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How to build an employer brand that can take a punch

Reading Time: 4 minutes

One of the biggest factors in how people reacted to the recent New York Times article and the subsequent rebuttal was their perception of Amazon as a workplace before either piece came out.

In marketing, a brand is much more than a logo, a tagline, and a series of advertisements. It’s the net product of all of the feelings and emotions conjured from all the encounters and interactions—as tiny as they might be—that someone has with something (a company, a product, a person, etc.).

A company’s employer brand and its broader brand are inextricably linked, both of which contribute to or detract from each other.

As a little bit of background, I don’t know anyone who works at Amazon, so I haven’t had a chance to hear what it’s like to work there from someone I know and trust. With that in mind, here are some of the experiences and interactions that shaped my perception of Amazon prior to reading the article and the rebuttal:

1) The time I received a product the same day I ordered it online (“Holy cow, these guys must be incredibly technological!”)

2) The time I heard about Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos (“I’ve been following Tony Hsieh for a long time and—knowing how much Tony cares about culture—I imagine he did a lot of due diligence on Amazon’s culture before allowing Zappos to become part of the Amazon family.”)

3) The time I learned about how Jeff Bezos runs Amazon without caring about pleasing Wall Street in the short-term by making investments in future growth rather than reaping profits each quarter (“I like this guy’s long-term view—that’s a Stories Inc. core value!”)

As I read the article and rebuttal, I subconsciously drew from these past experiences with Amazon and found myself being more convinced by the rebuttal. Knowing how competitive the market for tech talent is, how important culture is to Tony Hsieh, and how Amazon’s leadership had already earned my respect in other areas, I found it hard to believe that the practices mentioned in the article are the norm there (with so many people working there, I assume there are one-off cases of sickening management practices).

I have no data to back up my thinking. Whether my reactions were well-founded or not is irrelevant; they are what contributed to how I perceived Amazon as a retailer and as a workplace. And everyone has their own body of experiences that shape their own perceptions. For better or worse, the NYT article will no doubt be one such experience for many people in how they perceive Amazon.

The takeaway here is not to encourage you to take the same side as me—in fact many people will and should take the other side if that’s how their previous experiences with Amazon shaped their thinking.

The takeaway is that brands and employer brands get shaped by the body of all the experiences and interactions that every single stakeholder has with it, so make sure to evaluate all of those experiences to make sure they’re representative of how you’d like to be perceived (I wouldn’t have thought that Amazon’s approach to corporate finance would have any bearing on how I perceived the company as a workplace. But it did.). Using mission and core values is a great place to start as you revisit all of those experiences of all stakeholders with your organization.

What do you think? How have your experiences shaped your judgment of any brand? Email me at

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