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GP27May:  Lessons from Amazon:  Sleeping Well in Seattle

Not in the Obits.  One old bluegrass song sort of goes like this:  "I wake up in the mornin’ and read the obits.  If my name ain't there, I know my get-up-and-go has not got-up-and-went."  Well, Amazon, the Internet bookseller, is still kickin’, much to the delight of those of us who have a certain fondness for it.

Flat Wrong.  Back in 2000, a bond analyst named Ravia Suria claimed Amazon was bleeding to death and that it would soon run out of cash.  In a series of dismal reports, he predicted its demise.  But, instead, it has now reported operating profits; it has a billion dollars in the bank, and its bonds are up nicely—all since the dire warnings hit the marketplace.  All this is very well chronicled in James Surowiecki's column in the New Yorker (May 20, 2002, p. 40).  As Surowiecki puts it, Suria, a bunch of analysts, and a covey of financial columnists were simply dead wrong.  We are delighted, since Amazon has done some pretty good things for the consumer.

Slow Death.  Nevertheless, Amazon is far from out of the woods.  And, as the New Yorker notes, this gives plenty of wiggle room to the naysayers who looked for it to go bust in a hurry.  Now, with management turnover, with Amazon's inability to capture big revenues beyond books and music, and with other sundry warts and problems, these analysts and columnists can simply imply that they meant it would slowly expire.  Not atypical is a long article in the New York Times (May 19, 2002, p. BU 1), entitled "Amazon II:  Will This Smile Last?"  While acknowledging recent good news at Amazon, the writer gives more than ample voice to the Street's skepticism.  Lesson 1:  When Wall Street analysts and business journalists blow it, don't expect them to own up.  They'll just rejigger their stories a bit.

Wear ‘Em Down.  What the Amazon case suggests is that companies and other institutions in our society need to make their case 24 hours each day to counter the swirl of chatter about them out in the media.  The messages about a company, be they positive or negative, circulate relentlessly, mistakes and all.  In this over-messaged world, a company must seek to dominate or neutralize the airwaves—through a flood of information and transparent completeness.  It must provide better information and perspective than are found elsewhere.  That's one of the things some companies are learning, according to our recently issued Annual Report on Annual Reports 2002.  The Global Province's Investor's Digest deals with this very problem—creating transparent, extremely comprehensive information about public companies.  Lesson 2:  Communications has turned upside down in the last decade; relentless messaging has become integral to growth and preservation of both company and product brands.  Traditional advertising does not meet this need.

Leave It to the Marines.  We note on the Global Province this week that the Marines, more than the other service branches, are seizing the high ground in strategy and logistics.  And they are effectively getting the story out that they are reshaping themselves.  Lesson 3:  The best communications always refer to and extend the organization's strategy.  This is particularly the case now when several organizations seem to lack a strategy.

Reader Notes.  Readers have written with good suggestions about items to include in Best of Class.  One is particularly fond of the catalog of cabinetmaker Thomas Moser, who has produced striking advertisements and catalogs for a number of  years.  See www.homeportfolio.com/BrochureExpress/Manufacturers/moser/index.html.

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