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How Working Backwards Drives Amazon’s Product Development: 3 Takeaways from Amazon’s Global Nonprofit Conference

This week, I had the pleasure of attending Amazon’s Global Nonprofit Conference, Imagine a Better World, in Seattle, Washington. It was an opportunity for me to connect with leading nonprofits and learn from the brightest minds at Amazon. The 2-day inaugural event gathered the world’s leading nonprofits to share how they approach social good marketing and leverage Amazon to meet their business objectives. Amazon employees also lead key-note talks discussing their approach to marketing and growth.

As the Director of Business Development and Innovation at The Ad Council, I have a pulse on the new, innovative products tech companies are developing and work with them to beta test and build partnerships for our causes. Our most recent partnership with Amazon included the development of a custom “Save the Food” Alexa skill to prevent food waste in the US. Our new skill provides several useful tips such as how to store food properly, whether you can eat a vegetable that has been wilted and unique recipes that utilize the food in your fridge. Our creative partners at Sapient Nitro produced a unique piece of video content raising awareness on the skill, which we promoted across Amazon as well as several other digital properties including Facebook and YouTube.

My favorite part of the conference was learning Amazon’s innovative approach to building and launching new products.  At the Ad Council, we place great value on learning from our partners and applying those lessons to help develop our own business. Amazon, one of the largest e-commerce platforms on track to becoming a trillion-dollar company, has a clear track record of bringing successful products to market.

Here were my key takeaways from Amazon’s approach:

1. Be Obsessed with your Customer

Amazon Principle UX Designer, John Payne, lead a presentation on Amazon’s “Working Backwards” methodology which is rooted in customer obsession. Amazon believes that great products and services come from deeply understanding their customers and they work backwards in everything that they do. During the product development stage, they build creative storyboards to show the entire customer journey.

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, believes that customers want something better even if they don’t know it. By putting yourself in the mind of your customer, you understand what your customers need and want and give your product a vision. Amazon aims to delight their customers and invent on their behalf.

Amazon puts the customer first in their social media strategies as well. On Instagram, they post user-generated content of Amazon Users loving Amazon products. This content drives a lot of engagement and builds brand loyalty -- which ultimately increases sales for Amazon.


2. Write the Press Release Before You Develop the Product

In true “working backwards” fashion, when presenting ideas for new products, Amazon employees are required to write a press release for the product launch. They’re encouraged to think BIG and leap into the future. Why would the press want to write about this product?  What would they say? Because their core value is putting the customer first, the press release must focus on customer need and include a customer quote. How are they reacting to this product?  How has it changed their lives?

Below is the press release Stephenie Landy, VP of Amazon Prime Now, wrote when she pitched the “Amazon Magic” idea to Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s Product Team. Amazon Magic went on to become Amazon Prime Now, a service offered to Amazon Prime members that delivers household items, everyday essentials and the best of Amazon with a FREE 2-hour delivery.  To-date, the service is available in more than 50 cities in nine countries – it accounted for $6.4 billion in revenue last year.

3. Anticipate Customer FAQs

In addition to writing a press release, Amazon also determines what the potential questions would be from consumers using the product. When they first discover the product, what are things they may not understand right away? How does this impact how they are currently using Amazon? Understanding these questions upfront helps guide how they build the product, and it also allows for innovation and new ideas to break through.

Needless to say, I was quite impressed with Amazon’s approach to growth and product development.  I’m looking forward to applying these learnings at the Ad Council and building more innovative partnerships with Amazon!



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