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Why Amazon Is Part of a Story That Has Nothing to Do With It
Posted on August 9th 2013
By now we’ve seen everything that could possibly be debated, discussed, dismissed, disputed about Jeff Bezos’s buy of the Washington Post. Yet, there is something remarkable that we have overlooked in all this chatter – every media pundit and speculator puts Amazon at the center of the narrative. Ah hah! But you know what? Amazon didn’t buy the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos did. Yes, Jeff Bezos – one of the richest men on earth – through his investment arm, Bezos Expeditions – bought a newspaper.
For reasons that we will get to in just a moment, the tidal wave of content that followed the announcement deemed it important to portray the story as:
Amazon – the most exemplary illustration of everything shiny, fancy and new at a great price courtesy crowd-sourced wisdom, the cutting edge of retail and reading technology, the predicted media rival to YouTube, the overlord of free shipping and the inventor of the brown-box-arrives-smiley-face-happiness-ensues syndrome has bought the Washington Post – the wizened but illustrious newspaper, the symbolic flagship of the Graham family, a representation of the last few remaining traces of a rich and textured history back from the old media days.
It didn’t just end there. Sentiment about the news ranged from horror to perplexity. Kind of like an Avengers movie, the intrusion of a brand like Amazon, so shiny and new …and digital into the fiercely protected bastion of print appeared incongruous to many. So, what does Amazon have to do with the whole story at all and why does it play a central role? We have an answer.
At Unmetric, we spend a lot of time thinking about a key sentiment that comes into play in this recent news story – the notion of brand lineage. Some of the questions we find ourselves asking include: What are a brand’s origins? Where does it fit in? These questions aren’t just philosophical ruminations. They drive practical considerations in how we build our product such as – In which sector does a brand fit? Does the product or the medium of sale determine a brand’s main competitors? Who are a brand’s friendlies and non-friendlies? What are their social networks like? The mental maps we create as answers to these queries come to fore in a lot of our internal chats about brands’ strategy, product tweaks and conversations with brands.
For these reasons, we think the larger question of interest to brands here is not Why Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post but What do these acquisitions tell us about the digitization of brand lineage in the changing media landscape? ( Or more tellingly, Why Netflix should sponsor the America’s Cup. )
So, the two reasons why Amazon gets the Best Actor role?
Brands may not just be about the product…or the medium: Brands can also be about the technology. What this means is that it may no longer matter if a brand retails a product or service, whether it does it online or offline. In the near future, a brand’s lineage and image may well be determined by the technology at the pinnacle of the day. In the case of the Washington Post buyout, it isn’t that Jeff Bezos is the CEO of Amazon that is the most obvious connection. Rather, it is the disjoint between the struggling newspaper industry post digitization and the successful reading revolution post Kindle that show the greatest resonance in this story. This is why Amazon plays a role –it revolutionized technology.
Brand lineage is more than just its history, its people or its values: Sure, there is a lot of talk in the media flurry about the Graham family and Jeff Bezos as individuals, but there is a visible shift in how their respective brands are portrayed. The story has become more about a brand’s ideas – What revolutionary consumer experiences have they or are they putting out there? With Jeff Bezos in the picture, immediate comparisons are drawn to how Amazon revolutionized recommendation and retail and how such innovation may be just what is needed for the newspaper industry. The social chatter reveals that in the minds of the consumer a brand’s innovation are just as much as a part of its story as its nostalgia, its origins and its USP.