The Amazon Jungle cannot be traversed without proper planning, knowledge, and tools. The same goes for every entrepreneur who tries to make it big in its online platform counterpart. Rick Cesari joins John Livesay to talk about finding success in the vast jungle of the internet: Amazon. Rick stresses the power of storytelling in connecting with your target audience, particularly in the form of backstories and customer testimonials. He also explains how to take advantage of digital media and why enticing videos are much more desirable to Amazon buyers than simple text and pictures.
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The Amazon Jungle With Rick Cesari
Our guest is Rick Cesari, the author of The Amazon Jungle. We talk about how it is a jungle out there trying to sell products on Amazon and break through the clutter. He’s got the perfect experience in his book and in this interview to show you how to make your brand stand out, how to connect, and more importantly, the power of using video as a way to engage people emotionally. Enjoy the episode.
Our guest is Rick Cesari who’s been a pioneer in the direct to consumer marketing industry for more than many years. Using his carefully vetted direct response strategies, he helped many build iconic brands and products, including the Juiceman, Sonicare, George Foreman Grill, OxiClean, Clarisonic, Rug Doctor, and many more. As an entrepreneur, author, and speaker, he’s the recognized leader about anything to do with the video. We all know video is important. He’s on the cutting edge of direct response and branding campaigns and his book, The Amazon Jungle talks about how to navigate that complex marketplace. Rick, welcome to the show.
John, thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
Let’s go back as far as you want. Childhood, school, college, whenever, what propelled you to get into the world of marketing, or maybe you saw some infomercial when you were younger and say, “I want to do that?” I’m not quite sure, but I’m sure the answer is going to be interesting.
I’ll go back to college because my degree is in biology. I was hoping to be a Marine biologist one day. I graduated from college and I knew that I had to go on to graduate school if I wanted to do anything in my field. I was living in Florida at that time and I was doing odd jobs. It’s a little bit of a fun bum type of thing. I was a bartender, lifeguard, and anything to make a little bit of money. I started reading a lot of books about how millionaires made money and it turned out a lot of them made it in real estate.
I started reading a lot of books about buying and investing in real estate. Some of the books at that time were like Robert Allen’s No Money Down book, that type of thing. I started going out, doing that and taking some seminars. I met a guy who was putting on these seminars. I went out and did what he said. I bought a house, turned around, sold it, and made like $12,000. For me at that time, I was 21 years old, it was like $1 million. I was happy about it. I called the local Florida business magazine called Florida Trend. They did a story on the guy and his business took off. He asked me to start working with them and that’s how I got into marketing. I got it to promoting real estate seminars.
To show you how long ago this was, it was the mid-‘80s. We were using newspaper ads as our advertising vehicle. I did learn a lot of good lessons about direct to consumer marketing and what to put in an ad to get people to respond. Your show is all about the pitch. The pitch was important more from a sales pitch perspective with us because we’d have to get up on stage and convince people to buy a two-day $500 seminar. Little things that you changed while doing the pitch affected the results. That’s why I learned how to sell. I was able to take everything I learned in promoting these real estate seminars, my passion was health and nutrition.
I met a guy who was doing these small seminars and I felt like I could help him be successful. His name was Jay Kordich known as the Juiceman. I took the concept of the models we were doing with real estate seminars but used them to promote juicing seminars or health and nutrition seminars. The name of that company was Trillium Health Products. We were in the right place, right time with the right product. That business grew to $75 million in sales in only four years. We were able to sell it. Timeframe wise is about 1993. We’re still pre-internet. A company out of Chicago named Salton Housewares bought it for two reasons. They wanted our brands that Juiceman and Breadman, but they also wanted to know how to do the type of marketing I was doing.
They brought me a product which turned out to be the George Foreman Grill. I did all the television marketing for that. From that point, I got into the agency business by accident. People were coming to me saying, “Can you make a show or direct response commercial for us?” Sonicare was next and then OxiClean. I was fortunate to work with a lot of great products and watched how the business changed over the years. Starting before the internet to where we did all the television marketing for GoPro and the commercials, but then how you had to have a great online strategy as well as that. I’ve been in the business of pitching products through all of the different campaigns and things that I’ve done and figuring out how to get people to respond to what we said in our pitches.
I’m fascinated especially with something like GoPro, which is all about video. You’re creating a video to promote something that tells people to create their videos. You’re going down the rabbit hole there which is art imitating, life imitating and all that, which is great. When I was selling advertising for Condé Nast, Clarisonic was one of my clients. I used to drive down from LA to San Diego to talk to the agency about that. What a fascinating product and for those who don’t know, it’s a way to clean your face as if you’re getting a facial at home, it’s the quickest soundbite I would have for that.Stories give you an emotional connection. Video is a powerful way to connect with buyers. Click To Tweet
I have a good kind of Clarisonic story too. The management team that started Sonicare did the marketing for that. They sold that business to Philips Electric for about $500 million.
For people who don’t know what that is, that’s for getting your teeth clean.
They held back from the patent or the sale to Philips the Sonic Technology for face cleaning. They started this whole other business, did the same exact marketing, they build good products if you’re familiar with it and started the Clarisonic, but it was a mirror of what they did with Sonicare. In both cases, the thing that launched both those businesses, they had some type of in with Oprah Winfrey and they got the Clarisonic skincare brush on Oprah. As soon as they do that, the business exploded and took off. It’s a fantastic product. It worked well.
Your book, The Amazon Jungle. You’re talking about that. I have a story of a founder I helped with his pitch who because in his culture, it’s a rite of passage into manhood was dropped in the Amazon jungle naked at eighteen after growing up in the Netherlands. He had to survive there for two weeks. I talk about lessons learned from the Amazon jungle, taking it to the concrete jungle of being an entrepreneur as part of his story of why investors invested with him. I love the title, The Amazon Jungle. I know it’s not your first book. What made you want to write this book?
Years ago, I got asked to do the keynote presentation at something called The Prosper Show. It is the main trade show for third-party Amazon sellers. At that time, my background was in direct to consumer marketing, but I knew very little about this platform that a lot of people were having success on. I gave that presentation and my eyes were open because I sat into a lot of the different seminars that were going on. I wanted to learn as much as I could about Amazon. I met a guy there who was at the Top 200 Sellers, named Jason Boyce. It turned out, he lived in Seattle where I live. We started dating together every Friday for coffee and he would pick my brain on what I knew about direct to consumer marketing and direct response marketing.
I pick his brain on Amazon and we came up with the idea said, “We should turn these conversations we are having into a book.” A lot of it is Jason’s expertise. He’s been selling on Amazon since 2003. He built an eight-figure Amazon business and he was at the Top 200 Seller. Now, he has an agency called Avenue 7 Media, but the book is a guide. When you talk about your friend being in the Amazon jungle, that’s scary to me.
If you do that without some type of guide, knowledge or whatever, you can lose your life, worst-case scenario. With the Amazon jungle, it is like that. It’s very difficult to set yourself apart. There are over a million third-party sellers. How are you going to differentiate your products? The book is a guide for anybody that wants to sell on Amazon from point A to point B. Everything you need to know, even going back to pick a category, a product, how to differentiate your product, how to optimize your listings, a step-by-step guide to be successful on Amazon.
You talk about the importance of sharing your story. That resonated with me that storytelling allows us to build trust. Do you have an example of the client that you’ve worked with that told their story as it related to a product they were selling and why that helped them break through the clutter?
It ties into Amazon a little bit. I’ve been doing that with almost every product we mentioned so far in the show. A good example of one, there were these two sisters that were from Taiwan and they were selling a product on Amazon called Puriya, which is a skincare cream that helps fight eczema. The name of the product was The Mother of All Creams. They were doing very well on Amazon. They came to me and they said, “How can we help our business?” I took one look at their website and the problem with a lot of Amazon sellers is, Amazon does all the marketing for them. They don’t have to do much outside of Amazon.
I felt like, “If they could tell their origin story, it helped their business. It gave some background to their product.” I helped them create an origin story where they grew up in Taiwan. When they wanted to treat an illness, their mother would go to the farmer’s market and buy different herbs. It was this recipe that they put into their product. That’s why they named it The Mother of All Creams because the recipe came from their mother. We put that on their Shopify site. Now, when somebody is on Amazon and saying, “Why should I buy Puriya?” They’ll go check the website and they see that there’s a story behind this product. It’s not some product that’s out of thin air. That’s a good example. Their business is thriving now. Not in the whole part of the story, but it helps build the brand.If people like your product or service, they're more than happy to talk about it. Click To Tweet
That was my question that you’ve answered is the story doesn’t necessarily live in the product description on Amazon, but hopefully, there’s something in there that incentivizes people to go read more about it on the website.
I’m a huge advocate of origin stories and tell the background story. If I start working with a client, I do a lot of marketing consulting these days. The first thing I do is go to their website, look at the About Us page, and see what happens. When I first come to the website, I’d love to see a video story of who we are, what we do, and why we’re different than the competition. If I want to dive into more detail and if a website doesn’t have that information, that’s one of the first things I tell people to do is to put that story in there because it creates credibility and authenticity to a product and helps their brand in general.
Also, the emotional connection.
That’s the most important part.
Do you have a lot of your clients putting short little videos on their Amazon product, whether it’s a testimonial?
I’m a huge believer in using video. I’ve used it for the many years. First on TV. Now online with Facebook and YouTube. There are all statistics about how powerful video is, and it’s an easy way for people to get information. Amazon is slowly opening up their advertising and even their product listings to include more video. I’m a big advocate of people using video as much as Amazon allows them online. I’m an advocate for doing that.
Is that something that they can shoot on their iPhone, or do they need to hire a professional agent?
It’s funny you say that because I come from the background many years ago of you couldn’t go do a video shoot for less than $10,000 because of expensive camera lights. In testing that we’ve done and it’s obvious because of social media, people respond to video that is shot on an iPhone or whatever type of mobile device you have. More so than a very slick presentation. There are a couple of little things and your audio quality is always important. You need to have a nice little microphone and the lighting is good, but if you can go online and look at some basic video production techniques, the technology of mobile phones these days is almost as good as a $50,000 camera, ten years ago.
Since you’ve analyzed many different people selling things on Amazon, what are the common traits that you see that the top sellers have?
What a lot of sellers don’t have and you or your readers can go onto Amazon. Let’s use a coffee maker, for example, big brands that you’ve heard of. You’ll look at the product listing and you’ll see an image, a shot of the product from the front. You’ll see it from the side and they’re boring. They’re almost like something you’d seen in the instruction guide. What I’ve worked with Amazon sellers that we talk about in a book is use those listings. We took this from our success on TV. Each one of those listings should almost be like a magazine ad. If you’re going to show a coffee maker, call out the benefits of the coffee maker and use infographics so that when you’re looking at the image, you talk about the timer.If you're marketing a product, you must have a good foundation on Amazon. Click To Tweet
What’s the benefit of having a timer? You have delicious coffee ready for you when you wake up in the morning. Put people in your images. I was working with another guy who sold gaming products, foosball tables, ping pong tables, and he showed these products, but they didn’t have many people in them. I go, “You got to show people using the products.” It’s a simple thing that seems common sense to a lot of people. You see a lot of Amazon sellers not doing it. Those are some of the suggestions we talk about in the book and I bring to people when they ask.
It’s a lot like SEO with Google, where part of the problem is, if you don’t show up on the first page of a search for a product, then nobody finds you and you’re helping the book, gives some steps on how to get your product to show up fast.
We do talk about that. Yes, that is a problem. The goal is to be on the first page or first search when you come up on Amazon. We do talk a lot about how to do that with SEO, how you’re advertising both on Amazon and off Amazon can help you do that, people that are leaving reviews, and the importance of reviews. I’m a huge advocate of authentic testimonials. Mainly because they help tell your product story in a very authentic, credible way. I talk to people all the time about using real consumer testimonials on their Amazon reviews, but I tell them to take it a step further and try to get those people that are leaving reviews and do some video testimonials if possible and put those on your website. To me, that’s one of the biggest selling tools that you can have.
When someone left a review for my book, they put their picture with the review, as opposed to being the words, which I thought, “Even just that makes it pop.”
It adds a dimension. I do a little presentation on that. I talk about testimonials and exactly what you said, the basic layer is written with someone’s name, but if you add a photo to that, that’s even better. If you add audio to it, it’s even better. The ultimate is a video testimonial. Believe it or not, advertising wise, the more that you have in that testimonial from the standpoint of video or whatever, it will convert better than just a written Amazon review.
Do you have any tips on what people should do to try and get authentic reviews?
I have one thing. Send me an email at Rick@RickCesari.com. I have a free download. It’s a six-step email template that if you have a database of customers, and even if you have 50 customers, this will still work. It’s something that I’ve used over the years to get people to come in and do a testimonial for you. I find that a lot of people that are product owners are afraid to reach out to get testimonials from people that have used their products. I’ve always found that if people like your product or your service, they’re more than happy to talk about it.
This email sequence is something that you can use to send to your database of customers. It’s a way of setting up and getting testimonials that you can interview. That does two great things. You can get a video testimonial of people that you can use in your marketing, but I also found it’s a great tool for product research. The feedback from someone, if you sit down and ask someone twenty questions, “How did you hear about my product? Why do you buy it? What do you like? What do you don’t like?” After interviewing ten people, you start to see a bunch of trends, and those are things that you can use in your marketing.
I do that with the students that have taken my online course. In the Facebook group, I’ll say, “What was the big takeaway from the session?” It’s fascinating to see 6 out of 10 people saying the same thing. “I learned how important it is to make my pitch conversational. I need to stay concise.” When other people keep reinforcing that that was their takeaway, the students locks in even stronger than just themselves thinking about it. Having people say it out loud, not only helps them, but also the sense of community. It helps me with my marketing knowing what to focus on for future students. If you’re struggling to say, “Be concise.” If you’re struggling not to sound like a robot, then you might need to learn how to tell better stories. It’s a continuous loop is what I found.
It’s a feedback loop. It’s awesome that you’re doing that. You’d be surprised how many people, course owners, product owners don’t talk to their customers. I got a funny story about Sonicare. We were going out doing interviews for Sonicare and we didn’t know what all the marketing messages were yet. It was a relatively new product. After interviewing about fifteen people, probably about half of them said that they had gotten better dental checkups since using the product. We put in the “the better dental checkup guaranteed” that if you bought this product, we guaranteed you have a better dental checkup or your money back. That came from customer feedback.Start an Amazon business with a product. Having a lot of money is not needed. Click To Tweet
I’m not trying to imagine what is important to people, but hearing it. If that’s your ideal client, then that’s what we want more of. Let’s also talk about defending a brand. If we don’t have a strategy that sometimes marketing dollars that we think are driving traffic to our product, go to our competition. How does that work at Amazon? Is that unique to Amazon or is this true everywhere?
That’s probably true anywhere, but Amazon’s a good example. A few years ago, I underplayed the importance of Amazon. Now, you can’t. They own 50% of all the online sales in the US. They’re a gigantic place where people like to buy because it’s convenient and they get good prices. I always tell people, if you’re marketing a product, you have to have a good foundation on Amazon. Otherwise, any advertising dollars that you spend anywhere else people will end up searching automatically on Amazon for your product. Even if you tell them to go to your website, or you have some other special offer place, they can buy it. They’re going to check Amazon first. If you aren’t there and have a good brand page or good listing set up, your advertising dollars are going to drive somebody to buy your competitor’s product. It’s important to have a good Amazon foundation set up before you start spending a lot of ad dollars in other places.
Do you recommend that people start getting a product from China or something and then marking it up and then trying to sell it on Amazon? It’s something that they should have some experience with or where does somebody start to even think, “I guess I like it?” Does it require a certain minimum amount of money to make all this work?
Any business requires a certain amount of money. Starting an Amazon business is pretty low, you don’t need a lot of money. You do need to start with a product. We have an entire chapter devoted to a couple of things. You don’t know where to start. We tell you, “Think of your personal interest, whatever is your interests. You might have a pet. Let’s look at the pet category.” We tell you in the book the way to check different areas of how they’re doing because you don’t want to go into an area where there’s no sales or no interest, or nobody’s searching for it. We tell you to pick out an area where there is a lot of upside opportunity.
If you go over to China and you are going to find a product to market on Amazon, how to make that profit product different than the competition? The last thing you want is they always say, “There are 100 people selling toasters or blenders on Amazon. It’s a race to the bottom, whoever has the lowest price.” We go the opposite direction and say, “How do you take a product and make it more into a brand and differentiate it before you start selling on Amazon?” There some simple design tricks that you can work with the factory. My co-author Jason had an eight-figure Amazon business. He was selling on Amazon since 2003 and has made every mistake under the book. The book is a way of learning from other people’s mistakes.
We do get into various specifics things of doing it. It’s amazing things you find. One of our clients at Amazon Avenue 7 Media is a company that makes wheelchairs for dogs. You’d never think that that’s a big category. They get the same injuries as humans. They’ll torn ACL and they need to use these things. You would think of yourself, “That’s not a very big category.” These guys are doing six-figure business every month. It’s amazing what you can do if you do a little research and we show you how to do that.
Any last thought or a quote you want to leave us with?
If I tie it into the book, the biggest thing, and it relates to your friend’s story is that if you’re a seller, Amazon isn’t your friend, they’re your competitor. If you need a guide so that you don’t fall into a trap and let Amazon take advantage of you. We spent a lot of time telling you the pitfalls, what to look out for. It is almost like a map or a guide to be successful on Amazon. That’s probably the biggest thing.
The book is The Amazon Jungle. You can find it on Amazon as well as Rick’s website. Rick, thank you for sharing your fascinating background and all the successes you’ve had and how you continue to go from promoting something in a newspaper to not promoting the Amazon is the new newspaper in a weird way that everyone uses now to access and find information.
Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
- The Amazon Jungle
- No Money Down
- Trillium Health Products
- Condé Nast
- The Prosper Show
- Avenue 7 Media
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