CMO of the Week: Zappos’ Joe Cano - Brand Innovators

CMO of the Week: Zappos’ Joe Cano

Joe Cano, chief marketing & merchandising officer at Zappos, is all about bringing the Wow to the customer experience.

“There is a sea of products out there,” explains Cano. “Wow is a great experience where you can find what you’re looking for in a fast, easy way, have a great checkout experience and get something overnight or in two days. We want to create that across the board, whether you’re looking for a children’s shoe, a cleat, a new running shoe, a shoe to go out to brunch with, a shoe you want to go out dancing with.” 

“We want to make sure that you can find everything that you can at Zappos and create that moment in an easier way than any other site is doing,” he continues. “It really is focusing on how we can better our customers’ lives and save them time and money. It separates us out across the board from some of our competitors.” 

Zappos is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is planning special events and promotions throughout the year to mark the occasion. 

“We have so many fun events happening,” explains Cano. “Every single month, there’s going to be an event, a campaign, a special promo. We’re bringing back shoes from some of our great vendors from 1999, partying like it’s 1999. We’re doing some fun things with our loyalty program as well and we’re gonna have a huge party here in the summer.”

An original Internet startup, acquired by Amazon in 2009, Zappos still operates within a culture of agility. “The way that we’re able to innovate and be nimble is super exciting,” says Cano. “Even though we’re a pretty large company, it’s great that we can still operate in a little bit of a startup mentality at times.”

Can will be speaking at Brand Innovators’ NRF event in New York this week. Prior to joining Zappos, he held senior marketing roles at Saks Fifth Avenue, Walmart, Gilt Group and Forever 21, among others. Brand Innovators caught up with Cano from his office in Las Vegas to talk about the anniversary, innovation and the wow factor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Turning 25 is a big anniversary year for the brand. How are you approaching it?

Overall, we’re giving back to customers, to our community and to some of our vendors who have been our partners for 25 years. Selling shoes online in 1999, that was just an unheard of wow. What we want to do is bring some of that excitement back. There’s so much to come every single month. 

It’s great to see the teams here are just invigorated. One of our longstanding employees, Ned, has been here for 22 years. I love hearing the stories from him about when Zappos was so small and now it’s this great company owned by Amazon. It really is just a fun and exciting time to say that we have been in business for 25 years and we’re still here. We still have people that love Zappos. Now it’s our chance to get back into the forefront and make sure that we are that retailer of choice and you go to shop for shoes online. 

Can you talk about your approach to innovation? 

Obviously AI has become the table stakes thing in this past year. What can we do with AI that is going to help reduce customer friction? With that innovation, we’re going to be putting in some more processes, looking at some different companies, the way we actually can talk to our consumers in a better way. What we want to do is make sure that we’re creating that wow experience, but how do we do that? How can we innovate to make it easier for them? 

That could be everything from, ‘Hey, you bought a performance shoe and because you run,  X, Y, and Z versus you saying, ‘Hey, I think I might need new shoes.’ We can then pull that bell in for you. We’re doing that for performance. 

We’re going to be doing that for kids as well, because children grow up so fast and they grow out of their clothes and footwear quickly. A lot of times parents get that yell, “Hey, my shoes don’t fit,” and they’re running to school. So how can we actually be innovative and say we’re going to save time and money and energy for our consumers? 

What is your approach to storytelling? 

You can do these amazing things, but if you don’t talk to your customers about it, how do you do it? We created this really nice calendar that says, we’re going to actually talk to our customers in a 360 degree way. Not every single customer is going to come to Zappos. What we do is say, what customers do we want to speak to? Where are they currently at right now? If we’re looking for younger consumers, we might go for a TikTok or an Instagram. If we’re looking for some of those tried and true consumers that are already in our Zappos ecosystem, it could be a great email campaign as well as our own social.

How has your career path has helped shape your perspective in your current role?

In every role, you learn something. Even from the beginning of my career, just learning to have that active listening, have great communication, ask questions and be inquisitive. At any company I’ve worked in, it’s always been focusing on the customer. One of my first jobs, I was sweeping floors at Starbucks and even then it was focusing on the customers. Smile, talk to them, engage with them. If you have that mindset across the board, it sets you up for success in any way, shape or form, in any role that you have.

And also having some amazing mentors. I spent a lot of time at Saks Fifth Avenue and within there, I had some amazing mentors. Keith Campbell, Kareem Appapathia were amazing and helped shape my career. Then at Walmart, Denise Incandela is such an icon in the fashion industry. She is someone that I still consider a great mentor of mine and has done so much to help me ready myself for my career whether it was in marketing or merchandising or creative or finance, by helping shape how I view a business.

What predictions do you have for retail in 2024?

The hyper tailoring AI through data and data analytics, that’s going to be huge. How do we talk to customers in the right way? Conversational marketing and AI-driven interactions. You’re probably going to see a lot of things like interactive chat bots trying to actually get you to get what you want in a faster way. The old antiquated ways of searching on a left-hand navigation filtering will go away, younger consumers want instant gratification. They want things right now. 

Video marketing and short form content are really starting to dominate. You’re seeing that a lot from YouTube and even from YouTube Shorts what people are ingesting on TikTok and Instagram and Reels. It’s not so much about posts anymore. It’s about what is that video content, taking a page out of a Home Shopping Network, but making it a little bit more relevant and now is also going to be really huge. And for this next year, how do we save time for our consumers? You need a shoe, we have it for you and we can get it to you in two days. That is our mission and that will always be our mission.