Episode 5: Ian Lamont on Advertising and Direct-to-Consumer Sales

In this episode of the BookSmarts Podcast, Joshua talks with Ian Lamont, founder of i30 Media Corporation, about advertising on Amazon and Facebook, utilizing his website to build community, and building direct to consumer sales. 

Amazon advertising offers some excellent opportunities to advertise your products and your brands, and has put a lot of thought into how products are discovered and displayed to consumers. However, there are some limitations that come with too much reliance on Amazon’s advertising and sales, not the least of which is not being able to see more information about your customers and grow your own relationships with them. 

Ian ran into that problem last year when Amazon stopped taking orders from publishers in order to focus on personal protective equipment at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. This caused him to dive into the world of Facebook advertising, and to spend more time building a connection to his customers through his own websites.

Facebook advertising works differently than Amazon advertising, but you get the opportunity to reach a different demographic, engage in social sharing, and build more connections with your readers through that channel. Ian connected his move to Facebook advertising with some changes to his websites, and was able to expand his personal email list and start creating a dedicated cadre of return consumers that now recognize his brand and appreciate his products.

NOTE: I apologize for the intermittent background noise during the episode. The process of publishing never stops, and we recorded the episode while Ian’s team was busy packing boxes.

Are your marketing efforts working? Are you able to see whether your advertising campaigns are actually moving the needle? Firebrand’s Eloquence on Alert platform is the most powerful title performance monitoring tool available. See how your marketing events relate to your sales rank, reviews, and more. Get real data, and real insights, into what’s happening with your books on book retail sites. Learn more and sign up for a demo at eloquenceonalert.com.

Transcript

Joshua Tallent
Hello, and welcome to the book smarts podcast where we talk about publishing data and technologies and send you away with some insights that will help you sell more books. I’m your host, Joshua Tallent. So, this week on the BookSmarts Podcast, I’m very excited to talk to Ian Lamont. Ian is the founder of i30 Media Corporation. And he’s the creator of the Lean Media Framework, you and I go way back, I think we met at IBPA conferences many years ago. He started his business in 2012, with a single how to guide about Dropbox. And he does amazing how to guides, I love these guides, they’re actually pretty awesome, in addition to books that he publishes as well. So, since the company started, he’s expanded to a complete line of utility to nonfiction products. That’s the “In 30 Minutes” series, which you really have to check out, as well as several ancillary product lines. Ian uses Shopify, Google, Facebook, and a range of Amazon programs to develop and market new products. And he’s also a frequent speaker at publishing events on Amazon related topics. So, Ian, thanks for joining me today on the BookSmarts Podcast.

Ian Lamont
Thanks, Joshua, for having me. Glad to be here.

Joshua Tallent 
Yeah, so this is really awesome. So, you and I actually, I think at the IBPA conference two years ago, maybe it was three years ago now. We both gave talks about metadata and Amazon issues on the same day, I think it was back-to-back, actually. And there were probably some of the most interesting conversations that we could possibly have. And really great questions from the publishers that were there, and really great conversations about Amazon. So, I’m really looking forward to chatting with you today about this stuff. Because you know more about Amazon in some ways that I think almost anybody else I know. So, let’s start off by just describing some of your products. What do you publish at i30 Media Corp.? What are you actually publishing give me give us a big picture of the types of things that you that you create, and also how you approach advertising those things on Amazon and Facebook and other places?

Ian Lamont 
Yeah. So, as you said, in the little lead into this set section, I started off with a single title, a book title, like a utility nonfiction, so that’s like a how to guide. And for the first, maybe four or five years of my company, I was really focused on doing the books. But actually, since then the other products have taken over. These are both, you know, spinoff lines from the book—from the book business, or sometimes I’ll experiment with a new product line that doesn’t work out. But the two other product lines that did work out, one of them was a line of cheat sheets. And these are basically printed on cardstock, four pages. They have—they’re for technology mostly. And they have things like keyboard shortcuts and tips and examples. So, they’re closely related to the books. The other line was completely, I wouldn’t say unrelated, but kind of unexpected success. And we had a book called Genealogy Basics in 30 Minutes, by author Shannon Combs-Bennett and I decided just to kind of create a kind of a complimentary product, some genealogy stationery that would go along with the book. And the idea was, if you bought the book, you’d also buy the stationery, because it can help you, you know, get started with genealogy. And I placed that on Amazon in 2016. And that just started selling like wildfire. And I quickly expanded the different types of genealogy stationery and kind of other related products on Amazon at first, but now on our own Shopify storefront, which is easygenie.org. And that’s actually probably about 60% or 70% of my sales right now is genealogy stationery, and the remainder is divided between the books and the cheat sheets. So, I have, you know, like many small independent publishers who started in the last 10 years, you know, Amazon is our starting point, it’s a great place to experiment, it’s kind of a great place to get a feel for what people are looking for, and also kind of see different trends. But as I always recommend to other publishers, you know, as soon as you can get off Amazon and start leveraging other programs that are out there, the better. And there are some fantastic programs in the book publishing arena. And there’s also fantastic platforms in the selling arena—ecommerce arena. And I recommend that everyone try them out. Because while you can learn a lot from Amazon, I think the real opportunity is having more control over your sales destiny and your products where you have a direct connection with customers and readers. And you can use different types of marketing programs, and you’re not solely dependent on Amazon. Because if something goes wrong with Amazon and your account gets flagged or there’s some other issue, it can really mess things up for your business.

Joshua Tallent 
Yeah, that’s actually a really big point. And something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and talking to other people about is that direct to consumer sales side to publishing there’s been a huge impact on that side of the publishing spectrum since the coronavirus hit and publishers had to kind of figure out what to do next, I was actually looking just recently, there was a PW article about the top independent publishers in the US, the ones that are that are growing the fastest in the last year. And in this article, it actually pointed out, I think four of the 10 or so different publishers pointed out specifically that they had gone direct-to-consumer as one of their key strategies in the last year, and that it had really boosted their sales, and they were starting to really figure out how to engage that market themselves. So, I think that’s a really important point. And obviously, something you’ve been doing for a long time, not just on the Amazon side, but really doing your direct-to-consumer side as well. So, I think that’s really awesome. So, let’s talk a little bit more about the Amazon side. So, like I said, you’ve been doing Amazon—you actually use both Seller Central and Amazon Advantage, right. So, you’re doing, you’re doing a little bit on both sides, and kind of using both for different products. Is that true?

Ian Lamont 
Yeah. So, I’m using three main Amazon programs for selling. The first one, I started out with Amazon KDP, like a lot of self-published authors. But now I also publish, actually, of all the books that we’ve published—new books we’ve published in the last five years, all are by other authors now. So KDP is one and that encompasses the Kindle as well as the paperback because I used to be on CreateSpace, and as many people know, Amazon folded CreateSpace into KDP. The second program is Amazon Advantage, which I use, mostly for the cheat sheets, but sometimes for other book titles that we have. And then the third one is Amazon Seller Central. And this is a pro level account. And there’s there are some things that overlap between them. For instance, you can access Amazon Advertising through all three of those programs that I named, but some things that are a bit different in terms of setting up metadata, or kind of enhancing your listings or doing something else.

Joshua Tallent 
Yeah, so that’s actually a really important point to that, because you’re in three different places, you’re managing your data in each place individually for each product that you’re doing. But the advertising side, let’s talk about that a little bit. Because obviously, Amazon has a very big focus on their advertising programs, and they utilize that in discovery on their platform a lot. It can impact your visibility for whatever products, you’re selling quite a bit. So how do you determine how much you put into advertising on a new product that you’re going forward with? Do you have kind of baseline I’m gonna think about, you know, this is how much I normally spend on a new product I’m advertising or is it that you have kind of a kitty of advertising funds, and you just divide it up however it makes sense.

Ian Lamont 
So one thing I’ve learned—so I’ve been using Amazon advertising for five years, and it behaves a lot differently than other advertising platforms. And to give you one example, on Facebook advertising you usually give a daily budget or a lifetime budget. So, the daily budget might be $50 per day for a product that you’re advertising, or you know, some sort of action that you want to take place, Facebook will use up all that money 50 bucks, they’ll find people to show it to even if they’re not really good prospects, that’s my experience, Amazon advertising I can give them, I can give them a $50 budget for a campaign. And if the if the views aren’t there, if the people aren’t searching for that stuff, they won’t get used up. And actually, I’d say that’s an advantage of Amazon advertising. Because I’m not—I feel that I don’t have to be constantly checking that out to see if I’m, you know, using up all my budget, because usually, you know, for a typical new campaign, I’ll start at $25 to $50 per day, for a single product. Or if it’s a type of advertisement called a Sponsored Brand, you can show a bunch of different products at one time. So, it’ll be within that range, the budget range, but actually the usage range. It’s rare that I go above 50% of my budget on a single day, at least when I go back and check things out. So, Amazon, in a sense, is actually constrained by the number of people who are searching for, you know, whatever products that you’re that you’re advertising. Most of my campaigns are based on manual keywords, I have a spreadsheet of keyword terms that I upload into Amazon for a new campaign. And Amazon is trying to match those keywords against what people are searching for. And also, you know, taking into account the budgeting variables that I’ve set up, which include, besides the daily budget, the keyword budget, and they kind of slot things according—I don’t know how detailed you want me to get here, but they have a bunch of different ways of slotting that up. For instance, let’s say for the keyword “genealogy book” you can set that up as an exact match, so that’s that counts as one keyword or you can set it up as a broad match, which might be someone doing books about genealogy, or you can be set something up as a more of a really loose match. So, one or other of the terms might show up and you can set different budget levels for that and I’ve been told by an Amazon advertising person that those count is three separate keyword phrases not as this not as the same keyword.

Joshua Tallent 
So let’s get practical a little bit when it comes to best practices—things over the course of, you know, five years doing Amazon advertising. What are some best practices you would recommend for publishers who are trying to figure out how to optimize that program for themselves? What are the things that you found work the best in the practice of setting up advertising for products that you’re there you’re wanting to advertise?

Ian Lamont 
Yeah. So, you know, one of the great things about Amazon advertising is it’s kind of a self-serve platform. And it doesn’t have to be that complicated to set up a campaign. You can actually set up an automated campaign where you’re basically just telling them, single one of your books by ASIN, or by ISBN, and it will just look at the detail page for that for that book. And then it will determine what sorts of keywords should be used in the campaign. So, it’s really, you’re not really putting a lot of effort into building up a giant list of keywords or something like that. So, the first piece of advice is, you know, just get started on it, just start to experiment, if you’re afraid of, you know, spending too much money, just limit the budget to like, you know, $10 or $15 a day, which is not going to kill anybody. The second piece of advice that I have to tell people about Amazon advertising is, it’s not a fire and forget type of thing. I do have some campaigns that have been running for a really long time, like more than a year. But I always go back and check in on them, particularly in the first month or so of operation, you want to check in on it, I’d say probably about once a week, maybe even twice a week just to see how it’s performing. And be on the lookout for one thing in particular. And that is the keyword being clicked on a lot, but it’s not leading to any sales, and Amazon’s advertising console will actually show you that data. So, let’s say that you find that I’m advertising Genealogy Basics in 30 Minutes. And I see that a keyword that’s being used a lot is “ancestry.” But people are clicking on it all the time. And they’ll see my detail page, but they’re actually not following through with sales. So, I’m spending lots of money on those clicks, but no sales are coming out of it. At that point, what I’m probably going to do is either turn off that keyword or lower the even maybe even lower the bid a bit to see if anything changes a little bit in their algorithm, we have to keep an eye on stuff like that, because of Amazon sees like, oh, people are always clicking on it. And they’re clicking on it to see to see that particular listing. That’s kind of a success metric for Amazon, I mean, whether or not it actually leads to a sale, at least at first, that’s not really an important thing to them. So, you might end up spending a lot of money and just wasting it. So, you have to keep an eye on things like that. Conversely, you may also see something like a keyword that’s leading to a lot of sales at a very high cost. And maybe that means—I mean, when I say high cost, I mean high-cost relative to your bid level. So, you’re bidding 50 cents, every time somebody clicks on the “genealogy” keyword. And you find out that most of those bids average around 48 cents, and they lead to lots of sales. At that point, I’d probably be raising the bid a little bit just to see if you can get some more sales out of that just by incrementally raising the bid amount. And I know that’s a little bit technical. But that’s one of the things that comes up. The other thing that I’ve learned is that sometimes campaigns—so they’ll change. So, it’ll be really running well for a while, and then it will kind of die off after a bit. And I think Amazon’s algorithm—Amazon, of course, doesn’t confirm any of this, but they start to, you know, prioritize new campaigns over old campaigns. So, your campaign may start to, you know, wither a bit over time, because it’s because Amazon’s trying to switch things up a little bit. And of course, seasonal factors may also come into play there too. So, you may have to adjust your bids to take that into account.

Joshua Tallent 
Yeah, that makes total sense. Okay, so let’s, let’s switch gears a little bit. Let’s talk about Facebook, because Facebook advertising is obviously different in some ways. And some publishers, you know, they see a market on Facebook, they see their community there, they value that community, others may not actually even know whether Facebook is the right place for them to be doing marketing. You’ve obviously found some success there. What do you see as the reason behind your move to Facebook advertising? And how successful is it compared to other types of advertising that you’re doing?

Ian Lamont 
That’s a great question. And actually, if you asked me this question 18 months ago, I would have said Facebook is a waste of time for publishers, because I did do a lot of experiments, I tested things that I just couldn’t get, you know, get things to work and it just seemed so frustrating because you know, people are there you know, people who are interested in books are there but they just weren’t actually—my campaigns weren’t working. So, I kind of gave up on that. Then COVID struck, and Amazon says we’re not taking any more books into the warehouse right now. We’re really prioritizing much more important PPE equipment and things like that. At that point, you know, you realize Amazon doesn’t really have my back if I want to be successful, I really have to figure out this Facebook thing, I really have to figure out this Shopify thing on my own website. So, I think one weekend, in early April 2020, I just sat down with YouTube and found some good tutorials, and watch them through, took notes. And then also, I started taking advantage of Shopify integration features with Facebook Advertising to make campaigns that worked, I did a couple experiments and they started to work, I was like, Okay, I can figure this out. I’ve learned actually, because I have two different Facebook advertising properties associated with different Shopify stores. One of them is for the cheat sheets, which I’ve ISBNs, so they’re kind of like books, the other ones for the genealogy stationery, which is really kind of a different type of product. And those two Facebook campaigns behave really differently sometimes, for instance, I’ve learned that the Facebook campaigns are the cheat sheets, for some reason, for whatever reason, the lifetime budgets work a lot better than the daily budgets were, which work well for the genealogy stuff. Genealogy also is like a really—it’s a strong community thing, and people like to share. So, it’s a much more social thing. Where’s the cheat sheets are kind of transactional on the way people need a solute they need like the keyboard shortcuts for Excel 365. So, you know, it’s something that they need at that moment. I’ve learned a lot about targeting different types of audiences. And also, one thing I’ve learned—actually, I’ll tell you this about Facebook advertising versus Amazon advertising, Facebook advertising, you really have to keep an eye on your spending, like, at least three times a week, because if you’re not careful, all of a sudden, as I said before, like Facebook will use up all your budget, regardless of whether you’re making or losing money. And if you’re not careful with things, you can really lose a lot of money in a short period of time on Facebook that said, if you engage with those audiences in the right way, if you have good creative, if you have a good landing page on your website for your book, or whatever you’re trying to sell, that can be very effective.

Joshua Tallent 
So are you actually pointing to specific landing pages that come from—your Facebook is going directly to a unique landing page? Or are you pointing people just to the product page? How are you handling that traffic?

Ian Lamont 
That’s a great question. So, at first, I was just pointing people to the homepage of my website. And then I saw that you’re not really supposed to do that, it’s good to have a landing page. So now I have landing pages either set up for specific campaigns, or just things that I think are more effective. And just to give you one example of you know, one thing I learned about landing pages: on a standard Shopify theme. Shopify, by the way, is just a platform for, you know, building an e commerce website, it doesn’t have an Add to Cart button right on the right on the homepage, you have to drill down to the product page. So, some people won’t even bother doing that. So that so you’re losing some people because they don’t see any way to instantly add it to their cart. So, I created—I invested in a landing page app with Shopify, which helps me create a more engaging type of landing page that looks good and also has the add to cart right there so people can get going. And then I experimented a lot with what products do I put at the top versus which ones that I have at the bottom, and I learned some you know, what’s most effective. So, you can’t just put your most expensive book bundle at the top of the page and hope that people are going to buy it, sometimes you need to show a variety or even start with something that’s a little bit lower a little bit more, kind of an easier and easier sell for them to make it work.

Joshua Tallent 
Yeah, that call to action is extremely important. And you want to put that front and center make sure that they can very quickly, you know—if they came in—they already clicked once they already came into the site from Facebook. So, there’s obviously some sort of interest, the goal is to get them to then click through and buy and make that happen. Talk to me a little bit about the relationship between marketing that you do and your advertising. Do you do separate marketing programs? Do you have other marketing campaigns that you’re running? Or is advertising basically all of the marketing that you’re doing?

Ian Lamont 
Yeah, so before 2016, I was using kind of like a lot of the programs that I think many publishers use: having a display at a book fair, taking part in an email marketing blast that somebody helps to put together using, trying to use my own email list to market and to sell to folks. I’ve really moved away from things that are hard to measure. So, I do, I still do a lot of email marketing. And I’ve actually developed that quite a bit, especially in the past year. But I’m moving away from doing things like trade shows either ones that I have to show up in person or I work with someone else, not because they’re bad, but just for the type of thing that I sell, I haven’t really found them to be effective. And it’s really hard to measure that. And it’s kind of important for me to know if I’m spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a particular campaign that I’m actually getting some result from that. And it’s much harder to do that with in person campaigns, at least for the trade show or something like that, or a show where I have to go up and help to sell the thing than it is for something where I can measure the effects right away such as an email campaign or an Amazon advertising or something like that.

Joshua Tallent 
Let’s talk about your community, you kind of have built a little bit of a community as well with, you know, just people who are coming back, I’m assuming and purchasing the same products over, especially the genealogy sheets, those kinds of things will require some sort of recurrence. Do you have a community building around that? Are there are people that you’re interacting with—consumers you’re interacting with and learning from and seeing what it is that they’re doing? Or is this really do you not—are you having trouble building out a community of people that are most interested in your types of products? Is it more of a one-and-done kind of solution?

Ian Lamont 
Yeah, so this is interesting. On Amazon advertising, where I advertised exclusively the genealogy products for about three years, I did see that Amazon shows you very general data about your customers, and whether someone has, you know, purchased something again, and sometimes I could see some insights into that, but I didn’t really know who they were, and I couldn’t reach out to target them with something else. And yeah, maybe Amazon is helping me to retarget those folks, maybe not, I’m not sure. Amazon, you know, they keep a lot of stuff very close to the vest. With Facebook and Shopify I have much better insights into that type of thing. Like I can see if customers are coming back. Also, I should mention that I use an email platform called Klaviyo, I switched from MailChimp to Klaviyo, which really has some very fine, detailed tools that let you see return visitors, people that are buying something again, you can engage people that open up your email, repeatedly, like that’s, that’s your best type of or most engaged type of customer or community member. So those tools and Facebook’s tools have really helped me get better insights into my community and engage with them in a better way. And actually, I found that my email newsletter is actually one of the best ways to engage with my community there. For Amazon, folks, you know, it’s great that I have repeat customers, but I don’t really know who they are. And it’s really hard for me to reach out to them in some way, even with the very limited tools that Amazon offers, like you can follow an author on Amazon, well, that’s great. But that doesn’t let me send out an email to them at a certain time, like to announce that I have a new book, it really depends on you know, Amazon helping me out with that part of it. So, pros and cons,

Joshua Tallent 
Owning your own customers, in a sense—owning your own community is very important part of that direct-to-consumer side of sales. So obviously, this is something that big publishers and small publishers alike are trying to figure out: how do you build those relationships? How do you maintain them? How do you ensure that you’re reaching the right people, and that you’re expanding that community to the right, the right group? And so, I think that’s one of the benefits of the approach that you’re taking, is going into the Facebook side of things, you’re starting to build that relationship just in a social way, just through Facebook itself and starting to get some of that detail. And as you point people to your website, that Facebook marketing is not you know, you’re not buying the book on Facebook, you’re buying the book from your website. So, you’re building that relationship, there collecting the email address, and that’ll help you build out that community. So yeah, that’s really interesting. You know, Ian, we’re out of time, it’s been really great chatting with you. Maybe I should bring you back again to talk about some other some other issues here. But I think this is really insightful. Before we leave any final thoughts or any best practices, suggestions, hard won/hard fought things that you’ve learned over the years of doing this? That you think publishers if they’re just getting into maybe just getting into Facebook, or maybe just to get into Amazon advertising or even just in general trying to engage that direct-to-consumer approach? What are some things that you’ve really had to learn the hard way and that you think people should, should take advantage of that knowledge themselves?

Ian Lamont
Yeah, so a piece of advice that I like to share is, Amazon works great. Until it doesn’t. And COVID was really a wakeup call for that. You know, Amazon helped me build my business a lot. And it helps me to gain insights into kind of trends that are taking place, I can take experiences that I learn on Amazon and apply them to other platforms. What I did for a long time is I really didn’t work hard enough on those other platforms and those other channels. And experts have been telling us for years—we publishers for years—you have to develop your own website, you have to develop your mailing list. And it’s so easy not to because Amazon will kind of work most of the time. But when it doesn’t work, that’s when you’re in trouble. So, this COVID thing was really a wakeup call that I had to develop my own website more. I had to pay more—I had to really learn how to use Facebook advertising, which I hadn’t done before. And actually, once I did that, I was kind of you know, dragged kicking and screaming into that, it actually turned out to work okay, I’ve had some, some tough falls in the past year, like a lot of people and there’s been a huge amount of struggle personal and professional. But at the same time, I think doing this, learning how to use another platform, whether it’s Facebook advertising, or Shopify, or WooCommerce, or what have you. That’s a positive thing that you can do for your business. And will help protect your business in the long run. Because while Amazon is a great platform, it does have a lot of limitations. And if you have all your eggs in one basket and that basket’s dropped, you’re in big trouble.

Joshua Tallent
Very well said. Alright, Ian thank you very much for joining me and we will see you again in the future. That’s it for this episode of the BookSmarts Podcast. If you like what you’ve heard, please leave a review or rating in your podcast app. Also, please share this podcast with your colleagues. If you have a topic suggestion or feedback about the show, you can feel free to email me at joshua@firebrandtech.com. Thanks for joining us and for getting smarter about your books.

Please take a moment to fill out our Listener Survey to help us understand you better! https://booksmartspodcast.com/survey