A Deeper Shade of Sole

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Over the last few weeks Brad, Jim, and Josh have been musing on the nature of contests. I’d like to wrap up this month’s Spot On series by looking at a contest from a company that thoroughly understands online marketing – Zappos.

Sole searching

Zappos and Steve Madden have partnered up for “Steve Madden’s SOLE SEARCH” contest where participants compete to design the next Steve Madden shoe. This contest follows the powerful create, share, and engage model. By building a contest around content creation, making the resulting content easy to share, and engaging around that content, Zappos and Steve Madden have ensured that they are the biggest winners at the end of this contest.

Make the content the contest

I think we’ve covered this one pretty well in previous posts, but it’s worth repeating. Your best consumers, or better yet your best influencers, are not a passive shoppers; they’re active content creators — through blogs, Twitter streams, Flickr accounts, or whatever. They are ready, willing, and able to create. In the case of the Sole Search contest, the requirement for entry is to design the next Steven Madden shoe, effectively leveraging consumers’ desire to create.

The end result of the contest is good content. In addition to posting all of the entries online for anyone to view, Zappos has gone the extra mile and built a little “Play Versus” game that allows you to see two entries, pick your favorite, and find out how the rest of the universe has voted. There’s even a “Viral Map” tied to the contest, but I honestly can’t figure out what the hell it is supposed to do. Poor execution or not, the proper intent is there — learn from it.

Think niche

Instead of going for the big spike in traffic and awareness (see Brad’s Metrics for Success: How Elevated is Your Valley?), an effective contest is structured to foster relationships with niche influencers. “Sole Search” is perfectly targeted for design and fashion junkies.

What I love about “Sole Search” is that the niche style junkies and fashionistas will obviously jump at the opportunity, but Zappos and Steve Madden have avoided alienating the rest of us:

“Don’t have an iota of design experience? Fear not. While competitors can create their designs from scratch, others can download Steve Madden templates and patterns to get the creative juices flowing.”

Not winner, but winners

A contest needs to improve a brand’s relationship with all participants — not just the winner, and I don’t mean sending them all a pack of gum. By making content creation the requirement for entry in Sole Search and posting the entries for all to see, Zappos and Steven Madden are adding value by sharing.

“Sole Search” doesn’t award just one grand prize. Make sure you have multiple winners at different levels. There are multiple tiers of prizes (click “Details”) — some for the best design as voted by Zappos and Steve Madden, some for the best as voted by the public, and others for the “most viral.”

Think beyond greenbacks and payola

Just handing out free shoes or Zappos gift cards would fail to distinguish Sole Search from the other contests out there. By offering up unique prizes, Zappos and Steven Madden have attracted a more targeted audience. The top three in Sole Search …

… will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly to Las Vegas and then to New York City where they will have a chance to pitch their shoe design to America’s most successful shoe designer, Steve Madden himself! Steve Madden will select one of the three First Prize winners’ designs to be produced and sold online at Zappos.com/Steve-Madden! The Grand Prize winner will also be awarded a $500 Zappos.com gift card and a $500 Steve Madden gift card.


Don’t fall into the trap of just handing out some money or a product through a random drawing from a million apathetic participants who dropped their business card into a cardboard box. Just like everything else in marketing these days, get proactive, find ways to involve people with content and build lasting relationships.

Zappos and Steve Madden have succeeded in creating a contest that attracts the right consumers and results in content that contest participants and non-participants alike can create, share, and have fun with. In the end, both companies have built brand awareness by being the catalysts for valuable content creation that resonates at all levels of the influence pyramid.

One Response to “A Deeper Shade of Sole”

  1. Amelia Vargo

    Yeah this is the way to do it. I’m pleased you have found an example that works because it’s all very well saying what doesn’t work, but most people need to know what does work as well. Thanks.


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