“No Comment”, but Amazon Is a Master of Public Relations

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Wired calls Amazon “Teflon Amazon” with regards to the online retail giants ability to seemingly avoid getting into hot waters:

Amazon’s ability to evade blemishes owes itself in part to a less fraught business model. Amazon sells products and services to make money, not ads slapped on user-generated content. Not that controversy doesn’t touch Amazon. It’s just that none of it sticks. Like the Gipper, the company and its CEO Jeff Bezos seem to be covered in non-stick coating: teflon Amazon. […]

Amazon doesn’t create algorithmically generated newsfeeds read by billions of people. It doesn’t try to offer “one true answer” to people’s burning questions on its search results pages. By keeping its platform free of current events, it’s managed to largely avoid the fake news fracas that erupted after the 2016 election.

​Amazon has a big (and growing) counterfeit problem which may be the one thing that could really hurt Amazon in its core markets in the near future. But nonetheless, it is an interesting observation that Amazon is an outlier amongst the US tech giants even when it comes to PR and reputation.

​Wired:

According to The Harris Poll, Amazon has a better reputation than any other well-known company in the US, edging out other tech companies like Apple and Google. Wal-Mart, another retailer that offers low prices, finds itself beset by labor-related controversies and ranks towards the bottom of the same list.​​​​​​​​​​​​​
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Amazon’s ability to avoid the villain label probably owes something to Bezos’s obsession with the company’s image. In his book on Amazon, The Everything Store, Brad Stone uncovered a memo from Bezos describing the qualities of “cool” companies. Cool companies, according to Bezos, are polite, take risks, and take on bigger, less sympathetic companies.

You can see those principles in play in Amazon’s generous return policy, the way it keeps rolling out new products and services, the way it took on incumbents like Barnes and Noble and Wal-Mart.

​”Consumer focus” not just as lip service but as a true core value of the company. It helps in more than one way.

Benedict Evans, an analyst at VC firm a16z, writes about “Amazon’s PR genius”, ‘no commenting’ almost all stories on the company and only opening up about the logistics operation:

there is one area where Amazon doesn’t stonewall: the warehouses and logistics operation. There’s a steady flow of informative and interesting press pieces on this topic. This is partly because it is more interesting to a general audience and partly because you can get raw material without going through Amazon – you can ask the workers and local people about a huge fulfilment centre. But it’s also because Amazon gives access: photographers and journalists are allowed in. And the warehouses make for great pictures. […]

If the only thing Amazon is happy to see talked about is its logistics platform, this is probably deliberate. All the coverage supports two narratives:

Amazon offers very good value
Amazon is impossible to compete with
Price is obviously a large part of the consumer story, but talking about logistics is a competitive weapon just like not talking about Kindle sales.

We’ll probably never learn how many Kindles, Fire TVs, Echoes or Dash Buttons have been sold. And we may never learn how many Prime subscribers the company amassed. It is amazing that Amazon can get away with making such sparse information of its business public. But here we are. And not only seem shareholders ok with this. It seems to be working for Amazon. The one area this didn’t work great, I would argue, was in establishing an app store for its Android fork Fire OS and its tablets. I wrote in 2015:

If developers don’t know the size of the addressable market on one platform they will be hesitant to support it. Even if supporting it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort.

Interestingly, this does not seem to be an issue (yet) with Alexa and the Echoes. Alexa now has 12,000 skills (=apps) for its English version. (Far less for German. Also, don’t be too impressed with that number. Most of those skills are build by hobbyists.)

Evans:

All of this leads to the question; is there any company more successful at controlling the public narrative than Amazon? Nothing it cares about ever leaks. Almost all of the press coverage, even the negative stories, runs to a script that Bezos could have written – “We do amazing things to get low prices to customers” and “it’s incredibly hard to compete with us”. Of course, both of those things may well be true.

​More on this topic:

​* Counterfeits: Negative Network Effects Arrive at Amazon Marketplace
​* Amazon Is Building Its Own Social Network
​* Splitting the Amazon Prime Revenues Up Into Their Individual Parts
​* Jeff Bezos Pushes Back Against Absurd Amazon Go News
​* Alibaba, Amazon, Startups, Everyone Wants to Disrupt Global Logistics

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