Written by Marisha Chinsky
Beginning last month, the business world was set abuzz by Jeff Bezos’ annual shareholder letter. The memo from Amazon’s founder and CEO – and the world’s wealthiest person – is described by some as the must-read manifesto for entrepreneurs, executives, or anyone with an interest in business excellence. Perceived by many as a beacon of innovation, the letter commands attention just like Amazon itself.
Marking the letter’s 20th anniversary, Bezos’ inspiring missive covers a range of topics from hand-picked details about the firm’s milestones to all-star management advice. In the piece, he emphasizes the compelling business reasons for corporate social responsibility and ‘impact,’ espouses building a culture of high standards, champions the importance of continuous learning, and urges simplicity while maintaining a long-term view. The letter also announced Amazon’s customer count and hinted at the company’s plans for the future. It’s worth noting that the yearly memo from Bezos is heralded for replacing Warren Buffett’s yearly investment update, which seems stodgy in comparison. Published every year since the company’s IPO in 1997, the letter’s release is eagerly anticipated for imparting its wisdom and is so highly prized, a compilation of them is as good as a bestseller. Enclosed with the letter is the very first one from 1997, a grounding reminder of humble beginnings.
The style of Amazon’s communications is as disruptive and idiosyncratic as the firm’s leader, Jeff Bezos. The Bezos doctrine can be defined as pioneering in respect to exploring strange new worlds and creating the future. Consistently defying traditional business models, the company’s Amazon Web Services provides digital infrastructure, while its Kindle reader changed the publishing industry. Among the life-altering influences, we talk to the voice-recognition artificial intelligence device named Alexa and have radically lowered our dependence on brick-and-mortar retail. We expect drones to deliver goods and have yet to really see how the supermarket industry will turn on its head through the acquisition of Whole Foods. Amazon Go is changing shopping check-out. Bezos even bought The Washington Post. When the letter claims they don’t use PowerPoint or any other slide-oriented presentations at Amazon in lieu of writing narrative memos, people take notice.
As communications professionals, we strive to develop an authentic voice while being brand aligned, a skill at which Bezos deftly excels. We avoid wasting words, and Bezos’ brief letter is more to-the-point than either Jamie Dimon’s or Warren Buffett’s. We relish the business leaders who communicate as naturally and transparently as possible. Such is the tone of voice for this era of hyper-connectivity, democratized communication and staunch individuality, which grew out of the omnipotence of social media and society’s celebration of heroic whistle-blowers. It will be interesting to observe other ways in which Bezos and his marcomms team at Amazon continue to transform the company’s engagement with stakeholders and carry the torch for ultimate customer satisfaction and corporate reputation. For now, however, Bezos’s approach to communications is refreshing and welcome.