Grabbing and Going With Amazon

What Amazon Go can teach us about taking risks and overcoming fear in modern media culture.

by Todd Lombardo

Amazon isn’t always first, and doesn’t always get it right, but they tend to stick with something until they do. Amazon Fire phone was a dud, but Amazon Web Services is now a $10 billion business. Now, there’s Amazon Go, a grocery store concept opening to the Seattle public in 2017 with the tagline, “No Lines, No Checkout.”

Ok, Amazon, we’re into it. And so are others, given the Amazon Go launch video has 7 million views (and counting) on YouTube.

On May 31, 1999, Barron’s published the now-infamous cover story, “Amazon.bomb.” I remember stopping dead in my tracks on my mad dash down 6th Avenue in New York to stare at that cover, which was the whole point. I thought that was pretty ballsy to say about Jeff Bezos’ new company, or any company.

The gist of that article was that Amazon wasn’t selling books or anything else fast enough or with enough margin, and therefore was doomed. Mr. Bezos’ philosophy was to invest for the future, margins and quarterly earnings be damned. Barron’s didn’t like that, which is why the stock was going to eventually tank (it did tank when the market crashed in 2000, but boy did it come back).

Good thing Mr. Bezos didn’t listen. Because the future he saw was so much more than books. Mr. Bezos’ perspective was that Amazon needed to plan for the opportunities they knew were coming, but also for the opportunities they didn’t know were coming. In other words, vision mattered.

[BTW if you haven’t read Amazon’s letter to shareholders from 1997, read it now. Amazon reprints this letter every year.]

And now it’s almost 2017, where Amazon is oh-so-much more than books: Prime, Video, Echo, Alexa, Fire, Fresh, etc.

From mistakes, from experiences, from trying, come lessons. Here are two:

1/Amazon Go is tackling a real problem that’s plagued companies — and marketers — for decades. There are still too many barriers between customers wanting to spend money and their ability to do so. How many times have you looked at the line at Whole Foods, and thought, oh, hell no? How many abandoned digital shopping carts? After billions of dollars; after blood, sweat and tears by marketers and their agencies to reach customers; after all the effort to produce great TV spots and original content; a marketer’s downfall may just be it’s a pain in the ass to buy the product. People are ready to hand you money and you make it hard? That does not compute. And in this era of ubiquitous connectivity, smartphones and apps, it shouldn’t have to. We marketers and thinkers have more work to do.

2/Invest in the future, or at least die trying. Embracing what’s next is really the only choice, because curiosity saves the cat. The marketing environment we used to live in is no longer, because we now inhabit a modern media culture, one where viewers have control over the ads they watch, the content they share, and the brand experiences they participate in. We see brands who say they want to be daring, only to balk at investing enough in Facebook, the largest marketing platform on earth; or Snapchat; or Instagram. Maybe they’re scared of the long term. But there’s only more coming, see also: virtual reality and voice recognition. Digital will overtake TV spend in 2017. Whether brands like it or not, they must take marketing risks, because there’s no going back.

I’ll leave you with Mr. Bezos words of inspiration from 1997:

“We are working to build something important, something that matters to our customers, something that we can tell our grandchildren about. Such things aren’t meant to be easy. It’s all about the long term.”

Todd Lombardo is a digital strategist and editor at Mistress.