Case Study: Zappos — How to Create and Tell a Unique Corporate Story

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Creating a successful company no longer means wearing three-piece uniforms and conforming to somebody else’s idea of what business is. Today, branding is not about outspending your competition’s advertising budget.

It’s about standing out. And to stand out, you have to break rules. Be fearless. (I would say, “go rogue,” but that phrase has been spoken for.)

When you create a strong brand, creating a memorable story is easy. Opportunities to tell your story begin with your employees and radiate outward. Your story goes viral effortlessly.

Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, has nailed it. In the video above, you can see how different the culture is at Zappos — it’s fun, creative and doesn’t take itself seriously. Employees are shaving their heads and coloring their hair blue. Dancing at work. Not exactly the standard corporate gig.

That doesn’t mean Zappos doesn’t take business seriously — it does. Early on the company almost went broke from spending so much money on marketing, so they had to figure out a different path.

That path turned out to be creating a strong internal culture and focusing on customer service. Delivering top-notch customer service is the most important core value at Zappos. When you call Zappos, you don’t get a call center in India, you talk to an employee in Las Vegas.

The employees are empowered to do whatever is necessary to make you happy. There are no scripts. No time limits for phone calls. The record for the longest customer service phone call is over five hours. Imagine that!


Hsieh, who is only 37 years old, sold Zappos a year ago to for over $1 billion, yet he continues working at Zappos by choice — taking a salary under $40,000. Why? Because that’s where his friends work. He’s happy working there, and his employees are happy working there.

In fact, he’s written a book called Delivering Happiness about the Zappos brand and what you can learn from Zappos to help you create your own unique culture.

Hsieh says it boils down to defining your core values — or stated another way, figuring out who and what you stand for. Having a passion for what you do. Finding a higher purpose for your work beyond making money. (Ironically, when you do that, the money follows.)

You may not be comfortable with doing wacky things at the office, and that’s OK. It’s not necessary to have a head-shaving day to define your culture. But it is important to figure out what your business’ personality is, and let it show.

How do you do that? A million little ways … through your logo and messaging, and how you apply them to your web site and sales materials. How you engage with your customers (Hsieh loves to talk to his on Twitter). The way you treat your employees. How you design the office and cultivate the work atmosphere.

You can also embrace your backstory, as Hsieh does in the CBS story. Use it as part of your business story. Mine it to create intimacy. Let your customers feel that they know you.

Is that risky? Well, maybe. But not creating and telling your story is so much riskier.

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