How to Beat Amazon
Amazon’s dominance of retail is akin to the Empire’s Death Star, destroying any small business rebellion that stands up. What then can an alliance of rebels unite around to fight back?
In a word: reciprocity. The Rebels (i.e. small retail businesses of America) cannot compete with the Death Star’s brute force, scale, and cheap capital. The Rebels' mission has to be to focus their brand and empower their customers by removing friction. Doing so will turn customers into brand evangelists eager to spread the Rebels' call.
The Rebels are an emotional, passion brand (think Patagonia or YETI with their $800+ coolers). They are not a rational, transactional brand, like Amazon (which sells countless coolers a tenth the price of YETI’s). In order to become a passion brand, Rebels need to first focus who they are. Amazon’s weakness lies in its greatness; it has everything for sale.
Rebels only sell exactly what their particular customers want. But it’s not just about focusing the Rebels’ product lines or brand extensions. More importantly, it’s about why the Rebels exist at all. As Simon Sinek preaches, people don’t buy what you sell; they buy why you sell it. The Rebels must create a compelling “why”— a core belief, cause, or purpose that drives every business decision and customer interaction. Establishing this will attract those that share the same belief.
Brands today are judged by the totality of their behavior, and once the Rebel brand is focused and has a compelling “why,” they must empower customers by creating a frictionless experience and offering more than just a product or service. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to remove friction—aligning how things should be for an experience with how they actually are—and should be used to reinforce their “why.” For example, rather than the Rebels just selling products on their website, they must use it as a storytelling platform to extoll their virtues. This practice of removing friction empowers customers who now want more than just products or entertaining ads. They want experiences that move their lives forward.
Focus and empowerment lead to building an army of evangelists. These digitally-enabled customers are loyal and will reciprocate by sharing, via reviews and word-of-mouth, how amazing the Rebels are. Further, building a base of evangelists allows Rebels to leverage their customers' sense of social currency, enticing them to share the brand for not only its message but also its exclusivity and uniqueness.
People prefer to share things that make them seem entertaining and intelligent rather than boring and dull. Word-of-mouth, then, is a prime tool for making good impressions—a kind of social currency the Rebels must mint since they cannot compete with the large media buys of Amazon. This is how the Rebels create reciprocity—brand evangelists who proselytize others, growing the tribe and carrying the brand forward more effectively than any paid advertising. Delivering a remarkable customer experience will only make this word-of-mouth more contagious.
The strategy to compete against the Amazon behemoth is to stay focused and intimate. Every touchpoint and everything the Rebels do as a brand—from social-media outreach and content-marketing efforts to product delivery and customer service—must be frictionless, personal, and consistently aligned with the brand’s “why." It’s about emotion, empathy, empowerment, respect, and exceeding customer expectations again and again.