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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.

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

Twitter is Dead, Long Live Twitter.

tweety1We are slowly dying in 140-character bursts.

Twitter has gone from a precious little idea to a respectable mini-blogging service to a massive cultural phenomenon in a little more than a year. And I think a lot of us are looking around at each other, nodding, saying, yes, this is awesome, I get it, tweet tweet birdhouse tweetdeck rt @imsohip.

I think some people have a legitimate use for Twitter: comedians, technical support, and Barack Obama. I think the rest of us are fumbling around for a way to stay relevant on it. Because Twitter suffers from the same problem blogs, podcasts, and user-generated content does: most people either have something interesting to say but can’t figure out how to tell it, or don’t have something interesting to say and disguise that fact with wry observational humor that went out of style with Seinfeld.

Here’s the great thing about Twitter: you can only communicate in 140-character bursts, so if it sucks, it’s over. Here’s the crappy thing about Twitter: we haven’t learned how to create stories on it yet. What we’re getting is fragments, little tic-tacs of information that hit us like pellets and we pretend are refreshing and informative and clever, but what we’re leaving off is: for a tweet. As in, that’s cute. For a tweet. We’re grading on a 140-character curve.

That’s why most people who sign up for Twitter don’t stick with it: there’s nothing yet there to stick to. There’s no flow there. Say what you want about Facebook, but people have learned how to tell stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. There’s a continuity. Not so on Twitter. Each tweet lives and dies like a fruit fly, leaving us not necessarily wanting more.

I’m not saying there aren’t uses for this sort of communication, but that they’re more limited than we think they are. If I am wrong — and I am never wrong — then maybe it works as a meta-communicator and tastemaker, directing your attention to bit.ly links. The Japanese are writing novels this way, but they’re not necessarily the sanest of nations, pop-culturally speaking. Pogue has decided to let others write a book for him, which is stupid, lazy and just like him. It’s nice when you have a question to pop it into the ether and get responses. And it helps to have a brand, a mission, and something worthwhile to say. Three times a day. Every day.

We’re tweeting, we follow other tweeters, so we’re biting the hand that feeds us. But it feels like the Twitter phenomenon, like billions of “Margaritas! WOO HOO!” tweets themselves, has a shelf life, until something better comes along.

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

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 a Brand

smarmy“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!”

This is a pet peeve.  In fact, peeve may be too soft a description for my feelings on this issue. What “issue” you ask?   Oh well, that would be this whole notion which has taken root over the past seven or ten years that perfectly normal people should act as if they are boxes of detergent.  This whole idea of, “what’s your brand?” and “what’s your positioning?” as if the divine combination of soul and intellect is now the moral equivalent of Cheerios.  I had some hope that the New Depression would kill this off but no such luck.  Hey, if you’re Lebron James it’s fine. I get it. $150 million. You’re a corporation. You’re a mensch. You have people.  You’re Oprah? Understood.  Multi-platform proposition.  You help elect presidents. Enough said.  Even Donny Deutsch.  I guess…so.  Well, you had a television show. Fair enough.

But.

2nd Vice President of Sales at Avirtex? Not so fast.  Not with that haircut.

I could continue ranting like this for the rest of the post but there is a (slightly) larger point to be made.  As the web becomes more social and as brands cede more control to people; and, really, as brands start to act more like people what with the twittering and the facebookery and so forth. In that kind of landscape it doesn’t make any sense for the real people to continue acting like brands.  Because plainly that’s not what we want from our brands these days. What we want is a sense of social responsibility. What we want is a sense of foible. What we want, dear Brutus, is a sense of HUMANITY from our brands. And if that’s what we want from Clorox Green then we certainly prefer humanity in the actual humans.

You take that all the way to its philosophical endpoint. All the way to its QED. And what it means is that we are approaching an online social geography where brands are secondary to the people or “friends’ who use and recommend them to us and, beyond that, the value of a “brand” is only as good as its ability to live up to its WOM.  Or it’s only as good as the people who have the name on their business cards.  I’m looking at you, Washington Mutual.  This has always been true. We’re not shaking the cosmos here; but the facts got obscured back when we still had banks and U.S. made cars.  People used to actually talk to you (vodka soda in hand) about their “brand.” And not in a funny “Sex and the City” way either, but in a deadly serious I think I’m Martha Stewart way. And the terrifying bit? This self-delusion among white-collar professionals continues to this day.

I’m looking at you, Linkedin.

Self-branding is a silent killer.  Seems right in the moment. “Oh, I have to be a ‘go getter’ brand to get that job.”  Really?  What a mercenary and cynical approach to life that seems to be.  I’m speaking as someone who embraces the Great Game of advertising and marketing in all its tiny glory.  Honestly, I like my brands just as they are and I prefer people to simply be people.  For those of you not offended by this rant and who would like help with you actual, inanimate “brands” please contact one of the super geniuses (info@supergeniusllc.om)

Filed under: Self Help, , , ,

Social Media and the New Social Responsibility

givingIt’s one of those trends clients are tired of hearing us drone on about – that one of the most social (and if you must, “viral”) activities companies and brands can practice is cause related marketing.  And conversely, non-profit brands and corporate social responsibility are intensely digital/social propositions. The reality is  that given the state of the economy more people and families than ever find themselves on the roles of the unemployed and subsequently more “in need” than ever before.  And, honestly, it’s this state of affairs that presents brands or NGOs or CSR departments with an opportunity to make a deeper emotional connection with their consumers/stakeholders.

Brands, like people, are increasingly being judged by what they do and not simply what they say in advertisements.  The upside of being held to this higher standard is that those brands that deliver are rewarded with greater consumer commitment than mere :30 television ads could have purchased.  You combine this shift in consumer approval of action over “advertisement” with digitally driven succession of control to consumers and you’re left with a pretty powerful sweet spot.  A sweet spot where brands that invite consumers into a conversation “win,” and brands that invite consumer into a conversation and having something meaningful to say (hello causes) “really win.” Why? Because a conversation that matters is one that you’ll invite your friends to participate in and not feel guilty about.

There’s also the Obama effect. The ability of technology or social media to efficiently aggregate inputs (comments, conversations, contributions.)  This is the ability to go beyond even the accumulation of checks from individuals into the rarefied realm of micro-gifts or micro-payments on a social media platform and make them cost effective and meaningful.

Who’s doing it right? Well, one platform that gives brands an easy way out is Facebook.  What’s that you say? You’re tired of hearing about FB, well deal with it, because I can count on one hand the number of brands that are doing it right. And of those most have a cause/charity related component or angle at some point. To wit:

“Feeding America.” Amazingly strong and consistent voice on FB, and online in general.  In the sea of so many dead brand pages that never update and never talk to their “fans” let along consumers, this NGO stands out as a brand that has strong social media presence. By the way a presence they maximize with clever applications and extensions – see “bread art” and the Kraft “Feeding America” challenge as good examples of social media in action.  The FB app “Causes” remains one of their most consistently powerful platforms for brand calls to action. See “Ben & Jerry’s.”

Great. You’re intrigued but wonder what’s next? What to do now? Well, one thing we like to do is peer a few minutes (let’s call it five) into the future. Why five? Because any further and it’s not useful to those of us who need to generate action (sales, interest, activity etc.) TODAY.  So, five minutes out, here’s what we see:

Branded micro-blogging. Think Twitter but 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.  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.

Cause Communities. Friendfeed for the charity set. Imagine a private social net or even a branded FB page where content from everyone touching a particular cause is aggregated.  Think video feeds from the organic farm you sponsor in Mexico, or micro posts from the youth volunteers in NYC mashed up with the corporate blog about the entire program. Cool.

Do Better Now. Like I said before. Very few brands have their FB geography in order let along the things that are five minutes into the future. I’d argue for getting that online territory sorted first.  Get your FB or Tumblr or whatever page/community sorted properly and integrated with your corporate assets and launch from there. By the way…call us if you need help with this!

There’s a reason casuse marketing has exploded at the same time that the web is becoming more social.  While there’s some concern about the potential for mis-application. As the level of chatter increases it’s harder to filter out the good stuff.  Those brands that are clearly aligned with the good stuff – products and also causes they support will tend to rise to the top of the global conversation. For deeper discussions about how social media can amplify your cause marketing please connect with us at mat@supergeniusllc.com or wbc@supergeniusllc.com.

Filed under: social media, , , , , , ,

Sailing and the Art of Social Media

Man Overboard

Man Overboard

Let’s say you want to take sailing lessons. You go down to the pier, and pick up two brochures: one that’s glossy and slick, explaining how fun sailing is, with pictures of smiling sailors drinking champagne at sunset, put out by a well-known shipping company. The second one is obviously made on someone’s Macintosh, by two guys who live by the ocean, and tells you the nuts and bolts of what you’re going to learn.

Which company do you choose? Replace “sailing” with “social media” in the above paragraph, and it’s likely you’ll take the glossy brochure. Because they’re professional shippers, right? They know the ocean. They’ve been there before. The problem is, they have no idea how to actually get in the boat and push off the dock.

This is the trouble with PR firms right now. Their traditional media world is disintegrating around them, and they’re flinging themselves into social media like it’s water and they’re on fire. Because as Public Relations becomes less about newspapers (dying), magazines (gasping), broadcast (fragmenting) and blogs (moving to Twitter), the only thing they can see that makes sense as a future business model has an F at the beginning and a K at the end and has “aceboo” in the middle.

But PR companies are shipping companies: they are built to deliver big messages along traditional lines to create “news” and “events.” They are not built to scale. It’s likely that they got interested in social media about the same time you did, and are about the same place on the learning curve. It is also likely that they do not use social media.

This point bears repeating: while they know what social media is, and how it works, and who else is on there, if they don’t use it, they’re useless to you.

In social media, fluency is everything. Literally: everything. It changes so quickly that by the time most learn about a trend, the trend has played itself out: see “25 Random Things.” It’s not enough to be ahead of the curve. You need to be the curve. You don’t need PR. You need to know where social media will be tomorrow.

Creating and sustaining conversations with consumers, users, people requires a skill set built around engagement and participatory storytelling. Frankly, if the engine of online today is conversation then the fuel is content.  To keep the conversation going, to keep the dialogue moving requires more than just words in the air, it requires the ability to develop social tools (apps, widgets, etc.) and useful content (video, games, etc.) and cede some control to your consumers.  Sure, we (agency/brand/whomever) need to participate in those conversations but it starts with a strategic understanding of the sandbox we want to create and the technical capacity to create the right pails and shovels to go in that sandbox.

And not to toot our own horn – or, screw it, that’s exactly what we’re doing. If you’re at all serious about social media, you need people like us. Geeks with ideas. Plugged-in members of the technorati with a marketing background. We’re rare. We’re effective. And most importantly, we know how to sail.

Filed under: social media, , , , , , ,

Super Genius ‘house band’ helping save Mr. Beef

“Supra Genius” (the Super Genius house band – see what we did there with the spelling) is lending a hand to beloved Chicago food icon Mr. Beef. On Friday March 6th, Supra Genius will holding a  benefit concert – dubbed Beef Aid – at the Beat Kitchen (2100 w. belmont @ 10pm.)  This event is in concert (ha!) with the “Keep Mr. Beef Alive” grassroots movement started by Chicago do-gooder and beef-loving adman Mark DiPietro.  “Keep Mr. Beef Alive” has been getting some good pub locally, and just did a star turn on the local FOX newscast and in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. For those of you unfamiliar with the drama, here’s the cliff notes…

“When Mark DiPietro of ad agency Jacobson Rost read that the banks had called
for MR BEEF to pay his $650,000 loan in full, a switch went off.
“I am new to Chicago, just moved from Detroit where the recession has been
in full swing for some time.  When I would tell people that I work at Erie
and Orleans they inevitably say, yeah, that’s by MR BEEF Jay Leno’s favorite
restaurant in Chicago.” “Mr BEEF is a landmark, a neighbor, and selfishly I
enjoy their wet, sloppy old school beefs.”

So Mark decided to do something about it starting a “Keep Mr. Beef Alive”
page on facebook that has spawned a number of related groups rallying to
support MR BEEF. This Thursday March 5th at 12:30, Mark will give FREE BEEFS
for the first 50 people to line up at Mr. Beef 666 N. Orleans. Go to
facebook for details, or just show support by heading to MR BEEF. Whether
coincidence or just good karma, local TNT show “Trust Me”, written by former
Chicagoans Hunt Baldwin and John Coveney, mentioned MR BEEF numerous times
in last nights episode. Seems the Chicago creative community is fueled by
MR. Beef sandwiches.”

Filed under: rock and roll, , , , ,

About

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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