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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, , , , , , , , , ,

The Enduring Mythology of the “Name” Advertising Agency

death of the dinosaursThe Enduring Mythology of the “Name” Advertising Agency

Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. That’s the story. IBM was such an industry standard, and so widely perceived as being the best in the business, that no one could impugn you for making a decision based on that name alone.

Well, we all know that was a load of horse crap. Plenty of people got fired for buying IBM; IBM just had them quietly killed to preserve their word-of-mouth. But the temptation to buy something large, well-regarded, and safe is still with us. It’s how most of us buy (or bought, and will again) houses, cars, investment funds.

Oh, and by the way, advertising agencies.

That’s the funny part of this business. Agencies stake their name on their early campaigns that create edgy, breakthrough, back-of-a-napkin, two-guys-in-their-wetsuits campaigns that change a category and instantly make a name for themselves. Then those agencies get noticed, and get more business than the two guys in their wetsuits can handle. They get big. They hire people. They hire people to manage those people. And every level they add puts them further and further away from the ideas that made them great in the first place.

Here’s the ugly truth: big agencies get out of the idea business. They get into the selling-the-idea business. They stop feeling the idea and start thinking it to death. That’s why with every idea, you get a ream of paper explaining why the idea is not only good, it is also right. And they create an entire bureaucratic structure of planners, account service, creative and media to sell the idea to you, so you can sell it to your boss. Because nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.

Everyone who works at Super-Genius has worked at a big agency. We’ve made the sausage. We know what goes into one. And we were once seduced by the big names, too. We get it.

But we wanted to talk ideas without asking the admin assistant to schedule a pre-brief meeting in the staff room. We wanted to pick up the phone and talk to you. We wanted to be closer to the work and farther away from the smoke and mirrors we use to sell you the work.

Who knows? We might hire a bunch of people and sell out to Omnicom tomorrow.

But today? You’ve got two guys in wetsuits. Anything is possible.

Filed under: ad agency, advertising, brands, supergenius llc, , , , , ,

The Good News is…You’re Fired.

munchRecessions Are Good. Pass It On.

Stock trackers off, people.  Disable them, get them off your iGoogle, hide them on your iPhone, just put them away for a little while. Let’s focus on something else.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that we’ve been in recession for a year. The trouble isn’t that we’re in a recession. The trouble is that we’re scared to death.

Welcome to capitalism: recessions happen here. Always have. Part of the deal. The economy grows, reaches a breaking point, and recedes for a while, like a wave on the beach. A breather. An adjustment. It’s a healthy, natural part of the economic cycle. It clears out the bad wood and allows new trees to grow.

And that’s what we should be focused on, instead of the minute-by-minute stock trackers: cycle. Yeah, credit-default swaps and bubble real-estate markets are scary and unpredictable, but here’s the deal: we’ve been here before, we’ll be here again. No matter your personal philosophy, this is a real opportunity to get in touch with your inner Buddhist.

Oh, there’s another one: opportunity. Because – taking our cues from the Buddhists – if we stop focusing on what was, and what will be, we can free ourselves to look around and concentrate on the here and now. Calm hearts and minds will be the real winners right now, those people who can see beyond the panic and concentrate on what they can do today.

When so much is out of our control, we tend to prepare for the worst. But there is opportunity in every recession, even if the headlines drown it out. Your opportunities may be personal or professional, internal or external. But they’re there, and they’re real, and they’re more productive than firing up a browser and watching the stock market freak out.

Filed under: recession, , ,

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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