Substance, Storytelling, and E-commerce Authenticity

Dog wearing Ruffwear

Patrick Kruse is born into a dog-loving family. In his youth, he finds himself backpacking regularly in the Sierras with his family. Patrick wants to bring his dog Marriah along, so at age 12 he heads to a military surplus store searching for a solution. He finds some bags and sews them together to create his first dog pack.

Years later, during a bike ride in the Los Padres National Forest, Patrick notices his friend struggling to give her dog water using a plastic bag. This triggers an “aha moment” — if fabric can keep water out, why can’t it keep water in? Days later, he creates a prototype collapsible bowl. It’s the beginning of his next adventure: Ruffwear.

Fast-forward to today, where Ruffwear produces dozens of adventure products for dogs and consists of 38 dedicated team members. Patrick’s company has twice been named one of Outside magazine’s 100 Best Places to Work, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to The Conservation Alliance to preserve the outdoors, and has joined forces with Best Friends Animal Society to launch the Ruff Adventure Dog Adoption Program.

With the rise of e-commerce, the shopping experience has changed substantially. Stories similar to Patrick’s are all too often buried beneath thousands of products and private-label items. Shopping has become a lot more analytical and a lot less personal.

As a result, authentic storytelling is more important now than ever. Innovative brands like Ruffwear that were born to fill a need have a unique opportunity to connect with customers. Although cutting through the noise is becoming increasingly difficult, there’s one strategy that works consistently: great Amazon content. To better understand the impact that content can have for brands on Amazon, we sat down with our content team for a roundtable discussion.

Visual storytelling

“Images that tell a story can really make an Amazon listing stand out,” says Rochelle Berghoff, a copywriter at Netrush. Lifestyle photography, for example, helps apply the concept of a product to the shopper’s personal life.

“There’s a dance between copy and design,” explains Shon-Lueiss Harris, Netrush copywriter. “We ask ourselves questions like ‘Could we replace some words with imagery?’ We don’t just write copy. We say what needs to be said, regardless if it’s visual or text based.” Whether they’re highlighting features, educating the shopper, or reinforcing the brand story, enhanced listing images make a significant difference in the customer journey.

Balancing search and brand story

Having the correct customer find your product is the first step, not only for sales, but for building brand loyalty. “Product titles account for about 50% of the impact on search rank,” explains Ellie Chatman, Netrush copywriter. Having relevant keywords in the title isn’t the only way to influence search rank. Ellie adds, “In feature points, you try to weave in keywords while still making it feel like a cohesive experience for the customer. Everything on Amazon needs to be super concise.”

“We also structure a lot of our copy based on reviews,” Shon-Lueiss adds, bringing the conversation back to the customer experience. “It’s best to address things customers are writing reviews about before a purchase is made, whether that means discussing a feature people like or simply clearing up some confusion.”

What about cramming as many keywords as possible into a title? Ellie answers: “I think sellers who keyword-pack are only focused on visibility, while we strike a balance between visibility and customer engagement. People have an aversion to keyword-packed titles. It’s not welcoming. It makes it feel like they’re trying too hard to sell you something. We focus on creating copy that’s simple, straightforward, and human.”

How much storytelling can be done within a product listing?

“I think the goal is to give shoppers a little taste of the brand,” Ellie says. “If there’s too much copy, it’s not going to get read. It’ll be dismissed.” Shoppers are, well, shopping. They’re not necessarily (or consciously) looking for a warm fuzzy story about who they’re buying from, but more likely details about what they’re buying. “Unfortunately, you can’t pour out the brand’s heart into a listing, but the goal is to at least get the flavor of the brand conveyed,” Ellie adds.

An example of use-based feature points, spiced up with on-brand language

Brand Immersion

Creating great content (and telling great stories) requires being fully immersed in the brand. Ellie explains, “I spend time on the brand’s website. I read the ‘about’ section, their blog, and anything else that shows how they want to be seen.” But brand immersion goes beyond studying a website. “I’ll dive deep into the brand’s social media accounts, promotions they’re doing, and how they’re involved in the community. I look at competitors too, which always is valuable.”

Getting fully immersed in a brand or product often extends beyond the screen. “I take the opportunity to use the products I work with wherever possible,” explains Rochelle. Ellie agrees. “I have a CatEye headlight on my bike. A Leatherman multitool on my keychain. My hiking boots live on my Peet Dryer. You can read about a product all day, but sometimes, until you have it in your hands and use it on a daily basis, there are things you don’t know about it.”

Tom Hathaway from GSI Outdoors familiarizing Netrush to their product line with a camping cooking class

Private label products. Countless options. Endless reviews. The effect that Amazon has had on retail is significant and shows no sign of slowing down. As standing out from the crowd gets more and more challenging, brands that are able to innovate, tell an authentic story, connect to their customers, and provide more than just a product will ultimately be the ones that can thrive.