advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Brands that don’t need agencies?

Easy. Many still do. Even Zappos’ agency The Ad Store. It’s just that after getting an extensive tour of Zappos and meeting with CEO Tony Hsieh, (as well as Jone’s Soda and Twitter), it’s clear those brands don’t need an agency in the traditional sense, if at all. Why? because the approach they take to their companies is as creative as anything an agency could come up with.

Look at two of the earliest dot com ecommerce brands to emerge online: eBay and Amazon. While eBay may have only started running TV a year ago, both those brands were born online. Now Zappos. They’ve run some print here and there, but for the most part, nothing approaching the traditional media buys you’d expect.

The origins of it all came from the frustration of Nick Swinmurn not being to find the right shoes, who in turn approached Hsieh. Zappos was created in the second floor of the house in the picture. Downstairs on the first floor, another dreamer: Craig of craigslist. This and the logo, (from zapatos, the Spanish word for shoes, along with graphic exclamation point), has led to a brand now focused on becoming a lifestyle brand, (even though approximately 85% of their business is still shoes).

And it’s the way they do things that focuses on the customer experience. Instead of going into a real store, (they do have a few), the customer service experience occurs mostly online. Customer service obviously being key for any brand, online or not. No news there, but people are mentioning utility as a benefit for customers, something brands should focus on more these days, and Zappos seems geared to it. Nothing more utilitarian than getting the order right, right? It’s their approach to reshaping traditional processes used by both employee and customer side that’s worth noting.

There are coaches in various departments looking to always improve their service, naturally, as well as the employee environment overall. To the former, Zappos sent their people early on to study how UPS ships packages at its main hub, then developed a fulfillment system near them and the other delivery giants in Memphis. They also track to the minute how many people may hang up before even reaching customer service.

As for the latter, the way they treat their people is very agency-like in terms of flexible schedules, dress code, perks, cubicle and space planning—and of course, the product discounts. Cubicles to the max, yes, but the culture had an agency vibe way more than, well, some agencies I’ve been in. (Full set of pics are here as ‘Mayor of Zappos’ tour leader Jerry showed us around.) By his own admission, The Mayor exemplified the old school approaches to retail. He’d came over from Nordstrom’s and knew the Zappos approach was something other retailers had been missing out on.

In addition to culture, they take ergonomic issues around the office pretty seriously too. There’s a nap room with old school couch or futuristic Rest-O-Tron units, not to mention a full-time massage therapist. Helping spread the creative vibe is a series of books that many agency creatives have likely read on idea generation. Free for the taking—the only condition being the employee read whatever they take.

I’ve been in places where there was a forced code of conduct and this felt genuine. Hsieh even sits next to the other company execs in cubicles like everyone else. It also works for them not just in terms of sales, but the environment for visitors too. Anyone there might greet visitors in any number of different ways. A whole group literally jumped up and took our picture as we walked through. Others waved.

But to a person, anyone we met said hello and was really pleasant. Would you get that kind of attention in an agency, let alone from people you never met before? We also got to leave our mark by joining the King photo wall.

All these things may not seem like much, but taken as a whole, it’s hard not to be impressed by the way the culture for brands like this seems to be evolving. The sales results speak for themselves too as Zappos is on track to generate one billion dollars in sales next year. (*cue Dr. Evil pinkie*) I know every brand has its own way of doing things, but after seeing inside, I had to wonder what agency could ever know Zappos way of life better than they themselves already do. And how many billion dollar brands have gotten to that point without major help from an agency?

Agencies and brands could take a cue.


No comments: