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These Boots Were Made for Walking

May 30th, 2007

I like a PR tactic that stands up, walks in a room and makes its presence known. It’s not something you try on – it just kinda fits.

That’s exactly the kind of move Saks 5th Avenue made last week when they announced that their newly expanded shoe department now has it’s own zip code. From the AP:

The quintessential Manhattan store is revamping its shoe department, and when it moves from the fourth floor to the eighth floor in August customers will be able to send mail to 10022-SHOE.

“We believe it’s such a big move for us it deserves its own ZIP code,” Saks spokeswoman Lesley Langsam Kennedy said Thursday. “We wanted to make it a destination.”

The U.S. Postal Service said it worked with the retailer on the new ZIP code, which is just promotional. Only the last four characters, which aren’t necessary when you’re mailing something, are specialized, and they won’t be read by sorting machines. The rest of the midtown neighborhood, which includes St. Patrick’s Cathedral, shares 10022.

So what made the AP and millions of readers latch onto this quirky and completely unimportant event? It’s sticky. If you read my post on Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, you’d know the requirements for stickiness: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions and Stories. Saks’ zip code announcement has 4-5 of these attributes, depending on who you ask.

It’s simple. There’s no need to explain a zip code. More importantly, it goes to the core of Saks’ message – that the new shoe department is big. Really big.

It’s unexpected. What other shoe department do you know that has its own zip code? I’ll get back to this idea of unexpectedness in a minute.

It’s concrete. You know what a zip code is, you know what it means, you can see it, you can write it. You can talk about it with someone you’ve never met before, and they’ll know what you mean.

It’s credible. Saks’ new zip code is backed by the U.S. Postal Service, the authority on zip codes. I’ll come back to this in a minute too.

And depending on who you ask, it’s emotional. For some people, shoes always are.

Ok – so back to unexpected and credible. What really struck me about Saks’ new zip code was that they dared to ask the question. So many of us sit in brainstorming sessions, come up with really good ideas and immediately dismiss them because “that’ll never work,” or “the USPS will never go for that.” Yes – Saks took a risk and it paid off. And now they’ve got a great idea that’s off and running.

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