On day one of the recently completed Whole Foods acquisition, Amazon slashed prices on dozens of staple goods, sending competitive grocery stock prices into a freefall. Many investors didn’t have the stomach to go toe-to-toe with the e-commerce giant, whose influence was mentioned in one-fifth of all S&P 500 earnings calls last quarter.
It would seem no industry is safe from Amazon’s gargantuan appetite. For business leaders, it’s not a matter of if Amazon will come after your market, but when.
Hedging which areas to invest in and build a competitive advantage against a powerful market entrant like Amazon is daunting. Amazon will always beat smaller companies in both price and scale, even if that means hemorrhaging money to do so.
So, how can you safeguard against an apparently unstoppable force? Through better marketing.
Sure, leave it to a career marketer to tell you marketing is the only thing that can save a company from annihilation — I assure you the irony is not lost. But let me explain.
Focus on marketing that creates engagement and builds brand loyalty
Marketing is a broad term, but to counter a competitor like Amazon, focus on marketing initiatives that promote real customer engagement. Marketing is the extension of customer service and is by nature customer-centric. At the core, it’s about forming lasting relationships and, ultimately, brand loyalty.
Doing so requires marketers to create moments of true engagement. Not vanity metrics, but data that expresses human behavior and the intent behind a customer’s actions.
Today, too many metrics that don’t move the company’s bottom line clutter marketers’ data sheets. Cut through the fluff and find the marketing activities that create brand advocates.
In contrast, even though Amazon has created a frictionless buying experience for users, when it comes to customer loyalty, the buck stops at price. E-commerce customers will buy from whoever has the best price, and for the most part, Amazon does.
In the areas where Amazon is finding resistance, they have drummed up new marketing initiatives like customer-generated content and free at-home consultations. While they’ve generally attained customer loyalty through low prices, Amazon is beginning to recognize the long-term value of investing in meaningful engagement and customer relationships.
Thinking about customer engagement in this new way — building and cultivating brand loyalty — allows marketers to then home in on the strategies and technologies which foster meaningful engagement. Yes, you do not have to go to battle with Amazon alone.
To create customer advocates, start small
Your customers’ experience must be more than just a frictionless purchase at the best price. An advantage of being the niche player in an industry is the ability to build a community of customers with a common shared interest.
Why should a customer relationship end simply because the sale is closed? Communities grow the customer experience far beyond the moment of purchase. Give your customers the platform to share their expertise, and the benefits are sure to follow.
We employed this technique of promoting a community’s deep knowledge of a subject by developing a webinar series for our client, Match.com. To help their users understand the ins and outs of online dating, Match offers members virtual access to live sessions with life coaches and love experts. The series isn’t driving direct revenue, but it’s a way to differentiate Match from the growing number of competitors in this space. And building that trust with their users is a defense against any other digital behemoths who may someday want to leverage all their data on romance novels into becoming the newest app for romance-seekers.
Amazon will never be able to go as deeply into a subject as niche players like Match.com can — so use that to your advantage! My own company engages with our community of users, dubbed the #webinerds on Twitter, on a daily basis. We understand our customers and celebrate their uniqueness, resisting those pressures to expand outside of our reach. Our strategy isn’t to create a one-size-fits-all solution but to remain true to our core competency: webinars.
The users of our product are able to share their experiences and learnings with like-minded marketers. And the community has grown to levels beyond our expectations. We’ve even created an entire conference dedicated to our community of users.
Taking on a giant in your industry is not impossible, but it will require a new school of thought. Ditch the disconnected marketing tactics and the vanity metrics — they won’t save you.
Instead, deliver your customers and prospects truly engaging experiences that build brand loyalty in earnest. Find your customers’ passion, and nerd out. Do this well, and your customer will never leave you — no matter how cheap the avocados get.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.