It's no surprise that start-ups and young businesses suffer as deep-pocketed tech firms and eCommerce giants continue to grow in size and popularity.

But the million-dollar question is: what can a start-up do to compete with the likes of Amazon?

That was one of the questions posed by Brian Fanzo, a professional speaker on social media, technology and digital marketing who flew in from the United States to speak at Newcastle Startup Week.

Wearing a baseball cap, trainers and a T-shirt bearing the word 'UNEMPLOYABLE', it's fair to say that Fanzo isn't what you might call a typical entrepreneur.

But there's no denying that the straight-talking social media 'rockstar' was able to capture the audience's attention with his infectious energy and undeniable stage presence.

In a fast-paced world where the pace of disruption is becoming harder to keep up with, Fanzo told us that the secret lies in embracing change and a new kind of consumer.

"There's an interesting stat that says 75 per cent of millennials would rather buy an experience than a product and what that really means is that people don't want to buy what you do or what you're selling, they want to buy how it enables their lives," he said.

"Even when you're picking a hotel, you’re not actually picking the hotel; you’re picking the experiences that you’re going to have at the hotel. It’s really about focusing on the experience that your company or start-up enables rather than what you're making."

After his speech, Fanzo told me that the only chance start-ups have of competing with giants like Amazon is the ability to relate with their customers.

"Relatability is the future of marketing," he said confidently. "Instead of looking at Amazon and trying to compete product-for-product or price-for-price, think about how you can relate with somebody.

Fanzo

"What's going to inspire somebody to get in their car or jump on the train and go to some brick and mortar business rather than get something in two clicks? It's that connection with the person; it's that ability to relate with the story.

"If I feel that you care about your product or that you built a service because something was broken, then you're damn right I'm going to go out of my way to purchase that. But if you're just talking about what you do and going up against Amazon then guess what? Clicking twice is a heck of a lot easier."

In a nutshell? It's all about telling your story well and being human.

"And if you mess up then be okay with admitting that you messed up," Fanzo said. "And be really good at customer service.

"If you want to compete with Amazon you have to do the things they're not doing way better than them and the biggest piece of that is telling your story."

Although some of the start-up founders I spoke to after the speech felt it was "easier said than done", they said it was difficult to argue with Fanzo's logic.

According to the "change evangelist", too many businesses have the wrong attitude about technology and social media.

He says building a website or using social media shouldn't be about distancing yourself from the customer, but about shrinking that distance and making the experience better for them.

He told the audience: "The old days of saying 'if I build it they will come to me' no longer exist. In 2018, if you build a website, launch a Facebook page or create a Twitter account – nobody is coming.

"So what does that mean? It means there's a little bit more work to get our content and conversations in front of people but that work will pay off tenfold."

→ PODCAST: Newcastle Startup Week: The North East needs to shout louder