I Wish My Kindle Ads Knew Me Better

Over the past few months, my husband, Luke, and I have made it a habit to read for 30 minutes every morning. This new routine helps bring structure to the start of the day in our 1 bedroom Brooklyn apartment which now also doubles as our joint office. With the local library closed due to COVID, my new Kindle has made it easy to borrow e-books without ever leaving the house. Quickly, I noticed a trend emerge every time I picked up my Kindle… what is going on with these ads?

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As an aspiring female leader, I enjoy reading books that widen my perspective and inspire me in my career. However, my Kindle was showing me ads that had nothing to do with the books I was reading.

The books I was reading vs. the ads I was receiving. (Jan-Feb 2021)

Day after day like clockwork, I was getting ads promoting various romantic novels. The stories flooding my screen each morning consisted of “bad boys”, summer love, and hot new bosses. Why? I never read a romantic novel and wasn’t planning to start anytime soon. Determined to figure out the reason, I started documenting Luke’s ads in comparison to mine.

Luke’s Kindle on the left, mine on the right. Spot the difference?

It was almost comical to see his whimsical sailboat ad contrasted with the sight of a ripped guy in… just a tie. And this wasn’t just a one-off occurrence.

Over the next month, Luke’s ads continued to be the polar opposite of mine. He tended to receive novels promoting adventure, mystery, and thrillers along with the latest editor’s picks. The truth of the matter is: although Luke was receiving more neutral ads than I was, neither of us were receiving ads that reflected our interests.

The books Luke was reading vs. the ads he was receiving. (Jan-Feb 2021)

Luke and I are the same age, in the same profession, reading similar books, so why was I getting such different ads than he was? And why weren’t we getting ads related to what we were reading? Is Amazon, one of the leading tech giants in the world, solely relying on gender as a way to target ads to customers?

Successful ad targeting

With the growth of technology, we now have the ability to create more targeted ads than ever before. We can understand user attributes and behavior to surface content that is most likely to resonate with them. As a product designer, I’ve worked on marketing campaigns that leverages this user data to accurately target customers in their purchasing journey. When this sort of smart ad targeting is done right, it can be relevant, helpful, and even enjoyable to the end user. I had to wonder if the Amazon Kindle team somehow missed the memo…

From my observations, it seems as though Amazon is not following a particular strategy for their Kindle ads. The ads I receive daily are over-generalized and in no way tailored to my goals or aspirations. They end up being distracting or worse, offensive.

Solving for smart Kindle ads

Identifying problems and finding creative solutions is what I enjoy most about my job. Given the continued disappointment in my Kindle ad experience, I started thinking about how I might improve them. What would it look like to create more personalized and tailored ads for the reader? What if they didn’t even feel like ads, but rather helpful recommendations?

I came up with three initial ideas that will help readers discover new books based on their interests, revisit books they have read, and motivate them to read more. If done correctly, I believe that these ideas will greatly increase reader satisfaction and in turn, e-book sales.

Idea 1: Personalized Recommendations (High ad presence)

It’s fairly common for readers to gravitate towards specific book genres. Personally, I love historical fiction and autobiographies and the books in my reading history confirms that. By using this simple data point, Amazon can recommend similar books to readers.

Through this ad idea, the customer benefits by not having to spend time searching for their next book while Amazon has a higher chance of selling a book quickly. Win, win.

Bonus feature: Get instant feedback from the reader if these recommendations are correct with a thumbs up or down rating. This feedback can help track how the feature is performing so it can be improved in the future.

Idea 2: Reading History (Medium ad presence)

Kindle has a highlighting feature that allows the reader to save passages that stand out to them. It feels good and productive in the moment, but unfortunately those highlights rarely get revisited again. Let’s change this cycle by resurfacing those feel-good quotes so the reader can relive a good book and discover other books the author has written. (Do I sense a Readwise partnership?)

Idea 3: Motivational Reading (No ad presence)

Gathering and tracking personal data has become a skyrocketing trend over the past couple of years. What if the we applied this type of data tracking to help readers gather insights into their reading habits? While this idea isn’t specifically focused on ads, it can motivate readers to use their Kindle daily.

A friendly piece of advice for companies

People expect a lot from technology today. Who can blame them? We rely on it for many aspects of our lives. Therefore, we expect a seamless experience that benefits our daily routines and is personalized to our various needs. If a company fails at that, trust in the brand can be in jeopardy which can result in losing loyal customers. It is imperative that companies get this right the first time because in this overly competitive market there is always a newer, shinier product just around the corner.

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Product Design Lead at WeWork