Zippo Lights a Fire Under a New Customer Base

Customer Strategy
Customer Experience

Zippo Manufacturing Company has become an iconic brand, with more than 450 million units sold and an uncontested reputation as the premium provider of pocket lighters. But the changing role of its product has prompted the company to launch a multichannel marketing program.

The most compelling reason to buy a $30 lighter is to light a cigarette with panache. And now less than one quarter of Americans smoke. So Zippo turned to a multi-pronged strategy in a bid to become more than just a fondly remembered relic of a bygone two-packs-a-day era.

Zippo is looking to elevate other characteristics of its lighters, such as that of status symbol and good-luck charm, to greater prominence. One tact is based on customer loyalty: sell more to the brand's biggest fans. With a range of customized designs, Zippo encourages people to consider its lighters collectible.

But that strategy can only go so far. The loyal collector market tends to be long-term customers with disposable income-a market that isn't getting any younger. After some corporate soul-searching, Zippo realized that its biggest booms have historically come from the youngest customers. Namely, GIs looking for a reliable way to light their rationed cigarettes in adverse conditions. "There's a huge association between Zippo and World War II, Korea, and Vietnam," says Pat Grandy, Zippo's marketing communications manager. "[Soldiers] were in that target 18 to 24 age when they became familiar with the brand.".

This year Zippo is recommitting itself to the younger end of its consumer spectrum with a combination of mass-marketing and targeted, one-to-one efforts. To get in front of young buyers in festive settings, Zippo is running a large music-themed campaign at 10 major live music venues this summer.

On the digital side, the company's "Virtual Zippo" application for the iPhone has been downloaded more than 3 million times. And the company built a customer-driven "Designer Zone" website, where 50 potential new designs are exhibited every two to three months. Customers rate their favorite designs, which guides changes to Zippo's product mix. "We have been running it for about a year, and some of the designs that come out at the top of the Designer Zone list become excellent sellers in our catalog," says Darryll DeCoster, senior Internet designer at Zippo.

Zippo also uses online tracking and analysis to take cues from not only the voice of its customers, but their deeds as well. Working with analytics provider Scout Labs, Zippo monitors third-party Web traffic about Zippo, such as blog or forum posts. The program helps keep Zippo apprised of the innovations made by hands-on enthusiasts who modify their lighters into new and unexpected devices, such as remote-controlled cars and laser-powered torches. Although Zippo hasn't committed to turn any of these way-out ideas into products just yet, these insights could play a key role in keeping the company relevant without abandoning its decades-old strengths.

Although Zippo closely guards its sales figures, Grandy says that the average age of a Zippo buyer has come down in recent years. With the right combination of attitude and innovation, Zippo hopes to light the way to the future, even if nobody actually lights up. "Ultimately, the Zippo lighter is a badge product, an extension of the guy carrying it," Grandy says.