Ruslana Zbagerska shares how authenticity and passion can make up for limited resources.
In 1998, Ruslana Zbagerska moved to Canada from Ukraine with an unbridled optimism, believing she could accomplish anything in her future despite her humble beginnings. Twenty-five years later, she’s now the Tech and Product Vice President leading Sponsored Brands and Display at Amazon Ads, where she’s helping empower brands to maximize their opportunities. “It’s important to follow your passion, love what you do, and strive to achieve your greatest potential,” Zbagerska says. “I draw energy from helping entrepreneurs and business owners connect with customers.”
An expert in creating products that enable brands to tell their stories, Zbagerska discussed building trust with customers, even when budgets may be tight during economic uncertainty.
Why is it crucial for brands to tell their stories authentically?
I’ve always been passionate about storytelling, and I believe that’s because my personal story has shaped my approach to business. When companies design marketing campaigns, the focus should be on connecting with customers rather than just selling to them.
Let me give an example. Sarah Ribner was inspired by her own clean lifestyle to create personal hygiene brand PiperWai. She was deeply invested in clean ingredients, and with the help of the Amazon Ads Sponsored Display and Stores products, she grew PiperWai into a flourishing brand of body washes, underarm oils, and deodorant creams. The authenticity of her mission helped her build a business, and advertising solutions made a big difference. This entrepreneur’s success was due to her passion and personal investment, and our products were able to help elevate it.
How can people who want to launch or grow brands benefit from digital advertising?
I’ve worked with a lot of brands of all sizes, and I’ve seen how costly and complex it can be to get started in retail. All brands, and especially small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), need to make every dollar count. Brick-and-mortar retailers often charge a “slotting fee” to stock a product. A launch of a new product in a regional cluster of stores might run tens of thousands of dollars. Digital advertising has made it easier and more affordable for small businesses to reach the right audiences.
At Amazon, we opened our virtual shelves to independent, small businesses to sell directly to customers in our store over 20 years ago. More than 60% of sales in Amazon’s store come from independent sellers—most of which are SMBs. In 2022, independent sellers in our U.S. store sold more than 4.1 billion products—an average of 7,800 every minute. We give entrepreneurs access to capabilities traditionally reserved for only large retailers and we continue to innovate on new capabilities that enable growth and help aid in discovery for small and underrepresented businesses.
Digital advertising can help brands drive discovery on the virtual shelf and is one way we’re democratizing brand storytelling without a huge marketing budget. I think about a company called Dream Pairs, a small business that allows customers to express themselves with affordable, fashionable footwear. At first, it only sold in physical stores, but with the help of Amazon Ads, it expanded online to digital advertising and told its compelling story through more than 1,000 live posts and engaging content.
Since sponsored ads work by optimizing relevance, even brands with small budgets have the same chances and same access to placement on the virtual shelf. Within four years of the Dream Pairs Amazon Store going live, Dream Pairs observed an increase in store views by 50%, overall sales by 42% and order sizes by 74%.
How should brands consider the mix of driving sales, driving discovery, and building brand equity?
This is always such an important balancing act, and I really do believe that driving sales and building brand equity are not mutually exclusive or competing objectives. While all advertising initiatives should ultimately accrue to driving sales, what’s important to recognize is that not all customer journeys are the same, and some customers are further along that journey than others. Brand equity helps in the long term, by making sure that when a customer is actively shopping for a given product, then they will be thinking of you.
One example of this that I really love is Orijin Bees from Melissa Orijin, who was inspired by her daughter to create a brand of multicultural dolls. Initially, Orijin used social media and digital marketing to share her message of inclusive toys. With the help of Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator (BBA) and Amazon Ads products, Orijin was able to improve discovery and reach even more customers.
How are companies looking to improve their marketing amid the current economic uncertainty?
Times are difficult for everyone right now, and marketing budgets are receiving greater scrutiny. Still, rather than spend less, many marketers want to spend more effectively.
At Amazon Ads, we strive to continuously deliver value to our advertisers and our consumers. We provide various solutions to help make brand advertising more accessible and at a maximum value to advertisers. From June 2021 to May 2022, advertisers that included brand-building solutions in their Amazon Ads strategy saw growth in awareness, consideration, and sales compared to advertisers that did not use brand-building solutions over the same period. Successful marketing can be key to using your budget effectively.
What advice do you have for people who are starting brands or want to grow them?
I am a first-generation immigrant who is working in technology, a field that historically has not always been welcoming to women. Still, I’ve always focused on relentlessly pursuing whatever goal I set, a lesson I learned from my dad, who used to tell me, “You can do anything—but you must finish what you started.”
There’s always a temptation to tackle an easy problem. I’ve found that success is often the result of finding the hardest problem and throwing your whole self into it. To solve difficult problems, the key is to break them into simpler problems, making them less daunting to tackle. I’m a marathon runner, and I think about it one mile at a time—a fast iteration of baby steps is better than a lot of inaction thinking about the perfect solution. I would like marketers to take from this that they should experiment a lot with their campaigns. At Amazon Ads, I am throwing my full self into helping brands fly, whether they are just starting or growing rapidly. And those brands are inspiring marketers of all sizes because of how resourceful and creative they are.