“Create an Alexa Skill; Amazon lets amateurs publish custom Alexa apps” With Kent Lewis of Anvil Media

Inspect, do not Expect. As a business owner, I’ve hired great people and got out of the way, but that hasn’t always worked out for me. I’ve found creating regular check-ins and communication touch-points has greatly diminished any frustration regarding expectations, challenges or performance. This is helpful in life, not just as an entrepreneur.

As a part of my interview series about “Five non-intuitive things you need to know to run a very successful Amazon business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kent Lewis of Anvil Media. With a background in integrated marketing, Lewis left a public relations agency in 1996 to start his career in search engine marketing. Since then, he’s helped grow businesses by connecting his clients with their constituents via the Internet. In 2000, Lewis founded Anvil Media, Inc., a measurable marketing agency specializing in search engine and social media marketing. Under his leadership, Anvil has received recognition from Portland Business Journal and Inc. Magazine as a Fastest Growing and Most Philanthropic Company. In 2008, Lewis created Formic Media, a sister agency to Anvil, providing a similar set of digital marketing services to small businesses and strategic partners. He’s co-founder of a variety of organizations, including career community pdxMindShare, eROI and SEMpdx, a Portland-area SEM professional trade association. As a long-time entrepreneur, Lewis is an investor and advisor to a host of emerging Portland-based companies, including Nutrigardens, Read-2-Hear, RISEcx, ShoeBio, Syndical, Tixie and ToneCommand. Lewis speaks regularly at industry events and has been published in books and publications including Business2Community, iMedia Connection, Online Marketing Institute and Portland Business Journal. Since 2000, he’s been an adjunct professor at Portland State University, where he teaches an SEM Workshop, and also tours nationwide with Online Marketing Institute as lead instructor for the Digital Marketing Essentials Workshop. Active in his community, Lewis is currently involved in non-profit charity and professional trade organizations including early literacy program SMART (Start Making a Reader Today), The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). Industry recognition and awards include Portland Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 Award, Top 25 Most Influential Pay-per-Click Experts and 2012 Marketer of the Year by American Marketing Association Oregon Chapter.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path? 

I transitioned from a public relations into digital in 1996, as it seemed like a new and interesting profession.After getting recruited to multiple agencies, I elected to do my own thing in 2000, and have been running Anvil ever since.

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about selling on Amazon.com? 

My authority is very narrowly focused on Amazon marketing… optimizing product pages to rank organically in Amazon and Google searches, as well as building and managing Amazon advertising campaigns for our Amazon seller clients. I’ve shared my philosophy and best practices in an article: https://www.imediaconnection.com/article/243835/what-do-effective-amazon-marketing-strategies-look-like

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career? 

I don’t have a good Amazon story, since we’re early in our engagements with current clients, but I can tell you the most interesting story of my professional marketing career: having lunch with Seth Godin. I reached out to him initially in 2007 to ask if he’d speak at a Portland event. Once we started talking about pdxMindShare, a career community I started in 1999, he asked me questions about why I created it and how it’s evolved. I hung up and went to lunch, and came back to this:

I parlayed our conversation into a request for lunch with him while I was in NYC in 2008. He met with me for 2 hours, 1on1, and it was the most interesting and inspiring meal of my life.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? 

Early in my career, I was in a client meeting with another coworker/friend and I thought he made a face at me, which led to uncontrollable laughter. I can remember having to excuse myself from the room and return 10–15 minutes later after I collected myself. Inexcusable but hilarious.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people? 

I’m always working on something. Most recently, I’ve been a guest on a variety of podcasts, which I enjoy greatly. Here’s a recent example:

Ok. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. You are a seasoned Amazon expert. Can you share with our readers five, non intuitive, insider tips, in order to be as successful as possible on Amazon? Please share a story or example for each.

Many of my ideas can be seen in this article. Here are two additional ideas. 

 1. Product page optimization. According to a Kenshoo study, 56 percent of consumers start product searches on Amazon. That means a minority of consumers are starting product searches on Google. That is a major shift that has been in the works for the past decade. On the seller-side, 63 percent of Amazon Advertisers plan to increase budget next year (a larger percentage increase than Google and Facebook spends). In short, Amazon is the new Google in many respects. If you don’t have a solid Amazon marketing strategy in place, you’re at a disadvantage. As much as it is desirable to drive revenue through your own ecommerce website, Amazon is too large of a channel to ignore. 

2. Create an Alexa Skill. As of today, consumers and small businesses can create their own Skills. Amazon lets amateurs publish custom Alexa apps to reach broad audiences. We plan to build out skills for our clients, now that the capability is widely available. 

Amazon sellers have a reputation for being great guerilla marketers. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting? 

One of the most creative approaches we’ve taken with our clients, is to advise them to create unique product bundles/SKU/ISBNs that nobody else can sell. It offers a way to differentiate and create new price points.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂 

I’ve been an adjunct professor at Portland State since 2000, and I enjoy teaching and speaking. Combining both worlds would be to host Amazon marketing workshops.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? 

Inspect, do not Expect. As a business owner, I’ve hired great people and got out of the way, but that hasn’t always worked out for me. I’ve found creating regular check-ins and communication touch-points has greatly diminished any frustration regarding expectations, challenges or performance. This is helpful in life, not just as an entrepreneur.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂 

I was able to check Seth Godin off my list, but I would love to sit down with Malcolm Gladwell or Alec Baldwin (I’ve hung out with his brother, who used to live in Portland).

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!

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