This morning, an article in Advertising Age landed in my e-mail no less than four times before 9am. Mike Wolfsohn, the Executive Creative Director of Ignited wrote a strong blog post on his agency’s site outlining his frustration with the Zappo’s RFP process. He describes how Ignited analyzed the actual time spent with this potential client’s review of their comprehensive response and took issue that it amounted to only five page views averaging fourteen seconds each.
The key issue amounts to the trackability of interaction, which Mike understandably views as cursory. Given Zappo’s hard-earned reputation for outstanding customer service, he believes their consideration to be woefully inadequate. In Zappo’s defense, they opened up this review to what essentially amounts to agency crowdsourcing. and given their desirability as an attractive roster client, they underestimated the overwhelming response they would receive. By Brandweek’s estimation, more than 104 agencies responded to their very detailed RFP and the sheer volume of material that reached their small marketing department could probably fill a wing of the Library of Congress. As it turns out, that estimation was low: in his thoughtful response to Mike’s post, Zappo’s head of Business Development Aaron Magness cited the number of actual respondents as 170.
As someone who has some experience with crowdsourcing, one of the biggest negatives about getting all that freely generated material is the respondents’ need for feedback, which can all too quickly bury the organization behind the effort. Anyone who gives a brand their time and thinking rightly expects some sort of response for their efforts and when they actually do get it, the work improves substantially. But it is a very tall order to respond to every submission with meaningful and focused feedback. If you’ve ever lived through an all-agency creative gangbang, you know the problems.
The simple fact is that our society has recently and powerfully evolved to embrace a Web 2.0 empowered two-way marketplace. We expect to give and get feedback. When the demand for that feedback grows too large, the sheer manpower demands to answer chokes most organizations. This is not simply a Zappo’s issue; this will be a growing issue for all marketers and one that will demand we evolve our organizational structures to answer. The real convergence today is the rapidly colliding worlds of advertising and word-of-mouth PR outreach. Marketing organizations need to create mechanisms not just to send messages out, but to prepare for meaningful, ongoing consumer dialogue and engagement.
The outcome of this particular situation remains to be seen. But as one of the agencies who responded, I want to wish Zappo’s good luck with this challenge. Of course, I would also be more than happy if anyone there wants to call me for advice. Element 79 loves that brand.