Rob Weisberg of Zipcar talks to Bernadette Casey about customer priorities and keeping the marketing message relevant.
Zipcar is well known for its innovative marketing ideas, from Zipcar improving your sex life (2004) to the low-car diet program in its third year. What are the key messages that you must communicate to your consumers and how have the priorities of your consumer changed over the years?
Innovation is a part of Zipcar's DNA. We focus on delivering the future now for our members (who we called “Zipsters”) and we believe it takes creativity to break through the clutter to deliver bold new ideas.
Our key messages have evolved as the priorities of our Zipsters have evolved over the years. Our early adopters were primarily interested in the environmental and social benefits of car-sharing since every one Zipcar removes approximately 15 personally owned cars from the road, helping to reduce congestion and your carbon footprint. While we all like to know our actions are helping save the planet, the mainstream consumer also wanted to know: “What's in it for me?” The fact is there is a lot in it for our members beyond the environmental good they are doing. So our messaging evolved.
Simply put, Zipcar provides, “wheels when you want them.” Our members enjoy all of the convenience of car ownership without the high costs or hassles. Zipcar members have on-demand access to a fleet of more than 8,000 vehicles throughout the US, Canada, and the UK. Membership includes gas, insurance, maintenance, and parking. Just like buying music by the song, Zipcar allows members to own a car one hour at a time.
Zipcar already has significant outreach to consumers via social media. Is that the dominant way you connect with consumers or are other channels effective? Should we also add something about traditional PR?
Social media is certainly an important part of our communications mix. We actively monitor the space and engage our members in a dialogue via Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, LinkedIn, and other social media channels.
We maintain both national and local Twitter handles to ensure local relevancy. We manage a national Facebook presence, as well as ZipcarU, which is a Facebook site specifically designed for our university segment. On LinkedIn we foster relationships with our Zipcar business customers. We've even gone so far as to turn our cars into Foursquare locations so our members can check in and become the “mayor” of their favorite cars.
However, in addition to our online connections, we seek to engage our Zipsters where they live, work, and play. We hold events where we invite our members and prospective members to play billiards, eat ice cream, get a free burrito, or just hang out with us. Talking with your customers is the original “social media” and allows us to gather important insights directly from our members about what is important to them. It also happens to be a lot more fun than a focus group.
We look to engage our members in a non-intrusive fashion via communications vehicles that our members enjoy. We have an award-winning iPhone app and an Android app that we recently launched because our member base is mobile and relies heavily on smartphones.
In addition, we do still do a lot with traditional marketing, advertising, and PR. We know our members are educated and tech savvy, so we want to ensure we have a presence on the websites they are visiting and in the publications they are reading.
The company has been very effective forming strategic partnerships, such as with colleges, city officials, and green thought leaders. How important are these partnerships in moving the business and its marketing efforts forward?
Strategic partnerships are very important to us. Zipcar is complementary to public transportation options. We help cities and universities to reduce congestion, parking demands and their carbon footprint – while meeting the transportation needs of their residents and students. As a result, we have been very successful at finding advocates within university administrations and city governments with whom we can create a true win-win partnership.
Zipcar is growing rapidly and the car-sharing market is expected to grow tenfold by 2016 (Frost & Sullivan). Rapid growth can bring challenges to marketing efforts. How will you guide efforts to ensure consistency and authenticity for the brand in the future?
We plan to stay true to our roots. As a company, we have a mission, vision, and set of core values that guide us in all we do. Our vision is a world where car-sharing members outnumber car owners in major cities around the globe. It's a powerful guiding principle and one that will inform our decision-making well into the future.