Please visit your local mom-and-pop shops this holiday season. Go to that toy store that's been around for 65 years and which just suffered another humiliating rent increase. Buy your wrapping paper at the greeting card store that's hanging on by its fingernails and getting by on deeply felt smiles.
OK, my commercial's over. I'm here to talk about Zappos. I'll bet you've got the Zappos.com site pulled up on a browser window right now as you balance work email against crushing holiday gift pressures.
We all know how good Zappos' customer service is. The Zappos site is a breeze to wade through. Ordering is similarly a breeze and returning shoes is as easy as firing a paper airplane at your recycling bucket. We also know that it's reportedly a great place to work. Every employee is considered a customer service rep, whether or not they deal directly with customers. Risk-taking is encouraged.
Zappos' customer service and its skill in publicizing its workplace culture have snowballed into a self-perpetuating snowball of positive PR. So what has Zappos done this holiday season? It packed a new snowball and sent it rolling.
At 11:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9, vans and trucks ferrying 30 Zappos employees and nearly 2,000 gift boxes rolled into Hanover, N.H. Through the night and continuing until 6 a.m. on Nov. 10, the intrepid Zappos employees dropped off on doorsteps boxes containing warm-weather gear such as hats, gloves and socks, as well as sunglasses, headphones and backpacks, a reward to Hanover for being home to so many loyal Zappos customers.
This Grinch-in-reverse stealth move was captured on video and promoted to the media, building on Zappos' legacy as a PR-savvy company that transmits its values through action. The notion of giving back could not be made more literal.
The Hanover surprise gift drop-off is in character for Zappos, but what if you work for a risk-averse brand that's not as adept at customer relationships? You might have some trouble selling such a dead-of-night stunt.
"This sort of out-of-the box big idea thinking has to start internally," Kristin Richmer, Zappos Awareness Marketing, said to me via email. "We’re big proponents of our culture that encourages these types of bold stunts, but I’m sure there are companies out there that may have hesitations about taking on such a daring activation. We believe having a well-thought-through plan and plenty of passion will typically help generate internal excitement."
Richmer counsels marketers, PR pros and anyone involved in customer relationships to harness their own conviction, determination and drive when trying to sell internally a seemingly outrageous loyalty-building effort. "That will help prove an idea is the right one, and what’s the worst that can happen?" she says.
In the case of the Hanover drop-off, the worst that happened was a sleepless night for some employees. All in a night's work.
—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News @SGoldsteinAI