Dear Mr. Bezos, What’s ...


jeff bezos kindle storytellingThe letter to the customer posted on one’s website offers the perfect forum for storytelling.

Because you’re in control.

While I chastised Toyota for its customer letter addressing the recall, I also recognize the attorney factor during a crisis warrants a handicap.

Which brings me to Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos.

No question, Mr. Bezos knows how to tell a story.

I saved a feature on Amazon in The Seattle Times from over 10 years ago that kicks off with a wonderful anecdote:

Soon after Jeff Bezos hired the first employee of his new company, then called, he went out to his garage and made him a desk. From scratch.

“I called him to ask `How tall do you want your desk? I’m cutting the legs right now,”‘ Bezos recalled with a booming laugh.

The story goes on to say:

Today, hundreds of employees sit at desks identical to the one Bezos built by hand four years ago – a wooden door with 4-by-4s for legs, now made by a local woodworking company.

“These desks serve as a symbol of frugality and a way of thinking. It’s very important at to make sure that we’re spending money on things that matter to customers,” said Bezos, 34. “There is a culture of self-reliance. (With the low-tech desks) . . . we can save a lot of money.”

How can you not like a guy who puts his high school wood shop class to use in real life? Personally, I never advanced beyond the foot stool (B-, BTW).

More recently, Charlie Rose interviewed Bezos, and again his gift for narrative spiked attention such as a piece by Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher.

So when I landed on and saw the words “Dear Customers” and jumped to the end and saw “Jeff Bezos,” I had high hopes.

What happened?

Let’s start with the all-important kickoff:

I believe in the transformative power of reading…


If you’re going to use a four-syllable word, it’s probably not a bad idea to build some momentum into the big moment.

Here’s what the “trusty” Wikipedia has to say about the word “transformative”:

It is central to Mezirow‘s Transformative Learning Theory (Mezirow, 1990, 1991, 2000), which describes a learning process of “becoming critically aware of one’s own tacit assumptions and expectations and those of others and assessing their relevance for making an interpretation.

Right. That really tugs at the old heart strings.

To be fair, he goes into a decent riff on “the ability of an author to transport you to new worlds, introduce you to new people, and even alter your perspective.”

But the storytelling just as quickly screeches to a halt:

Reading is important. Reading is why we build Kindles.


Reading is important.

I’d like to see the focus group research that supports such a radical premise.

From there we get 11 bullets on battery life, weight, etc.

And then more about price points and speed to download, with the close depicting Jeff pointing that big Styrofoam finger in the sky saying “We’re No. 1.”

What strikes me is there’s not one word about real customer experiences, which is where the emotional gold lies.

Look, I understand features and benefits have a place in selling products.

But that doesn’t explain why Amazon’s best storyteller has been reduced to a human data sheet.

P.S. I pasted the actual letter into this post since I didn’t know how long it would stay on the Amazon home page.

amazon kindle letter


  • Casey Hibbard

    Hi Lou,

    Thought-provoking post! How different would the letter be with a real customer story? Completely. I’m sure there is no shortage of cool customer stories around the Kindle. But in the haste to get things done and out the door, so many companies miss this opportunity.

    The best approach really is documenting and storing customer stories so they’re ready for opportunities like this. Everyone in the company must be aware of the push for customer stories and have a way to relay them to marketing. That’s the heart of a story-focused culture.

    Thanks for the great example!


  • Lou Hoffman

    Totally agree.

    Thanks for the perspective.

    Given Amazon’s market share in the e-readers space, “supply” of customers shouldn’t be the issue.

    Even in their haste, one would think if Mr. Bezos himself put out a note asking for customers, they would somehow magically appear.

    Having worked with Amazon several years ago, it is a story-focused culture. That’s partly why I find this particular communication so perplexing.

  • Steve Fowler

    TRUE STORY, BUT BORING: Yesterday I wired money to a client.

    THE BACK STORY: “Thank you! On Monday I can get the medical care my son really needs.”

    Thanks Lou, for reminding us what “story” we should share.


  • Lou Hoffman

    You got it.

    + Would be powerful if you could share these types of stories.


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