Why your brand should obsess over its customers, not its competitors
Columnist Mike Sands believes brands need to take a page from Amazon and put their customers -- and the data they generate -- at the center of all business decisions.
Yes, this is another Amazon story.
But this one isn’t about its latest acquisition, innovation or market share growth. It’s a story about what gave Amazon headliner status in the first place, something too often overlooked by companies scrambling to compete in its wake: customer obsession.
Twenty years ago, in his first letter to shareholders, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos preached the long-term value of obsessing over customers. In his latest corporate missive, his message remains the same.
Of course, it should. As the brains behind what is shaping up to be one of the first trillion-dollar companies, Bezos has transformed his convenient online bookstore into a disruptive retail-technology-media-entertainment megabrand that has no plans to slow down soon — because that, Bezos tells his shareholders, would lead to “excruciating, painful decline, followed by death.”
And isn’t that what we’re seeing with many brands right now, particularly with retailers? The first three months of 2017 alone saw record-breaking retail bankruptcies, with 14 chains seeking court protection. As of July, that number has risen to 23.
Thriving, just even surviving, has become an Amazonian task for brands. Not because Amazon offers better products than anyone else, but because it offers the most convenient consumer experience possible — and that’s why its shoppers are so fiercely loyal.
By obsessing over its customers, not the competition, Amazon takes advantage of every bit of information consumers leave behind to come up with incredibly relevant, valuable and simply delightful offerings — including some that people don’t even know they want yet.
As Bezos reminds his shareholders, no customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program. Now there are more than 80 million consumers signed up — shoppers who spend roughly twice as much annually on Amazon as non-Prime subscribers, according to recent estimates. Need I say more?
Give your customers a reason to return
Look, we all know Amazon has changed the game forever. But that doesn’t mean other brands must be relegated to the sidelines. There’s always a reason why customers return to a specific brand. As the competitive holiday season fast approaches, you need to ask, what’s your brand’s reason?
I’m not just talking about a better product, price, selection, what have you. I’m talking about what you can discover by drilling into the collective psyche of your customers, obsessing over every detail and reading between the lines. The myriad of first-party data customers leave behind with every brand engagement can be used beyond marketing to inspire new products, inform better customer service and smarter fulfillment strategies and, ultimately, give customers a reason to return.
Consider what putting the customer at the heart of all business decisions can do to help rival retailers neutralize the Amazon threat. Some are so concerned with their own digital efforts that they’ve seemingly forgotten that over 80 percent of global retail sales still occur in brick-and-mortar stores.
If customer purchase history is revealing that online sales aren’t as profitable as offline sales, that’s a telltale sign that a retailer should be more concerned with making its physical shopping experience better, rather than trying to beat an online-only competitor at its own game. Perhaps this involves investing in a shopping app and a mobile payment app enabling customers to carry on previous digital interactions and browse, compare and purchase in the store. In turn, brands can use insights from these proprietary assets to inform smarter inventory selections, even store layouts.
The possibilities extend beyond retail. Take McDonald’s. Like all quick-service restaurants, convenience is its hallmark. But in today’s one-click marketplace, the definition of convenience can’t rest with “quick.”
Breaking down what people are ordering and how they are purchasing, McDonald’s found that specific markets want healthier fare, so cage-free eggs, sustainable beef and customizable sandwiches now pop up on some menus, while the all-day breakfast menu and bundle deals are a godsend for those of us who can’t get enough Egg McMuffins.
McDonald’s also is expanding its mobile pay offering and installing ordering kiosks for patrons to customize orders, adding yet a new way to collect data while freeing up back staff to deliver food straight to tables. It’s additionally partnered with the UberEATS online meal ordering and delivery service in certain markets, taking fast-food convenience to the next level.
Amazon, no doubt, will continue to make headlines for the foreseeable future. But instead of being consumed with its next move, companies should follow its lead and channel that obsession into their own customers.
As Bezos so elegantly puts it, “Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied.” This is what inspires Amazon to listen to its customers, not the marketplace — to always offer more, not rest with complacency. And there’s no better way to do so than by going straight to the source.