How a Musician Became an Experiential Brand Marketer as Zappos’ ‘Fungineer’

Tyler Williams discovered the brand really does value creativity

Tyler Williams is the guy who adds color and gusto to branding Zappos.
Courtesy of Peter Gaunt

Musician Tyler Williams had nearly snared a plum job, especially for Las Vegas. In a city where the prevailing professions are housekeeper and casino cashier, Williams had made it to the final interview for a position as a drummer in the Blue Man Group. There was just one problem: He didn’t really want the gig.

Williams had been watching videos by Vegas-based business mystic and Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, whose convention-defying wisdom operates at the spiritual center of his etail footwear site, which Amazon snapped up in 2009 for a tidy $1.2 billion. Hsieh’s ethos boils down to 10 values, stuff like: “Deliver ‘Wow’ through Service” and “Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded.”

Williams liked what he heard. But he’d also heard something else. “I read online that it was harder to get into Zappos than to get into Harvard,” Williams said. “I figured there’s no way I was going to get a job. I don’t have any of the skills they’re looking for.”

That’s when Williams decided to see just how much Zappos really did value creativity. He composed an original song about the company’s core values, then shot a video in which he performed the tune—and played every instrument in the band. Williams posted his video. Zappos called. So much for that Harvard thing.

“I read online that it was harder to get into Zappos than to get into Harvard."
-Tyler Williams

These days, Williams is Zappos’ fungineer—a job that is what it implies. Since Zappos’ approach to building sales lay in establishing relationships, Williams is the guy who adds color and gusto to that effort.

He’s part of the creative force behind “Home for the Pawlidayz,” the holiday pet-adoption drive for which Zappos foots the adoption fees. Williams also helped launch the Porta-Party, a high-tech portable toilet (towed to high-traffic locations) that’s fitted out with a light show and a selfie mirror, and dispenses treats for flushing. Back at the office, Williams is the guy who installed a video game inside the elevator to get employees to interact with one another.

“Anytime you do something impactful for somebody, we believe you create brand affinity,” he explained. “But it comes back to our pillars of service. We don’t really identify as a brand that sells shoes. We’re a service company that just happens to sell [shoes].”

Just like Williams is a musician who happens to be a brand marketer.

Curriculum Vitae
Musician (yep, that’s about it)
As Williams will be the first to tell you, corporate America isn’t likely to get excited over a job candidate who’s spent years playing in bands. But “you pick up a lot of side skills being a musician,” he said. A self-described gearhead, Williams could record, engineer audio, work lighting and edit video. “I didn’t have a work history for the last four years because I’ve been a drummer,” he said. “But I work hard and have a lot of skills. That video [I made for Zappos] was meant to show I have talent.”

Job Profile
The fungineer role, created especially for Williams, is part of Brand Aura, an experiential marketing division of Zappos that eschews traditional ROI in favor of creating over-the-top experiences that’ll leave lasting impressions. “The whole idea of Brand Aura is investing Zappos’ personality into real experience,” Williams said. “Our ultimate metric is to make someone say, ‘Wow.’”

On-the-Job Training
All new hires at Zappos start at the call center, practicing customer service, and so did Williams. “No matter who you are,” he said, “you’re taking calls. I actually enjoyed the call center. It taught me a lot about myself.”