Zappos: Creating a culture that breeds success

Since beginning my branding adventure, there is brand that regularly appears in my research as a one to revere: Zappos. It’s not a name that I was familiar with, in fact, I initially confused it with ‘Zippo’ – one manufactures lighters, while the other is lighting up the world of online shoe and clothing sales!

What is Zappos? (

With the tagline ‘powered by service’ and the mantra ‘Deliver Wow’, Zappos aims to be the online store with the best service and the best selection. If Zappos are to succeed in this endeavor, effective brand contact points are crucial.

Using the five steps of brand planning and contact as put forward by Klopper and North, we can assess whether Zappos is hitting the mark in this respect.

1.  All points of contact
Zappos appear to have comprised a thorough inventory of their product as they have a consistent strategy across all points of contact.

2. Primary brand contact patterns
With no brick-and-mortar stores, one would expect that online advertising that would be the first point of contact for Zappo, but this isn’t the case: the brand relies heavily on word of mouth and do very little direct marketing.

“Our philosophy is to take most of the money we would have otherwise spent on paid advertising or paid marketing and invest it into customer service and the customer experience instead, and let our customers do the marketing for us through word of mouth,” CEO Tony Hsieh explained.

As a result, the primary brand contact pattern involves either a referral to Zappos or a search engine query for the brand.

3. Most important brand contact points
Zappos’ focus on customer service is notable when visiting their website – their most important contact point. One is greeted by a friendly, easy-on-the-eye site that has two functions that set it above many of its competitors and make the consumer experience more enjoyable: a 24/7 customer hotline and a live chat.


Should you have a problem – at any time of the day or night – there is a friendly Zappos consultant waiting to hear from you. Zappos offers free shipping on both purchases and returns, and there is a 365-day return policy, so there is little risk for the customer.

Zappos’ approach to customer service (Image courtesy of

The best measure of the success of this customer service-centric approach can be seen in Zappos’ repeat customer statistics. Seventy-five percent of sales come from returning customers, with repeat customers spending more the second and third time around. Pete Blackshaw, Clikz (Follow him on Twitter: @pblackshaw).

Step 4: Brand contact cohesion strategy
The Zappos strategy is a cohesive one, with the brand’s social media accounts continuing the bright, friendly, community-orientated feel that is created by their website and any advertising that Zappos does carries this common thread.

A recent ad campaign didn’t even focus on Zappos’ products, but rather a by-product: the box. From June 2016, Zappos has been shipping some shoes in boxes that feature template designs printed on the inside. With just a bit of folding and cutting, this allows recipients to reuse the box to create items such as a smartphone holder, a 3-D llama, or even to aid someone less fortunate…

I’m Not a Box – Full Version (

5. Managing the brand contact cohesion strategy
The high level of customer satisfaction that Zappos has achieved is no accident – they made it their mission and they employ people who believe – and live – that mission. They have implemented the first four points of their contact strategy by nurturing a culture in which those involved in the brand believe in the brand.

CEO Tony Hsieh underlined this in a blog post Your Culture Is Your Brand : “The fundamental problem is that you can’t possibly anticipate every possible touchpoint that could influence the perception of your company’s brand.

“For example, if you happen to meet an employee of Company X at a bar, even if the employee isn’t working, how you perceive your interaction with that employee will affect how you perceive Company X, and therefore Company X’s brand. It can be a positive influence, or a negative influence. Every employee can affect your company’s brand, not just the front line employees that are paid to talk to your customers”.

Zappos’ 10 core values (Image courtesy of

Research in the United States suggests that less than 50% of employees believe in their company’s brand idea reports James F Marshall, and that only 27% strongly agree that they “believe in” their organization’s values, so creating a strong brand culture through internal marketing is easier said than done.

Kotler and Keller define internal marketing as “the task of successfully hiring, training and motivating able employees to serve the customer well,” and it’s here that Zappos have tapped into something important: they don’t employ people who don’t buy into the brand.

Zappos do two sets of interviews when hiring – one that determines if a candidate has the right skills, the second is to see if they will fit into the culture, and it’s the second interview that is weighted more heavily. And it doesn’t stop there. From the end of the first week of a four-week orientation, Zappos offers everyone $2000 to quit if they want to – less than 1% take up the offer.

Ten years after it was founded, Zappos was acquired by in 2009 in an all-stock deal worth approximately $1.2 billion.

Such a deal underlines the phenomenal growth of the brand, and much of their success can be put down to an effective brand contact strategy and a brand culture that is rivaled by few.

Blackshaw, P., 2008. Word-of-Mouth Marketing 101, à la [Online]
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Dvorak, N; Bailey, A., 2016. Few Employees Believe in Their Company’s Values. [Online]
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[Accessed 21 November 2016].
Hisch, T., 2009. Your Culture Is Your Brand. [Online]
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[Accessed 21 November 2016].
Hsieh, T., 2012. Branding Through Customer Service. [Online]
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[Accessed 21 November 2016].
Keller, K. L., 2008. Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring, and Managing Brand. New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Klopper, H.B. & North, E. 2011. Brand Management. Pearson: South Africa
Marshall, J. F., 2013. How Starbucks, Walmart And IBM Launch Brands Internally And What You Can Learn From Them. [Online]
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[Accessed 21 November 2016].
Wauters, R., 2009. Amazon Closes Zappos Deal, Ends Up Paying $1.2 Billion. [Online]
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[Accessed 21 November 2016].
Zappos, 2016. About Zappos. [Online]
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