Monday, August 06, 2007

Some Good Perspectives About Carsharing and Marketing

Writer Mike Bierne, at a website call Brandweek, has published one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive articles about carsharing in a long time. While concentrating on "Flex" and "Zip", he acknowledges the role of the "indies", City Carshare, Philly Carshare, HourCar, etc. the article, titled "Temporary Plates", provides a very good overview to anyone interested in the current state of the industry.

It includes a discussion about recent efforts to introduce "hourly car rental" by Enterprise (in several cities) and Hertz (in Manhattan). As I have written earlier, I think the carsharing people should be concerned about these efforts as they will confuse the marketplace and our governmental partners.

But the heart of the article for me was the discussion about carsharing market positioning near the article. Bierne contrasts the early emphasis on "green" marketing (perhaps overstates it a little, since after all we were marketing to early adopters!) with later efforts by the "big guys" to find a broader appeal. Here's a quote from the article by Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith:

"The green positioning was off the mark," he said. "Most consumers don't change their buying position [just] because something is green. We had to come up with a focus for our brand that was much more exciting and broader than that."

...However, in Griffith's view, Zipcar had to be positioned as a lifestyle brand, one that transformed living in the city without a car into an alternative that was smarter and hipper than owning one. Four years ago, the company hired Yankelovich, New York, to conduct psychographic research. The study identified potential customers like the "aspiring achievers"—brand and status conscious people who are more likely to buy a car—and "individualists," who were early Internet adopters and heavy bloggers.

And the rest is history, as Zipcar has demonstrated. Later, the article makes another good point quoting Flexcar's PR person, John Williams:

"There's a transformation aspect involved with the ability to have access to a car when you need one without having to own it," said Williams, who's ever on watch for stories he can publish of people whose personal or financial lives have been improved though their Flexcar memberships. These true tales range from a couple who qualified for a bigger mortgage-and bought a bigger house after dumping their car, to working mothers who can spend more time with their children because the cost-savings of car sharing allowed them make ends meet with just a part-time job. "Those are very powerful stories," Williams said. "Car sharing is a liberating presence for folks, and that freedom leads to a very strong core brand affinity. People have an emotional connection to the freedom they enjoy because they can have a car when they need it."