A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person.
—Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
Brand is more than just marketing—it’s a reflection of who we are. And it doesn’t take a day off or hide in the corner.
Over the summer 2015, the New York Times (NYT) published an article in which current and former Amazon employees painted a picture of the Amazon work culture as demanding, cutthroat and callous.
The NYT interviewed about 100 current and former employees, who spoke of 80-hour workweeks, criticisms to managers behind each others’ backs, yearly culling of the workforce, the “managing out” of employees with illnesses such as cancer and much more.
From the article…
A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a “performance improvement plan”—Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired”—because “difficulties” in her “personal life” had interfered with fulfilling her work goals…A former human resources executive said she was required to put a woman who had recently returned after undergoing serious surgery, and another who had just had a stillborn child, on performance improvement plans, accounts that were corroborated by a co-worker still at Amazon.
What Bezos says is spot on—your brand is your reputation. It’s your word, your character, your personality and more. Brand isn’t just what you say in your marketing material; it’s everything you do and say, at all times.
And he’s right about another thing. “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room,” he says.
After the NYT article came out, current and former Amazon employees took to social media to describe their experiences at the company—some good, a lot bad.
Bezos himself responded to the article, saying it described:
…A soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard…I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech-hiring market…I don’t recognize this Amazon.
If you ask Amazon leaders, the company is trying to do something difficult. If you look at the company’s stock prices, you can see that they’re succeeding. Achieving something difficult can require a difficult approach—in this case, what one executive described as “purposeful Darwinism.”
“You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three,” Bezos wrote in a 1997 letter to shareholders, according to the NYT. “It’s not easy to work here.”
Bezos isn’t apologetic about Amazon’s culture. He did say he was surprised to hear some of the things in the NYT article and would work to change them, but he didn’t say the company would slow down.
And it may not have to. While many customers were, no doubt, turned off by the story, it’s a good bet that many others approved—they finally had an explanation for Amazon’s efficiency. (Ever ordered something on Amazon? Delivery is fast.)
In fact, according to the Seattle Times, “Amazon’s stock rose .70 percent on the Nasdaq exchange” the Monday after the NYT article came out.
Every Action Matters
This isn’t a judgment on Amazon’s workplace culture—it’s merely an example of how brand never takes a day off.
Every action and word affects how the general public and customers view a company’s brand and, more importantly, how they interact with a company. In Amazon’s case, how customers react depends on the customer.