‘Amazon For The CMO’: Podean Helps Brands And Agencies Navigate The Tech Giant

Most agencies are myopic in their approach to Amazon.

They might only focus on retail optimization or just concentrate on search. But Amazon also offers an array of opportunities across OTT, audio, social and branding, said Travis Johnson, global CEO of Amazon consultancy Podean.

“What Amazon is doing is very broad, [and] nobody is thinking about how that all works together,” said Johnson, who leads the company along with founder and CEO Mark Power.

A big part of the problem is that agencies struggle to share their Amazon expertise across holding company silos, leading to fragmented offerings – a phenomenon which Johnson, an ex-agency CEO and holding company veteran, has experienced firsthand. Even sitting at the helm of Sellwin, a consultancy launched within Dentsu that focuses exclusively on Amazon, he still found himself fighting against internal silos. Johnson exited Sellwin earlier this month.

“You have different perspectives, objectives and cultures,” Johnson said. “If the Amazon consultancy is housed within a search business, then by its nature, it’s going to focus on search.”

Podean takes a different approach. An independent company with just 22 employees, the company houses expertise across Amazon’s various products and business lines with the goal of giving CMOs access to a holistic Amazon strategy. Podean also works with holding companies and agencies to structure their own Amazon practices in ways that best take advantage of their distributed expertise.

“You need to include Amazon in your broader media plans and marketing objectives,” Johnson said. “Other agencies at the moment don’t have that capability.”

Johnson spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: You just launched Sellwin at Dentsu last year. Why did you leave?

TRAVIS JOHNSON: I spent 20-something years in holding companies. I always hoped one day I would be able to create my own business.

Sellwin will still exist. We had a few wins this year. The business is successful, healthy and I wish them well. But the biggest challenge in the holding company world is the swim lanes. There’s a lot of overlap. Amazon search would live across Merkle, iProspect, 360i and Carat. There are four or five divisions offering very similar services. How to integrate is the challenge.

We don’t have the [same] scale, but we don’t have those barriers. It’s all under one roof.

What capabilities do you have that other Amazon agencies don’t?

It’s about Amazon for the CMO, rather than the head of ecommerce [or] performance. We create overall Amazon strategies and understand how Amazon can be a strategic partner for brands.

We [start by] auditing a brand’s presence on Amazon. There are about 40 to 50 points [we look at], from share of voice, to copy and content, reviews and OTT. We do that for endemic brands that sell on Amazon and also for brands that don’t sell on Amazon. We have a big engagement with Mitsubishi, for example, on how they can best take advantage of Amazon. That’s not a retail engagement, because they’re not selling cars.

What does an auto brand need to do on Amazon?

How would an auto brand be affected by Amazon Echo? Consumers might ask, “Alexa, where is my nearest Mitsubishi dealership?” Does Mitsubishi have an answer? If it has an answer, is it correct? And if it’s incorrect how do we fix that?

Also, what are the opportunities for a proprietary integration of Alexa in Mitsubishi cars? What can I control in my car using voice? You might want to check for fuel, make sure the tire pressure is right or ask for a briefing on the overall health of the car.

How does Podean work with agencies?

We’re helping holding companies build out their own Amazon divisions. They don’t know where to start. They don’t know what talent to look for. Holding companies have lots of different perspectives when it comes to Amazon. So, we put together a blueprint and work with the agency to employ the right people.

There may be ongoing support and overflow resources as well. Amazon changes all the time. Agencies need somebody to call to ask, “This feature changed in the DSP, can you help me?” – almost like a helpline.

Is Podean an agency?

We provide agency services. We manage media, do strategy and help with retail. But if you call yourself an agency, then you’re not really seen as being able to consult. And we do both.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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