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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

Regular visitors to MorningNewsBeat know that I am an enthusiastic user of and advocate for Amazon.com, having been a customer of the pioneering e-commerce business since March 19, 1997, when I placed my first book order with Amazon. That makes me a fairly early adopter…though I was actually a little disappointed when I found out that the company’s first fiscal year in business was 1996, during which it generated $15.7 million in sales. In 1997, the year I started doing business with it, the number went up 800 percent…not just because of me, I hasten to add. (I’m actually better off if Mrs. Content Guy remains in the dark about all the things I’ve bought through Amazon over the years.) These days, Amazon is up to something like $15 billion in annual sales. And all I can say is, I wish that when I’d bought that first book back in 1997, I’d also bought stock.

I mention all this because I was intrigued with an interview that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos gave to Smart Money recently, in which he talked a little about the development process behind the Kindle, the electronic book reader that is proprietary to Amazon. I’ve mentioned before that I am a new convert to the Kindle, and an enthusiastic one…my only frustration is that not every book I’m interested in is yet available in an e-format. But I’m confident that will change.

Anyway, Bezos tells Smart Money that the Kindle was a response to customer needs, at which point the interviewer points out that nobody actually asked for the Kindle. And Bezos says something really smart:

“It's not the customers' job to invent for themselves,” he says. “Four years ago we thought about extensions to our business. We took a look at what we're good at. On Kindle, we had been selling e-books for years, but you needed an electron microscope to see the sales.”

When you think about it, a smart retailer or manufacturer doesn’t need customer requests to know what customers need. You just need to pay attention, and use a little imagination.

In Amazon’s case, they saw that e-book technology existed but hadn’t been adopted with the alacrity, say, that the iPod has been adopted by music, movie and TV lovers. And they were selling more books than anyone else, so they knew there was a hunger for the written word…and knew intuitively that the written word is not necessarily the same thing as the printed word, especially for the younger generation that consumes most of its news in electronic format anyway. Adding in wireless download capabilities was a logical next step…and suddenly you have a product that has the potential to be a game-changer.

Does it mean that all of our innovations are going to be like the iPod? Of course not. The Kindle, at least as it is constituted now, won’t be the iPod…but I guarantee you that they’re working on the next iteration, and even the one after that.

In all of our businesses, that’s what we have to do. It is sort of like adding two plus two and coming up with five. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, that may be the wrong answer. But it also can be the right answer, and we all live for those moments.

Marketing expert Martin Lindstrom likes to say that the “power brands” are the ones that inspire near-religious fervor among their users. They do so by having a vision, by being innovative and differentiated, and by tapping into consumer desires and needs that most customers may not even know they have.

And while these days may seem like the kind during which mere survival is enough, nothing could be further from the truth. If we’re not trying to connect with our customers in new and different ways – big and small, it almost doesn’t matter – then we are setting the table for our own obsolescence.

For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

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