Monday, November 24, 2008

S.E.A.M.L.E.S.S. @ Zappos

Zappos gets it!

They have grasped an incredibly simple concept - this business of branding - and how it propels a business model or a career to new heights.

Regretfully, this ridiculously simple idea is often made overly complicated by a host of marketers, designers, advertising firms, media reps and business consultants, delivering superficial tactics - such as logos, taglines and inauthentic, ineffective advertising - and calling it branding.

Not so at Zappos.

My friend/compadre Dan Martell gave me the heads up last week about Zappos and their wunderkind CEO after attending the Tony Hsieh (pron. Shay) presentation at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. What Herb Kelleher and Southwest is to airlines, Tony and Zappos is to shoes. And, if I'm not mistaken, "Dan the Social Media Man" is one of the nearly 20,000 Twitterites following Tony and his every move.

Over a nine-year period, Zappos has gone from zero to $1 billion in gross merchandise sales. A huge number of its 1,600 employees are as fanatical about Twitter like Imelda Marcos is about footwear.

Clearly, a tribe is forming and growing this dynamic should not be surprising to anyone who sat for a spell with Seth Godin's best-seller, "All Marketers Are Liars". In it, as well as his new release "Tribes", Seth describes the power of authentic stories delivered to the right audiences in a compelling manner and how these stories are made even more powerful when they permeate an organization's culture, setting up endless audience and customer connections.

It would appear from this video, that Zappos has adopted a S.E.A.M.L.E.S.S. formula in a way that allows these stories to spread, contributing greatly to the runaway success of this brand.


To help your brand get to where Zappos is going, (part of the never-ending quest for clarity on this subject), here is a S.E.A.M.L.E.S.S. model for you to mull over:

"S" is for STORY - "A brand is a story embedded in the mind of the market". In other words, do you have a story with a chance of penetrating the mindspace of people you want to reach? Customers don't buy goods and services. And people don’t follow leaders. They buy stories about how products, services and leaders make them feel. For evidence, refer to a brand called Obama.

"E" is for ESSENCE - What is at the emotional core of this brand it terms of what it stands for and - more importantly - what it stands against? Years ago, a group of business executives touring an automotive plant came across one of the workers, a middle-aged lady assembling seat belt components. “What is it you do here in this factory?” asked one of the suits. The woman wearing overalls looked up and replied “I’m saving lives”. Have you defined your core?

"A" is for AUDACITY - How high are the hopes and how far-reaching the vision? A business, an organization, an individual, a country will only ever grow to the size of its vision. Only become what it dares to imagine. Imagine the dumbfounded looks and "yeah right" comments that would have been directed back in the seventies to a couple of California guys named Steve, who were dreaming about a personal computer in every home. Some folks must have Wozniaked why those two applelytes just didn't go and find themselves some Jobs.

"M" is for MEANING - In what way does your brand matter to those who would care about it? Both the people who buy from you and those who work with you.

"L" is for LEADERS - Culturally, your people are your best brand ambassadors and as such live, eat, breathe the concept of "Leaders without Labels", with a spirit of 100% Responsibility and "Servant Leadership" in daily interactions with customers - both internal and external. WestJet and it's much admired prototype Southwest Airlines routinely make this look easy when we all know its anything but.

"E" is for EVERYONE - To make and keep a brand promise that matters, the STORY has to be shared and believed by EVERYONE, starting with employees. When employees understand the STORY, embrace it and are empowered to apply it, your brand mojo spreads like wildfire.

"S" is for SMASHINGLY - Different, in the way your brand is represented through visuals, shapes, colors, sounds, words and all of the other elements designed to get people to notice who you are and understand what you are all about. Few do this better in the small business arena than Jim Gilbert's Wheels & Deals in Fredericton, NB - otherwise known as "Canada's Huggable Car Dealer".

"S" is for SYSTEMIZED - In the way your brand leverages technologies and processes to ensure smooth as glass operations on-line and off. Systems that support a profitable business model that allows your brand to sustain itself and the people it serves.


What started out as an online footwear business has since expanded to handbags, purses, eyewear, apparel and watches. Zappos provides free shipping, offer a 365-day return policy and a call center that is always open. According to CEO Hsieh, the No. 1 driver of that growth has been repeat customers and word-of-mouth. On any given day about 65-75 percent of the business comes through repeat orders.

"We promise customers they’re going to get their shoes in four to five business days, but actually, for almost all of our customers, we do a surprise upgrade to overnight shipping. We run our warehouse 24/7, which isn’t the most efficient way to run a warehouse, but it gets the orders out to customers as quickly as possible", adds Hsieh.

Zappos gets its people to "bleed the brand" by investing in a four-week orientation program for new hires with an emphasis on company history, philosophy about customer service and the importance of company culture. No matter the position being filled, everyone goes through the same training experienced by the call center representatives. Zappos offers all newly trained hires an opportunity to take a $1,000 bonus and leave the organization. The 90% who turn down the money in favor of the job, turn out to love the job more than the moolah.

Zappos has also embraced technology, social media and the impact it has on brand building to such a degree that it was only logical for Zapponians to be starring on their own YouTube channel known as Zappos TV.



Tony Hsieh made his first million by the age of 18.

He has appeared on "Oprah" and is one of those guys who prefers a cubicle over a swank corner office. He drives a Mazda, wears jeans and believes success is about living within your means, focusing on what you are good at, not getting too big for your britches, being organized, and sticking to your goals.

Does it appear to you as though Tony and his Zappos cronies have this branding thing figured out?

And how the marketing component can be seamlessly interwoven with culture, HR and operations?

How many other brands are you seeing these days that "get it"?


"We're a service company that just happens to sell shoes." TONY HSEIH


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Kim said...
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