Reverse-engineering Amazon’s Brand-building Journey ...


We live in a world that correlates speed with business success.

Often, it’s not about inventing the best solution. It’s about getting there first and then fending off competitors parallel to trying to get the product right.

But building a brand is not a transaction or a campaign. It requires time. Those same fast-twitch muscles can cause missteps in advancing your brand. At the core of every great brand is a company’s ability to deliver on the prospect’s expectations — or better yet, exceed those expectations. Yet, companies and particularly startups often fall into the trap of baking a desired position into the brand that doesn’t come horseshoe-close to reality.

A grand vision is good, but the promise or promises that a brand communicates should have some semblance to reality. Otherwise, you can end up souring the outside world, which hurts the bottom line (or worse).

With this as the backdrop, it’s enlightening to look at Amazon’s brand-building journey. To gain a 20,000-foot perch — didn’t think 10,000 feet went quite high enough — our crack research department gathered news releases from Amazon going back to its start in 1995 and mapped out the boilerplates in chronological order. This formed the basis of the infographic below.


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I think I’m on safe ground in saying that Jeff Bezos didn’t start off with a master plan to parlay selling “The Old Man and the Sea” online into a one-stop shopping venue for the planet; and oh, by the way, they manufacture products too and are in the IT services biz (hello AWS).

Still, the boilerplates offer insights on how Amazon executed on its brand journey.

One step at a time, like math with each concept building on the previous one.

The company also showed discipline over 20+ years. At any given point in time, you rarely find that the brand position gets out of whack with reality.

When the gap between the brand position and reality becomes too large, hype can overshadow the best intentions.



This can be one of the toughest challenges for alpha executives and their religious-like zeal to jar the status quo.

I love Amazon’s first boilerplate, which follows word-for-word:

  • “ operates from headquarters in Seattle. The company maintains a staff of programmers, editors, executives, and all-around book lovers.”

Note the absence of showy adjectives and adverbs and any proclamations that they’re going to change the world.

Yet, two years later Amazon could credibly call themselves “earth’s biggest bookstore” leading into its IPO.

There’s something to be said for treating brand-building as a marathon.

All it takes is patience and cardio system up for the task.


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