Tony Hsieh Talk on Brand Building

This is an excellent talk by Tony Hsieh at Stanford Business School from 2010 which discusses Zappos’ unique approach to marketing and branding.

Key Takeaways from the talk:
-If you visit Las Vegas, Zappos will pick you up from the airport, give you a tour of their headquarters, and drop you off at your hotel afterwards.
-Hsieh learned at Link Exchange that if you hire the wrong people, it can lead to a very poor company culture.
-The goal was to build a brand around providing the very best customer service and customer experience, which is not just limited to shoes.
-Zappos’ philosophy was to take the money that would have been spent on advertising and put it into customer service so the customers do the marketing through word of mouth.
-The number one driver of growth has been repeat customers and word of mouth.
-They focus on how to “Wow” customers with things like surprise overnight delivery.
-Zappos offers a 365 day return policy.
-Zappos puts their phone number on the top of every page of their website.
-The telephone is one of the best branding devices because you have the customers undivided attention for several minutes.
-Zappos doesn’t up sell on the phone and doesn’t use call scripts.
-They don’t try to get the customer off the phone as quickly as possible. The longest customer call was over 8 hours.
-They found that almost every customer calls at least once during their lifetime.
-Company culture is the number one priority of the company.
-Every employee goes through call center training and is on the phone for two weeks.
-50% of employee performance reviews is based on company culture.
-They are willing to hire or fire people based on their ten core values.
-They won’t hire someone who didn’t treat the shuttle driver well.
-Zappos has a monthly newsletter where employees can ask any question.
-Companies from Good to Great have a higher purpose than making money.
-What are you so passionate about that you would choose to do it even if you knew you wouldn’t make any money for 10 years? Do that.

Context is Everything: The Power of Your Tagline Depends Largely on the Surrounding Wordscape

The following article is a guest post by Jim Morris, aka Tagline Jim.

Context is everything.

The larger point I’m about to argue for applies to communication of all sorts, but, since I write taglines for a living, I’m going to make it in relation to taglines. Let me start out by saying . . .

I disdain one-word taglines. I have long contended that such taglines aren’t capable of expressing a whole thought about a brand. The one-word tagline is an intellectually lazy copout for brands that don’t have the courage or discipline to make a fully formed statement relating to their brand. Or it is the result of the brand being dictated to by designers who prefer a one-word taglines because it’s a cleaner design element to work with, never mind what it means or fails to mean.



It seems like HP wants to stake some claim to invention or creativity or innovation. Or something. But what? What claim, about what, exactly? A tagline doesn’t necessarily need to be clear or precise or comprehensive. In fact, I would argue that it’s better if the line isn’t any of these things. But it does need to say or convey something, to allude in some interesting way to the brand’s differessence. Invent is so broad and vague as to render it meaningless as a tagline.

I have identified 15 national/global brands that have hung their brand hat on one word or another as their tagline over the past couple of decades.

Acura. Advance.
Ally. Straightforward.
Diners Club. Belong.
EDS. Solved.
Hankook Tires. Driven.
HP. Invent.
Monsanto. Imagine.
Nissan. Driven.
United. Rising.
Coca Cola. Enjoy.
Hyundai. Win.
Xfinity. More.
Siemens. Answers.
Power Bar. Push.
Logitec. Enjoy.

No doubt there are others, along with who knows how many regional and local brands that have taken this same ill-advised path.

Two additional thoughts about one-word taglines:

My own brand’s tagline is Long Story Short. In order to tell any story in one word, it would need to be some special kind of word. I’m not saying I never will, but, so far, I’ve never written a one-word tagline (other than when more than one word is crammed together to form a new compound word.)

One of my favorite exhortations, when a client is considering a tagline, is this . . .

Read between the words.

Between the words is where you’ll find the value in many good taglines. Doing this with a one-word tagline is quite a trick. Should I exhort the client to read between the letters?

I could go on about the myriad issues with these taglines, but I must move on to the larger point.

So, if I disdain one-word taglines so much, why is there one for which I have the highest admiration?

(Finally, we get to my point.)

The answer is context. Cultural/historical/advertising/branding context. Or, if you prefer, we could characterize it as the intellectual/emotional/linguistic environment in which the tagline lives. This environment or context changes constantly and the effectiveness of a tagline depends largely on what environment—or context—it is surrounded by.

What is this singular exception that escapes my disdain? It is IBM’s ancient, iconic slogan, Think.


Of course, many of you are likely unaware of this tagline, because it held sway in the 1920’s, 30’s and into the 40’s, at least. It was created by IBM founder Thomas J. Watson. (I assume the IBM folks named their line of notebook computers, “ThinkPad”, as a homage to the slogan.)

Back in those particular olden days, it’s my guess there weren’t a whole lot of one-word taglines out there. Probably not any. It was, at the time, a bold, assumptive, leaderly, radical slogan by dint of its one-wordness. That’s a big reason why it gained so much notice globally and became such an icon. For a huge brand like IBM to brandish a one-word tagline was, in the context of that time, an act of courage.

And that word, Think, took on many layers of meaning pertaining to the IBM brand, largely because so much attention was paid to it over many years, which, in turn, was because it was so unique. It was sort of the Just Do It of its time. In a world of no one-word taglines, the first one is powerful and groundbreaking.

It was, in a sense, a demonstration of its own exhortation, and this made it all the more powerful.


That was then. This is now (last time I checked). These days, if your brand wants to stake out some tagline territory similar to IBM’s in the 20’s, you need, (in addition to a monster media budget), at least two words—one complete thought.

Like Apple’s Think Different, or AT&T’s Rethink Possible.

In today’s context, due to many factors including “word inflation” and the exampledness of one-word taglines, such lines are almost certainly not going to communicate your brand’s differessence or evoke much of a response or emotion. The only way I think a one-word tagline can be effective these days is if the word itself is unusual, provocative, exotic, intriguing. Which none of the 15 “lines” cited above are.

Here are two additional hints that one-word taglines, in today’s context, are not good. First, you won’t find one (other than IBM’s) on anyone’s list of great taglines. Second, what used to be called a “slogan” is now referred to in the industry as a “tagline.” The former implied a phrase or sentence, not one word. The latter makes that requirement explicit. It’s “tagline”, not tagword.”

Context helps determine the value and impact of all taglines, not just the one-word ones. The more that brands resort to familiar, frequently used tagline structures, terms and phrase, the less power such taglines will have. Tagline fads and trends are one dimension of context that very clearly and directly undermine the effectiveness of the taglines that fall victim to such fads and trends, of which the one-word tagline is but one.

Jim Morris, AKA Tagline Jim, is a freelance advertising copywriter who specializes in creating powerful, evocative taglines. He can be reached at

Where Starbucks' Marketing Went Wrong

onward bookIn Howard Schultz’s book Onward, he talks about how Starbucks rebounded from troubling times that included hundreds of store closures and thousands of layoffs, to get back on track to growth and strong profits. Schultz who started out in marketing at Starbucks before buying the company from the original owners and shifting the business strategy to serving beverages, talks a lot about branding and customer experience in the book. Despite his emphasis of maintaining a strong brand however, the never ending expectations of continued growth and poor marketing decisions have led to many mistakes that have hurt the strength of the Starbucks brand.

Automatic Espresso Machines

To increase efficiency and reduce customer wait time, Starbucks switched to automatic espresso machines that resulted in a loss of “romance and theater” that was originally envisioned. Schultz helped to restore the experience by making the process more manual, so that baristas could provide more of a performance for customers.

Breakfast Sandwiches

Schultz was not a fan of the introduction of breakfast sandwiches and was animate about getting breakfast sandwiches out of Starbucks. He talked about the smell of burnt cheese overwhelming the aroma of coffee that killed the brand story of an authentic European coffeehouse. Schultz was able to get rid of breakfast sandwiches temporarily, but decided to bring them back to increase sales per transaction and after the cheese was adjusted.

Licensing Stores
Schultz emphasizes the pressure Starbucks received from Wall Street to continue to grow and this probably led to the licensing of Starbucks as mini-Starbucks in grocery stores. Schultz explains that they decided to not franchise Starbucks stores to maintain consistent quality, but Starbucks’ stores within a store are not much better. Licensed stores are staffed by the licensee’s employees, who often provide substandard service that leads to a customer experience that is inconsistent with real Starbucks stores.

No National Advertising

Traditionally, Starbucks has stayed away from national advertising through major media. Strong brand awareness, word of mouth, and the addictive nature of coffee helped Starbucks get away with not advertising as much as other major brands for several decades. However, their lack of advertising hurt Starbuck’s ability to communicate important differentiators. For example Schultz talks about how Starbucks stresses using only high quality Arabica beans rather than the inferior Robusta beans, however many customers who didn’t know this complained of a burnt taste. Schultz also talks a lot about social responsibility such as providing healthcare for all employees and buying fair trade coffee, but a lot of customers are oblivious to these efforts. Schultz began to change his thinking about advertising and hired BBDO, which has produced some effective national ad campaigns.

Instant Coffee
Schulz talks about how there was great resistance to the idea of instant coffee over concerns that it would hurt the high quality and premium positioning of the Starbucks brand. Despite Schultz’s desire to differentiate Starbucks Via from instant coffee and Starbucks attempts to create a new product category, customers still perceive it as instant coffee.

Where Starbucks’ Marketing Went Right

My Starbucks Idea

My Starbucks Idea allows people to submit their suggestions to Starbucks and ideas are voted on by the community. Listening to customers through the My Starbucks Idea community has led to helpful insights and some ideas that were implemented to improve the customer experience.