Apple, Google and Amazon are in the communications business, but their leaders all need to take some courses at Hamburger University to learn how to communicate with their customers.

Any trial lawyer or investigator will tell you that WHEN something happens can be at least as important as the event itself.

Take the responses to three of the largest news stories of the past week:


1)  the revelation that iPhones and Droids transmit the location of the phones back to phone makers Apple and Google several times a day;

2) The partial breakdown of the Amazon “cloud” of servers that house prominent websites across the country. A whole of bunch of websites were down for a prolonged time;

3) The savage beating by two women of a third woman in a Baltimore McDonald’s caught on tape and widely viewed across the U.S.

ReadWriteWEb’s initial review of Amazon was not good. A little bit of updating as the crash wore on, but nothing an ordinary person could look at and understand.

And days after the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple and Google were regularly collecting data as to the location of the owners of their handsets, Apple remains mute. Google defended its policy, but on its website there was nothing that an ordinary customer could easily find to read that would give comfort. Readers of the Journal were told that Google’s advice was to perform a “factory reset” to insure the kind of privacy many may have thought they already had with a Droid phone.

This locational data that Apple and Google have access to is valuable. The stuff scientists can figure out about us based on where we are is astounding, and frightening if that information were to be used against us.

Contrast this corporate pattern of behavior with the episode revealed over the weekend when two women were caught on tape giving a severe beating to a woman at a McDonald’s restaurant in Baltimore. The revolting footage was made worse by the inactivity of bystanders who chose not to come to the aid of the beaten woman.

How easy was it to see what McDonald’s thought of this? Very. Right on the website’s media center was a prominent statement that the company was shocked at the incident and would investigate. You typed, and two clicks away you were at the statement.

Marketing experts will tell you that if you don’t have an “elevator speech” ready to go about your business (a 30-second answer to the question “What does your company do?”) then you’re not ready for primetime. In this case, Apple, Google and Amazon didn’t have elevator speeches ready to go.

Not having an elevator speech can mean one of two things: you’re unprepared for the question, or worse yet, you have no clear idea of what you think (or what you think it’s safe to say).

Here is where timelines are so important. If McDonald’s had waited a month to express outrage at this incident, the timing would have overtaken the content in importance. We might think McDonald’s was not really annoyed at the beating, but was responding in a way that a lawyer or consultant advised was prudent. That could still be the case, but the quick response by McDonald’s could also mean that it truly is incensed that its franchised restaurant staff failed to rescue the helpless victim of a beating.

What about Apple’s timeline? Whatever Apple ends up saying about the tracking features of the iPhone, how good will we feel about all the information Apple has on us when the company can’t even comment on one of the most discussed stories in the world at which it’s at the center.

For Apple, Google, and Amazon, the time for the elevator speech has passed. The doors have closed and we – the customers – will need to be reached in a different way.