Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Zip Car – wheels when you want them: fascinating marketing success still in the making

If you want to know how Zipcar
became a brand and a business, you have to read NYT’s article - Share my Ride
by Mike Levine (Btw, it really irks me that you have to sign up for the Times before you can read an article – the sign-up process is just too sales/add-driven and it takes away from the reputation of the paper.) It follows the truly fascinating story of building a business from the ground up, with the trade-offs, challenges, difficulties, stamina, ups and downs all start-ups go through in the process of becoming a business, so rarely seen by us innocent outside observers.

8 Things I love about Zipcar:
1. The idea was solid – it was done in Europe before, so it could work in the US. It just needed time – Zipcar started in year 1999. According to official stats, today, in year 2009, the company has 300,000 customers and is still not profitable overall. The company has raised over $40 million in funds and has been brilliant in its branding and marketing execution.

2. Zipcar is not in the car-sharing business, it is in the freedom business. Brilliant! Zipcar is not a utility, it is a lifestyle, a personal statement. All strong, meaningful brands become symbols for who we are and how people think of us.

3. Zipcar has a powerful message - Zipcar doesn’t tell people not to drive - it urges them not to own. What’s more, Zipcar is on its way to redefining the meaning of car ownership (thanks in huge part to Zipcar’s visionary CEO Scott Griffith)– car sharing is “clean, crisp, urbane, postmodern; owning is dull, selfish, timid, backward”. Zipcar is creating a dissonance in our minds and offers an alternative – touched by the Zipcar message, you can’t help but think that if not today, then one day you will be a Zipcar member.

4. Zipcar’s marketing approach is fascinating for two reasons – Zipcar understands that brands and experiences are built over time - long time, folks (Twitter is 3 years old and is still not used by 95% of the internet population). And that it takes high touch. Zipcar has been 9 years in the making and has not made it big yet – it does not have a following in the millions (yet). Although it has been a media darling since it started, Zipcar has fought an uphill battle, city by city, neighborhood by neighborhood to become the new cool.

5. Zipcar cares about its members and every touchpoint of their experience with the brand. It started with the founder Robin Chase (who was forced out of the company after 3 years of running it) who threw potluck parties, mixers, and even a swim at Walden Pond for its members. Zipcar membership is becoming almost cultist – Zipsters are cool, hip, educated, smart consumers, one of the most powerful recruiting vehicles for the company.

6. Zipcar is a local brand marketer – they focus on local businesses, events, feet-on-the-street promotions, which they call hyper-local marketing. Market by market. Their marketing techniques include curbside demonstrations of Zipcar’s technology, Zipcar ads in bus shelters and free membership for merchants who prominently displayed Zipcar pamphlets. They work with universities and local charities too to get their message out and gain better distribution and scale.

7. Zipcar partnered with Starbucks for a social experiment called the "Low Car Diet" where the Zipcar team asked consumers to try out a car-free lifestyle. And it worked - 58% of people who participated said they would not go back to their cars, citing feeling healthier, and enjoying walking and biking more, according to an interview with ZipCar’s new VP of Marketing Victoria Godfrey
for AdAge. To be successful in building a long-term business, you have to connect with people on an emotional level. Otherwise you are bound to be a commodity. One idea or one promotion does not cut it either – the Low Car Diet now is a theme for the company, that has legs.

8. It is all about access: According to Victoria, Zipcar is at the “right time, with a number of global trends setting the table: increasing urbanization, increasing use of transit, ... and an age quickly becoming focused on access vs. ownership”. Love the access vs. ownership idea – rather than buying books, we can now access them via the Amazon Kindle or our iPhone, rather than buying maps, we call our Google Maps to get directions when we need them. Ownership is so passé, access is it, folks.

Yours truly in scratching on brilliant marketing ideas,


  1. Great article. I came across it when I searched "Twitter" + "Zipcar".

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  3. Brilliant. Check out this new company, taking the sharing economy approach to water to go.. without the waste!

  4. Really like the accessibility vs. possession concept – rather than purchasing guides, we can now accessibility them via the Amazon online. com Amazon online kindle or our iPhone, rather than purchasing charts, we contact our Search engines Maps to get guidelines when we need them.

    Sincerely yours,
    Allen Carlos