If you guessed Enrique Iglesias, you’d only be half right. The crooner does look like a shoe tweet like a canary, much to my wife’s delight. But, the answer is Zappos.
Zappos.com is an online shoe vendor with a reputation, and an excellent one at that. With three-quarters of its sales stemming from repeat customers, you needn’t be banging your head against the bookcase to figure out why that’s so — *hint* (its got nothing to do with shoes). But you already knew that, so let me just put it out there for the rest of us igloos — awesome customer service.
Zappos.com has put the W in “Wowing” customers and its customers are responding in kind by helping Zappos generate a whopping $840 million in gross sales last year. Not bad for an online shoe vendor. Then again, Zappos is no ordinary online retailer. It’s a company that understands that as long as you’re leveraging the Internet to run a business, you’ve to play by its rules.
And Internet rules dictate that customers aren’t to be referred to as customers. Rather, acknowledge them for what they truly are — a community.
A community of web-savvy participants that don’t just consume products, but produce them as well. YouTube is the clearest example yet of a community, creating their own products — videos.
And here’s a gist of what the global community is participating in by the second:
- Photo Sharing
- Video Sharing
- Forum participation
- Micro blogging
- Instant Messaging
- Social Networking
“…The social web will become the primary center of activity for whatever you do when you shop, plan, learn, or communicate. It may not take over your entire life (one hopes), but it will be the first place you turn for news, information, entertainment, diversion.“1
- Larry Weber
It’s All About The Social Web
Undertaking the roles of media producers, customers are no longer passive in their daily consumption. Zappo.com understands this and has cleverly parked itself in the middle of what is now affectionately known by the digerati as – the social web – a definite step up from what was previously referred to as, Web 2.0.
“…Marketing therefore has to wrap around that – because what is truly changing in the social web is media, and marketing has always had to shape itself around media.” 2
- Larry Weber
Using Twitter (a microblogging tool) to extend its line of communication, Zappos.com has strategically aligned itself with its customers, leveraging a medium of communication which is already second nature to social media participants (The Bivings Report elaborates on this).
By twittering, Zappo.com affords the attention every customer is due without added costs. The implications of this for small businesses are far-reaching. Without requiring the budget of a Bessemer Trust Company, any small business can now customize and personalize its customer service without fuss. It’s a great way to carve out your own unique position in your market.
“Social Media is no longer an option or debatable. It is critically important to all businesses, without prejudice. It represents a powerful, and additional, channel to first listen to customers, stakeholders, media, bloggers, peers, and other influencers, and in turn, build two-way paths of conversations to them. Yes, conversations are taking place about your company, product, and service, right now, with or without you. This represents priceless opportunities to build relationships and shape perceptions at every step. In the process, you become a resource to the very people looking for leadership, expertise, vision, and also solutions. The most important driver for outbound and proactive online relations is that it’s measurable and absolutely tied to the bottom line.”3
- Brain Solis
Is This Enough To Guarantee You Sustainable Competitive Advantage?
No. Reason being, social media strategies can easily be adopted by any business, regardless of size, or budget. Its low-barrier to entry has undoubtedly leveled the business playing field. A homemaker selling homemade soaps from the comfort of her home, could give cerebral business heavyweights like Neutrogena a run for its money — a hypothetical case no doubt, but one that still reeks of foreboding reality.
However, this shouldn’t be marked as an excuse to bypass social media for more conventional marketing. In fact, any business which doesn’t integrate online marketing as part of its core growth strategy, should have its business licenses revoked. I’m not being harsh. I’m merely trying to save your business from experiencing the climax of a Verdi tragedy. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
True, companies like Zappos.com are exclusively online businesses, but most of their operations are conducted offline. So really, managing an offline business does not exempt you from catapulting your brand online. Sustainable competitive advantage is only as good as the strongest link in your operational chain. It’s a process of doing many things well, not just a couple. And by integrating both offline and online activities, you’re doing just that.
The Importance Of Being Part Of The Conversation
The only caveat though, is not to take this phalanx of social web users for granted. They can smell turd from a petabyte away. Hosting a carnival of pitchfests in social media territory seldom results in anything positive. Participating in the conversation however, does.
Like Zappos.com, you’ll need to rewrite your manual on the rules of engagement.
Let me give you a scenario. Let’s say, you’re selling lingerie and you know where your market hangs out online. You visit a lingerie forum and attempt to pitch your products.
An interruption would proceed something like this:
Susan: My husband loves me in my red teddy…it’s just a huge turn on for him.
You: Great, I’m selling more teddies like that on my website. Visit my site now at www.redteddies.com.
Susan: No, thanks. I’ve got more than I need actually.
That didn’t go too well, did it? Here’s what participating in the conversation will do for you:
Susan: My husband loves me in my red teddy…it’s just a huge turn on for him.
You: Oh yeah, men seem to get really turned on by these camiknickers. Can’t understand why. But I’m not too bothered to find out either, as long as I get my hubby heaving like those actors in the faux-orgasmic Herbal Essences shampoo commercials when he sees me in mine, Lol.
Susan: Hahaha. So true. Haven’t seen you around here before. Welcome to the forum.
You: Thanks, thought I’d join the forum to get some new ideas for my teddy designs. I own an online business selling modern teddy styles.
Susan: Wow, I could tell you what I’d like. What’s your website called? I could use some new designs in my closet too.
See that? That’s participation. It’s something that all of us do naturally with family and friends. By encouraging dialogue, you’re meandering through a natural flow of communication. And if there’s one area where the social web sticks out like a sore thumb, it’s in affording a platform for dialogue to bloom. So, take advantage of it.
Having a dialogue with potential customers has the inevitable consequence of converting them into powerful evangelists. And on the social web, this is a good thing, a very good thing, which will work itself out even without you having to make a single pitch.
Remember, consumers today have the power to write, publish and create content that could either make or break your business. You don’t want to piss them off with the already, weary command-and-control methods of selling of the bygone era.
“…this is the new model for customer service: totally transparent, community-driven, involving multiple online channels including micro-blogging and independent community forums. You’d better be ready for it, because your customers no longer need your permission to talk about you.” 4
- Sandy Kemsley
Your Action Items
Because I’ve been told by anonymous sources that my smile alone brings so much joy to the world, I thought I’ll serve some of that joy to you by not leaving you in the lurch. I’m going to point you to 3 pivots that should certify you an apprentice mechanic of the wheels of social media by the time you’re through working them.
- First off – The Cluetrain Manifesto, which is a must read for every serious entrepreneur. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read it for free online (I told you I was going to bring you joy). If you’ve already read it, read it again. Or, at least memorize the 95 theses. I kid, I kid, you don’t memorize it. Ask your kid to do you that favour. But, I think it’s best you just print it out and paste it on your monitor.
- Second – Read The Social Web Analytics ebook by Philip Sheldrake. You can download it for free here.
- Third – Read Chris Brogan’s 2 blog posts: 50 Ways Marketers Can use Social Media to Improve Their Marketing and 50 Steps to Establishing a Consistent Social Media Practice. The Wall Street Journal has also published an article called, Use Social Media To Bond With Customers. It’s just a reinforcement of what you’ve just read.
“It’s no coincidence that brands that are under public scrutiny from customers, competitors, and other social groups start to turn to the most vocal of all –right in the epicenter of dialog.
Twitter is, for better or worse, a global chat room where honest, often vitriolic opinions are shared. With the recent public anointing of online support effort, Comcast Cares in New York Times “Griping Online? Comcast Hears and Talks Back” –it’s easy to see why corporation communications, and PR professionals are ready to embrace the dialog.”5
- Jeremiah Owyang
So, there you have it. Don’t settle for being an online dilettante. Start rewriting the rules of your business to accommodate the changing faces of the social web. I assure you, it’ll be the equivalent of pulling your finger out of a money dike.
Just ask Tony Hsieh, if you’re still playing the role of Doubting Thomas.Footnotes: