Storytelling Lessons from Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos
A psychology professor and director of Resilience Research at the Appalachian Center, Dr. Sherry Hamby says that sharing stories of personal struggles can make you more resilient and other people more empathetic. Business leaders have also learned that sharing company growth stories can build an emotional connection that helps attract and retain customers, talent, and investors.
There is endless content for telling a compelling story to your customers and team. However, we’ve found investors are often left out of the storytelling framework. We set our sites on two business greats that have become synonymous with using investor letters as a powerful storytelling platform; Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos.
Stay Focused on Your North Star
Apart from the desks made of doors, trendy sunglasses, and HQ2, Jeff Bezos has become identified with his original 1997 shareholder letter. To this day, Amazon still includes a copy of the 1997 shareholder letter with each annual letter. So what sets it apart and makes it arguably the most famous shareholder letter to date?
According to Tomasz Tunguz, Amazon’s competitive advantage started the day their first shareholder letter was published. Jeff has since remained focused on their “North Star”; customer obsession. Bezos has been able to center every annual letter around their “customer obsession” and simply changes the narrative and storyline. In 1997, it started with e-commerce and saving customers time & money,
“Today, online commerce saves customers money and precious time. Tomorrow, through personalization, online commerce will accelerate the very process of discovery. Amazon.com uses the Internet to create real value for its customers and, by doing so, hopes to create an enduring franchise, even in established and large markets.”
Almost 20 years later, when announcing Amazon Web Services had reached $10B in Revenue. Bezos found a way to align the differing brands and bring back to focus their customer obsession:
“They (Amazon.com and AWS) share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles. I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence. Through that lens, AWS and Amazon retail are very similar indeed.”
As Bezos has said himself, “You can have the best technology, you can have the best business model, but if the storytelling isn’t amazing, it won’t matter. Nobody will watch”. Whether sending investor Updates on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis find your “clarity of purpose” and use that to build a theme to your company’s story.
Bring Out Humanity and Trust
Not only is he one of the greatest business minds, the Oracle of Omaha is often regarded as one of the greatest storytellers in business. Just like Bezos, Warren Buffett has turned his annual shareholder letters into a platform for fueling investment and interest in their business.
While Buffett most certainly covers all financial housekeeping he has turned Berkshire’s letters into a platform that builds trust and lets investors (and potential investors) into Berkshire’s decision making and culture. Often filled with everyday language, unique stories, and a sense of humor, Buffett has been able to humanize Berkshire and create a sense of trust with investors. The $87B man has even gone as far to call himself “dumb” in his letters, just as one of your friends or co-workers might. Sure, it might be easier to step outside the norm when your company is valued near $500B but it is never too early to start bringing out the “human side” and building a relationship of trust with potential investors.
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