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?
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 ]