Zappos Milestone: Marketing

As Zappos has grown and matured, so has its marketing strategy.

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To do that, Zappos’ is entirely focused on television advertising in 2009.

“On the brand side, we have limited budgets,” said brand marketing manager Michelle Thomas, who oversees Zappos’ three-person brand division. “So that’s where we decided to put our media mix. That’s where we’ve seen the most bang for our buck.”

At the heart of the 2009 campaign is a commercial called “Step In,” which expands on the previous tagline and highlights apparel and shoes. It shows customers outfitting themselves head to toe in different types of merchandise. Also appearing in the commercial are lines from Zappos’ core values, including “Create fun and a little weirdness” and “Deliver wow through service.”

And the marketing team took those values to heart. As evidence of its “Do more with less” tenet, it created eight different spots out of the ad concept, which it will use throughout the year and tailor to specific seasons.

Magness said that the firm is being more careful with its budget this year and reduced its overall ad spend. “We did large-scale testing last year, like the airport bins. But this year, we’re testing smaller things,” he said, adding that the decision resulted from an evolving strategy and was not directly related to the recession.

Other aspects of its TV push are product placement and event sponsorships. For instance, in early March, Hsieh appeared as a guest on an episode of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” in which the contestants had to create a comic book character that represented the site. The winning choice, a character called Miss Z., was featured on the Zappos site.

The company also sponsored the televised West Coast Conference basketball championships in Las Vegas last month, as well as the Sony Ericsson tennis tournament in Miami. Tennis player Sam Querrey, who competed in the tournament, is being sponsored by Zappos — the company’s first athlete endorsement deal.

In addition, this winter, Zappos will return as the presenting sponsor of the Las Vegas Marathon. Thomas said the company is choosing its events because they’re local or have a special tie-in to Zappos’ goals.

“[The tennis sponsorships] came about internally,” said Thomas. “People here were passionate that we needed to be involved in the tennis space, and the demographics work out. We’re still working on what that whole sponsorship means.”

But while Zappos will be popping up more at events and on TV this year, it’s not abandoning its online efforts, particularly its social networking on sites like, YouTube, Twitter and its own blogs.

“We use real Zappos employees in our e-mail, blog and social networking efforts,” said Magness. “We don’t use it as a sales tool, but as a way to show customers that there are real people behind the business.”

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