Why Is Jeff Bezos Always Talking To Me?

Every so often I land on Amazon.com and notice the homepage has changed. Instead of seeing my usual browsing history, the latest Kindle, or some other carefully tailored offers, I find a letter from Jeff Bezos.

A couple of months ago, Jeff wrote to me on a scroll and announced, “Dear Muggles,” in which he explained that the Harry Potter series would now be available to me for free in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.

On today’s visit, Jeff’s telling me that Amazon Prime is celebrating its 7th anniversary and what a success the program has been. And he’s right. It’s possibly the best $79 per year I’ve ever spent. Free two-day Shipping on nearly everything I buy, instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows, and the ability to borrow books on my Kindle.

But why is Jeff always talking to me? What’s with all these personal appeals from the creator of the world’s largest online retailer?

Here’s why:

In my work with online community owners, I often talk about the three Cs of customer retention: content, community, and character. It's the third that often confuses people. What does character have to do with customer retention or building brand loyalty?

Character is really about positioning. In their classic book, Positioning, Al Reis and Jack Trout demonstrated that most people will only remember a few things about you or your company. The takeaway is that you can either decide what those few key things will be, or let the market decide.

In other words, you need to decide the most important things you want people to associate with you and actively work to ensure that those are the things that immediately spring to mind when most people think about you. And that’s exactly what Bezos is doing.

Often, when I’m talking about character, I’m speaking to people with incredibly personality-driven brands, helping them inject more consistency and congruency into their communication with customers and prospective customers and ultimately helping increase brand loyalty. But even at well-known brands like Amazon, or the New York Times, or Fast Company, it’s no different.

Conveying a brand’s character or positioning is even more important. As a thought experiment, imagine that as a longtime reader of the Wall Street Journal, you picked up today’s copy to find the front page riddled with stories of the latest celebrity scandal, the cast of The Jersey Shore, and the summer’s hottest weight-loss supplements. Would new customers start reaching for The Journal? They probably would.

But what about you, someone who reads The Journal for a very specific reason? You, who has learned to expect a certain character and has come to associate yourself with the brand? You would probably be running for the hills.

Much like The Journal stays true to its brand and to its existing client base, Bezos is helping to build a set of expectations about Amazon by engaging me through character. He’s using a mechanism that allows him to communicate almost personally with millions of users, to constantly drill home the points that he wants them to always have at the top of their minds about Amazon.

It’s one form of authentic communication, and it’s something that we can all learn a lot from.

--Noah Fleming is a strategic marketing consultant specializing in entrepreneurial growth, community building, client loyalty, and customer retention. Since 2005 he has worked with over 500 entrepreneurs and business owners; follow him on Twitter @noahfleming.

[Image: Flickr user Ross Pollack]

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22 Comments

  • Bobrex41

    But Jeff is not going to be around forever... so I bet he's already mentoring someone else on how to do this

  • Jaspal Rekhi

    Excellent insights. Great reminder of the value of positioning (Character). Thank you Noah.

    Just a question - can a letter written to mass audience, appeal to all (or the majority)?

  • Andrew Hollo

    If Jeff Bezos can attempt to build a personal brand out of a multi-billion dollar enterprise, then any of us can in our own much smaller businesses. Thanks for the reminder Noah. 

  • Harlin Sachdeva

    Jeff Bezos inspires me alot ..he has great understanding of consumer behaviour and possess great marketing skills .

  • Rebecca

    I love Jeff Bezos, and those letters he writes!  I always feel like he's doing me a personal favor when I read them.

  • Bob L

    And yet Bezos publicly announced a multi-million dollar donation for a political initiative to which I am opposed. That also speaks to character and can easily negate a "personal" marketing message written by a staffer. Amazon's personal recommendations based on my previous purchases is terrific and very useful. No problem there, it's great. (Btw, I've never seen this letter that Fleming writes about and I'm a pretty good customer). But a CEO's character is always on display in every communication and action they take, and in this case I'm personally unhappy with what Bezos stands for. I'm not in the least surprised, but up to this point I'd seen no such social and political stances taken by Bezos. Now that he has very publicly announced his position, his character is on display in another realm than Amazon, and that's a risk. Many will support him, others not at all. So while the letter may impress some to stay loyal to Amazon, Bezos's other action has caused me to take an Amazon shopping sabbatical.

  • Bill Lee

    Bob, isn't it better that he do so openly than behind closed doors? That's a mark of character too.

  • Bob L

    Depends. I generally admire those who are upfront about their convictions, political or otherwise. In business we take a risk in doing so. We will attract some, and repel others. Well, some won't care, and that's fine. In many cases I'd rather not know. So standing up for one's convictions is a mark of character, however, there will be value judgments made on the conviction itself. Good point.

  • Barry

    But is his method effective?  I visit Amazon frequently (several times a week), but I don't think I've ever read a single one of those letters.

  • Sally Strackbein

     You are right. Would you rather buy something from Jeff or a faceless company. I like to buy from human beings.

  • Erik X. Raj

    I love this, Noah! Great observations and solid knowledge all around. The best posts are the posts that cause action. After reading this one, it made me want to tweak a few things I am doing right now in my small business. A+

  • Roberta

    Are you talking to me Noah? Great piece and terrific lessons for business owners.