In this video, Rachel Go chats with Liz Saunders, Founder of Fluencer Fruit. Rachel and Liz discuss Liz’s journey with Jungle Scout, how she learned to communicate with both creative and technical teams, and her journey building Fluencer Fruit. They also talk about the differences between Amazon influencers and social media influencers, how UGC affects conversions on Amazon, and more.
Rachel Andrea Go: To start off, could you please share a little bit about your background and how it led you to where you are today?
Liz Saunders: Absolutely! So, I started years and years ago as a brand working with bloggers. So, if you think about, like, the influencer brand space, I started in the early 2000s as the brand. And then, as time went on, I started as an Amazon seller in, like, 2016, and then went to work for Jungle Scout in 2017, [I] was there for six years, and so I’ve spent a lot of time in the seller space. And then about two years ago, a friend of mine was like, “Hey, you like all the Amazon stuff. You should take a look at the Amazon Influencer Program.” And I was like, “Sweet! Yes, let’s talk about it.” And so she showed it to me, and so I started it as a side thing just to play around with. But then — and I know you’ve spent some time in the Amazon space as well — it became really obvious that, like, there were no tools for it, and there was nobody talking about it, and it was just kind of like this weird side thing that was happening.
And so it was like, there’s a lot going on over here that nobody’s talking about. And so, from the seller side and from the brand side, I was like, “We can proactively work together [to] help sellers make more sales.” And then also, on the flip side of it, it was—for the influencers, it was like, “This is like anything else on Amazon,” which is that it comes down to product research. Right? Like, if you want to make money doing this, it’s about picking the right products. And so [I] built a tool for the Amazon influencers and then started working with sellers who wanted to proactively work with Amazon influencers.
Rachel Andrea Go: Cool, that’s super interesting! You mentioned you were a Jungle Scout for around six years. Can you share a little bit more about your time there and what you learned?
Liz Saunders: Sure. So, I was there for six years, and it was interesting because I joined—I think I was, like, team member number 38, right? And then, at the height of the market, we were up over 300, and when I left, we were a little bit below that.
But it was really cool because you go from—everybody does everything, right? So, of course the engineers are not necessarily doing marketing, but, like, I worked directly with the founder and CEO, Greg, as his brand manager and assistant and then as his chief of staff, so kind of like all the way through. And it was like, I realized that, when you start at that size and you scale up, that most of what I was doing was, oh, initially, I would handle a project, put it together, and then they’d hire a specialist who would come and be like, “I do this one thing,” and they’d take that over. And so I had an opportunity to really work kind of, like, across a ton of different projects, which was really, really fun. If there was something that, like, didn’t have an owner, maybe we were gonna continue it, maybe we weren’t; that stuff usually ended up with me. And so I got to do a ton of really cool things.
Rachel Andrea Go: Awesome. Do you have a very memorable one or a favorite?
Liz Saunders: Let’s see…. Towards my last two years, I did a lot of stuff where—so, my background is more on the marketing side, that’s kind of, like, my home base — so, affiliates, like, that kind of stuff. And, I think, my last two years, at some point in there, the product and engineering teams were like, “Hey, we could use somebody with your skill set to kind of, like, help us manage these cross-team, cross-departmental situations.”
And so I ended up moving from where I was mostly interacting with, like, marketing and soft skills and those sorts of things to, like, the tech people in the company. And it was one of my favorite things that I’ve done because it was learning an entire new skill set around how to communicate with people, how to get things done, and I loved every part of it. Then I was like, “Okay, so now that I’ve worked on this side…” after that, I was able to then help in the pieces, like, the projects that were both marketing and product and end, and all these different pieces. And it was like, “Okay, so, how do you help the projects that need buy-in and need, you know, people on every part of the company moving forward on it?” But there’s not, like, one person who owned the entirety of it, so sometimes things would get lost.
So I would come in and help move those things forward with tons of different, you know, stakeholders, which was—I think that was my favorite thing. So, it wasn’t necessarily, like, one project per se as much as it was this whole new way of communicating and then helping to bring everybody together to move things forward.
Rachel Andrea Go: Amazing. Are there any big differences in how you communicate with a largely creative team versus a largely technical team?
Liz Saunders: I think—and this is just going to be observations, so if anybody on either of those teams is listening to me, it’s just my experience. But I think, interestingly, in the marketing and that side of things, a lot of times, it was…I don’t want to say “touch….” It was, like, that you would explain things and make sure that people were bought in and it felt a little bit more, like, emotional, you know what I mean? Like, making sure that people were in and that they got it and everything else, whereas the product and end team, they would be like, “No, we disagree with that,” and you’d be like, “Oh.”
Initially, I was kind of taken aback. I was like, “What do you mean?” and I would take it kind of personally. They’d be like, “No, no, but that’s just not the best way to do it.” Okay, got it. But sitting in those meetings actually has helped me because, moving forward, I’m like, “Oh, I get it. We don’t have time to sit around.” And kind of—it helped me become much more direct in a way that I think helps projects move forward. And I’ll say, from the other side, it was probably, like, my background and my own insecurities more than just this particular team from the marketing side of things. That was just kind of, like, how I interacted with them.
But on the product side and the engineering side, sitting and listening to them disagree but not in, like, a—there never seemed to be an ego situation. It was just kind of, like, “You know what? Mathematically, that doesn’t work for us.” And it really helped move things forward a lot faster. So, being around them for a period of time helped me kind of move forward in that myself where before, I was a little bit more, like, “I don’t know how you guys feel about this, but maybe we could do this,” instead of being like, “Hey, you know what? The data says that we should probably build this newsletter and keep moving forward with this,” you know what I mean? Yeah.
Rachel Andrea Go: So, you founded Fluencer Fruit last year. Was there a trigger or moment where you realized, “The world really needs something like this, and I’m gonna go 100% in”?
Liz Saunders: Yeah, so, I initially thought that it was gonna be a side hustle, right? I was talking to, you know, Greg, and I was like, “I’m doing this. I built a tool.” And then I was doing onboardings at, like, seven o’clock in the morning and 10:30 at night and I went back to him and I was like, “I think this isn’t a side hustle,” like, “This just got much more intense faster than I thought it was going to.” And so he and I worked on an exit plan and all of these things. But I think that was the moment where I was like, “I can’t do this and my full-time job. Like, it was almost immediately too much once I launched the actual extension to users. I was like, “I need to pour myself into this.”
And then, simultaneously, it was like, “Nobody’s talking about this for sellers and how to proactively work with the people in the Influencer Program.” And so when I made the decision then I, like, simultaneously launched an agency piece as well. But it was just because—it was like…there was this void. Nobody was really doing anything. So, when you go in, everybody’s like, “Oh my gosh, what is this?” You know?
Rachel Andrea Go: Can you tell me a bit about how you built Fluencer Fruit from kind of the ground up?
Liz Saunders: Yeah, for sure. So, I was very fortunate — even though my background is not on the product side of things — in my time at Jungle Scout to read a lot of product briefs, you know, start to interact with that side of the team. And so, once I kind of had an idea of what I knew the tool needed to do, I put together a product brief and then I ran it past a couple friends who are product managers and I was like, “Can you read this for me and just make sure that if I hand it to an engineer, I have enough information for them to go execute on this?” And so [I] did that but then I ended up, on Upwork, hiring a team that actually is still with me. They’ve transitioned a little bit but it’s been like…let’s see, that would have been, like, November ‘22…? So, it’s been, like, 14, 15 months, same team. And, yeah, they’ve been awesome.
So, once I started working with them, you know, any time you work with new people, regardless of skill set, we developed our own cadence, our own communications, and everything else. But I will say, for anybody else who is starting to do this type of work, the mistake that I made was I sent them all the things and I assumed things into the conversation. Specifically, I assumed that they knew that I wanted to be paid for the extension, and they assumed that since I did not scope that into the project that it was going to be, like, part of something else. And so, we finished the extension, and I was like, “This is fantastic!” And then it was like, “There’s no way for people to pay me for this.” So I had to go back and rescope, like, an entire milestone for them to kind of, like, build that in after everything else was built.
So, if you are thinking about roadmapping a project like this, just remember that every piece, like—go through it from the customer perspective. And then hand it over, because it definitely helps if you have all of it laid out initially.
Rachel Andrea Go: Speaking of building Fluencer Fruit, I really like your branding.
Liz Saunders: Thank you.
Rachel Andrea Go: I was on your website for a while and it’s very distinct and really memorable. So, how did you come up with the concept of “fruits” in relation to this kind of line of business?
Liz Saunders: Yeah, great question. So, I basically just kind of joke with people that I’m like an old-school marketing student where I like alliteration. And so, when I was thinking about what to do with “influencer,” then I was like, “What if we cut it and then it’s ‘fluencer’ and alliterated ‘fruit,’?” But from there, I don’t know if you know, there’s an old-school—when Amazon…I don’t know if it was when it was first started, but Jeff Bezos used to put banana carts in, like, yeah. If you Google it, it’s pretty funny. So, he used to have bananas as, like, the snack options. There were banana cards in the Amazon headquarters. And so, once I got to the fruit part, I was like, “Well, we have to go with bananas because Amazon OG folklore,” right?
And so I did that and basically—so I went and, because—I don’t know a ton about, like, copyrights or anything else, but I went [and] I was very intentional about buying this banana, that commercial copyright, whatever I needed to be able to use it in all of my stuff. And then a friend of a friend was like, “Oh, I’ve got this design company.” And so I hired a design company and I said, “Here is my banana. This is the name of my company.” And they went from there; they started with the banana and the name of the company and they did all of the branding that you see.
So any time that I do a one-pager or a sales deck, I’ll send it over to them to make sure that it’s—because I get so many comments and compliments on the branding piece, and it really does, like, kind of set it apart from a startup that’s been around for six, eight months, whatever, since we launch-launched. And having the branding, I’m really grateful for the team that has done this because every time I send them something they’re like, ”Oh yeah, here’s your new whatever it is,” and it matches everything. So, when you see my stuff anywhere, it’s like, “That’s Fluencer Fruit’s stuff.” It stands out.
Rachel Andrea Go: It’s so memorable, and I think, for your audience, it’s such a good call because I’m sure influencers work with so many different, kind of, partners [that] they all fade together.
Liz Saunders: Yeah, and it’s fun! I’ll go on TikTok or Instagram or, you know, pick your poison for social media, and people will be talking about the tool. And it’s funny, because people will be like, “Is that the banana tool? Is that the fruit tool? Is that the—” but they know, right? And then you know what they’re talking about. It’s like “Is that the yellow one?” But all of it, like, even if they can’t remember the name, like, “Fluencer fruit,” they know that it’s part of that ecosystem, right? So it’s really kind of fun to watch.
Rachel Andrea Go: So, looking through your website, I notice that most of your pages are targeted towards influencers.
Liz Saunders: Yes. I do.
Rachel Andrea Go: You do have a page for brands, but why did you choose to focus on that side of, kind of, the relationship?
Liz Saunders: Yeah, good question. So, the—a lot of the site is specifically for the tool, right? And so, since that’s where I get most of the questions, it needs the most explanation because there are, when I launched, no other tools for influencers, right? So, it’s crazy for me coming from the seller side to think about a part of the Amazon ecosystem that didn’t have any tools, right? But, because of that, a lot of people in the Amazon Influencer Program didn’t come specifically from the Amazon background. They just like our content creators. And so they also may or may not work with a lot of tools off of Amazon as well. So, the focus was specifically around that.
Now, the seller side of things with the brands needs a little bit more conversation. And so, when you look at, like, the pages for sellers, they’re relatively simple, right? It’s speaking to, like, optimizing your listing with video, what the ROI for working proactively with Amazon influencers are — some of those things. But truly, the best way for me to talk to sellers is to be on podcasts, to be where they’re at, and then get those conversations, because a lot of it makes so much more sense once I’m looking, like, at their listing, talking them through where an influencer would show up, what it might do for their sales, how Amazon is prioritizing — all of those things.
Whereas because there’s not a ton of information out about it right now, most sellers come into it thinking that Amazon Influencer’s going to drive traffic to their listing. But really, the Amazon Influencer Program is specific to on-site content, so it’s, you know, on your product listing, in the search results, in Inspired, Discover — all those places. And, usually, people know maybe one out of four of those places. And so, if I can get on a call and show them where it is, it tends to make a lot more sense than sending them through a ton of landing pages. So that’s why the site is heavy for the extension and a little lighter on the seller side because those are a lot of conversations.
Rachel Andrea Go: Thanks for those insights. And speaking of the Amazon Influencer Program and where that content shows up, can you tell us a little bit more about how everything works?
Liz Saunders: Absolutely. So, as an Amazon influencer, you create what’s called Shoppable Content. So, it can be a shoppable photo, a shoppable video, or a live stream (also shoppable). And then once you do that, you tag the products that you’re talking about. So, you don’t even have to have purchased it on Amazon, but it has to have a listing on Amazon and it has to be the exact listing, right? It can’t be like, “Oh, this is something that people have generically manufactured from Alibaba, it will go with any number.” It has to be the exact, right?
But then once you do that, you tag the ASIN or ASINs, and then, from there, Amazon handles 100% of the placement. So, if I’m doing a shoppable photo and I have, like, 10 items tagged, it’s eligible to show up in the Inspire or the Discover feed. But if I do a shoppable video, if I tag more than three products, it’s not eligible to show up on the product listing.
So, you have to keep it under three tags in order to show up on the product listing, which is really—when we talk about the return on working with influencers, the shoppable videos with the product page placement is the one that we have the most data around, and even that, we’re, like, working directly with sellers to combine the data to talk about what’s in it for everyone. But that product page—once I upload my video, it takes 24 hours to get published, goes to my storefront, and then, once it’s published, [it] usually within 24 hours Amazon will place it. And that is usually, you know—if you look at a product listing, if you’re brand registered, you’ve got the upper carousel, you have the lower carousel below the fold — those are the places that are the most obvious for people. So, if influencers are creating content for your product, those are the first two places I would look.
Rachel Andrea Go: Have you noticed any big differences between Amazon-focused influencers who are, you know, just focused on Amazon versus influencers on general social media?
Liz Saunders: All of the influencers that I work with are Amazon specific. So, I am very specific about working with the on-site because it’s such a different ecosystem than TikTok or Instagram or anything else. A lot of them didn’t come from an Amazon background, so they were in, like, merch and then moved over or doing, you know—there are some of those but not often. So, they’re learning the Amazon ecosystem as content creators. But, to answer your question, there are some pretty interesting differences between content creators who are focused on, like, TikTok or Instagram and content creators specifically creating content on-site for Amazon, which, if you think about it, it usually makes sense really quickly, right? On TikTok, I have an audience of people, right?
So, let’s say I’m a fitness influencer, right, on TikTok. I want you to go look at this other product whether it’s TikTok Shop or whatever. I’m gonna show you how I’m using it and I can be trendy, I can use music, I can use whatever. But I want you—I’m pushing traffic, whereas the on-site content creators that are in the Amazon Influencer Program — they show up as you are about to make a purchase. So, they’re not trying to drive you anywhere; they’re trying to convert you, right? Think about, like, on YouTube: If you’re an Amazon affiliate or an associate, you’re pushing traffic and you do care if they buy what you’re sending them to but you’ve got a 24-hour cookie for the entirety of their cart. So, your goal is to get them there and then you just hope that they’ll purchase a ton of stuff for themselves and everybody they know that day right?
But the Amazon influencer, because they’re on-site, they want to convert you. So, they’re talking very specifically about a product, about the features, doing unboxings, showing you how to assemble it — all of those things. And so, those are the ways that make the most sense to me about how different they are. I’m not pushing traffic; I’m converting traffic.
Rachel Andrea Go: Awesome, and great summary as well. So, are there any influencer trends you’re seeing specifically in relation to the Amazon marketplace?
Liz Saunders: That’s a great question. So, currently, I wish that I could call this a trend, but it feels more like a test. So, Amazon is currently—it appears to be testing different layouts for the product page. So, for example, if I am in incognito mode and not logged in to my Amazon account, I see both the upper and the lower carousel. But, if I’m logged in and not on incognito, I only see the upper carousel, I don’t see the lower carousel. Now, I do not have any insight into this from Amazon, I’m just guessing by watching over the last, like, six months. It seems like they are testing to see which of the product page layouts converts the best.
At the most optimal cost between affiliates, influencers, [and] sellers. And so, they’ve been doing that for probably four or five months now, where they’ll rotate people through. It seems like they have cohorts where, currently, I don’t see any lower carousels unless I’m logged out and in incognito. I see none, whereas you might be logged in in, like, a track browser and be able to see all of that. So, I think they’re split testing different cohorts. So, that’s kind of the biggest trend that I see is Amazon building for sustainability, right?
So they’re testing for what looks like the long-term because, you know, any time you ride the Amazon wave, there’s always going to be changes, there’s gonna be new things to learn. And so, I know some people who maybe don’t come from the Amazon space initially have been a little discouraged by the changes that Amazon has made to product listings and how it’s impacted. But, if I look at it holistically and think about the seller journey over the last, like, seven years, there’s always going to be those things changing and I think we’re going from—people have been making money hand over fist. It’s just been blue ocean in the influencers space, right? And so, now, Amazon is setting it up for a long-term structure, testing the page types, seeing if they need all of us, testing to see what types of content from us: Is it vertical shorts that do really well and convert—drive more traffic, or is it shoppable photos? And how many on a product listing? So, I think right now, the trend for 2024 specifically for the Influencer Program or the part that is going to make the biggest impact is Amazon (hopefully) finalizing some of this stuff so that we’ve got a little bit more stability to continue building.
Because I think one of the most interesting things about the Influencer Program is, like, merch, KDP, third-party selling right? All of those things exist on Amazon, but there’s not a lot of overlap, right? You can do all, you can do one of them but they don’t necessarily touch each other — retail arbitrage, whatever the case is. Influencers, however—Amazon’s stated purpose for the program is to help buyers make more confident buying decisions. Well, that means we’re helping the buyers make more confident buying decisions, which helps sellers sell more, which helps Amazon make more money, which helps influencers make money. So, it’s this really cool program that overlaps and helps everybody win. So, it’s pretty unique in the space.
Rachel Andrea Go: Moving to the brand side of things, are there any key factors to consider—that brands should consider when choosing what kind of influencers to work with or try to work with?
Liz Saunders: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think — to go back to what’s the difference between the off-site and the TikTok/Instagram influencers versus the on-site — if you’re working with somebody that you want to drive traffic from Instagram over, then you want them to be within your niche, right? You have a fitness company, you want a fitness influencer. The difference when you’re working with an Amazon influencer for on-site content is they don’t have to have a niche.
So, you can just find somebody that you want to work with and you like the quality of their content. So, if you’re looking and you’re like, “I really would like somebody who can speak to this supplement, this fitness thing,” whatever the case is, if you look at your listing and/or your competitors’ listings, look in those carousels. If it says next to the person’s name “Earns commission,” that’s an Amazon influencer, and you can click on their name, find their socials on their storefront, and then reach out to them off-site.
Rachel Andrea Go: So, it sounds like, with social media, TikTok, Instagram, the influencers you work with, you’re trying to get to their audience and their network.
Liz Saunders: Yep.
Rachel Andrea Go: But the Amazon influencers that you work with, you’re trying to get them to convert your existing audience.
Liz Saunders: Correct.
Rachel Andrea Go: And so you just need them to be good at selling.
Liz Saunders: Yeah. And if you think about it, every seller is already paying to drive traffic, right? So they’re just there to help you close the sale, you know? You want them to talk about things that you as the brand can’t talk about as authentically, right? Like: How soft is it? Is it painful? How long does it take to work? Those sorts of things. Like, “When I was installing it, I found that this was an issue. So, if you just do this—” whatever the case is, right? Because somebody—it’s basically user-generated content. It’s UGC on your listing to help convert people.
Rachel Andrea Go: What do you recommend eCommerce sellers should know or do or keep an eye out this year?
Liz Saunders: So, I think we’re going to see — I mean, just, you know, of course, in the influencers space — like, that stabilization of the product listings, and maybe I’m just hopeful but I think we’re gonna see that. And I think the thing to be on the lookout for is, do you already have influencers on your product listing? If not, who do you want to be working with, right? Because we know a couple things and they just kind of trickle down, which is, you know—Amazon even tells sellers on the back end of Seller Central, “Hey, add a product video. it could increase your sales” I think is how they say it, right? And then we know, like, if you go from there, that most shoppers prefer video to text, right? So, they are maybe not reading your text bullet points that you have historically been able to rely on.
And then we know that UGC or Amazon influencer content converts better than brand content. So, when you put all of those things together, like, proactively working with Amazon influencers, I think works in everyone’s favor. And you can talk to us, which does set us apart from, like, the Vine Program, right? Where it’s a little bit more black box. We’re FTC TOS compliant, so I think that’s really, like to be looking out for as brands. You’re just going to see more and more and more of this.
Rachel Andrea Go: There are a lot of AI-generated influencers right now. Is this something you see affecting the Amazon space anytime soon?
Liz Saunders: So, maybe, because it depends on if Amazon will say yes or not, right? But recently, specifically, there—we saw an influencer get banned for using the TikTok AI voice in an Amazon influencer video. So, they repurposed it, which you’re allowed to do. You’re allowed to repurpose Instagram, Tiktok content, but Amazon didn’t like that it was the TikTok AI voice. Now, I also have seen—I was watching a review the other day [and] I was like, “This is an AI voice.”
So, I think it could. But I think, like, with most things, we see this, like — most things in Amazon anyways — we see this, like, push into how far can we push the envelope from people using the platform. And they’ll do, like, reading scripts, they’ll put together AI voices, like, all that stuff. And then Amazon will come through and be like, “No,” and just shut it all down because Amazon does, at their core, want authentic, real content for their shoppers. So, I think it will have a short-term impact, and then I think Amazon will be like, “No, we’re out on that. We don’t want AI people, AI-generated scripts reading,” like, that’s not organic.