Build Internal Brand Loyalty and Boost Sales with Employee SWAG
It’s kind of like Oz with an internal warehouse. That’s the feeling you get walking into Zappos.com headquarters in the middle of downtown Las Vegas.
As you walk up the chiseled steps from the blazing sunshine you enter an even brighter rainbow of cultures, flavors and colors and that’s just the reception area. Soon you’re greeted by a “culture guide,” one even sputters “Caw Caw,” like a bird by way of greeting–she’s a Seattle Seahawks fan. And with this escort your flashy tour of the world’s most talked about workplace begins.
Zappos.com’s employee culture has been analyzed into immortality. Its founder and, still, CEO Tony Hsieh, has achieved mythical and Oz-like status as the peddler of all things happiness to pave the gold road to profit and riches. Living in an airstream trailer in his version of an upscale squatter’s park, Hsieh is running a company and creating a movement centered on keeping employees happy to create business value.
We could write reams of how Zappos came to be. But we don’t have time for that. Instead, we’re going to focus on one of a gagillion unusual protocols that Zappos.com does that makes its business far more profitable than others. The good news we’re focusing on tricks of the trade that any small business can do.
Shower Employees with SWAG
If you asked Hsieh (pronounced “shay”) how he transformed a mail-order shoe company into a billion-dollar zeitgeist for hipster shopping, and many have, you’ll get one answer–cultivating a culture. Central to Hsieh’s happiness philosophy (read his book to learn more) is engaging and empowering employees. Oh, wait, we mean “Zappoinans” as Zappos employees are called.
One look around Zappos and you know he’s right. From the printer wall that is replete with a graffiti art painting of Notorious B.I.G., an HR department complete with its own ball pit filled with red, yellow, blue and orange balls and an onsite employee fitness center–behind bars (Zappos’ main building used to be the county courthouse and they kept the county jail look)–it is clear this company values its employees’ freedom of expression.
— writingprincess (@writingprincess) December 11, 2014
As Zappoinans, you can dress the way you want, decorate the way you want, eat what you want (free snacks) and be who you want (try out different jobs in the company for exploration) as long as you get your work done. Zappos doesn’t just like Zapponians, it treasures them and sees them as central to their business model and building their brand. Which is why they’re walking billboards for the company in deed and in gear.
Hint: Here’s Tip One: SWAG is also for your employees!
From the customized license plates that signals years of service, to sales milestone t-shirts emblazoned with Zappos branding employees will never forget where they work because the brand is everywhere around them. How loyal do you think your employees would be if everywhere they turned for ordinary household items, cup, shirt, bag hat, were outfitted with your brand and logo? Zappos see rewarding Zapponians as building culture, but rewarding employees with promotional products can also improve your bottom line.
In a study from the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), a trucking company used branded promotional products to help improve safety performance among its staff. Employees earned company shirts, and embroidered jackets when they went 80 hours or more without an accident. In the first year 15% of the truckers qualified for the monthly awards and the trucking company had its insurance premiums lowered by $250,000. That’s SWAG turned into cash money easily.
While employers rewarding employees with promotional products is something many companies already do, Zappos, of course, upped the ante.
Have Employees Shower Each Other with SWAG
One of the coolest culture-cultivating innovations at Zappos is the creation of the Zollar Program. Listen to Zappos “Cruise Ship Captain,” Jamie talk about the program:
Basically Zappoinans reward each other for good deeds–superior customer service, going the extra mile, picking up the slack–by giving away Zappos Zollars. “Zollars” can be used to purchase promotional products such as bags, hats and shirts at Zappos “Zollar Store.” This is a brilliant way to not only reward your employees but to further engage them in your brand.
Not only do employees want company SWAG, but they treasure it because it was earned not just a freebie.
Make Your Employee SWAG Actually Wearable
Just in case you think Zappos is the only company that embraces the employee swag culture here’s a rift on this concept from WPEngine. A small company based in Austin, TX, this web hosting firm specializes in everything WordPress. But, according to employee reviews on Glassdoor.com they also focus on cultivating culture. And one way they do that is by offering amazingly creative company SWAG.
In his blog post, The Surprising Benefits of Uniform Culture, WPEngine’s founder Jason Cohen says his employees have morphed into a “uniform culture,” not out of obligation, but out of cool brand loyalty. WP Engine’s t-shirt SWAG is painstakingly designed by the company’s creative art director. They include clever riffs on Texas themes (Don’t Mess with WordPress emblazoned with Texas flag and WP Engine logo) as well as branded color t-shirts with quirky sayings. As a result, Cohen writes “Because we have a phenomenal Artistic Director (Seth), folks actually want to wear our shirts.”
— Ryan Duff (@ryancduff) October 30, 2014
There are many ways you can make your employee SWAG special and partnering with your art department or a graphic artist is one of them. You can give out employee birthday shirts, or milestone hats, or retiree blankets all with special four-color designs. Some promotional items that you can creatively spruce up include The Best Hooded Sweatshirt and The Stowaway Duffel and The Stellar Award.
Your Employees Deserve Your SWAG
Promotional products are an excellent way to honor, reward and engage your employees. It’s a bonus when you can increase their brand loyalty and thereby increase their connection to your company. So the next time you’re tooling around with your marketing director thinking about a fun way to boost your brand, think of Zappos and its zealotry when it comes to company culture. If you just employ a thimbleful of their zeal who knows what could happen to your bottom line?