brand strategy lessons from zappos cyberattack

Online retailer Zappos has been attacked via one of their servers in Kentucky. (yes, we have servers and electricity in Ky.)

Anyone who has spent any amount of time following me or listening to me speak knows I love to use Zappos as an example of great customer service. I even used them as a case study in Brand Zeitgeist. And once again, they are showing some smart reactions to a bad situation. Just a few important points to learn from this event:

Cyber attacks are a reality. If you have sensitive customer information in digital format, it’s not a matter of “if” this will happen to your organization, but “when”. Do as much as you can to prevent such attacks, but also have a plan ready of how you will respond when it does happen.

Communication is important. The knee-jerk reaction for most after an event like this would be to communicate with customers … which obviously is important. But a more important first step is internal communication. Customers will ask your employees questions. Employees need to know how to respond to those questions. CEO Tony Hsieh sent out an email to employees prior to the customer email going out.

They’ve gone to emergency mode by taking the call center offline and just using email as a single point of communication. They have pressed each employee into service as a customer service rep during this crisis. Most companies couldn’t dream of doing this. But, because of the unique culture at Zappos, even the janitors know how to respond to customers.

The social media lesson is that, even though they’re focusing on email, they are actually responding to each individual post on their Facebook wall and each tweet on Twitter.

Today, there are only the quick and the dead. Zappos didn’t have numerous meetings to only post a weak response a few days after the event. They worked quickly and decisively by resetting all passwords and initiating the first point of communication about the problem with customers. The first storyteller frames the narrative.

Well built brands can take a hit and recover. Much of what they’re doing with this reaction couldn’t be done if they had not spent the last several years creating a great corporate culture which bled through to a well-developed brand strategy. This is probably the most important lesson for brands to learn. You need to build your boat before you get to the water.

UPDATE: They’re even responding to the postive feedback:

no one cares about your company’s history

I’m sure you’ve had this happen to you.

Someone is making a sales pitch or educational presentation to you. They need your attention. Then as they begin, they say…

but before we get started let me tell you a little about our company. It was founded by Joe Whatsisname back in 1923. We merged with Whatsicallit Corp in 1934. The new company decided…

And on it goes for the next several slides and minutes.

Why lead with this?

It’s the equivalent of pulling out slides of your parent’s trip to the Grand Canyon when visitors enter your front door. It’s only mildly interesting to the person presenting. It’s sheer boredom to the audience and the potential customer.

But you might say they need to know the history of the company so they can see our longevity in the market and make an informed purchase decision…

Okay. Then in the first 5 minutes of your next job interview, tell the interviewer about the writing award you got in 7th grade.

It falls back to one of my fundamental precepts of marketing and communication. Approach all communication from the audience’s perception, not yours.

Tell them things they care about and want to know, not what you (or corporate) want to tell them.

electing the best spammers

The people who seem to be the most clueless about communication are incumbent politicians.

And the area that they seems to be the most clueless about is opt-in/opt-out communication of any kind. Initiate any contact with them and you’re added to their snail and email mailing lists — whether you want to be added or not.

Today’s example: Take a look at the end of this e-survey form from a member of my state’s congressional delegation:

Politicians are the worst spammers.
Do or die. Opt in is not an option.

The cynic in me says that constiuent input is not really wanted here and it’s just an underhanded way to populate a database. After all, I’m used to members of Congress trying to scam me.

But I like this Congressman and think he’s a good guy. And he actually does a really good job getting out and making personal one-on-one connections with people in the district. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he doesn’t know that opt-in communications are not only much more effective for the sender, but are also just the right thing to do.

It’s basic e-communication 101 and anyone with any common sense should know it, but politicians seem to be blissfully ignorant.

But think about this. These ham handed / bone headed moves are done by the same people who are making big decisions that affect every aspect of your life. Sleep well.

marketing using fear

the_screamIn today’s economic climate, I see lots of companies abandoning sound marketing strategy and retreating to adopt a fear based marketing strategy. While fear can motivate, it also camouflages real underlying problems. If you want to survive these unsure times, you need to have a plan that will keep you afloat today and lets you emerge as a stronger business at the end of the tunnel.

First off, kneejerk short-term strategy is always a bad idea, both in grim times and in upbeat ones. When you’re implementing plans that reflect what’s going on today, you also need to look at what those plans mean for tomorrow. Ask yourself if the cost cutting changes you’re proposing would also make sense if it was a boom time. If they don’t, then you’re making a mistake.

Right now, lots of companies are pulling back on customer service options, cutting off communication paths to potential markets, and cutting back on the quality/quantity of the goods they sell. All bad ideas because they hurt long term relationships with the customer.

And it’s a slippery slope. Sure, eliminating one customer service rep, cutting the ad budget, or making a quarter pound hamburger with 3.5 ounces of meat saves a few bucks today. But when you think you’ve gotten away with it, you are tempted to go further and further. Eliminate an olive today and become a hated industry tomorrow.

I’ve heard some marketers say it’s a great time to make the most of the situation and use the fear that’s out there to the company’s advantage. I say becoming an advocate of today’s fears makes you look like an idiot tomorrow after the real or supposed danger has passed. Remember the companies who thought it was a really smart marketing move to capitalize on Y-2-K? They marketed their products using fear of the millennium bug in the same way that lots of companies are using fear of the recession today. Fear marketing hurts your long term brand equity.

I’m not saying that you should keep marketing as if nothing has happened. The zeitgeist has changed. People have adjusted their buying habits. The first thing you need to do is reevaluate the mindset of your customer and adjust your marketing plan accordingly. If you’re a necessity, then there may not need to be much adjustment. If you’re a luxury, then major modifications may be needed. Or maybe you need to really step back and figure out if your customers view you as a necessity or a luxury.

But as you adjust, remember this: A strategy of fear makes you look weak. It infers that you’re unsure. And just like animals, people can sense fear.

There is a huge opportunity for marketing right now. I’ve always said you should market against the grain. While everyone is cutting back on marketing, step yours up. It will be more impactful. And while everyone is running fearful and pessimistic marketing, be bold and market like you’re going to win.

the opti grab of search

I have not commented on the un-coolness of the Cuil rollout because everyone else already has. But as more time passes and the fiasco grows bigger, I might as well throw my two cents in as well.

My first beef is the name. It’s hard enough to communicate simple web addresses. You don’t need the handicap of freaky pronunciations and spellings. And as a colleague pointed out to me, you’d better not have a typo when typing it in or you find yourself in a NSFW environment. Of course, if you can’t type it in directly, you could google it.

When I first saw the press on it, I went to the page to try it out and it was AWOL. As the recent Firefox blowup showed, it’s best not to have a timed event online when everyone shows up at once. This is old media thinking. If you’re having a grand opening for your store on Main Street, you hire the clown, the radio remote broadcast, and the chamber ribbon cutting for 2pm. In an online opening, it doesn’t matter if a guy in his underwear shows up at 3 in the morning.

And finally, the biggest problem is that most of the time Cuil doesn’t work and when it does it’s not as good as Google. Simple queries that should bring back alot have zero results. The queries that do have results are hard to sort through. The columned format stinks.

I’m no super smart former Google employee, but it might have been good to test all this out before a big rollout. As the inventor of the Opti Grab will tell you, it’s best to test products before you take them to market. (even on prisoners)

There are only 5?

Oh. I can come up with many more ways to be annoying, but GeneratorLand has come up with five reasons why marketing people tend to annoy their colleagues.

If you look at his 5 reasons, you’ll notice a common theme. Lack of proper communication by the marketing person.

Sometimes marketing does get a bum rap by the rest of the company. Why? It’s because the marketing folks forgot to market the marketing to the rest of the company. In order to have success in marketing, you have to have the entire team behind the plan.

results rather than messages

Two true stories that make a point…

Story#1
Last week, a media property I work with was being pitched a service from a major web company — a company you’ve probably used today. We were fairly sure we wanted the service even before the pitch. We just had a few questions. During the presentation, the WebEx went a little screwy and we couldn’t see the guy’s Powerpoint. No big deal for us as our questions had been answered on the call. We were ready to sign a contract.

But the guy didn’t want us to sign a contract. He wanted to show us a Powerpoint. In fact, he said he needed to FedEx the printout of the slides before he sent us the contract. Nothing striking on those slides — just a bunch of screenshots.

Story#2
My wife is working on a project for the Commonwealth (come experience our unbridled whatever). A part of this project involved a two-day training session earlier this month. But because of a snowstorm, she as unable to make it to the training that was 2.5 hours away. No problem. Someone from the state was in town last week and she went over everything that my wife needed to know in about an hour. In other words, two-days condensed down to an hour.

The Point
A part of these two stories can be attributed to the fact that most organizations are in love with unnecessary meetings and powerpoints. But the bigger point is something you’ve probably noticed in individuals already. People love to hear themselves talk. And they love it even more when it’s formalized in a ppt file or a meeting that can be stretched for a few days.

And it’s even worse when it comes to marketing. From the local car dealer and mattress salesman who throw away ad dollars just for ego-inflation to the CEO who’s convinced he’s the only one that can talk to the consumer, people see the MESSAGE of the marketing rather than the RESULTS.

Just because you see motion doesn’t mean something is moving.

Arrrgh…Words Send Messages

In the past few days, everyone I know has freaked out about what’s been on the news.

About Iraq?…No.
About Plamegate?…No.
About Pirates?…YES.

You’ve seen the story. Pirates attacked a cruise ship off the coast of Africa over the weekend.

Invariably, when I’m in a room with someone when this story comes on, they look at me (even people in my house) and ask “There are still pirates?!?”

Now obviously, these people that attacked the cruise ship did not have hand hooks, wooden legs and parrots on their shoulders. But that is the exact mental image that hits everyone around me when they hear this story. That image of a “pirate” is the common world view for most people.

The news was not “wrong” by reporting that pirates had attacked. By definition, anyone who attempts to steal while at sea is a pirate. But what if the news had reported that armed thugs attempted to attack a cruise ship? Different mental images?

And in other news, let’s not forget all the teenage “pirates” with FUBU parrots on their shoulders downloading media off the Internet while being pursued by the MPAA and RIAA ships.

Words are a powerful tool in marketing. As you write ad copy or tell your product story to the intended market, you’re sending a message. You think that the message is obvious and clear. Is it?

As the collective market becomes more fragmented, using words that mean the same thing to everyone will become harder to do.

The words you use can conjure up many different mental images in your market’s minds. Be careful and thoughtful as to how you use them.

BONUS::
Since this is probably the only marketing post I will ever have to involve pirates, let’s go all the way…
–What’s a pirate’s favorite fast food restaurant?…Arrrghby’s Roast Beef
–What’s a pirate’s favorite “Andy Griffith” character?….Barrrghney Fife (close 2nd – Floyd the Barrrghber)
–One of my favorite comedy websites, McSweeneys, has a list of Pirate Riddles for Sophisticates.

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