Why Jeff Bezos Buying the Washington Post is a Good Thing

You might have read the news this week that Amazon's Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post. You probably didn't read that in a newspaper.

Jeff Bezos has built possibly the most important company of our time. Amazon is fundamentally changing the way the world shops. And after all, shopping is the heart of business. If anyone is going to figure out how to build a thriving media company out of something like the Washington Post, it's someone like him. No disrespect to the geniuses who have been shepherding print media's graceful decline into irrelevance, but it's safe to say that they aren't the ones to figure out the new model.

This deal matters because it's an important bridge between new media and old. So far the model hasn't been very productive:

  • New media or technology disrupts an old, staid, and marginally troubled industry, sending it into a downward spiral (music, news, retail)
  • Most of the new companies have no real business models, no idea of how to build brands, and generally terrible leadership, so they go out of business or at least struggle to become relevant from an economic perspective (anything from pets.com to MySpace, and thousands in between)
  • We, the buying public, are left without any leadership, and no idea how to make the best use of the new tools available to us. So we collectively lose millions of hours of what could be productive lives, and our trust in marketing, and the companies behind it, continues to diminish.
  • The cycle continues

I'm sure you can see that this isn't good for anyone. So, let's take this opportunity to learn a few lessons from the guy who might be able to lead us to greener pastures, especially if he can figure out how to keep my hands from getting all inky.

In the back of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s audiobook Delivering Happiness (Zappos is an Amazon company, and so is Audible, where I bought the book) is a speech Jeff Bezos made to Zappos employees shortly after the purchase. He offers the following five lessons:

  • Obsess over customers. He says he doesn’t worry about competitors, even though he’s in one of the most competitive industries. Instead he worries constantly about keeping customers happy. The competition takes care of itself.
  • Invent. Bezos says you can invent your way out of any box if you believe that you can. At Rebel, we have four rules that push us in this direction:
    1. Be tenacious. Never stop finding better solutions.
    2. Ask more questions. People will often give you the answers you need if you just keep asking questions.
    3. Learn every day. Don’t wait for an annual review to find out how you’re doing. Don’t wait until the project is completed to figure out what went wrong. Take a few minutes every day to examine what is working and what isn’t and make adjustments in real time.
    4. Win as a team. Leverage the collective wisdom of other Rebels, vendors, partners, clients. And while you’re doing that, don’t just cover your own ass, but make sure you have their backs as well.
  • Invent on behalf of customers. Don’t expect them to tell you what they want. I had a client recently suggest that asking the brand’s Facebook fans “What do you want from us?” would be a good way to develop a marketing strategy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Customers pay you to figure it out so they don’t have to.
  • Think long term. Quick fixes probably don’t work, and too many companies are in a perpetual cycle of fixing their quick fixes. Be willing to be misunderstood and stick with what you know. That will create long term value for your customers and your brand.
  • It’s always Day 1. Don’t let the mistakes of the past become the mistakes of the future. Put another way: It ain’t where you’re from; it ain’t where you’re at. It’s where you’re going.

Walking the Path

William Ury: The walk from "no" to "yes"

William Ury is a very smart guy. His book Getting To Yes is among the most successful guides to negotiation.

His TED talk is about what he calls the third side in any negotiation. It's about getting out of your own head and out into the world where both you and your opponent have to live.

In many ways, marketing is like negotiation, and your target customer is like your opponent. In this model, the third side is the community that your customer belongs to. From the beginning, Rebel has advised clients that understanding the demographics and psycho-graphics of consumers is not nearly enough. You have to understand the community — how it functions, what it values, the ways that influence moves throughout.

You won't get this from research reports. You get it by walking the path. You get it by physically walking through the community, virtually visiting the websites and Facebook groups, reading the magazines, listening to the music. You get it by talking to people.

If you aren't willing to do that, you're not ready to negotiate with people to earn their attention, much less their hard-earned dollars.


We Do Weird Marketing

In this interview with Seth Godin, in promotion of his 300th book We Are All Weird, Seth does a great job of explaining why Rebel Industries exists (thanks, Seth!).

Weird means people who are embracing individuality instead of working hard to fit in.

He goes on to say that the world is splitting into two groups: one that wants everyone to stay the same, and another that encourages individuality, tribal behavior, and weirdness.

Clearly, the tides of change favor the latter group, and this is the group that Rebel serves. We market to the gamers, music fiends, tuners, foodies, art enthusiasts, social media mavens, and others who define themselves by the things that make them "weird." We understand what makes these people special, and what makes them tick. And we know what it means to brands who make products and deliver experiences that these people want.

What about you? What makes you weird? What tribes do you belong to? And what brands are doing a good job of appealing to your weirdness?

An Interesting Life

William Zinsser is a bit of a genius. His book On Writing Well changed at least my writing, if not my life. We'll talk more about that at another time, but for now, remember that his four rules for good writing are as follows: clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity.

In a recent acceptance speech at his high school alma mater, Zinsser told his audience that what he,  now in his 80s,  has in common with them, in high school, is that they all want the same thing: to have an interesting life.

What a beautifully simple concept.

Just have an interesting life. Isn't that enough? How much more satisfying than, say, "to make a ton of money," or "to win a Grammy," or "to sell my company."

Sorry if I've started the year off on a self-help tangent. But just think how you might live differently if you adopt that as your goal.

What does this have to do with marketing? Well, everything. How much better could you do your job if your life was more interesting? How much more interesting would your brand be if you were more interesting. And what about the goal of building an interesting brand?

The analytics folks are going to say "Yes, but whats the ROI of being interesting?" To that I ask you: What's the ROI of not being interesting?

See, it turns out people like interesting brands, and the interesting people behind them. You don't have to like these people, but I'm sure you'll agree that Steve Jobs is interesting, Jay-Z is interesting, Phil Knight is interesting. You may not know much about Dietrich Mateschitz, Ferdinand Porsche, or Asa Griggs Candler, but a lot of people find that Red Bull, Porsche, and Coca-Cola very interesting.

What if your boss (client, board, etc.) told you that your mandate for 2011 is to make the brand interesting? What would that look like? What would you do differently? And how would that affect your excitement for the coming year?

Herbie Hancock and Facebook

We're at dinner last night and Jihaad noticed Herbie Hancock sitting at the table next to us. If you don't know who that is, please stop reading now. For the rest of us, or at least for me, Herbie is a living legend. We talked about buying his dinner, but he was at a big table, so we sent over a couple desserts as an expression our respect.

Meanwhile, I opened TweetDeck and posted "Sitting next to herbie hancock at dinner" to both Twitter and Facebook.

A while later, I looked down at my phone and a friend had responded "Wish him happy birthday" (thanks Nicole for the tip). As I'm reading that to the table, Mr. Hancock got up to thank us for the desserts. We all replied "Happy Birthday!" and had a brief chat with him. It was a social media moment.

Why am I telling you this?

Because this kind of serendipity is only possible when you live your brand. I'm active in social media because I've always been socially active. It's an accurate reflection of how I live and how I do business. And it has always benefitted me.

What's the benefit, you might ask?

Well, in this case, I'm not tracking metrics. Time spent on Twitter vs. # of childhood heroes I've gotten to meet. It's just part of my process.

How do you make living your brand part of your process? Leave a comment or post Herbie a birthday wish.