Q&A   //   February 16, 2024

How Zappos is reworking its influencer program to be more inclusive

Zappos is switching up its marketing strategy this year by tapping everyday people in lieu of top-tier talent for campaigns and influencer-led projects.

As part of this effort, Zappos chose to highlight real-world runners in its first running shoe campaign of 2024. Called “Start Where You Are,” the campaign features runners from all walks of life, including a new mom, a United States Marine Corps veteran, a women’s fitness instructor and a podcast host. Later this year, Zappos will hold a second iteration of the campaign featuring visual and musical artists.

The new approach is part of Zappos’ increased focus on inclusivity, Joe Cano, the online shoe platform’s chief marketing officer, told Modern Retail. Since 2017, Zappos, which is owned by Amazon, has worked to build out its Adaptive branch, which caters to those with physical or sensory disabilities. As part of the initiative, Zappos holds focus groups with customers to develop footwear and apparel in tandem with brand partners. It’s worked with more than a dozen brands to date, the most recent being Keen.

Zappos is regularly in touch with its shoppers, Cano said, and is now looking to fold more real-life stories into its marketing. In addition to this new campaign, Zappos is reworking its influencer program to highlight people who use its products. The new content will be part of a revamped marketing mix that includes social media, desktop and mobile. Not every Zappos customer comes to Zappos.com, Cano told Modern Retail, so the company wants to be on multiple platforms, whether that’s Shops on Instagram and Facebook or its own app. While Zappos is not on TikTok Shop yet, it is having conversations around doing so. “For TikTok, just stay tuned,” Cano teased.

Cano spoke to Modern Retail about Zappos’ new marketing approach, as well as its plans for its 25th birthday this summer. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the inspiration for your new running campaign?
We’re known for a couple of different things. One of them is that performance and running and activewear space. But for us, we really want to say, ‘Okay, not every single person is going to be a marathon runner. How do you run as you are — whether that is a fast walk, whether that’s walking your dog, whether that’s doing some light jogging for about five, 10 minutes?’ No matter what walk of life that you are in… we have something for everyone.

Something that’s super important to me is making sure that everyone feels like they have a seat at the table at everything that we offer and in all of our campaigns. And so, we’re focusing on threading in real-life people, not just models, in our campaigns and through most of our creative for this year.

Are you bringing on more influencers, then? And, are you asking them to create content for your channels or highlight Zappos products on their own channels?
We try not to be too prescriptive with a lot of our influencers. We basically say, ‘Here’s some great product. Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s what we want to showcase to you. Talk authentically about how you would showcase this product, as well.’

A lot of it is going to be our own influencers showcasing product on their own channels. Some of them, we’ll partner with and do things [with] on our own channel, as well. But, I like to spread it out. Different people have different cohorts that they’re really good with. And I want to make sure to reach people that have some of these questions and get them answered; What is the best running shoe for this? What is the best running shoe for outdoor, for incline hiking? Things like that.

Would you say this is a different influencer approach than in years past?
Before, we were being a little bit more, let’s just say, glossy and out there. Like, ‘This is the shoe.’ And, ‘This is why all these people say that this is the shoe.’ I want people to say, ‘Hey, here’s actually what I wear.’

We’re trying to swing the pendulum a little bit more in that respect, because I think authenticity is something that as we kind of get further and further into the digital age, we start to lose a little bit. So, I want to make sure that we’re showcasing as much of that as we possibly can.

We’re using real-life people versus influencers that might have millions of followers. That is great. But, again, I want to make sure that people feel that there’s authenticity between Zappos [and] who we’re actually utilizing to help talk about our brands.

We’re actually reworking our program right now. We have about 40+ influencers that we’re working with, but we are going to be expanding that.

Are you looking for influencers to have any particular attributes?
The creative team has a whole criteria list… but we look at where consumers are, as well. So, we want to make sure that we have people talking to where our consumers are, whether that’s in California, whether that’s in New York, whether that’s in Texas.

For me, it’s not about the number of influencers. It’s [about] what impact are they making? Are they really showcasing what we want them to showcase, as well? I’m all about quality over quantity. So, if we can whittle down to maybe 20 to 25 that are amazing — that are getting everything out — that’s great. If it turns into 60, that’s also great. It really just all depends on what we want and how we showcase that.

What other creative or projects do you have coming down the line?
We’re turning 25 this year. We launched in 1999, which is amazing, so we’re having a huge celebration in July.

Overall, we have amazing things like capsule collections and shoes from 1999. A lot of our top brands have been with us since 1999, so we’re showcasing some throwback shoes, which is going to be really fun.

We’ve got some really exciting influencers, and every single month [after July] there’s going to be something — whether that’s going to be a sale, a VIP gifting event, a big party, exclusive colorways and styles from a lot of our brand partners. I can’t share all right now… but we’ve got a lot of fun things in store.