Why We Talk About Zappos

Feb 10, 2011 | Branding Strategies

In early 2010, Zappos made huge headlines. The business community was abuzz talking about how this young upstart revolutionized the shoe industry with their focus on customer service.

Podcasters, bloggers, magazines and books were all sharing stories about Zappos. The funny thing is all of these sources were telling the same set of stories. Stories like:

  • Zappos’ customers are encouraged to buy as much as they want, and return whatever they don’t like for up to a year with free shipping both ways.
  • Zappos’ customers are encouraged to call their customer service reps’ for just about anything. The call center reps don’t have scripts, quotas or call time limits. Their mandate is to serve their customer as best they can.
  • New recruits are offered $2,000 to quit after the training period, but only 10% take the money and leave.

It’s no accident we talk about Zappos like this. They’ve armed us with the stories, and promoted the hell out of them. A major pillar in their marketing campaign was the launch of Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness. Hsieh told the Zappos’ story, presented their best practices, and did the PR circuit to evangelize the brand wherever he could. Their efforts paid off.  The Zappos’ brand is now intrinsically linked with customer service.

It really was a brilliant strategy, and one almost any business can do.

It boils down to one thing

When you look at “the most admired companies,” they tend to be admired for one thing: Apple for Design, GE for management or HP for innovation. These organizations have lots of strengths, but for a story to have legs it must be simple.

Zappos focused its brand on customer service. As Tony Hsieh said, “We’re a service company that just happens to sell shoes.” This is a great statement. It sends a clear message that Zappos may not be the cheapest, but it does whatever it can to satisfy its customers. That’s their point of differentiation, and why people (customers, suppliers and employees) choose Zappos.

Make your stories simple and actionable

Part of the reason Zappos’ stories are so portable is they are simple and actionable. Amazon.ca succinctly sums up three core ideas from Delivering Happiness:

  • Pay brand-new employees $2,000 to quit
  • Make customer service the responsibility of the entire company-not just a department
  • Focus on company culture as the #1 priority

I love these bullets. They’re easy to get and easy to share. Anyone can offer their new hires $2,000 to quit. It’s a contrarian idea, but it’s easy enough to implement. Better still, it’s easy to talk about and debate.

What do you do remarkably well?

Zappos is not the first company to employ a book-driven marketing strategy. A few years ago Southwest Airlines was all the rage with books like Nuts! and The Southwest Airlines Way.

Any business can create buzz by evangelizing what they do best. What is your company known for? What do you do best? Package your best practices into simple, spreadable ideas. Share them openly, and help them spread as far as you can. When you do, you’ll quickly discovery your company becomes known for its strengths. Just like Zappos.

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Jeremy Miller

Top 30 Brand Guru

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