Get off the Cluetrain and into my Zipcar: Social media success in the car-sharing business

I came across an excellent blog posting by Lora Kratchounova, aka “Scratch” – an industry marketing and media guru – addressing Zipcar’s unparalleled marketing success.

Over the past 9 years, Zipcar has built more than just a revolutionary product – they built a brand. Through their intriguing marketing and media messaging, Zipcar planted in consumers the illusion of exclusivity and luxury. Potential consumers ponder the wishful idea that if they’re lucky enough, maybe just one day, they too can become a Zipcar member.

Scratch’s post outlines 8 things she loves about Zipcar – all with which I whole-heartedly agree. But there are two more points that she missed, both of which I think are crucial to the success of their overall brand. Coincidentally, both of these points are major elements of the Cluetrain Manifesto: the use of the ‘human voice’ and the idea that ‘markets are conversations’.

Across their entire brand and marketing campaign, Zipcar speaks to their consumers with a human voice, and not that of a corporation. As I pointed out in an earlier posting on the Cluetrain Manifesto, traditional companies’ voices are dry, homogenized, and contrived; they do not sound like the real people in their market.

Successful ones, such as Zipcar, understand human mannerisms to be able to interact with their market. A true example of this is the way they treat their cars like people.

Their vehicles are all given a name, such as Babycakes, Bitsy, Belvedere, Boy wonder, even Boogaloo. Zipcar’s online database also contains short descriptions of the vehicles – each one of them resembling more an online dating profile than typical rent-a-car websites. They even recently announced a Zipcar “sleepover” program; this slumber party allowing you to keep a Zipcar overnight at a discounted rate.Zipcar Profiles

The cars become your companions, your teammates, and not just a tool to achieve your goal. In the end, this personification of vehicles and casual language makes users feel more connected to the company as a whole.

Second, Zipcar uses every instance of delivering corporate messages as an opportunity for a conversation with their market.

While many companies attempt – and fail – at successfully involving their markets in conversation, Zipcar thrives (or should I say drives.) This affirmation is evident by their extremely active Facebook page.

Zipcar has a following on Facebook of over 27 thousand fans. Though many pages can boast that many members, few have achieved the same level of interaction.

Every Zipcar post on Facebook earns tens, hundreds, something thousands of feedback messages.

Zipcar regularly asks its members to name their vehicles. In a request for naming on September 10th, members responded overwhelmingly with 1,641 comments and 20 “likes.”

Zipcar also converses with their members on a level beyond the product itself. They encourage ‘Zipsters’ to send in stories and pictures of things they’ve done during their Zipcar reservations. On December 4th, they posted a picture of a baby who was born after being driven to the hospital in a Zipcar. On September 25th, two guys from MIT drove their Zipcar to a launch site where they floated a balloon with a camera attached into the sky, and submitted a picture of what they found. On November 6th, Tyler and Jane hopped in a Zipcar after their wedding and drove off into the sunset.

Zipcar Weekend Fun

They have also asked their members to submit designs for their Christmas e-card, or a picture of their Halloween “pumpkin art” carving that captures what they love about Zipcar.

Why is Zipcar so successful in employing these two elements into their marketing scheme? Because they use them together. The ‘human voice’ plays off the belief that ‘markets are conversations.’

Companies can easily write a witty passage, but if no one is there to respond, what is the use? And why converse with your audience when you aren’t speaking the same language?

Zipcar has found a way to seamlessly incorporate both of these elements into their marketing plan, and it is their use in tangent that makes them relevant to us, the consumer. Or in their case, the too-cool-for-school “Zipsters.”

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