In 2001 I was newly promoted to the position of Director of Marketing Communications for Amazon.com and was presented with a difficult challenge. At the time, the company was faced with making a tough spending choice—either spend money on a new program called “Super Saver Shipping,” or on a year-long TV ad campaign.
We ran tests comparing the performance of ads to free shipping offers and the data was clear: Our customers loved free shipping. However, as a marketer, choosing between these two options seemed to make little sense. Even today, most retailers still use free shipping only as a promotional tool, not a brand-builder. But if I believed in our company mission to be customer-centric, then as a marketer I had to also believe that if we consistently made the customer-centric choice, over time even a “promotion” like free Super Saver Shipping would build our brand.
The choice had a big potential impact on my team. If we decided to not spend money on ads, the company no longer needed a Director of Marketing Communications or a team of many people managing programs like TV ads and Sunday newspaper circulars. I clearly recall sitting in my office wondering whether I was struggling with the recommendation because it was the wrong marketing choice, or because it had a direct impact on my career path. In the end, I decided I had to trust that we were dedicated to our mission to be a customer-centric company and that the company was committed to its people.
My lean in moment came when I recommended to the CEO, Jeff Bezos, that we not spend money on traditional advertising, which in turn would make my job and team obsolete.
I will always remember that meeting with the senior leadership team. I was nervous, but kept my cool and in the end they agreed with me. By putting our customers first, I was confident that my recommendation was the right choice. While it was a great meeting, I still felt very uncertain about my and my team’s future. I had great passion for the brand and the company and worried I had brought that relationship to its end.
However, soon afterwards, both Jeff and my direct manager made time to tell me that they appreciated my courage and that I remained a valued member of the organization. Their outreach set the stage for me to help the majority of my team transition to new roles at Amazon.
I was offered the opportunity to launch a new category for Amazon, which in turn has led to a variety of great roles managing large and small businesses across the company. This experience taught me to always be willing to challenge the so-called “rules” of business and career progression.