Posted by Abe Sauer on March 12, 2010 01:55 PM
The year it was founded (1999), online shoe retailer Zappos sold "almost nothing" worth of inventory. Eight years later it grossed $800 million. Last year, Amazon acquired the brand, which gets its name from the Spanish word for shoes (zapatos), for a cool $1.2 billion.
Built on word of mouth and customer recommendations, Zappos' brand relied very little on conventional advertising models. However, in the last few years of growth, Zappos has struck out into new advertising territory with traditional 30-second TV spots. Its latest foray into this area is a mixed bag, but at least the brand appears to be getting one thing right.
Zappos new ad campaign consists of talking puppets. Not just puppets talking about anything though; the puppets reenact real customer service calls received, and solved, by Zappos customer service reps. For anyone who watches Comedy Central, the commercials may spark memories of the short-lived crank-call show Crank Yankers. To date, one commercial has been released (above). There are plans are for several more in the near future. The original has already met with viral success within the ad industry. It remains to be seen how consumers will receive the concept... if they react at all.
Like the puppet angle or not, the key to the ads is that the brand is highlighting its customer service above all else.
Zappos most recent ad campaign before this one eschewed stressing customer service to instead push the brand's online spectrum of goods. However, this line of messaging did not seem to differentiate the brand in any meaningful way from any one of a hundred large online retailers with large selections, including Overstock.com and Sears.com. Stressing superior customer service was something the brand's older commercials did, back when it only moved shoes. The return to this focus is a wise tactic for Zappos.
Zappos owes its strong brand to customer loyalty. From the beginning, it differentiated itself on unparalleled customer service, offering two-way free shipping, a 24/7 call center (with real humans), price guarantees, and a whopping 365-day return policy. While their shipping is always free, Zappos often sends orders overnight anyway just to charm customers. Its reward? In 2005, the company reported that 60 percent of its sales were to repeat buyers. If the shoe fits...