January 19, 2019

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Zappos: Company Culture and Social Marketing Success

Zappos: Company Culture and Social Marketing Success

Noted Silicon Valley journalist Sarah Lacy posted a piece on her blog recently about Zappos.com. The general message was that Zappos was going about their marketing efforts the wrong way and didn’t “…seem to really get it. They just haven’t evolved along with the Web, if you know what I mean.” She went on to state that “people like to try shoes on” and related a less than perfect experience her husband had with the company.
These assertions caught me completely off guard as all of my experience with Zappos had been on the other side of the web 2.0 knife (specifically, the cutting edge). My first exposure with Zappos was via Twitter. Some crazy guy was giving stuff away, so I checked it out. Since following @[zappos ](http://twitter.com/zappos)(AKA Tony Hsieh, the company’s CEO) I have seen numerous give aways, a rather lucrative offer to help fill a staff position and solicitations for advice on potential ad campaigns. More importantly, however, I have seen what he does on a day to day, even hour by hour basis. Bottom line, I feel like I know him.
A few jobs back, I worked for a travel agency that took great pride in having open lines of communication. Their CEO used to say, “lots of CEOs talk about having an open door policy, I don’t even have a door” (which was true, she didn’t). Hsieh is taking the same approach through company blogs and Twitter, except his door is removed not just for his employees and customers, but for the entire world.
There is significance to individual relationships and personalization. When blogging caught on, people talked pointed to how it personalized the news or information being shared as part of the appeal. Twitter and similar applications take this a step further changing your fundamental relationship from one of talking to people to one of talking with them.
Zappos has a loyal online following because you feel like you are part of what’s going on there. When I hear Zappos mentioned or see an ad I don’t think “there is an ad for Zappos”; I think, “there is an ad for Tony’s company.” That is very powerful; just ask Sarah Lacy.
Much to her credit, and in large part because of the Twitter user response to her blog, Lacy is re-evaluating her perception of Zappos. She intends to interview the CEO and “if I’m utterly wrong about Zappos, eat crow.” She also wrote a follow up piece in which she stated the evangelical response “…makes me think zappos gets web 2.0 better than I’d thought…”
This is all driven by the culture established at Zappos. They interact, they have fun, and they talk about it, mostly via Twitter and company blogs. Despite the obvious results, this is not part of a structured marketing campaign. They do these things because they enjoy it.
In a recent email exchange with Hsieh, he shared:
> *They [company blogs and Twitter] are simply great ways of allowing people outside of Zappos to get a glimpse of what our lives are like and what our culture is like behind the scenes. The main reason we are embracing Twitter is simply because we actually enjoy twittering and are passionate about it. We’re having fun with Twitter and would do it even if there was zero marketing benefit.*
Fun is a big part of things at Zappos, and it shows in their highly touted customer service reputation. When you talk to someone at Zappos, they genuinely sound like they are enjoying what they do. When I asked Hsieh if it would be accurate to say that his job was to create an atmosphere in which his employees are happy and enjoy themselves, and in turn they pass that experience on to their customers, his response was a quick and emphatic “Yep!”.
In a blog comment, a concern was raised about their customer service reputation:
>*what does it say that those problems are so rampant in the first place? the point is, I use amazon all the time and never NEED to use customer service.*
While this is a valid point, the analogy fails when you compare the transactions. The type of customer service I would require from Zappos, in order to convert from looking to buying, is decidedly different than what I would require from Amazon. I decided to test out the customer service for myself and placed this call:
> *I would like to purchase some running shoes. I typically wear a size 15 shoe but I have been told that certain brands run larger than others. I’d rather not run down to a shoe store, are you able to help me?*
After asking me to hold for about 15 seconds, the operator came back and provided the following response:
> *With running shoes, you typically want to buy shoes that are ½ a size larger than your normal size; however, Puma and Nike typically run narrow and shorter so with those brands you would probably want to buy them a full size larger. Of course, we have our free return and shipping policy, so you could just order two sizes and return the one that does not fit.*
From where I sit, Zappos has this thing figured out. Create a completely transparent company culture where everyone enjoys themselves and wants to come to work. Empower those employees to spread that spirit to your customers. Build, rather than manage, customer relationships at every level of the company. Then sit back and enjoy becoming an “accidental” social marketing force.
Or better yet, get online and tell your 2,849 followers that you are headed off to lunch with the CEO of Buy.com and [tell them](http://twitter.com/zappos/statuses/800596271) “if you want to give any feedback about buy.com and I will pass on”.
*Soren Jacobsen writes the Idaho State Legislatures internal IT blog, has been published in legislative periodicals, and maintains a personal blog at http://www.puntiglio.com/blog. He also speaks on new media applications at industry events for both government and travel agencies.*

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