The trouble with Zappos

I write about strategies to turn fans into customers and customers into fans. I also share ways to use real-time strategies to spread ideas, influence minds, and build business.

Worst Practices  |  Case Studies

The trouble with Zappos: The company is over-exposed as an example of social media excellence. This causes skeptics to believe that success is difficult because only one company has achieved it.

The trouble with Zappos: Hundreds of "social media experts" cite the company in their books, blogs, speeches, Webinars and the like. As a result, the marketing discipline is not moved forward because we don't learn about other companies and their success.

Zappos. Again?

I've been at conferences when multiple speakers prattle on about Zappos and witnessed many people completely tuning out and even leaving the hall.

I've been in meetings with senior people when Zappos is cited and watched the executives roll their eyes and start playing Blackberry.

They've heard it already.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing Zappos.

Delivering_happiness_catalog2 Zappos has done some amazing things. If you want to learn about the company, read CEO Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. It's worth the read.

My issue is not with the company but with those who incessantly use this one example as "proof" new marketing works.

I've got news for you: Your CEO will not draw 1.75 million followers on Twitter like Tony Hsieh.

I've got news for you: Your brilliance in social media will not be cited 5.8 million times on the Web like Zappos.

Who should you look to as an example?

If your young daughter wants to be a singer, you can use Lady Gaga as an example of success. Sure, your daughter could get a major record deal, wear meat products on the red carpet, and be talked up in the tabloids. But isn't there a more appropriate example of success for your daughter look up to? Like that great folk singer at the coffeeshop in town?

You know what pisses me off?

Students in communications and MBA programs tell me that they still teach the Tylenol case of 1982 as an example of crisis communications success. How ridiculous! A crisis unfolds much faster today because of real-time media. The 1982 playbook used in 2010 will lead to disaster.

Nearly three decades ago a huge company, Johnson & Johnson, spent hundreds of millions to solve a crisis that mainly played out on three network television stations. What can you draw from that to use today? You'll learn as much about communications studying Mark Twain.

Business school professors still teaching Tylenol are too lazy to find examples from the real-time world of today. If you're a student, call out your boring old professor if he talks up Tylenol for the 28th year in a row. (You might also ask him if he still listens to Bachman Turner Overdrive on his 8-Track.)

The same is true of those who keep talking up Zappos.

Go ahead and study Zappos.

But when you’re done, here are some other examples of new marketing success to consider:

Larger B2B companies: IBM and Amdocs and Cisco

Smaller B2B company: Attivio

Large B2C service provider: H&R Block

Rock bands: Radiohead and the Grateful Dead and Amanda Palmer

FMCG: Charmin

Hotels: Wynn Resorts

Nonprofits: Girls Fight Back and Headcount and Clinton Bush Haiti Fund

Job search: Monster

Airlines: Air New Zealand

Airplane manufacturer: Boeing

Automakers: Mazda Australia

Movie producers: Ryan Gielan's Dorm

Government agencies: Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and US DoD and Her Majesties Government (UK)

Farm equipment: John Deere

Shopping malls: Federation Square in Melbourne

These are just a few examples from my blog since April 2010. You can check my blog's case study archive for a few hundred other examples over five years.

Say no to Zappos

If you're learning about new marketing and are sick of hearing about Zappos as an example, please push back on the "experts" and ask for another company and why they succeeded.

If you're an "expert" don't undermine your authority by going over this worn trail yet again. It's all been said better by Tony himself. Instead, as you write your blog and book, or shoot video, or take the stage, be bold. Tell us something we don't already know.