One of the leading Web development and E-business forces in the Emerald City (E-city for short) is ZAAZ (which coincidentally rhymes with Oz). The 40-person organization has been doing pacesetting work for Microsoft since 1998 and continues to stay on the cutting edge of Redmond’s Web-driven technology, including full immersion into the .Net ecosystem and maintenance of the Microsoft Partner Group, the front end of relationships that channel almost 90% of Microsoft’s revenue.
At the same time, the firm does about half of its work with clients outside the rain-belt, companies like Converse Inc., Fox TV, WebTrends and Kelly BlueBook (a multi-million dollar success story). Seattle24x7 sat down with ZAAZ co-founder and CEO Shane Atchison to talk shop on how the Web firm has succeeded in creating a premiere, fully-integrated creative, publishing, and E-business think tank at its fashionable First Avenue building. Here then is the encapsulated A-Z of ZAAZ.
Seattle24x7: We have to ask, where does the name ZAAZ come from?
Atchison: The history of the name is that we invented it. We wanted a name symbolizing something new. If you look at the new medium that we focused all our craft on, and the way we approach it as thought leaders, we’re entering into new endeavors and new challenges every day.
Seattle24x7: ZAAZ seems to be a design firm and a publishing firm and a marketing firm. How can we pigeonhole you?
Atchison: We are basically an extension of our client’s E-business team. Our role has shifted over the last three years from building out an infrastructure and being able to accomplish very detailed tasks such as site design, HTML development and database integration, to much higher level business strategy. The discussions we have today are much more about what do you want to do with the E-business channel? What can it do to drive your overall business goals?
Our real role is to bring in the best practices that we have from all sources to bear for our clients. When you look at how .Net services and Web services are starting to evolve, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We make recommendations, and then integrate different sources of data and technology into a customer-user experience that’s consistent and best reflects our clients’ brands.
Seattle24x7: ZAAZ is a new breed of agency?
Atchison: What’s happening today when you focus on the evolution of the Web compared with 5-6 years ago is amazing. Most Web development was done then through what I would call traditional agencies — ad agencies, design firms, PR firms, and a few technology companies. We were generally subordinate in those relationships. Today, we are peers. We are driving and translating brand strategies on the Web. Sometimes it begins online and is then translated out to offline, and sometimes vice versa.
I was out in Orange County, California on Monday of this week, meeting with Kelly Blue Book. We built a project for Kelly Blue Book and launched it a year ago this January. Basically, it enabled people who did a search on Kelly Blue Book for a new or used car to say , hey I’m interested in actually buying that car, will you connect me to a dealer close to me? We built out that lead referral engine and ecommerce site that had dealers paying to be on the site. Kelly Blue Book gets a bounty, a referral fee, for every single lead that they hand over to these dealers. They spent $100,000 for services on ZAAZ. The return on their investment was $2.5 million dollars in one year without any additional head count, without any additional work by them. Next year they plan on doubling that. Our signature is that we have clients that have those business goals, that have Websites that accomplish them. And when people say, do you like working with ZAAZ, they’re going to respond with “Yes, because I made money.”
Seattle24x7: How do you like working for Microsoft as a client?
Atchison: I’ve been doing Web for Microsoft since 1994, so this’ll be my ninth year of doing work. The culture out there has always been very aggressive and very intelligent. Now, really what you’re seeing is such a heightened level of expectation and results of what the Web channel can do for their business The work that we do is just absolutely exciting.
Seattle24x7: You have some other prized account relationships with clients that include Fox Television and Web analytics company WebTrends. Do you also work with WebTrends technology?
Atchison: We are technology agnostic. However, WebTrends is definitely a toolset for analysis that we use quite often. They have a 90% market share so most of our clients have already purchased their product, although many have not utilized the product correctly. For us, the Web analytics discussion is about business goal setting and business metrics. What are you trying to do? What key behaviors are you trying to incent in the channel? Is it customer conversion? Is it customer retention? Is it about cross sell, or customer acquisition? We will do a baseline analysis of what’s happening on the current site. Once we have some historical baseline, we’ll have some basis to set goals to measure.
As a client, we built the WebTrends Website as well as the Website for their parent company, known as NetIQ, We are also one of five companies in the country on their Customer Advisory Board. We regularly meet with their product managers and their technologists where we evaluate their product and talk about next generations. We also do quite a few speaking engagements on behalf of WebTrends to their customer base and on various road shows. Really, our whole focus is on evangelizing the benefits of understanding what’s happening on the internet medium, That’s the amazing opportunity with the Web in comparison to any other channel. The promise of knowing what a customer is doing online and looking at that customer behavior, do it in real time. Most clients aren’t doing that today. They don’t know how. So we bridge that gap between the software and what the customer needs.
Seattle24x7: What is the most productive outcome of using WebTrends correctly? How do you use the data in terms of focusing your design or development?
Atchison: The real benefit is looking at a customer’s behavior as it tracks through the site. We had one client who had a substantial media buy on one of the industry portals. They gathered a lot of data on impressions, people who had clicked through on banner ads. They were getting all these clickthroughs but they didn’t have any data on how these people were converting to sales. They were getting dropped off at the front door, but didn’t know what they were doing inside that house. They didn’t know the value of that lead as it related to the company. We were able to track the entire purchase path (steps between the clickthrough and the product purchase pages) and track purchase conversions to determine the efficacy of the media buy.
The same thing applies to email. You see a lot of people doing loyalty-based and acquisition-based E-mail. Well, it’s nice to see how many people open the email and click to the Website. But you shouldn’t stop there. We track that behavior throughout the site. If you’ve got a sales funnel or a six-step process to get somebody to, say, fill out a mortgage application, how many people are converting from step one to step two? Step two to step three? Once you get your arms around that, then you start to bring in the other Web design disciplines. If you’ve got a big drop off in conversions in the path of collecting information, you may have a usability problem, or maybe you can consolidate those five pages down to four and increase the overall conversion by 1%.
Seattle24x7: Sounds like the logic of direct response marketing?
Atchison: It’s no different than traditional direct marketing and direct mail which is obviously a much older industry. Having test matrices of different offers sent to different customer segments. Running it out to see which offers hit in which markets and then expanding that to a larger basis. We’re starting to do that with the Web right now. We’ll redirect 10% of site traffic to an alternative clickstream, for example filling out a mortgage application. Maybe we’ve got two different hypotheses of how the data presentation and collection should work. Let’s run 10% through option A and 90% through option B and see what the conversions are on that keypath. You start to see that A is moving better than B and start moving more of that traffic over to that option. When you’re using Web Analytics to be able to track immediately how well that’s working, you’ve great, great flexibility to turn on a dime and move what tests well.
Seattle24x7: It becomes entirely performance-based?
Atchison: One of the things I’d like to see more of in this industry is receiving a Request for Proposal from a client that says I’m interested in a site redesign that will change three behaviors on my site. 1. I’m trying to increase lead-to-conversion by 2%. 2. I’m trying to convert leads-to-sale by 2%. 3. I’m trying to build permission-based communication through my newsletters. We need more clients who have the brand vision as well as can articulate the numerical vision of where they’re at and where they’re trying to go. That’s where I’d like to see our industry going.
Seattle24x7: ZAAZ has a publishing system called PowerTools. How do you use it?
Atchison: It’s a system that we built for the .Net and the J2EE platforms. There are two sides to it. First, it’s a content management system, a workflow tool that enables a clients’ internal staff and our staff to manage content through a simple set of Web forms. Aproduct manager who may not understand technology can easily go into a password protected Extranet and make content updates. We’ve got workflow tools for routing of different approvals of content and timing of when content’s going to be released. We don’t want to be a word processing agency. So the content management system really empowers the client to do that.
The other side of PowerTools is the presentation layer. That’s the XML/XSL paradigm where you’ve got all these different third parties, different application service providers, internal customer relations marketing tools, proprietary tools Our content management system will basically transform that data into a presentation layer that is the site that the public sees and experiences. It’s all standards-based, open source, our clients have full license to own and upgrade the system. It’s part of our value proposition We don’t charge a licensing fee like you would for a third-party content management system package. We feel we can provide much more value to our clients by using a system like this than by starting from scratch. We believe that 50% of the project is already handled by out toolset, and the next 50% is what the client pays for, so we can be very cost and time competitive.
Seattle24x7: What’s next for ZAAZ?
Atchison: In the eight years, I’ve been doing this, 2003 is the year I’m most excited about. What I’m seeing is a maturing industry and a long list of opportunities for every one of the clients we have as well as for our organization. [24×7]
Larry Sivitz is the Managing Editor of Seattle24x7.