How do you convince someone to take action? It’s the eternal dilemma of the marketer. Unfortunately, too many people rely on their guts rather than facts and data when it comes to conversion strategies. Optimizing for conversion means understanding your customer’s journey holistically—from the Google search to the shopping cart. It’s about ensuring your copy, design, and overall user experience work harmoniously to gently persuade your customers to make that purchase or to sign-up for your newsletter.
Bryan Eisenberg is a master of conversion and user experience and internationally recognized as an authority in online marketing. Bryan, along with his brother, Jeffrey, has helped companies like Google and NBCUniversal boost their conversion rates and massively increase their bottom lines. Both brothers are also internationally sought-after speakers and authors of several bestselling books including Call to Action and Waiting for Your Cat to Bark.
On this episode number 192, Bryan and I would dig into the nuts and bolts of persuasion architecture. You’ll glean some exclusive insights on how Fortune 500 companies craft winning conversion strategies. Want to know the inside scoop on what made Amazon so successful and how you can apply some of their very same strategies in your business? You’ll learn that and a lot more on this top-shelf episode.
Bryan, it’s so great to have you on the show.
It’s a pleasure to be here. We’ve known each other for so many years. Obviously, we keep in touch on social media but it’s great to finally reconnect and talk life in business.
That’s right. Speaking of life in business, one book that is your most recent one, Be Like Amazon, we’re just chatting about that. If you could share with our listeners, what is ‘Be Like Amazon’ all about? Why should somebody read that book?
It started as a wild idea, probably about five-six years ago. In the very early days of Amazon, I was not a fan. I didn’t think they would succeed. I thought they were just another dot com startup. I started in this industry in the early to mid-90s, started the first CRO agency in 1998, and I just didn’t see what all the big hype was. Of course, they were doing some good things but nothing spectacular.
As I kept going along and kept hearing from industry friends, here they were. They were doing 200 optimization tests a month when everybody else was struggling to get two or three. I was like, “Okay, what’s going on here?” Of course, with our focus on optimization, we had to look at what they were doing. As I kept digging deeper and deeper, I found out they were basically four key pillars, four systems that they run from.
Many of the most successful companies in the world have been built on it as well; it’s nothing new. What’s new is how Jeff Bezos put it together with a couple of key things. One, obviously, digital transformation enabled him to do this, to a scale that no other companies have ever been able to do. He was the first to capitalize on that.
I published an article and the next thing I know is a friend of mine who’s being recruited for a job at Amazon gets an email from a recruiter linking to that article as part of the background on Amazon. I’m like, “Okay, that’s kind of cool. I didn’t expect that.” But my bigger question came, “Okay, so it’s great for Amazon. Is it good for everybody else?” We set out and Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It, to basically see if there are other lemonade stands, smaller businesses of all kinds. From 1-800-GOT-JUNK, which is not a small business but started out that way to jewelers, to HVAC guys, just all over the place. Whether they applied the same principles and whether it helped fuel their growth. We found out it did. That’s really what the book was about.
I’ve been really surprised by Amazon’s growth over the years. I wished I would’ve invested. Did you invest in Amazon stock?
It’s a funny story. The answer is no, because we did feel like it was going to be a conflict of interest. We’ve always been very careful about that. I’ve done a lot of keynote presentations. I remembered doing one for the folks for Brian Clark‘s first Copyblogger conference. One of the people there, right after he saw my presentation, decided to invest in stock. Months later, he gets in touch with me and he can’t thank me enough, forgetting a better insight into all their growth.
Even these last couple of days, we’re hearing stories of Amazon Air coming in and competing with FedEx, UPS, and USPS. There is no industry Amazon can’t go into. There’s no industry that Amazon can’t compete on. I always love to ask any business owner, I said, “Look. If Amazon decided to go into your industry, insurance, health insurance, air conditioning service, whatever it happens to be, how would they do their business differently than you’re currently doing it?”
I think it really wakes them up to the fact that Amazon is running the latest iOS next version of the phone that we all dream of having early and they’re still operating on pagers. Their level of execution is second to none. That really takes a tremendous amount of thinking and systems. I think that’s really Jeff Bezos’ brilliance. I think that’s the reason why Warren Buffett called him the best CEO ever. He’s done and applied the same four pillars which we can dive into a little bit. He’s applied it, obviously, to Amazon Retail. He’s applied it to Web Services. He’s applied it to The Washington Post as a great MPR article about it. It’s just at it. It’s just applying a new operating system, a new way of thinking in a digital world that’s affecting every single business today because every customer’s digitally connected. We need to start running our businesses significantly differently.A business should be customer-centric. Everything must be done with the customers in mind. Click To Tweet
Agreed. One area that Amazon just seems to be crushing it and I think they will become a huge powerhouse in logistics. They already have their own planes. They will have a fleet of planes. They could put them out of business. Companies like FedEx, they will hurt them big time over the next few years.
I made this bold prediction before. I’ll take it and connect it even further. They’re going to disrupt two industries at once. They’re going to do that by acquiring a vehicle company. They’re not going to sell us vehicles, they’re basically going to allow us to share vehicles through our Prime app. They won’t have to deal with the whole franchise issue that Tesla‘s had, selling direct. They’re never going to sell it. Basically, we’re going to get to the point where the autonomous vehicles, whenever we’re not using the car, will just drive back to their warehouses and be used for fulfillment services.
I think that’s how they’re going to disrupt both industries. Buying more planes? That’s easy. That’s really just adding gas to the fire. That’s not the hard part right now. It’s the last mile issue, that’s the big thing. When they have a fleet of cars that they’re basically renting out, they’re basically creating value with, and at the same time using that for delivery, they will increase the value to the customer which is the number one goal.
Then two, they’ve made themselves more efficient which is the fourth pillar. It’s simple brilliance. Just the same way they did the acquisition of Whole Foods, they’re going to wait until the stock is distressed, they’ll acquire it, they’ll apply their technologies, their systems, and all of a sudden, it’s transformational.
Did you see that they just got approval to do the drone delivery?
Yeah. One of my friends who actually used to work at Amazon—now works at Google—also shared that he got the FCC approval for that as well. The drone delivery is not as much for, obviously, here in the United States where we do have such great last mile services. Basically, the postal service can reach everybody with no problem. I think that’s going to be a big factor in more remote locations especially in a lot of international countries where you don’t necessarily have that same kind of infrastructure. The drones are going to be incredibly helpful.
I agree. Let’s hear what those four pillars are.
The first one is not a big surprise. I think the big surprise is how most people say they do it but don’t do it. It’s just being customer-centric. Everything is done with the customer in mind, every meeting they have, they have a seat there that represents the customer. But the problem is Bing has shown in their studies, 96% of executives they interviewed in 362-person study said their organizations were customer-centric. Eighty percent of them actually believed they’re exceptional at customer centricity. When they asked those same customers, whether they’re customer-centric, only 8% of those customers agreed.
There’s a huge gap between reality and perception. I think that’s the biggest one that people struggle with. This is where Jeff Bezos understood digital better than everyone else. He knew that digital provided and why you saw their massive growth right after the iPhone was launched is from day one, they connected the customer to a unique identifier. Initially, it was your email address. That’s why they always make you login. Once you got to the mobile app—it was seamless with the desktop app—they knew exactly who you were and they collect every bit of data, the cookies to all the affiliate sites, so they knew what you read, what you watched, what you highlighted, what you shared, what you gifted. They’re able to use all of that to now serve their customers in the way they want to be served.
Again, it’s not anything brilliant but it’s leveraging data to serve customers in a way that allows them to be customer-centric that most don’t and allows everybody in the organization much like the Ritz-Carltons and the Disneys to make things right, to make decisions. As you know, in a lot of organizations, I’m sure you’ve dealt with this, you called the customer service line, you dealt with SaaS companies, you talked with the salesperson, you talked with customers, and they can’t even help you. They may not even be able to answer your questions. You have to figure out ways to escalate it. Or my favorite is dialing through phone trees and trying to figure out how to get to a magic person. Then, they don’t know anything and you figure out, “What combination of words I need to use to get to their manager?”
The sign of an organization that’s really struggling with this is that there are only hippos that make decisions. People who are paid, are liars, get to make all the decisions. When the people who touch customers are not empowered, organizations struggle. Amazon, the reason they’re considered the world’s oldest startup because everybody is empowered to do whatever it takes.
I love that. Often times the difference makers for these businesses that thrive over the years, get a reputation for being customer-centric and having a great culture. Like Zappos for example, a client of mine—just full disclosure there—not currently but worked with them over the course of multiple years.
And also an Amazon company?
Yeah. They’re just so distinctive and it’s throughout the entire company, and they’ve been at since forever as far as I know. Started working with them at least a decade ago.
You picked Zappos. Zappos is really a great example and leading into pillar number two. The problem area is where customer expectations exceed reality. I don’t care what industry you’re in whether you’re B2B, B2C, you’re not for profit, it really doesn’t matter. The reality is because of social media, because of how digitally connected we are today, every company expects the communication style of Zappos. They expect a customer-centricity of a Ritz-Carlton or a Disney. They expect the seamlessness of an Uber or a Lyft. They expect the speed and efficiency of Amazon. Not necessarily at the same speed. Not everyone expects you to deliver something in half an hour.
We were working with a jeweler. My brother was in the conference room, they were in the Bay Area, and they start talking about how they respond to leads generally within 24 hours. My brother just notes it, doesn’t do anything about it. A few minutes later, they have a little break. He pulls out his phone, goes to Amazon Prime Now app, orders a bunch of things delivered to the conference room. They show up literally about half an hour later. He comes back to that point, he says, “You know? All of your customers can go ahead onto the Prime Now app and they can have all this kind of stuff delivered in half an hour. Yet, you expect them to believe that you can’t respond to their inquiry for a very expensive piece of jewelry in less than a day?” Oops. You can just hear and see the CEOs face dropped and he was like, “Yeah, we need to do something.”
This is what Amazon has done so well. They developed a culture of innovation. They keep pushing the boundaries. Every single number of months, we see new things. A couple of years ago, I’m sure you remember, it was right after Black Friday, they released their video about their Amazon Go, where you can walk into the store and just scan that. You can pick anything you want, walk right out, and you’re done. Meanwhile, everybody was remembering the lines they faced at KMart, Walmart, and Best Buy. The hassle of that shows us, “Well, no, it’s going to be seamless and you’re not going to have to worry about a thing.” It’s just having that culture of constantly trying to exceed expectations and bring them to reality. That’s what Amazon was so great at. It’s really doing all those experiments all the time.Companies should realize that they've got to stay ahead of their customers, instead of focusing their time on their competition. Click To Tweet
In Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letter, he talks about doing over 1900 experiments in a year. Again, all customer-centric, all customer-focused. They start with a press release written from the point of view of the customer, how it’s going to benefit them, and that’s how they make sure they’re constantly keeping up with your expectations. Too many companies spent more time focusing in on their competition without ever realizing that they’ve got to stay ahead of their customers.
That’s mind-blowing that they are able to create their own holiday like Prime Day. When I first heard about that, I was floored that they created so much of a buzz just around a day they chose. It has become a second Black Friday, essentially.
Let’s think about it this way. I think this is a very interesting way to do this. They have created a brand, a tribe, unlike any other ever in history. First of all, people pay for the privilege of being part of their tribe. Their tribe numbers now over 100,000. We have a client, a friend of ours who’s in the HVAC business, who has a Prime tribe—very similar—of over 25,000 in his little metro area of people who pay them to have that kind of level of service. This can be scaled to any level. You think about this even for a sports team. They can create that same kind of loyalty that Amazon has and people are paying them to be part of it. It really is a testament to the fact that they keep on executing so well. That’s why they’re called the world’s oldest startup. They’re just so good at meeting customer expectations. Whenever something goes wrong, they figure out how to make it better.
How many Prime members are there?
The latest number is over 100 million.
100 million. You said 100,000 earlier.
Oh, sorry. If you have 100 million strong followers who are paying you to follow you, no problem with creating a holiday.
Exactly. Pretty amazing.
Which leads us to the third pillar. This one I know you know well from the pain side. You’ve seen it, unfortunately, probably too many times. It’s what Amazon has mastered and we’ll talk about how they mastered it in a moment. The symptom that most companies have is whatever got them to where they are today, the systems, the people, processes, are no longer functioning. I called this the systemic growing pains. You see this a lot, obviously, with SEO clients. They buy some platform to get them over the hump early on, and all of a sudden they have to make all the changes and everything just falls apart.
Yeah. It’s the doubles and the details.
All the systems become fragile, you can’t easily make changes, and you can’t innovate around it. Unfortunately, it causes you to have to do certain things that aren’t necessarily helpful for the customer. You’re breaking the first two pillars and it’s all because our system doesn’t allow us to do that. It doesn’t really make sense.
It happened with Amazon too. Amazon, when they acquired Whole Foods—I’m here in Austin, Texas. Of course, that’s the hometown for Whole Foods—they’ve done a lot of the early testing here. When they started doing very early delivery of Whole Foods here with the Prime Now app, I remember they get a lot of parts of the order wrong, very early on. I ordered one size of something, they bring me the wrong size. For example, I ordered my son’s yogurt, I ordered the big containers, and they sent me the small ones. Or I ordered something for dinner and they sent us something wrong.
The people on the phone were so frustrated because they had no ability to get the people in the store to send somebody else out with that one item. That’s Amazon culture. They now got it. I haven’t seen a mistake in ages. Again, they’re constantly figuring out how to improve operations. It’s so critical for them doing it right. I think this is where most people misunderstand the brilliance of Jeff Bezos. For such a data-driven company, the way he’s done it, I’m sure you’ve heard about those memorable six-page memos. Those six-page memos allow everybody from all the different teams to be aligned to what they’re doing. Everybody knows what they’re expectations are and they can speak up right away whether there’s a struggle to do something or not based on the systems.
It basically smoothes the path because it becomes the minimum viable product before you even start coding, before you start drawing, before you start doing anything. Even now, I think the Amazon Go is part of that video creation of a similar thing. “Let’s see if the public is receptive to it then we can go out and build more into it.” I think it’s a great way for companies to do that.
That’s essentially what we could do today with companies. We help them learn how to bring that into their culture. We call these things our Buyer Legends. How to write up these narratives from the point of view of their customer, they’re basically details what that whole journey would look like, and how to get everybody and all the teams aligned. That’s the critical one.
Obviously, the last pillar is just continuous optimization. You move so fast and you’re constantly focused on doing right for the customer, things are going to break. Your systems are going to break occasionally. You need to know how to come back and fix them. That’s obviously where you and I both have had our heads for the last two decades on the optimization side. They really put together a system that’s just a flywheel, as we call it. It just fuels each other and keeps going faster and faster.
What most organizations who don’t do continuous optimization, that fourth and final pillar—I’m sure you’ve seen this as well—you get email reports with spreadsheets, they come in, you may open them, you may not, then you file them. All that data that we’re collecting, all that information that we’re getting today, unfortunately, is leading to very little action for most organizations. Unless you know and have the systems in place where the other pillars are in place to take that data and create action, you’re really not leveraging that continuous optimization pillar which really finishes the flywheel.
Yeah. I have a client who has probably hundreds of pages of SOPs—Standard Operating Procedures—just around the digital marketing space. I can’t imagine their team referring back to those SOPs on a very regular basis. It’s overwhelming. It needs to be in a form of checklist that they have to tick the box on each thing before they can move on to the next step. That has to be a part of the process that is executed on a daily basis, I think.
Totally. This is what most organizations really struggle with. I know Peter Shankman, a mutual friend, has talked about it too. I’ve seen Scott Stratten talk about it as well. The Joshie thing where this kid left his little stuffed animal there, they went ahead, they took pictures of him at the spa, and doing all kinds of different things at the hotel. They got Joshie and sent him back with all these pictures to the family. Or a guy left their laptop and needed the laptop back in time for his meeting. They took one of the staff and they flew him to his city. They handed him the laptop just to make sure he had it on time.Leverage your data to serve your customers better and to make the right decisions. Click To Tweet
They’ve been customer-centric, they’re great at that, but those stories, those narratives, those legends get told every single morning in morning meetings. Everybody’s really clear to this. We share this story. One of the secrets to 1-800-GOT-JUNK is that they do these huddles every day where everybody from all the organization, all the franchises, get together, they talk about these, and share these stories. When you have that consistent narrative internally as well as externally that matches up with your brand, now you’re cooking with gasoline. That’s really where customer experience gets taken to a whole another level. That’s where I think most organizations just have never figured out how to put these things together and I think that’s a big part of what we speak about and Be Like Amazon was written for. Also, a little bit about what we’re working on, potentially, our next book. I can’t tell too much about it yet.
Yeah. That’s under wraps right now. Speaking of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, what an incredible growth trajectory they took. One of their primary secrets to success in that huge up into the right trajectory was Cameron Herold who actually has been on this show. It’s definitely a great episode for you listeners to check out.
You mentioned, Bryan, Buyer Legends. I’d love for our listeners to understand a bit more about what that looks like when you create or your team creates Buyer Legends. Paint a picture for us.
It starts with—especially when we’re working with clients—creating great personas, rich personas. As you know as well, people use terms interchangeably throughout this industry. Our personas are, I’m not going to say unique, but they’re very different than most personas we’ve seen from other agencies and the way most organizations are using. They’re really much more like what an actor might get to really understand their character. They’re really meant as very strong empathetic tools, so we can really step in and see the world from the perspective of the customer.
That’s the key to it. It’s done through a pretty rigorous process that we work on with a lot of the forward facing teams, everything from sales to customer service. Of course, we get some marketing people there. We put it together and these personas help us draft an understanding of the need of the customer. If you really truly don’t understand why your customer needs your solution, why they’re even interested in paying attention to you, it’s really hard to do anything.
Once we have that perspective, we perform what we call a premortem. I’m sure you remember Murphy’s Law? “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
What we’re really trying to identify there are two key things in the journey of the customer because there are two key things that drive what we call persuasive momentum or kill it which is friction. Where in the buying process is there friction both internally and externally? Where’s the friction for your staff? Maybe your staff doesn’t have the right information to help your customer. That’s a big friction point. We kind of figure out how to deal with that. As well as, obviously, for the customer. If there are long checkout lines, they’re not going to be happy. How do we deal with that?
Then, of course, motivation. People don’t fall through a funnel like we think it is. Funnels, from a scientific point of view, work on the principle of gravity. You pour water, it flows through. People have to have a reason to make the next click or request that next thing from you in person. It’s the motivation that drives them. It’s the same thing. How do you keep your staff motivated and aligned? That’s why we’re seeing so much buzz around belief-driven organizations today, Simon Sinek and the why in a lot of businesses.
The customer, what motivates them? Not only for the bigger purchase but for every step along the way. You’ve really got to plan those out. Where can the motivation start failing? I identify all of that. It feels like popping popcorn. Some of it comes out real quick and all of a sudden you get few little pops. Then, you’re like, “Okay, we’re done.” You got 90% of it and other stuff will come out as we go along.
From there, we’ll actually start creating an outline. Starting from the end going backward. What would it look like if every single one of your customers were to give you a five-star review? What if they work to refer their best friend to your business? What would it look like? What would that whole experience look like? Then, we can draft the Buyer Legend. We can actually write out a narrative so that every teen could get an alignment.
While we’re doing that, we’re mapping out what point can be measured, what point we would love to measure, what point would be great to have more insight about. Now, we focus on the execution because everybody’s got a very clear plan of what that’s supposed to look like. We can get every team sharing the right pieces of information, the right resources, and then we do it all over again. Whether it’s a small campaign or a full rebrand or a redesign, it works. We help companies generate over a billion dollars using basically these processes.
Very nice. The Buyer Legend is a multipage document just about one persona or one avatar or are you creating multiple personas and covering each one with multiple pages of their demographics, psychographics, click graphics and all that, maybe getting into their favorite hobbies.
Yeah, and how they view the benefits of products differently; absolutely. They’re multiple pages. We like to keep it to as few personas as needed. In fact, one of my favorite stories is we’re working with a very well-known web conferencing company many years ago. I’m sure you’ve seen this on Libgen Forums, where they had to ask a million questions and it was all because of how sales wanted to organize people.
Everything was driven by sales in that organization and they had 42 different buyer segments. They use that for everything. They were trying to plan content around those 42. It was just a nightmare. We went back and we did all the interviews. We interviewed customers and salespeople and customer service, we watched how customers called in and spoke to salespeople. We realized there were basically six different paths, essentially journeys, that customers would go on. We had to narrow it down and make it that much more narrowable.
It really became legends around those six and how they manage things, that helped keep all the different salespeople, marketing, the content people, the SEO people, all kinds within that same alignment. Now, the story was able to be much more consistent. What we look was much more consistent overall. Of course, that helped them generate over a million dollars within the first few weeks of launching.
These six paths, are they universal to every company or were they just specific to this conferencing company?
No, they were specific to theirs because they had certain things that they were better at than others, that’s really where you have to start from. I can’t tell you how many soccer mom Betty personas I have seen in the last, I can’t even tell you how many years, it’s been absolutely crazy.
They have to be unique. If not, you can’t have empathy for who your customers are. They need to definitely be relatable to what that business is, what they’re going through, their struggles, their circumstances, and how are they going to interact with your company, your resources, and your content. It lets us plan not only that one journey but it lets us keep planning all the annual and monthly campaigns. It lets us create content planning matrixes of prioritization of how much time each piece of content would take, what kind of impact it would have, what resources it would need, which personas does it help during what stage do the buyer process, and of course, who owns that content within the groups.
You can’t go with cookie cutter personas or you will disconnect emotionally from your target audience.
Absolutely. I’ve even seen people who’ve been trying to use software to create some of these. You know I love data, I founded the Digital Analytics Association. I’m a big fan of it. But there’s a balance, you need to have that human side of it. I think that’s one of the big lessons we can learn from Amazon’s growth, which is as much as they’re data-centric, they’re all about storytelling. It’s all about being able to tell it from the point of view of that customer. It’s powerful, human beings are meant to create and listen to stories. But they’re only interested in the stories that matter to them. That’s why you need to have the personas that are written from your point of view.Create a company culture that is constantly trying to exceed customer expectations. Click To Tweet
Storytelling is very important, I’m in the midst of reading… Actually listening to Building a StoryBrand, great book by Donald Miller. Have you read the book?
No, I’ve been told a lot about it. I’m very careful to not read a lot of books that might be too close to what we do so it would not look like we’re trying to steal from them.
That makes sense. All right, we won’t talk about that book then. There’s another thing I want to ask about before I move to a whole other topic, you mentioned pre-mortems. I am assuming that you also postmortems after a project is completed?
Absolutely. That’s part of the optimization process. Everything we’ve done in the Buyer Legend process right from the persona, from the premortem, from the outline to the legend, every single piece of that is basically like a hypothesis. We’re assuming that this is going to happen. When things don’t happen as expected, we now need to go back. But because we very carefully architected all the little pieces—this comes back to what we wrote about in our 2005 best-seller Waiting for Your Cat to Bark, this is persuasion architecture—we’re very selective about understanding all the little pieces, all the variables that go into this so that we can optimize it in that postmortem. The premortem should define everything that you expect that can and possibly go wrong. Then, if something does go wrong that you didn’t expect, either you didn’t understand the persona correctly or there’s something off in your execution. Then it becomes fairly easy to optimize based on those two.
Speaking of Waiting for Your Cat to Bark, which is a great book. I’ve owned for years and I love the cover too; I love cats.
A funny story about that cat, by the way. If we have time, we could chat about it.
You can’t beat me in and our listeners too much, at least give us a little bit on this cat.
That cat ended up costing us and it was out of our pocket because the publisher wanted to send some covers and we just hated them. We said, “We’ll work with a designer to come up with something else.” It was our book agent, Michael Drew, Lisa, our co-author, and myself. There was probably something along the line of about 185 emails going back and forth with the designer to modify that cat, to make him look exactly the way we want it to with Michael and Lisa looking in the mirror and commenting about exactly how much of a smirk it should have. It’s mind-blowing going back years and thinking about all we went through just to get that cat right.
You could probably spend about $20 now on Fiverr.
Maybe. The book before that, you remember Call to Action with that horrible brown cover with an Egyptian eagle on and all of that? That made us our first New York Times and Wall Street best-seller because Seth Godin blogged that said, “Never judge a book by its cover. Even though this is a God-awful cover, go out and buy this book immediately.” We felt like we owed it to him after that to invest a little bit more in the next one for the perfect cover.
That’s a great story. Tell us a bit more about what the premises around Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? I mean you can get the gist of it from the title, but maybe a specific example, maybe something relevant to today with a company that we all know about or be familiar with that is essentially waiting for their cat to bark?
I think there’s a lot of companies that do it. The funny story is we sold that title because we used it for a title for a keynote before we ever had an idea for a book. My brother picked it out while he was talking to the publisher and the publisher said yes. They offered us a huge advance. We had a title but we didn’t know what the book is going to be about. My brother and I went to a hotel in New Jersey, we spent a week in there brainstorming, and we realized what the problem was.
Most of the traditional marketing and advertising principles were developed in the 1960s by guys like Rosser Reeves and David Ogilvy. A lot of it came from a lot of the study of Pavlov, who obviously did his work with dogs that were famous. You ring the bell, dog elevates, and he thinks his food is coming, he thinks it’s meat. We said that worked great, but what if Pavlov would’ve done his experiments with cats? There was one comedian who did a skit with that which is hilarious if you ever looked it up. Or I could send it to you. It’s also funny.
Send it to me.
I’ll have to dig it up. It’s been a few years since I searched, but I’m sure I can find it. Remember this is 2005. This is really at the very early days of social media at all. We’re just starting to see companies starting to understand SEO, they’re really starting to get into a little bit of A/B testing analytics. What we were telling people was that “Look, the customer is in control of the conversation and the brand. They’re going to make their decision, they’re one click away from goodbye, they can leave your side immediately. If you don’t satisfy them, they’ll go elsewhere.”
I’m going to give you the best example of this, I think this is really critical to understand. You’ve been in search for over two decades. I’m sure you remember the AltaVistas, when Yahoo was big and exciting. We remember how Google grew by giving us something that nobody else did.
Speaking of Google, do you know what Google was called before it was called Google?
Was it BackRub?
Exactly. Most people do not remember or know that.
I’ve got a lot of gray hairs to prove I’ve been around. Back before Amazon had its massive growth, especially before the iPhone, way before this book was published, way after the iPhone was released, Google dominated all search. Today, over 50% of people start product searches on Amazon, Amazon dominated Google search listings, both in organic and paid, for many years. That’s where Google finally had to come up with their product listing ads because Amazon out-googled them.
I also told this to the guys at Bing as well. They failed the customer. They did not understand not only the customer but the people in between there. The reason Amazon got as big as they did is because Google never served the needs of the small customer. They really felt that the customer was smart and intelligent. They figured out how to do product feeds and SEO. The small guy has never figured it out. If I need to find, like for my son, a size 14 turf shoe for a tournament this weekend, I can’t find that locally today. I’d have to go DICK’S, I’d have to go to Academy, I’d have to go to multiple sites to figure it out. But the search engine never gave these guys a simple platform to really do this from days on and integrate into maps and do all of that. They really didn’t understand how much the customer wants to be in control of everything.
Amazon, another big ball of prediction, will launch a local marketplace in the next few years. Combined with Amazon Pay, which they’ve just made another big partnership with, you and I will be able to be driving, we could be in a different city, it doesn’t matter, we need to replace our shoes, whatever, we’ll do a search in the app, they’ll tell us, “There are six of them within eight blocks of us. Would you like to pay for it online and pick it up in the store?” It’ll all be done within their app, it’ll be completely seamless, they’re going to change everything.
Google and Microsoft, while they’re making great strides in a lot of this, they’re still waiting for that cat to bark. They’re still thinking that we’re dealing with cats. It’s a whole different world and they’re not understanding where the customer is going.
You don’t think that Google is going to smart up and come back into a pole position unless you think Amazon’s going to eat their lunch?
What Amazon is better than everyone else, we mentioned earlier, is they out-operationalized everybody. They’re really great at execution. The amount of mental discourse versus getting things done, the ratio is completely different at Google than it is at Amazon. Microsoft is certainly changing that and I think this is why we’re seeing Microsoft do amazing things. We just heard their announcement today, they went from Bing Advertising to Microsoft Advertising. They’re getting it; they are executing exceptionally well. I think they can have a competitive edge. It’s still going to take a number of years. I think Amazon is just well-ahead of everybody on this. We talked about this at the start of the show. They’re going to take care of this from the logistic side, they’re going to make it easy for small business to succeed because they’re going to give them a platform where customers are going to be able to find them, purchase from them and create a seamless experience like they would from an Amazon store. It’s not going to look any different.If you don't understand your customer, it's hard to do anything. Click To Tweet
One thing I’m curious about, if you think that these Amazon stores are going to proliferate or do you think we’re going to see all the Main Street, USA kind of stores going out of business, replaced by Amazon, or do you see both happening where all those mom-and-pop businesses and other smaller chains are going to go out of business and get replaced by Amazon physical stores?
Let’s learn from lessons from Amazon. I’m going to let you answer in a moment. One, if this is about following breadcrumbs and seeing where they lead, where does Amazon make most of their profits today? Is it in web services or in selling products?
Is it web services?
By far. They do big contract that they’re offering the government right now, Netflix, Twitter, tremendous things. They make tons of money in all their web services and they’re great at it. Two, when Amazon first started, they sold a lot of their own products. They were warehousing, distributing, everything of their own. What do you see a lot more predominant on their website lately?
A lot of what?
A lot of third party vendors showing up not just Amazon products. Jeff Bezos is a very smart man, you make more money from others doing all the work and you selling them the shovels. I believe that the direction they’re heading is that they’re going to enable what Google and Microsoft didn’t. They’re going to basically enable all these stores to take every item in their store.
If you and I were going to go into this business today—unfortunately, I think what Amazon will do is kick our butt or they’ll acquire us—here’s how I would do it. I’d put in the Amazon app an ability to take pictures of every product in your store, use the AI to identify those products, give you a default description, then let you add your inventory to it. If you don’t know how to work with feeds and spreadsheets and all that, how else do I dumb it down enough for the average Joe to do this with their restaurants? The average restaurant owner doesn’t care about all this technology, but they buy from the app, they know how to use that, they know how to take a picture. If I can scan a product and say, “Oh, that looks like pepperoni pizza, is it pepperoni pizza?” “Yup.” “Great, how much does it cost?” You’re now in their app for delivery.
This is something that, as I said, Microsoft and Google should have done it years ago. Obviously, technology is getting better and better but we don’t see them investing in those kinds of things. There are pieces of it, but I think the first to really do this and the only one who has all the infrastructure to support gaining from it right now is Amazon.
Where do you see things heading in terms of AR, augmented reality, and VR but especially AR? I think AR is going to be huge. Just describing the scenario of taking photos of the products and the store. If you have AR going, let’s say your glasses or your contact lenses or whatever, you’re able to just look at something without taking a picture and using a hand-held device to price compare or get technical specs or anything like that, reviews, et cetera. If you can get that seamlessly through AR, I think that’s going to be a huge game changer. Where do you see things heading in terms of AR?
I think AR gets much better as voice interfaces grow stronger. It’s the reason we see Amazon investing so much in the Alexa platform and in all the devices that they’re putting out there. I think that really is the game changer. I think what will eventually happen, like you said, we can put Alexa in a pair of glasses where it’s a tiny, little chip and not that big Google lens that doesn’t look quite right; it makes you look like part of the Borg. But when it’s a tiny, little chip embedded in the same frame your eye might wear, now all of a sudden I think when you can interact with it that seamlessly through voice, AR will jump through the roof.
I love what Google is doing. They’re releasing it with walking directions with Maps, again, I think that’s a great application to it. What we’re seeing right now is applications, we’re not really seeing the pure interface. AR works as an interface once voice works properly. We’re getting there, we’re still, I think, a couple of years off, but the voice has come a long way with the advent of Siri, Watson, Alexa, and Microsoft as well. We’re getting there.
I think this is an area where Amazon is actually behind because I’m not impressed with Alexa’s smarts with understanding my queries and providing a useful answer, I get much better answers from Siri than I do from Alexa.
And I don’t disagree, but let’s look at a different thing. What’s the purpose of each one? The goal of Google is to basically be an information source and being able to answer all your questions. That’s not really Amazon’s strong suit. The question is, why are they collecting all these voices and data? What are they doing with it? What’s the long term goal for it?
Obviously, we will see a lot of changes on them. They’re constantly improving, but they don’t have to get to that same level. I think right now it’s really just having so much data set to understand voice and nuance before they take it to the next level.
I just find it clumsy and inaccurate even just to order a product I’ve ordered before. I’m like, “What? How did you figure it? No, I don’t want that product.” It’s so much faster for me to place an order through a web interface or through the app than by speaking it to my Echo.
There are certainly people using it, more people using it to listen to podcasts and stuff like that. As I said, I still think it’s early in the journey, it will be helpful, and their applications for it. Amazon has in their apps so you can go ahead and you can look at furniture through the app and use their AR and stuff like that. I think it’s going to get over at least three or four more years until we really start seeing effective uses of it.
There’s a guy on Twitter I follow who does a lot of voice first off. He just built an application where his glasses can take a picture of a page in a book and then read it for you. You scan the page and it just starts reading it to you with voice, then go to the next page and does the same thing. I can see great applications for that going forward. It’s like the early days of SEO when people were still using WP Gold.
Yes, I remember that. The Web Position Gold.
We’re seeing people dabble in this. There’s still no ecosystem for it yet.
Then there are all the privacy security implications of this technology, too. I just read about this Princeton IoT Inspector tool that allows you to see what your Amazon Echo is listening to. If you could imagine, you’re playing a TV show in the background and your smart device is hearing that. Then you’re getting advertising relating to whatever show you were watching like Game of Thrones, whatever. There is no privacy anymore.
This reminds me of a funny meme I saw. Back in the 60s, everybody was paranoid about the CIA listening to all of our conversations. Now, we have our Amazon Echo in our homes so that the wiretapping can just happen seamlessly, just so that we can find out if cats eat pancakes.
Keep in mind, there’s a great quote about privacy that it sounds like it could be written today. When the first phone directory came out and it had something like 70 something names in it. None of us have any issue with that anymore. Of course, we all hate those robocalls but it’s a whole different issue.
People tend to forsake their privacy for the sake of convenience over time. Time is the big variable there. Right now, people are finding enough value in it, to want to keep using these devices, which is fine. I also think that’s why Amazon is very cautious about what they do with the devices, they value this customer relationship way more than some of these other companies out there. They’ve been very cautious to tread over those lines.
We’re about out of time here. If we could send our customers to a particular website, resource, a book, Twitter account, or something that will be a great starting point for them to learn a lot more about things like persuasion architecture, your various other frameworks, your methodologies and so forth, and improve their business in the ways that we just discussed in this last amazing hour of conversation, where should we send them to?
First, they can go to Buyer Legends. They can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter, just about everywhere. I’m going to do something extra for your audience. Again, going back on relationship we’ve had for so many years, so many search conferences and all of that, if they listen to this podcast and they message me through any of the platforms that they heard me here, I’ll actually send them a copy of Be Like Amazon as an audiobook, all the files so they can listen to it on their own, completely free. All they got to do is message me and mention your wonderful name.
That’s very generous. Thank you so much for taking good care of my listeners and for sharing all this wonderful insight, your wealth of expertise, these areas like continuous optimization, innovation, and so forth. And your inspiration also. Thank you so much, Bryan.
Thank you, listeners. Now, get out there and take some action. This is your host, Stephan Spencer. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak. In the meantime, have a fantastic week.
- Bryan Eisenberg
- Jeffrey Eisenberg
- Buyer Legends
- LinkedIn – Bryan Eisenberg
- Twitter – Bryan Eisenberg
- Call to Action
- Waiting for Your Cat to Bark
- Be Like Amazon
- Jeff Bezos
- Brian Clark
- Amazon Air
- Warren Buffett
- The Washington Post
- Whole Foods
- Best Buy
- Prime Day
- Amazon Go
- Peter Shankman
- Scott Stratten
- Cameron Herold – previous episode
- Murphy’s Law
- Simon Sinek
- Digital Analytics Association
- Building a StoryBrand
- Donald Miller
- New York Times
- Wall Street
- Seth Godin
- Rosser Reeves
- David Ogilvy
- Ivan Pavlov
- Eddie Izzard “Pavlov’s Cats” Sketch From Definite Article
- Amazon Pay
- Web Position Gold
- Princeton IoT Inspector
- Game of Thrones
- Hey wire tap, can cats eat pancakes? – Funny Meme
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Capitalize on digital transformation. The world is heading towards AI. I should update myself on what technology can do for my business.
Do everything with the customer’s best interest in mind. Without consumers, my business will not thrive.
Keep my operating systems up to date. I should be able to secure my business’ longevity through market demand.
Leverage data to serve customers better. Rely on analytics, market tests and surveys to get to know my consumers better.
Document all of my systems so that when something goes wrong, it can be easily fixed.
Create detailed and specific customer personas so that I can cater all of my marketing strategies to a perfectly clear demographic.
Establish an element of storytelling on my campaigns. Be relatable to my audience by showing them I understand what they’re going through and I’m here to help them.
Provide the utmost convenience to my customers in every aspect of my business – from the website UX down to personal customer service.
Hire a business consultant who can help me oversee important business decisions so that I can scale faster.
Grab a copy of Bryan Eisenberg’s book, Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It for highly valuable business advice.
About Bryan Eisenberg
Optimization expert, Bryan Eisenberg and his brother Jeffrey have helped companies increase sales by over a billion dollars using their Persuasive Architecture frameworks. They coach and train hundreds of companies like Google, NBC Universal and Health Insurance Innovations. They help sell products as diverse as SaaS software, eyeglass frames and pig sperm.
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