Book Club Review

Alexa: How can I achieve success?

With the current AI craze drawing parallel similarities to the late 1990s dot-com boom, our Brands2Life global book club thought what better time to deep dive into the success story that is Jeff Bezos – or more specifically, how he rejected the potential self-fulfilling prophecy of “Amazon.bomb,” and instead built his company into the nonpareil platform for e-comm.

In Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, readers receive a fly-on-the-wall account of how the man with the outlandish laugh transcended from bullish bookseller to tech icon. While there’s a slew of do and don’t takeaways directly transferable to today’s business world, and to our roles as PR practitioners, a few stand out as particularly prudent and productive.

Read on for lessons The Everything Store teaches on the importance of customer prioritization and personalization, building a strong team, and self-confidence.

Put the “customer” first and make it personal: A Prime practice

Customer prioritization and personalization. Placing importance on these two elements may seem like a no-brainer today as we see tactics of these goals on nearly every website and app we visit. But when Bezos was starting his company during the foundational years of the age of the Internet, the modern take on these concepts was new and yet-to-be conquered.

A common theme echoed throughout the book is Bezos’ determined passion for ‘the customer experience is everything.’ It’s uncommon for a CEO to be so closely involved in their company’s community department – but Bezos was. He recognized that to set Amazon apart from both its brick and mortar and online competitors, it needed to provide significant benefits for the customers that outweighed their at-the-time lack of brand recognition, customer loyalty, and overall length of experience.

Amazon made it a point to customize its website for each visitor. They implemented ideas like having visitors rate a few dozen books so they could provide sensible ‘lookalike’ recommendations – a tactic now frequently utilized by the likes of Netflix and Spotify. And when Amazon evolved into a more all-encompassing ecommerce site, it included features like ranking all items on the platform by filters like “most relevant,” “most frequently purchased,” and “best reviews,” and developing the eventually patent-approved “one click” ordering process that made online purchases as simple as possible for the customer.

So how does this apply to our roles as PR practitioners? Think of early-days Amazon as the companies we work with who have yet to make themselves a dominating name in their space. If a reporter is writing a story on AI, yes, they’ll be partisan toward the likes of OpenAI versus an under-the-radar AI startup. It’s our job as our clients’ PR team to identify what our spokespeople can offer the media that makes our clients’ perspectives more attractive to reporters than those from more renowned company names. Perhaps that’s citing an executive’s distinctive experience in the space or sending a pitch that’s hyper-relevant to a reporter’s niche. It can also be proactive trend-surfing, consisting of identifying a breaking story and working quickly with an executive to formulate a comment. Whatever it might be, discern where your clients can prove themselves more valuable to the media than the rest, and capitalize on it.

Team is paramount: Form it accordingly

Building a strong team. While, like Jeff Bezos, some of us might be characterized as “unusually confident,” those who find success are those who acknowledge the power of teamwork. And who reaps the most value from teamwork? Low and behold… a strong team.

When founding his company, Bezos knew he had to build the business from the ground up. Not only did he need to find employees that were willing to bet on his business – he needed them to bet on him. To invigorate his company into the extremely lucrative entity he envisioned, Bezos also knew that to employ individuals with aspirational hopes and beliefs wasn’t enough – he was seeking “high IQ brainiacs.”

At the end of the day, no matter how attractive or valuable a company’s products and services might be, a business can’t execute without its people. Just look at today’s age of AI: while the technology’s capabilities are astounding indeed, you are putting yourself at extreme business risk if you don’t acknowledge the indispensable importance of humans needed to train the models as well as check and balance the technology as it evolves.

So, how do you go about building and maintaining a strong team? Invest in your people from the get-go. Amazon, for example, deployed – and still utilizes – a type of IQ/aptitude test that serves to gauge its candidates critical thinking capabilities: a skill the company finds necessary for its employees to succeed. Think through what skills you find necessary for your team to be successful, and how you can incorporate questions/tasks in your hiring process to ensure you recruit team members who can fulfill those skills. It’s hard to argue that something like critical thinking wouldn’t be a necessary skill all leaders seek after – but it could also be skills like stellar writing, interpersonal relations and networking, time management, or technical aptitude. Be thorough and stern when putting your team together: subsequently add on internal employee upskilling and investment in career growth, and the benefits will roll in exponentially.

Bet on yourself: Others will bet on you, too

Self-confidence. You know the Kobe Bryant saying (sorry to my non-basketball fans), “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will do it for you?” The same holds true for us all in the workplace.

Throughout the beginning of Amazon’s journey, as detailed in the book, readers get a glimpse into the obstacles and doubters Bezos faced in his climb to the top. Some characterized him as overconfident and crazy; others dubbed his business venture an assured “;” and there were countless concrete struggles to overcome like lack of resources to meet its scaling and several years of unprofitability. Yet, as quoted in the book by real at-the-time employees: “we were betting on Jeff.”

Bezos was not concerned with what others were thinking, he resisted the outlook on profitability, and focused on the long haul versus the short-term results. And look at where he is today.

It should be noted, of course, that Bezos is an extraordinary case: most of us cannot/should not throw others’ opinions, advice, and data-based forecasts out the door. However, we can allow his level of self-confidence to inspire us. If we go into a new business pitch sounding unsure of the ideas we put forward, why should we expect the prospective client to have faith that we’re the best option? If we ask a more senior level coworker of ours to give us more responsibility, yet express uncertainty in our ability to execute, why would we expect them not to doubt us, too? You’ve put in the work and deserve to be where you are. Proudly exude confidence in yourself, and that from others will follow you.

Kindle your ability to succeed

Throughout The Everything Store, readers see that the road to success isn’t always clear, nor easy: but there are tangible steps we can all take to embrace the ability in all of us to achieve the future we’re looking for. As Amazon preaches: “Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”