In my latest book, Aaker on Branding I have argued that the best way to connect with customers, especially in the digital world, is not to promote an offering or brand but rather to focus on the customer’s sweet spots. A customer sweet spot centers on an innovation in which they are involved in and/or passionate about.

The idea is to develop and be an active driver or partner in a program that resides in that sweet spot. “Ask Zappos,” a customer service tool that can help you track down any fashion item you might want even if Zappos doesn’t sell it, is such a program. Ask Zappos provides a digital personal assistant who takes shopping requests in the form of images and attempts to find the exact item for you, online or offline.

The image can be sent through a variety of digital channels including Instagram with the #AskZappos hashtag, email, or text messaging. In typical Zappos customer service-style, they are attempting to answer all requests in 24 hours, though lately the demand has outgrown the Ask Zappos team. It’s uncertain where the tool will go from its recent launch, but I like the concept for several reasons:

It’s a customer sweet-spot driven program

This is the key to success in the digital world. Customers have a shopping problem, and this is a unique and responsive solution. It’s not (only) about promoting Zappos, it’s about getting the customers what they want. Like most customer-sweet spot programs, it will help create or enhance brand visibility, association and loyalty – even though that is not its outward motive.

It delivers a “Wow!” experience

This is the first of ten core Zappos values, and is one often missing in the digital world. The concept of having extremely knowledgeable fashion experts hunting down items for you individually is powerful and should result in many exceptional experiences.

It communicates and reinforces the brand culture

The Zappos culture is one that has been written about extensively – because it works. The culture is not only an internal driver of service and innovation but also an important part of the brand image and brand customer relationship. A culture is communicated in part by what I call “signature stories,” or stories that reflect a brand’s core values.

At Zappos, the signature stories include talking to a needy customer for 10 hours, getting a pizza delivered in middle of night to another and sending flowers to still another. How do you keep the stories alive and relevant to the digital world? One answer is to launch a program such as Ask Zappos, which will remind people that Zappos consistently provides extraordinary acts of service.

It represents innovation, energy and social activity

Ask Zappos came out of Zappos Labs, a San Francisco based R&D team that was launched in 2010 to test new ways to shop online using social media. The existence of an R&D lab for a retailer is telling in itself. The lab is conducting other online shopping experiments such as a curated digital magazine, a recommendation engine that produces results based on Pinterest pins, and personal style recommendations based on Instagram posts.

It provides invaluable insights

This tool will not only generate sales, but also provide Zappos with an in-depth understanding of what people are looking for, what decision processes are used when shopping, and what gaps there are in the marketplace. It will unquestionably lead to new service ideas and growth directions.

Ask Zappos is an innovation, one especially relevant to the mobile world. It is a natural fit with the remarkable culture as represented by its ten core values, its “a bit weird” personality, its programs, its stories and even its effort to teach others how to build a company culture. Zappos continues to amaze.


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