Why are Amazon so successful? Are there certain guiding principles that allow companies to be like Amazon to establish and sustain a dominant position in their market? How do these organisations make decisions to ensure their continued dominance? But why do some of these companies such as Kodak and Sears lose their way and go into rapid decline?
In the book ‘Be Like amazon’, Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg and co-writer Roy Williams, answer these questions and many others using the art of story-telling. The book cleverly uses the narrative of a road trip involving a young man and his mentor, an older man called Poobah, to explore these issues using a combination of witty anecdotes and entertaining dialogue.
Unlike most business books Be Like Amazon avoids relying on jargon and opaque concepts to communicate their ideas. Instead, the book is full of simple and clear examples from every day businesses that will help you with conversion rate optimisation. As the cover suggests, “even a lemonade stand can do it.”
I won this book at the Conversion Elite conference in Manchester and couldn’t put it down once I’d started reading it. Here are seven key insights I took from the book, but there are many more to be gleaned from reading it.
1. Keep To Your Unifying Principles:
Throughout the narrative Poobah keeps bringing his protégé back to how each story of success had clear and strong unifying pillars. George Eastman for example set up Kodak as it became known with four key principles:
- Keep the price low so that customers will find more uses for it.
- Always sell by demonstration.
- Be the first to embrace new technologies.
- Listen to what customers say.
Kodak went bankrupt when it abandoned these four principles and decided it was in the camera film business. Ironically Kodak had invented the digital camera but it failed to capitalise on the very technology which replaced camera film.
2.The Myth of Key Performance Indicators:
In the age of big data and key performance indicators (KPIs) companies are continuously measuring and tracking performance indicators. What they are often not doing is thinking about what this means for the customer. Companies may have huge quantities of data, but it is essential to go beyond company performance and “see the data that reveals your customer’s reality.”
This is essential for conversion rate optimisation as unless you work in a customer centric organisation this can be missed in the rush to generate reports. What we need to be thinking is what does the data tell us about the customer experience, where do customers struggle, what do they feel, what do they like, what do they dislike and how they use the product? Are you really listening to your customers?
All too often data is used purely to look at performance from the organisation’s perspective and there is often too much focus on what competitors’ are doing. If you want to Be Like amazon it is essential that you use your data to see your customer’s reality.
3.Actions Speak Louder Than Words:
Mission statements, marketing slogans, brand values and brand guidelines are just a form of propaganda. What matters is how companies behave. Words are cheap and people decide what you stand for by observing your actions.
As Jeff Bezos once said; “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Brand values and mission statements are not worth the paper they are printed on unless you live by what you say. That’s why in Be Like amazon the company’s unifying pillars are referred to as the “operating system”. These principles should drive behaviours within the organisation. Amazon has these four unifying pillars:
- Customer Centricity
- Continuous Optimisation
- Culture of Innovation
- Corporate Agility
Unlike most business books the text doesn’t then go into a detailed monologue about each of these principles. Instead the story continues and the characters discuss examples of organisations that have applied similar unifying principles.
4. Customer Centricity Is Not Customer Love:
If there is just one thing that we should learn from Be Like amazon it’s about being customer obsessive. But as Poobah points out customer centricity is not about customer love, it’s about understanding what the customer wants and delivering it to them. It’s not possible to exceed expectations unless you know what they are in the first place.
The book is full of fascinating short anecdotes about great company bosses like Sam Walton (Walmart), Cornelius Vanderbilt (transport) and Julius Rosenwald (Sears). However, it also includes many examples of less well-known bosses from companies that have excelled at being customer centric. These anecdotes are particularly useful as they show how businesses in many different markets have applied a customer centric approach to their advantage.
“We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchasing decisions.” – Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon
5. Make Decisions For The Long-Term?
In the real world of course we don’t always make the right decisions and once successful businesses can take the wrong route down a bumpy road. Indeed, the authors’ argue that smart managers often do dumb things for short-term gains. But although stupid decisions may get immediate results, it’s no good if the results aren’t sustainable. So make sure you think about what’s best for the customer in the long-term and avoid focusing on short-term gains.
6. The Four Pillars Are Interconnected:
As you read Be Like amazon you realise that the four principles are interconnected and that without abiding by all of them you will fail on all of them. For instance Jeff Bezos believes strongly that teams should innovate by experimenting and failing if necessary to learn what works. But without corporate agility that would not work as the whole process would take too long and people would become disillusioned.
7. Buyer Legends Help Tell Stories From The Customer’s Perspective:
Developing a narrative of the customer experience from the user’s perspective is another powerful tool for marketers and senior stakeholders to help with continuous optimisation. The Buyer Legends process allows organisations to craft a story which reveals your customer’s reality. A pre-mortem helps companies explore all the shortcomings a customer might experience and forces them to tell the story from the customer’s perspective.
Be Like amazon demonstrates that any business or organisation can learn from what people like Jeff Bezos have achieved. Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg, together with Roy Williams have crafted a highly entertaining and insightful story. Although being customer obsessive is clearly an important take-out from the book, understanding what the four unifying pillars are is only the beginning of the process.
Be Like amazon is packed full of interesting anecdotes and valuable insights about how to optimise your business and turn it into world-class company. I also recommend that you read it to gain a better understanding of how the unifying pillars are interconnected.