Beating Amazon with Emotional Intelligence is a post about the most urgent scary question our consulting company gets asked – how does a small to medium sized online merchant compete with the Big A? This post shares 5 Online Emotional Intelligence tips for Small to Medium Sized Businesses including:

  • Be HUMAN – Have a VOICE and a distinct TONE
  • Be Vulnerable – Tell STORIES and Take RISKS and when you make a mistake learn from it and share what you learned
  • Conversations Not Lectures – Ask for help, listen carefully and create online community
  • Money is NOT The Objection – Lower customer risks instead of lowering prices

Be HUMAN Have a Distinct Voice

Creating a distinct voice, a narrator customers feel they know and want to listen to and interact with, is not easy and never finished. Your online voice is as good as whatever you shared TODAY. Today is also a card in a deck of TIME. Google and customers listen for and want consistency, humility, and signs you are THERE and listening. Amazon doesn’t listen well.

They can’t listen well. Amazon “listens” with algorithms and they can, as their CTO demonstrated and Inc correctly used as an example of a bigger problem, be a bully.

Unfortunately, this (Amazon’s CTO public humiliation of a salesman who tried to sell Amazon’s cloud services to the Big A’s CTO known as the father of Amazon’s Cloud strategy) just feeds into Amazon’s biggest problem: its reputation as a company that lacks emotional intelligence. The company’s been under a microscope since a scathing hit piece by The New York Times, which painted the e-commerce giant as having a major empathy problem. (Employee rebuttals haven’t always helped, depending on your perspective.)
Ref: Amazon’s CTO Brutally Humiliated This Guy on Twitter (and Reminded Us of the Company’s Biggest Problem)

I don’t want to too deeply criticize Amazon’s CTO since to do so would be making the same mistake, so let’s focus on Inc’s identification of a “bigger problem”. Justin Bariso’s post concludes:

Vogels could have blurred out the salesman’s last name. He would have made his point, got some laughs, and spared the little guy some embarrassment–instead of throwing him under the bus.

Justin’s great catch collided with another great Sign of the Time Forbes article by Kimberly Whitler:

For some time, I’ve been struck by the disconnect between the desire to use sophisticated techniques to market to consumers when the basics often seem to be wrong. How can companies of a novel product get the basic instructions wrong? Or communicate to a loyal consumer that they aren’t as valuable as a new customer? Or repetitively bother a new subscriber with requests to renew 11 months before it is time?

Is it possible that all of the emphasis on “newer” marketing—coping with big data, social media, digital, and sophisticated analytics—is preventing marketers from getting the basics right?
Ref: Are Big Data, Predictive Analytics and Social Media Getting in the Way of Basic Marketing

The answer to Kim’s question is YES we are too enamored with algorithms and math at the expense of listening and really connecting. Inc and Forbes illustrate Amazon’s greatest vulnerability – they aren’t really THERE in the same way as others. Amazon, the master of predictive analytics, algorithms, and other non-human interactions sucks when it’s time to BE HUMAN and there are times when non-human interactions SUCK.

And Amazon sucks at anything that isn’t math or scale. Social Media = Amazon really sucks. Just look at these tweets:


Even when Amazon is trying to poke fun at itself it comes off thin and like a robot created the joke. I don’t want to pick on the Amazon social marketing team as their CTO did to a poor salesman, but, despite the enviable shares and engagement numbers, these tweets and Amazon’s social media marketing in general, feel inauthentic and too cute by half.

Amazon is HUGE and we know it, so any attempts to be just a regular guy (or sound like a hapless SMB) seems false, inauthentic, and a lie.You can do many things os social media lying wouldn’t be our first suggestion. Once your social marketing lacks authenticity everything you do adds to the problem. Amazon’s retweets illustrate the point.

Put Amazon’s RTs in a different context and they may feel and sound real, Once RTs are trapped in the inauthentic, “Aren’t we cute,” content that is even the RTs become tainted, ruined, and they sound fake and phony too. When our SMB client creates a Tweet such as the Girls are On Sale they express a point of view, poke a little fun at themselves and their products and they, unlike Amazon, have a distinct voice:

Social media is a conversation, not a lecture. When SMBs use social to listen and connect the do something the Big A will probably never master.

Be Vulnerable

Amazon’s algorithms can’t tell great stories, feel pain, desire or longing. Amazon attempts to reclaim emotion with reviews and by creating a strong class of editors. Would I rather have mercenary editors motivated by free books or passionate writers who believe in a cause? The later obvioiusly because they will tell stories, share pain and triumph and be passionate about our cause.

Math is or it isn’t. Math isn’t vulnerable. Humans, on the other hand, are vulnerable. We hurt, bleed and feel pain like the poor salesman who emailed the CTO of Amazon the father of the company’s cloud computing about buying cloud computing services and who may now be unemployed. Honesty doesn’t have to be brutal, lack empathy or care.

Math is uncaring, unknowing (really), and can become a wrecking ball. And we don’t JOIN the “cause” of low prices or quick delivery. Low prices and fast delivery are means to an end not and not an end unto themselves. If three large e-retailers equally talented at algorithms and the web’s speaking in tongues language existed who would we buy from? Amazon’s low prices and fast delivery is vulnerable to great stories as Daily Deal site shows. Here is how describes a “Woot Off”:

Woot Off
Once, the internet was the wild frontier. Today it’s a place where people rush to shop after a day of shopping at real stores. Sorta like how the wildest Wild West gambling dens turned into abandoned ghost towns where you can stop to use the bathroom on a long trip to a big city. Ah, well. Such is progress. At least you get some savings out of it. isn’t a daily deal site having a spiritual experience. They are spiritual beings with a distinct voice having a human experience. Woot is a unique voice telling a story and capturing our imaginations, loyalty, and money who isn’t named Amazon. Every great story shares something in common with every other great story – vulnerability. If you aren’t risking rejection, you aren’t doing it right. If you aren’t being rejected, corrected and engaged with you aren’t doing it right. And the answer is always the same. Do it again, and again, and again.

Community and Conversations Not Lectures

One thing Amazon’s CTO’s brutal public note proved is how difficult sentiment is to feel online. Was Amazon’s CTO trying to be cruel, ironic or funny? Absent emojis understanding context and emotion, whether something was meant as happy, sad or angry, can be almost impossible online. That’s why online emotional intelligence is different than face-to-face.

Despite how it feels the web and our marketing is a conversation now. Creating content often feels like it’s in your head and it is until you push the magical publish button. Once you publish what was in your head is out in the world.  Your content, campaigns, and blog posts become part of a conversation. We wrote a Haiku Deck about the conversational nature of the “new marketing”:

New Rules Conversation Haiku Deck hero image

Everything you do online either brings customers to you or pushes them away. There is no middle ground, no maintaining a status quo these days. When in doubt ASK FOR HELP and listen carefully to any and all feedback. Feedback online comes in many forms. Be sure to listen to many kinds of feedback. Don’t use analytics to the exclusion of everything else. Create an “Ambassador” group you can query and who will be honest, make intelligent suggestions and advocate your brand and marketing to their friends. Creating online community is the hardest job we loved the most, so listen, fail and fail again. When in doubt ASK FOR HELP!

Money Is NOT The Objection

Money is not the objection you think it is, but if you’re pricing is 30% above Amazon this conversation is over. Amazon, in many instances, sets the basement price for goods and services. And Amazon’s prices are low because they don’t care about making money from their store.

Amazon makes most of its money from their partner network and increasingly from partner services such as their cloud computing and Content Delivery Network (CDN). Amazon understands something most Small to Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs) struggle to know and act upon – customers Lifetime Value (LTV) is more important than today’s transaction.

LTV shifts the conversation from today’s deal to tomorrow’s relationship. How can you retain, encourage and benefit from “loyalty” in such disloyal times? Understand that money is NOT the objection or even the goal.

We live in strange times. There are multiple good options for almost anything we desire. And as business moves online our ability to create digital presentations and community conversations win what little loyalty is possible. As we discussed in Emotional Intelligence, it is hard to express sentiment online.

The feeling and emotions of any single post, review, or comment can be hard to understand. But the feelings of 100 reviews is much easier to read. The web turns many things upside down. When we sell to a single buyer face-to-face, we have non-verbal clues to inform our pitch. Online is different.

Online we rely on analytics. And I agree with Kimberly from Forbes; we rely on analytics too much. We suggest an “Ambassador” group to all of our clients. Ambassadors are customers with a passion for your business, customers willing to share unvarnished impressions and advocate your marketing to their friends.

Friends of Friends marketing via the proxy of Ambassadors is the key to the “collective consciousness” the web needs to create positive momentum and sentiment. As you may suspect we’ve created a Haiku Deck about how to build friends of friends marketing via Ambassadors through contests and games. Gamification is the glue that binds your “Ambassador Class” to your marketing, website, and cause.

We are all “cause marketers” now whether we realize it or not. Your customers want to help are you asking them? Collaboration with clients who want to be Ambassadors, clients who want to advocate your cause to their friends, is the key to “marketing” or what’s left of it. Money is only important when it feeds our desires, motivations, and dreams.

To fully understand why money isn’t the objection you think it is read Drive: The Surprising Truth Behind What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. Pink points out that yes there is a minority of about 15% of people whose primary motivation is money. The much bigger majority are motivated by more altruistic motives. They want to do the right thing, be part of something larger than themselves and have fun.

Having fun is a critical motivation says another favorite author – Steven Johnson in his new book Wonderland: How Play Made The Modern World. I’ll be listening to Steven new book on my drive to Ohio tomorrow and will continue this post then. In the meantime remember to beat Amazon with your website’s emotional intelligence.