Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Is free beer a good way to sell carsharing?

Everybody's doing it, it seems, Flexcar, Zipcar, Community Car, you name it... It's holding a neighborhood member events - at a local watering holes with free beer (or other beverages) to recruit new members and stay in touch with existing members.

There's a good reason to do them - carsharing is ultimately a local experience - it focuses attention on the car location (hopefully locations, plural) close to where members live or work. Except for the car itself, all the other infrastructure of carsharing is largely invisible to the member - so this is a chance to put a face on the company.

The other good reason to do them is that neighborhood membership events work - they can bring in new members at a much lower cost than just about any other marketing method. One major company reports that when you figure in the cost of the beverages, incentive payments to existing members that bring new members to the events, plus whatever incentive you offer the new member (free usage, discounted application fee, etc.), it's about half the price of what their general marketing costs per new member.

To make them successful you need to promote the event properly - if you're doing any paid advertising, be sure to promote it there, and if your ad budget is more reliant on the guerilla marketing department, don't just rely on your internal email list - post a notice on CraigsList or other local electronic bulletin board.

And make sure "the offer" is compelling - usually a little free car usage for the existing member (in addition to the free beer) and a discounted application fee and a first trip discount to the new member. For example, Flexcar requires that the first trip be taken by the new member within 2-3 weeks of approval in order to get the discounts, so the momentum isn't completely lost.

The other reason to do these events is stay in touch with your members (the one's that are bringing their friends to sign up) - giving them an opportunity to tell you what they like (and dislike about what you're doing). They'll take much better care of the cars when they know there's people behind the system!

But don't just do these events once in a while - do them regularly, at least 4 times per year, throughout all the neighborhoods you serve. Remember, it's the trigger events in people's lives that cause them to join carsharing - and every month there's a new crop of people who are ready to join but need the nudge to sign up. Your event will do that.

For now free beer sounds pretty good but next summer I'll be ready for the free ice cream events!