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  • Liz Whitaker

People buy from people – but have the world's biggest booksellers remembered in time?

Faced with boycotting customers, negative media coverage (undercover reporter* anyone?), and a global employee backlash, even the mighty Jeff Bezos is trying to humanise his largely faceless brand, the behemoth that is Amazon. His response (in addition to the outpouring of employment, customer service and corporate responsibility success stories – see for a masterclass in corporate relations) is a series of TV and newspaper ads introducing real people at real fulfilment centres telling real stories about what it’s like to work at Amazon. Viewers/readers are invited to take a free tour of their facilities** and see for themselves. So many of my readers have sent this example to me and one described it as ‘brilliant – open, accessible and personal’, all the stuff we talk about in the Power of Personal (note page references below in brackets).

He’s not the only book focused retail giant using personalisation to win back market share. Bookshop legend James Daunt , now CEO of Barnes & Noble, is charged with turning around this now diminished but still massive Fortune 100 brand (627 stores – 150 down in ten years - in 50 states, 27,000 employees and $3.5bn(£2.8bn) in sales for y/e April 2019). Daunt himself is a great example of a leader who is visible, accountable and accessible (page 41).

What both these brands forgot is that people buy from people and now, at the point of decline and fall, they remembered and are putting it right.

Meantime, proving the point, independent book shops – you know those lovely little havens of intellectual peace and tranquillity where real people share your enthusiasm for books, where you buy from a real person and make a difference to a real business owner’s life … well they are on the rise according to the Booksellers Association.

What can professional firms take from Daunt’s winning formula that worked so well for Waterstones;

· Empowering local managers to stock titles and arrange displays that work for their local markets. Some stores could even set their own prices. Imagine the value of that across a global firm with offices in different cultural/economic and social environments. Strong central brand with locally empowered people who know their local market.

· Employing people who relish their work. Daunt includes personality as a critical element of bookselling. He trusts and invests in those people, building their careers believing that “intelligent and proactive people who make good booksellers also make good bookshops.” He has openly said one of the things he wants to be judged on in 10 years is “what the alumni are up to … I hope we gave them years of real development before they went on and conquered the world.” (see Be interested – it’s priceless on page 263 and value of creating alumni ambassadors on page 144).

· Improving how booksellers can use the company’s loyalty programme with its 7 million members. (see Ambassadors on page 144 which is all about looking after those valuable and most loyal clients)

· Creating a rich customer experience and paying it forward. In Daunt’s case that includes introducing cafes with added electrical sockets for students. Quizzed about the logic of students consuming more electricity than coffee Daunt; “When those students are rich and famous, they’ll buy books from us and the cost of the electricity will be paid back in spades.” (Paying it forward covered in Generosity of Spirit on page 269).

· Managing touchpoints with attention to detail. Daunt stood in the customer’s shoes to deliver an exceptional customer experience. He visited the stores, changed the website and walked through the customer journey even specifying the angle of the book display to the exact centimetre to improve the customer experience. A broken escalator is fixed. (See Visible and invisible touchpoints on page 47)

· And my favourite – Daunt’s unique power of personal - “Ripping out the boring” -

Can he do it on a large scale? Well I think he can. Size is no excuse for de-humanising a brand.

In our Bootcamp and Accelerator workshops for fee-earners and marketing teams we work with them to resolve their marketing challenges, find their own power of personal and re-humanise their communications.

And the real bonus here? We ask our workshop participants to name their favourite brands and why. Not one has ever objected to paying a premium price for great service. Fact. Organisations with great reputations can charge more money***.

To book a workshop please email

*an undercover reporter makes for a fine Assassin – see page 181 on how to avoid and how to manage.

**jury is still out on this one. Not paying fair share of tax is not helping either!

*** see Leslie Gaines-Ross (exclusive and brilliant quote that says it all on page 15) , CEO Capital – A Guide to Building CEO Reputation and Company Success

You can buy The Power of Personal on Amazon or Waterstones online - or contact me directly

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