Zappos is doubling down on sponsorship to engage consumers, reward customers and demonstrate brand values.

Tyler Williams, Zappos “fungineer,” discussed the retailer’s nontraditional approach to sponsorship—including the Zappos Porta-Party and the inaugural Zappos Friends with Benefits Road Show—at IEG 2017.

Below are edited excerpts from the presentation.

“We don’t see ourselves as an online shoe or clothing retailer. We sell service. That’s the mindset we use when approaching a partnership. How can we integrate into a sponsorship and not just slap our name on something. We want to provide a service so that consumers can see one or more of our core pillars.

As long as there is alignment with one of our four “Cs”—culture, community, customer service and commerce—we have a match made in heaven.

Culture to us is our employees. We focus on happiness and wholesomeness in the workspace. We asked our employees what they would like. More than 70 percent said they wanted doggy daycare. Our employees are passionate about pets, so we opened up our campus so they can bring their dogs to work.

That led us to “Home for the Pawlidays.” Two years ago we were looking for a promotional campaign for Black Friday through Cyber Monday. We didn’t want to have a sale. We asked ourselves what we could do that says something different. Why not pet adoption?

We partnered with Best Friends and 360 animal shelters across the country. We covered the adoption fees. Our goal was 9,000 adoptions to raise awareness of the 9,000 animals euthanized in the U.S. every day. We hit 12,000 adoptions over three days. That was a very busy time in people’s lives, so we were stoked.

The cost of the adoptions was $1.5 million. That metric was more important to us than impressions and drive to retail. What was exciting for us was the risk. What if we spent our entire Black Friday and Cyber Monday marketing budget on a cause? As a marketer, it’s kind of a bummer when you spend more money on awareness of cause marketing than on the cause itself.

We got 90 percent organic awareness from the campaign from our employees. Our employee culture drove the campaign to become as big as it did. It’s by far the most engagement we ever got out of a marketing campaign in the entire history of the company. Our employees shared the campaign more than 1,600 times the first day on their social media networks, and it just grew from there.

We have a saying that we want to be the most community focused company in the world. We’re based in Las Vegas, we have 1,500 employees in our headquarters, and we love to build communities. We have invested a lot of money in our backyard to revitalize the area we have made our home.

There are a lot of communities around the country that are the reason why Zappos has a healthy commerce pillar. We have clusters of brand evangelists who spread our brand word of mouth. We have pockets of those customers throughout the country, so we decided to go on the road.

For the first time ever we’re going to reward those communities by showing up and doing pet adoptions. We have already been to Nashville and Austin, Texas. The events were very successful—we had 4,600 people show up in Austin alone. We give out local food, beer and music, we hang out for three days, and we try to leave some good behind.

We have ten cities planned for 2017, and we’ll add more as we identify communities that want us to come out. We’ll do different charity work in each location.

Zappos has seen following results from the roadshow thus far:

  • 1,500 porta-potty flushes
  • 1,200 free mimosas
  • 1,000 free beers
  • 600 free tacos
  • 150 animals adopted

Customer Service
Customer service is a big pillar for us. We look at every opportunity with a service mindset. And it’s not just our customers. It’s also employees, vendors and other partners. We want to be a good partner and provide good service. When we look at activation, we think about how we can do this.

Our number-one core value at Zappos is delivering ‘wow’ through service. We say that word all the time. We also say another word: ‘unwow.’ We all have been unwowed by a company or a service. We try to look for those service gaps at other companies where we can turn an unwow into a wow. As funny as that sounds, it really does give us good insight. We have identified quite a few areas, but one is porta-potties.

We have all been to a festival, and we all avoid porta-potties at all costs. The porta-potty industry is an enormous industry that has been solving for a basic need instead of innovating and giving an amazing experience.

So, we made our first Zappos Porta-Party. I kid you not. This has been the most loved thing we have ever brought out as an activation because it’s the world’s most fun bathroom. It’s going all over the place. It’s going to Coachella and a bunch of festivals and artist lounges.

We’re not done in the porta-potty world. We’re sinking a lot of money into research and development for our second version. Festivals are asking for it. Normally they would charge us a sponsorship fee, but they’re saying ‘We love the toilet, bring it out.’ We get to engage customers and provide a service at the same time.

We get to do the things we do because we sell things online. We have a $3 billion business selling shoes, clothing and handbags online, and we need to keep that healthy.

We set the bar for fast, free shipping and returns, both of which we were the first to do. Now the industry has caught up. We were the first to offer those benefits, but now it’s pretty common. So we decided to up the ante this year and roll out a new rewards program. For shopping and enrolling in our rewards program you get free one-day business shipping and free UPS pickup.

That makes everyone else raise the bar and give people better service overall, and we’re happy with that.