Amazon’s brand risk goes well beyond a tech snafu on Amazon Prime Shopping Day because of the Amazon Delivery Service partnership opportunity. This became obvious to me yesterday as I waited in a restaurant’s foyer to escort me to their patio to meet some friends.
Without a host in sight, I was thankfully distracted by an Amazon delivery driver who walked in, decked out with an Amazon t-shirt and carrying a big box covered with the familiar Amazon smile.
Excited to see my first official Amazon driver, I asked, “How’s it going?”
“Truthfully, it’s been a rough day.”
Being the day-after Amazon Prime Day, the volume of packages needing delivery was high and with no depot in the city, there was an extra delay waiting for the packages to arrive before she could start. We talked for a bit before she took the initiative to go find an employee who could sign for the package. Her sidekick was left to chat with me further. He and I engaged in small talk about the deliveries they’d already made. (For example, a blender for another location.)
Both were exceptionally pleasant.
Here’s the risk.
What if she was rude instead of being pleasant about how tough a day it’d been? We’ve all seen that happen, haven’t we?
What if she swore? What if she got snippy because the hosts at this restaurant were missing in action and we were forced to wait longer than was appropriate? What if he divulged a product delivery story that was less vanilla than a blender to a restaurant?
In my book, From Business Cards to Business Relationships: Personal Branding and Profitable Networking Made Easy (John Wiley & Sons, 2012) I wrote about how the greatest influence on a company’s brand is determined by a person’s most intimate connection with the business. Back then, because I spoke for a lot of financial companies, I used the example of a bank that invests in brand development through advertising and sponsoring little league. If the bank manager turns into a jerk on the sidelines of the soccer field, then the goodwill is counteracted, and the gut reaction people have about the bank is negatively influenced. No logo placement can make up for an employee who acts unprofessionally in public.
When employees wear a company’s logo, there is even more brand risk because there is no hiding their affiliation. People don’t separate the person from the brand.
An entrepreneurial client bought a delivery van. When I asked if he was going to brand it with his logo, he said, “Never.” When pressed why, his answer was simple. “Why would I add that brand risk to my business? All it takes is for my truck to end up in a ditch and we’d be on the 6:00 news. While I trust my employees, people have bad days, make bad lane changes; they have amygdala hijackings and accidents happen. Putting my logo into that mix of unknown factors is a risk I can easily avoid.”
It stuck with me.
In today’s world where everyone is a videographer, capturing the world’s most unforgiving moments in high-definition, how will Amazon control these unknown factors? The training that’s needed to protect their brand at the grassroots level, will go well beyond customer service training for Amazon delivery service partners. It’s anger management. It’s everyday resilience in the face of frustrations like traffic jams, tight loading zones, personal problems, and MIA hosts who should be faster at signing for packages.
Amazon, for the most part, has managed well with their image, but as they decentralize their brand by encouraging franchise type business opportunities through a network of Amazon Delivery Service Partners, they will lose influence and control.
Now, not only do we get to do the annoyed eye roll at delivery trucks blocking traffic, Amazon trucks will be part of the annoyance. While we’ve come to accept the reality of this from delivery icons like Fed Ex and UPS, we aren’t desensitized to Amazon’s logo being in the streets yet. Until the shiny-newness of their logo being in communities dulls, Amazon is primed to take a hit on their brand. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun. #notsorry)
It only takes one in-the-field snafu to start chipping away at Amazon’s iconic brand. In history, we have seen the greatest of brands falter – and I wonder if this is the opening that competitors need to poke holes in the reputation of the giant.
Time will tell.