You don't have to be the next Amazon to be the "next Amazon." With a level of scale that's quite literally taking over the world, sales in the 12-figure range annually and much-publicized forays into brick and mortar retail spaces, Amazon's success is nearly unrivaled.

The Amazon brand has become a beacon of what's possible, and many organizations --rivals and otherwise -- have set out on a path to replicate or even keep pace with the steps the retail mastermind has taken to reach that success. While we should look to the greats for inspiration and best practices, it can be easy to get tunnel vision and forget to look to those who will actually move the needle in your business: your stakeholders.

Put customers above competition

For Amazon, it's never been about the competition. It's been about the customer and the experience. Building trust over years of being the go-to online marketplace for everything has given the company key insights it has drawn on to guide its strategy into the offline world. Amazon isn't opening physical bookstores just for the sake of it (in fact, they've long been resistant to the idea), they're popping up in real neighborhoods because they understand their customers' wants and needs and how to deliver a consistent experience that justifies the existence of the new stores.

What can your business learn from this example? Well, you may not have mountains of data at your fingertips, but you may have more than you realize --or you can easily acquire it. So start by committing to getting to know your customers on a deeper level to understand how you can create unforgettable experiences for them, online or off.

Have you identified a few key customer personas and discovered their unique buying patterns? Knowing that, find ways to stay one step ahead of them so you can continuously evolve to solve their pain points and create unforgettable experiences throughout the course of their lifecycle.

Studying behaviors and trends (including trends in other verticals) will help you improve your experience, even if your individual customers aren't even aware of a better way. Amazon's take on the convenience store, for instance, features no checkout counters and automated mobile paying -- innovations that may change audience perception about the experience they've been used to getting all their lives.

Challenge old assumptions

Your audience may not tell you directly that they're inconveniencing themselves in a certain way because they don't know that they are. Just look at the new app, Filld, an on-demand gas delivery service that eliminates having to go to the pump to refill.

Sure, it may be an unnecessary and perceived luxury on the surface, but who really enjoys having to go to the gas station? Something you may have never questioned until you realized there was an alternative.

It's up to you to decipher behaviors and be the first to streamline and improve experiences. To evolve, we have to continually challenge assumptions, and in many cases unlearn what we believe to be true.

Another way to show your customers you understand their needs is by looking honestly at perceptions of your brand and making changes based on that feedback. Whole Foods was not-so-affectionately referred to as "Whole Paycheck," a nod to its perceived priciness. Amazon took this monicker to heart after acquiring the grocery chain and has already increased its accessibility by lowering prices.

Don't turn a blind eye to what your audience is saying about you -- as hard as you may try to control your own brand message, your customers will drive the narrative. Brands like Amazon or Dominos that are not above leaning into a bit of negativity in order to make transparent changes end up the better for it.

Make it easy to do business with you

How easy is it to do business with your company? Removing friction points has been another of Amazon's keys to success that is centered completely around the customer. Even the most well-intentioned designs have their flaws in the hands of real users, and whether it's a hardware, software or customer service issue, any barrier to efficiency will lead your customers elsewhere --they'll create their own path.

Seemingly simple features like the Airbnb app displaying pertinent information about your rental on the day of check-in can have a big effect, and create experiences customers won't soon forget. Amazon, for instance, knows its audience's most precious resource is time, so it approaches every innovation through that lens. Figure out what's most important to your customers moment by moment and make that the center of your interactions with them.

Of course, Amazon is where it is because it has become a one-stop shop for its customers, even if they're shopping for completely different things at different times. That's because they've made repeat business easy by delivering (no pun intended) a personalized experience time and time again. In many cases, they know what their customer's next move is or what they're wanting or needing in those distinct moments, and they use that intel to fuel future experiences and innovations.

You may not have warehouses upon warehouses at your disposal, but you can still achieve a level or personalization that makes you vital to the lives of your customers. Remember, your brand and what you offer is unique in its own right --there's only one of your company. So instead of trying to beat or replicate Amazon's success, focus on what helped them get there by putting your customers at the center of everything you do.

Published on: Sep 28, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.