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Trends, commentary, and insightful rants from the bleeding edge of advertising, content & branding.

Five Questions for Zappos CEO: Tony Hsieh

Zappos CatalogTony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos.com was kind enough to debut a new feature on Black Match. Five questions for a CEO. For those under rocks, they sell shoes.

1)   What advantages for the Zappos brand come from being so accessible and  transparent across social/digital platforms?

At Zappos, our #1 priority is our company culture. Our belief is that if
we get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like delivering great
customer service or building a long term enduring brand, will happen
naturally on its own. We’ve formalized the definition of our culture into
10 core values:

Being transparent isn’t really something that’s specific to social/digital
platforms. Core value #6 is “Build Open and Honest Relationships With
Communication”… It’s just part of who we are.

2)   As a company that has famously avoided broadcast advertising in favor
of “actions” that advertise (i.e. free shipping) what was the trigger point for your recent ad campaign? How are you/will you measure success (i.e. sales only)?

We take most of the money we would have spent on paid advertising and
invest it into the customer experience instead.  However, we do spend as
much money on direct marketing as possible when it pays for itself.
Using hypothetical numbers, this means that if we spend $1 on paid
advertising, if we get back $10 in sales, then we will spend as much money
as possible as long as we continue to hit that ratio. The problem is that
there isn’t enough advertising inventory out there that meets that ratio.
What we found was that if we invest some money in offline brand
advertising such as magazine ads or TV ads, then that improves the ROI of
our online campaigns, so that altogether we are still hitting the ratio
that makes sense for us.

3)   Is there an overall strategy for your participation in digital/social media or has it come about organically?

It’s really been organic. We aren’t really about “digital/social media” (a
term which I personally dislike). We’re really just about figuring out
ways where we can best express our core values (our culture) and our
commitment to great customer service. We’ve found that Twitter has been
great for that, but so has the telephone, which is why we put our 1-800
number at the top of every page of our web site. The telephone isn’t very
newsworthy, but it’s one of our best branding devices.

4)   Has/How has the Zappos brand been challenged over the past 12 months?

I think the biggest challenge with building our brand is that Zappos is an
experiential brand. Anyone can start another web site tomorrow and make
the same claims that we do about delivering great customer service, but
it’s not until you actually purchase something from us, or call our 1-800
number, or visit our offices, that you can start to tell the difference
between another company and the Zappos brand and culture.

5)   There are obviously tricks that traditional retailers are stealing from you (I’m looking at you piperlime.com); are there dance moves you’re borrowing from traditional/brick and mortar retailers?

We really don’t focus very much on what other retailers are doing. We just
focus on what our customers and employees tell us and then try to deliver
the best customer experience possible while still meeting our financial
goals.

There are a number of interesting widgets that Zappos has in play, including this great Google/Zappos sales mash-up.

Filed under: brands, ceo, consumer choice, online advertising, recession, social media, supergenius llc, twitter, zappos, , , , , , , , , ,

5 Minute Futurama: Hosted Micro-Blogging

5minutefuturamThis is post one of a new feature on Black Match, where, like Nicholas Cage in Next, we peer just a few minutes into the future.

Hosted (even branded!) micro-blogging. Think Twitter w/a purpose – cooler, faster, stronger.  How about a private “tweetspace” where volunteers or contributors speak up about or around a particular event.  Or how about a public tweestpace that’s branded/customized to a particular company or cause, where tweets from anyone who cares or contributes shows up.  Imagine if ESPN created a private micro-blogging platform for their fantasy leagues: 140 characters + trash talk = gold, jerry! gold! What a powerful way to track cause engagement (and btw brand engagement.)  Yes, Twitter has already been engaged to drive charity, but social technology that helps brands and their causes both benefit is still virgin territory. There are a couple of horses entering this race: twitteronia and status.net.  Of course, this has worlds of possibilities for regular users, just like those who have made wordpress and ning successful; but as a marketer I’m really excited about the possibility for brands.  And the really cool thing is that could integrate your regular tweetstream into your private tweets (so you’re not running back and forth between two places.) Those brands or groups that seem to inspire or form natural communities are a no brainer for this kind of functionality. Think moms! for instance or Big Ten fans or skiers or, hell, even WOW players. You add some kind mobile accessibility of top of this and *shazam* you got yourself some of that nitroglycerine kids. For more future-peering, reading of entrails and general brand astrology we can be reached @ www.supergeniusllc.com.

Filed under: social media, twitter, Uncategorized, , , , ,

You Are Not Viral. Stop Trying.

funny-pictures-strings-forte-pleaseSo you’ve decided to save some money this year by crafting a funny, on-message, stealth viral campaign.

Congratulations. You’ve already failed.

Here is the sad, honest truth that keeps a lot of creative people cranking out a lot of subpar home videos and releasing them to the web:

Viral is a lottery ticket. So many factors have to be working with you that it is impossible to predict the success and failure of any one idea, no matter how brilliantly conceived and on-target. In fact, the brilliantly conceived, on-target viral campaigns are the most doomed to fail. Here’s why:

It’s not the perfect storm. For a viral campaign to really catch fire, every wind has to be blowing in your direction. For ten years now, everyone in Hollywood has been trying to recreate the campaign for The Blair Witch Project. This just happened to be the first movie that utilized the web as its main promotional medium, by creating a virtual, creepy, unpolished world that heightened the verisimilitude of the movie itself. It couldn’t have been done after that, it couldn’t have been done prior to that. It only worked because there happened to be dramatic technological upheaval and a new form of communication.

The idea has come and gone. Let’s stay with arguably the most successful viral movie campaign of our lifetimes, Blair Witch. In the wake of that film, a hundred movies tried to do exactly the same thing with a thousand times the budget. But viral is a fickle mistress: once you’ve seen it, it’s over. I mean, over. The target for Blair Witch probably didn’t notice the desperate attempts to catch their attention, because they saw it the first time, when it was still cool.

Your competition has multiplied. By a million. When you make the leap to the web, you’re no longer competing for eyeballs with other marketers. You’re competing for eyeballs with everyone who owns a computer. There are a million people in Los Angeles alone trying to craft “viral” videos to advance their career, to land an agent, to hit the big time – and they don’t have a product to push. Andy Samberg creates a viral video on SNL every couple of weeks, has a million people watch it on television, and (aside from Lazy Sunday) still can’t get much viral traction. Professional entertainers can’t do this. It’s hard.

You’re smarter than a doorknob. Afro Ninja. Numa Numa. Star Wars Kid. Some of the most popular viral videos of all time. What do they have in common? They are viscerally stupid. They’re humiliating. They are the web equivalent of a blooper reel. If you’re smart enough to say the words “viral marketing campaign,” you’ve intellectually excluded yourself from being able to judge whether a viral video will succeed or fail. Your sense of humor is not America’s. Please trust us.

You can embarrass yourself. A lot. Because the most successful viral videos tend to be the most outrageous, marketers frequently assume that outrageousness will get noticed. This is deadly thinking. For every Bruce Campbell Old Spice or JC Penney’s ad that gets traction, there are a thousand misfires, some of them crippling. Agency.com is a smart agency in general. How did this happen? But by far, the majority of viral efforts just never get noticed at all. And that’s embarrassing enough.

Viral does not mean free. Pay to play, baby. Unless your video features NSFW images of people doing unspeakable things (or a skateboarding cat) you can’t just release into the wild on its own and expect some sort of wildfire runaway hit.  You want people to know about it? You want your viral thingy to get seen? You better be prepared to ante up for that viral goodness.

This is not a screed against web content in general. The smartest thing you can be doing is looking for new opportunities to spread your marketing message via the internet. Just don’t go looking for the viral force to be with you.

Filed under: online advertising, skateboarding cats, supergenius llc, viral, , , , , ,

Five Signs Your Brand Needs a Swift Kick In The Pants

buttkickFive Signs Your Brand Needs a Swift Kick In The Pants

No matter how proactive and forward-thinking you and your marketing team are, sooner or later your brand will reach a plateau. You may have accomplished a big marketing push and are unsure where to go next. Or, you may be fighting a rear-guard action against a new player in the market. It happens to everyone. Successful marketers realize it.

The following is a list of “warning signs.” They don’t necessarily mean your brand is in trouble. They just mean you need to take a good, long look at what you’re doing – because chances are, someone else is.

1.    Your creative goals are getting more vague. At the beginning of a marketing campaign, everyone’s on the same page, creative briefs are tight, and the message is clear and concise. But as a campaign wears on, the creative tends to pitch and yaw in search of a strong wind. If your creative briefs are getting loose, you need to rediscover the insight that drove it in the first place – or find something new.
2.    You think you understand your target. Chances are, you’ve got stacks of paper detailing the buying, spending, thinking and living habits of your target customer taking up a full file cabinet. Guess what? You need more. Not only are technology and culture reshaping your target customer on a monthly basis, but as your brand grows, new opportunities pop up just outside your peripheral vision.  Your target was the right one for six months ago. Make sure it’s the right one for six months from now.
3.    Your strategy is still in business school. Sometimes, everything can look great on paper – but that paper doesn’t tell the whole story. We’re all guilty of falling back on the principles we learned from past battles, rather than gearing up to fight the next war. Make sure you’re not strategizing from theory when you could be in the trenches. Store visits. Customer feedback. Brainstorming. Category-busting. Expand your mind to see your brand as a living, breathing thing, not just SKU’s and quarterly results.
4.    Your kingdom is ruled by fear. Especially in a recession – but, let’s be honest, even in good times – brands tend to think defensively, thinking of what they risk rather than what they stand to gain. Fear is a healthy response to uncertain times. But it also leads to stagnation. Some of the greatest marketing innovations come at the hardest times, forcing brand managers to do more with less, and positioning themselves for the inevitable rebound.
5.    You’re bored. Handling a brand on a daily basis, no matter how challenging, inevitably leads to familiarity and contempt. When this happens, most people start looking outside the brand for new challenges. The key to successful brand management is to harness this energy and re-channel it into new possibilities for your brand. Try something new. Explore possibilities. Chances are, if you find something that inspires you, you’ll inspire your team – and eventually, your customers.

What strategies do you employ to fight brand stagnation? Discuss.

Filed under: supergenius llc, , , , , , ,

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Super Genius LLC is a digital media and creative incubator that excels at bringing fresh, new thinking to existing strategy as well as blank-page strategic development. Our mission is to open up unique and exciting ways of connecting brands and consumers.

"The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." William Gibson

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