfied with my decision to cut the cord. Here are the main things I've come to realize one year in.

  1. We're saving a ton of money. After all was said and done, we were saving more than $130 per month on cable, without losing many channels.
  2. We don't miss much. The only channels we ever think about that we don't get at this point are Comedy Central and MTV (but, not really), otherwise our viewing habits have barrely changed. Ultimately, even if there were other channels we frequented before making the switch, behavior is easily changed once you find other content and adapt to new options.
  3. Live TV isn't an issue - mostly. One of our biggest concerns in making the switch was potentially losing out on live, local television. These fears were all but quelled once we bought the digital antennas, which provide live access to local networks, and the PS Vue which offers live sports channels. We also still have access to all ESPN channels as well as some interesting regional channels like NBC sports (regional), live eSports, NFL Redzone (necessary), and Fox Sports channels. There are a few small issues which have come up, including the inability to record some live network programming, the DVR experience for delayed viewing, the process of switching to digital antenna vs. streaming service can be a bit annoying, and some limited mobile phone access (some programs are device-limited). For the most part, however, our live viewing experiences haven't changed much.
  4. User Interfaces are Still Evolving. The user interfaces used by streaming services still leave a bit to be desired. They don't match the ease of navigation or speed of cable companies, and I find PS Vue to be glitchy which can be annoying. Is it annoying enough to pay another $130 per month? No way. I expect that the UI will improve over time with more use and feedback, and once you get the hang of where to go and how to use it, it's fine. 
  5. It's all about your internet. If I were to potentially change one element of our setup, it would be to find a faster, more reliable internet service. With such a heavy reliance on home WiFi, it becomes much more apparent when service is slow or down, and with more devices in our home connected to the source, we sometimes run into issues when everthing is connected and in use at once. 
  6. Cable is no longer the star. It had already been shifting this direction by the time we made the switch, but became more obvious after transitioning over, that cable channels are just one option in the great content pool. With Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and even standalone apps like ESPN Watch, not to mention online services like YouTube and Facebook, the cable services have much more to compete with to gain our attention. 

After a year of streaming cable, I'm not planning on going back to traditional cable anytime soon. With more users making the switch, I'd expect cable companies to shift more toward the streaming offerings since they clearly have found a way to match - or even exceed - cable television services. 

Looking Ahead in 2017 - Immersive Video is Just Video

We've come a long way since virtual reality first became part of the public lexicon in the 1980's and 1990's. As always with technology, removing the barriers to creation and distribution was the spark which has ignited the growth of Immersive Video,  including 360-degree and VR. How did we get here and where do we go now? 

We know that immersive video formats offer a unique viewing experience that standard video cannot; the ability to become part of the narrative, versus watching as a third-party outsider. This means that, although there's still plenty of room for flat video, depending on the content, a user may prefer the full experience of VR compared to standard video.

There are two main reasons why immersive content is poised to take over the video marketplace.

  • The production of high quality 360-degree and VR video content has proliferated to the point that any Joe Schmoe now has the capability to produce stunning professional quality VR videos from his/her own home. Now that the barriers to production have been removed, and since VR offers such a unique immersive viewing experience, it only makes sense that the trajectory of VR/360 video is taking off. 
  • Most importantly, the platforms for distribution and tools for engagement with immersive video are already available to nearly everyone. Facebook and Youtube, two of the largest video platforms in the world, now offer 360-degree and VR video as part of their regular streaming. Without much fanfare, they've removed the mental barriers users may have had distinguishing VR/360 from traditional video. In other words, by making it simply part of their existing video offering, they've normalized VR/360 so that users aren't surprised when they are all of a sudden able to interact with the videos as full environments. Add to that the fact that cardboard headsets like Google Cardboard have become available to the public, and we are at the point where VR is ready to take off.

In 2017 we will see more exciting productions happening in immersive formats, including movies, games and yes, advertising. While we saw advertisers dabble in VR/360 in 2016, the proliferation of video production technology as well as the ability to promote videos on Facebook and Youtube will have made it nearly impossible to neglect. The most interesting element of this will not be whether this type of video is available, but how immersive video changes the narratives of the videos themselves. Immersive video is no longer a surprise, it is an expectation. How will you meet it?

Never Stop Learning

Like most of us, I've received a number of pieces of advice from various co-workers, friends and family members over my career. Some are bad, many are forgettable, and a select few, for whatever reason, truly resonate. Those tidbits are the ones I collect in the back of my mind. Often they show themselves when I need them most, and sometimes when I don't even expect it. 

One of my favorites was shared with me early, while I was still an intern at an advertising agency in Connecticut.  I was offered a choice between two positions: Account Services where I had interned for three months (without pay), and the Digital Department, where I was offered a position as Project Coordinator despite my lack of any technical web knowledge or project management skills. When debating which position to take, I was intrigued by Digital, even though I had no idea what I'd be doing. I liked the newness of it, and the challenge it presented. I was curious about the opportunities and possibilities it held - to create something, to be on the forefront, to innovate. 

That's when a co-worker serendipitously cast these words. He said "Did you know that a shark has to constantly keep moving or else it will die? You should be like that. If you ever stop moving, learning or growing, it's time to move on." (Note: It turns out this is partially true. But I like it, and partially true is good enough for me on this one.)

That piece of advice convinced me to take the Digital role, where I was sure that I'd learn more than ever before, and have the opportunity to keep learning.

Each time I feel myself slowing down I think about the shark, "keep moving". What can I do to learn something new today? What can I create to keep myself and my work fresh? How can I continue to challenge myself?

I was naive at the time, and in too many ways, I still am. Never stop learning - or else.