Woah! Amazon’s recent acquisition of the successful e-commerce enterprise, Zappos, has elicited a lot of feedback in the blogging community. For close to $900 million dollars, some see this as a testimonial to the true power of social media: transparency through tweeting builds customer trust and loyalty. Others are more skeptical of the “online revolution” and all the allure of social media. The rhetorical nudge from the title of one blog post, “Amazon Buys Social Media… I Mean, Zappos,” would seem to support the skeptics. Rather, the blogger characterizes Zappos e-commerce success this way: “a company that saw social media as a platform it could leverage to bring to full fruition a unique, customer-centric culture.” So, is that it? Today, it’s all about online marketing, right?
Online marketing is not about the internet. E-commerce is not about the ‘E’. Twitter, Google, banner ads and e-mail are merely communication apparatuses—like the telephone. The difference, however, is that the internet—and its many applications—is still relatively new to us. That is, we’re still figuring out what it means to the way we live, communicate, and do business. (Zappos core value #2: Embrace and Drive Change)
And it’s worth figuring out because, when done right, online marketing will move your business.
A Little Perspective
Direct marketing using the telephone (notoriously known as Telemarketing) became wide-spread in the 1970’s—only a hundred years after the first telephone company came into existence. The internet, comparatively, is still in its infancy. (You don’t have to go too far back, circa 1990, when you thought a 9600 b/s connection was super-fast and “lol” was pronounced lull). The difference here is that we’re adapting a little more quickly to “online” apparatuses than we did to the telephone. We know there is great potential to be tapped in the unprecedented reach and speed of digital communication. And sometimes we can’t see Twitter through the tweets: We forget to see these devices for what they really are—just another way to communicate with each other. It’s about people. It’s about making connections. (Zappos core value #1: Deliver WOW Through Service)
Its’ not too surprising that Amazon took an interest in an online shoe retailer that had a devoted customer base—an important asset during an economic slump. And in a stagnating market place, online-only footwear retail was up more than 20 percent according to a recent NPD market research. But that’s just numbers.
Amazon is getting more than just a successful online shoe retailer—they’re getting the entire ethos of a company that has shown how an online-only company can retain the personal touch. Zappos is lauded as a social media marketing case study, the e-commerce company that “gets it.” And Tony Hsieh, the thirty-something CEO of Zappos, is a shining example of a CEO that knows how to tweet.
Hsieh also knows something about shoes. Well, he knows that people wear shoes. Therefore, his business is about making people (who wear shoes) happy. It’s not about the shoes, the sneakers, pumps, stilettos, or online social platforms. Because a twitter page, website optimization and clever banner ads don’t draw people for their own merit. Zappos’ laissez-faire exchange policy definitely was a key factor in developing a devoted, loyal customer base. But the success of the Zappos’ commitment to the customer is reflected in their commitment to communicate with customers through all available media channels, including online: that’s the revolution.
So, for Tony Hsieh, Zappos and now Amazon, talking to people is what business is all about (kind of an old school idea with a new school twist). And social networking, like Twitter, is another environment to connect with customers or clients. Hsieh’s Twitter policy follows Zappos core value #6: Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication. Over 400 Zappos employees actively tweet (that’s a lot of legs) and Hsieh believes the transparency he values in his company transcends customer relations—it’s the brand.
Online Marketing: The Human Factor
For what it’s worth, the biggest asset any company has is people. Zappos has shown how to establish a “people” presence in the barren online world. Online marketing is different than advertising in that instead of a million dollar “concept” ad campaign, it is about building relationships. The integration of search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click (PPC) and social media into a marketing strategy is the first step to realizing the potential of online channels. That’s good news as we’re climbing out of a recession—you can make the most of your biggest asset. Shoes are not required.
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