Eric Yaverbaum takes a look at how to be ‘the Amazon’ of production

There’s a story under the story. Amazon, which just this week [at time of writing] was named the most valuable company in the world, has spent 20 years building up from a bookstore housed in a garage to a global behemoth that’s capable of supply you with, well, virtually anything. But for as long as Amazon has been a catchall for ‘buying things’ the way Wal-Mart used to be, so much of that growth has happened in the 14 years since Amazon Prime was first launched.

I don’t need to introduce you to Amazon Prime. Here, from our perch in 2019, it’s ubiquitous; it’s cheap, easy, and comes with an array of perks that put most companies primary offerings to shame. Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Books, Prime Pantry even. So much, in fact, that we tend to gloss over what Prime really is: free shipping and hassle-free returns. That was the root perk from which everything else sprang, and it’s become Amazon’s invisible best friend.

Building communities
The idea behind Prime was simple enough; fork over $79 a year for ‘free’ shipping, and you’ll both save money and buy more things. Amazon does enough on volume to eat the cost of shipping anyway, and there’s a huge psychological benefit to not watching the total price tick up from what you saw on the item’s sale page. And it has sweetened the pot dramatically with the addition of next day and even same day delivery on qualifying orders. It’s become one of the biggest drivers of Amazon’s entire operation, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon; for all its movement into streaming media and ebooks, Amazon is, first and foremost, about moving physical goods.

That’s something to keep in mind, because it’s a critical area that Amazon (and other online retailers) have in common with the manufacturing sector: they’re both in the business of selling things as much as they’re in the service business. And that means that both are in the business of making sure products make it to the buyer in time for them to actually use it. That creates an opportunity: using customer loyalty programs to remove friction from that process for regular customers, creating additional incentive to do business with you over your competition.

Usually, loyalty programs like this in the manufacturing sector focus on bulk purchases; the discount is entirely based on volume. But something like that isn’t really a loyalty program, and it’s less about giving the customer a valuable, rewarding experience that keeps your company top-of-mind than about encouraging infrequent large orders in exchnange for a price break. Sustainable, sure. Ideal? Not entirely. Because the secret value that loyalty programs bring – the story under the story – isn’t just repeat business; it’s consistent business through the building of brand communities.

Emotional connection
Loyalty is such a funny word; we bandy it about but don’t often think about what it means. It’s emotional buy-in over financial buy-in; it’s getting customers to invest their hearts. Apple has the gold standard for straightforward customer loyalty, built on proprietary software, a luxury image, and a hardware ecosystem that’s actively difficult to escape; but Apple users love their Apple products and would be hard-pressed to consider going elsewhere – and that’s despite the fact that Apple systems, in 2019, are both more expensive and often less capable than alternatives. The competition – your Sonys, your ASUSes, your Lenovos – lacks the emotional connection Apple has been able to forge, which keeps customers coming back again and again and again, willing to pay premium prices for a product that they could essentially get from another manufacturer for less.

That’s where you want to get, and that means getting creative with the service side of your business – a business that absolutely has a service side. It’s time to think about ways you can eat your own shipping costs (or any other fees that might tick that price up) for repeat customers, not simply to give them an incentive to keep buying with you, but to get them invested in their relationship with your company as a service partner. It’s not the simplest tightrope to walk, but there’s real benefit in making the effort to systematize the little hedges and hacks that we so often offer to our regulars anyway. It makes that relationship accessible to any customer, giving them an opportunity to be an insider, to get the sweet deal. That’s the magic Amazon found, and it’s something we should all be after.

Eric Yaverbaum is CEO of Ericho Communications. A global leader in public relations, Eric has the influence and reach to give his clients the exposure they need, getting them placements in media outlets as varied as the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, CBS This Morning, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, CNBC, and Forbes. Eric is also a bestselling author who literally wrote the book on public relations – the industry-standard bestseller PR for Dummies – as well as six other titles including Leadership Secrets of the World’s Most Successful CEOs (over a million copies sold).