Hero Marketing: Compete with Amazon


Hero Marketing – Amazon

I’m in Columbia, Maryland today to speak to a group of Small to Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs) about how to compete with Amazon. Amazon is a monster because they understand and infuse their online marketing with an important why – innovate and prove the web is a viable commercial medium.

I will share my favorite Amazon story. In 1996 a few years after Janet McKEan and I started Found Objects, a specialty gifts distribution business located in Durham, NC, we began to hear about Amazon.

We sold a few books, books created by the artists we represented, but books weren’t a focus. We heard about Amazon because no one could figure out what they were doing. Amazon was buying from distributors and selling BELOW their costs.

What we didn’t realize was Jeff Bezos was in the Minimal Viable Product phase of his now $90B startup. Losing money on transactions wasn’t as important as MAKING sales. Bezos knew he could make it up later.

And make it up he did:

Amazon Pagespread Hero Marketing chart

Hero Marketing

Amazon thinks differently. Amazon thinks like an Internet merchant. Everything is an arbitrage and trading pennies for nickels across millions of transactions works. “I sensed that people would always be interested in low prices,” Bezos said in an interview with Steven Kotler for his book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World (recommended and a big contributor to Hero Marketing).

Competing head-to-head with Amazon feels like a fool’s errand. That doesn’t mean online merchants should curl up into a ball and give up. Far from it. Hero Marketing: How SMBs Can Compete with Amazon outlines 4 CSFs (Critical Success Factors) for competing with the big A online:

  • Passion.
  • Customer Focus.
  • Exponential Thinking.
  • Create Movements not Promotions.

Hero Marketing Passion image

If you haven’t read Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why do so. Think of the web as a huge lie detecting amplifier. Anything you publish goes into the web’s megaphone and volume immediately goes to 11 (to quote This is Spinal Tap).

The web DOES NOT solve marketing problems. If your marketing is confused or unsure the web increases the wobble by an order of magnitude. You MUST know YOU before creating a website. Don’t believe the journey of creating a website will solve, teach or resolve anything.

It may teach difficult lessons if you don’t know who you are, what you stand for and why. Start with your why and THEN create a website

Customer Focus Hero Marketing image

Customer Focus

The reason YOUR values, mission and creation story are so important online is your “uber-goal”, the goal above all others, is the creation of sustainable online community. Your digital marketing exists for a single and very important reason – to find, define and rally your tribe.

Tribes form around “like me” values. If you don’t have a great About page, one that shares your Why, your tribe won’t have a locus, a place to gather, swap stories and help each other. You won’t have the army you need to ask for help.

The creation of an online tribe is why your About Page is the most important page. Your About Us page is where community begins. You share yours so others can share theirs. When we worked with Moon-Audio.com, an online seller of high end headphones and manufacturers of magical audio cables called Dragons, the first work we collaborated on was their About Page.

By the end of this year we will have launched a new site and added several very cool new tools to Moon-Audio.com, tools we will then resell to our Curagami customers. Last year was a record year for Moon-Audio.com, and this year is off to an amazing start. And everything started with their About Us page.

PS. (after my FedEx presentation)
I touched on the importance of platforms in my FedEx talk. Platforms, a place where community can begin and be reinforced, is paramount. Begin with an Ambassador Program. Get people who are willing to help, your magical 10%, to declare themselves.

We touched on the 1:9:90 rule. 1% of site visitors will provide User Generated Content (UGC), 9% will support a site’s content with shares, links and likes and 90% will read = 1:9:90 Rule). This means you play for 10% of your engaged audience and you need to ASK them for help.

Don’t worry about building the Sistine Chapel. Ask for help, see who answers the call and build features and community from that foundation. We used to recommend customers build loyalty and community BEFORE asking for help. We don’t do that anymore because we realized the 1:90:90 Rule is in effect from the first day of your site’s existence.

That means TODAY there are people who want to help you IF you ask. Ask!!! And then build community.

Products To Customers

I grew up selling and marketing soap for P&G and candy for M&M/Mars. Our marketing had an invading Russia in the winter feel. We took a year to create a campaign and another year to implement across the country.

Good luck with that kind of product focus today. By the time you invade Russia these days someone has moved it. Better to act smaller and based on fast feedback loops. Fast feedback loops can be anything from Google Analytics to asking your Ambassadors what they think.

I wouldn’t say begin and end your marketing with customers. We would say blend your mission, values and WHY with what you learn (from customers) and be ready to pivot, pivot and pivot again. “Pivoting” in this context means constant iteration. Always be tuning. Never think anything is ever “done” or fully understood.

We owe Niraj Dawar’s book Tilt: Shifting Your Strategy From Products To Customers a shout out for understanding how to shift online thinking away from “How much more can we sell” to “What do our customers need”.

Exponential Thinking image Hero Marketing

Exponential Thinking

Exponential thinking may be the most difficult suggestion in our How To Compete with Amazon Haiku Deck (above). We owe Steven Kotler’s great book Bold: How To Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World a nod of gratitude for this section.

Why NOT go big? The costs of BIG online are 10% more than small, but the results are the Grand Canyon. When you think in scale you may fail, but even failure puts you ahead of where you would have ended up by thinking small and incremental.

Small and incremental just doesn’t work online. While you are chipping away at it someone is changing the nature of what you do. Small is a sure RX for disaster online. There is no SMALL.

This doesn’t mean you can’t hit singles and learn. It does mean that at some point you are going to need to confidently push all chips to the middle. Online is risk. Anyone who tells you different is selling you something. Don’t buy it, learn to think like an Internet marketer. Learn to think exponentially

Movements not Promotions graphic Hero Marketing

Movements Not Promotions

“People don’t BUY brands they JOIN them,” is one of my favorite quotes. Marketing guru Faith Popcorn said those words BEFORE social media and mobile ruled the world and our marketing environment. More prescient words haven’t been spoken if you are a web marketer.

The implications of Faith Popcorn’s statement are HUGE. Are you thinking and acting short-term? When I was a Director of Ecommerce we used carrots and sticks to make 20% this year than last. I wouldn’t suggest such tunnel vision today.

The costs of such short-term thinking are becoming clear – the erosion of your WHY and the destruction of your tribe. Don’t do that is our advice, learn to create MOVEMENTS where your tribe shares stories, ideas and their WHY.

Learn to incorporate “sales” into something larger, something more meaningful and with greater love and impact. If that sounds like you would get fired we understand. We’ve been there.

But you need to get fired from that job. That job, the one where manipulation is the order of the day, won’t be around much longer anyway and those skills will be worthless soon. The number of people who know how to create movements can’t be more than a few thousand IN THE WORLD.

Become one of those :). M