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On the Market Watch: Zipcar's Fast Lane to Smart Marketing

Brought to you by IBM. Zipcar CMO Rob Weisberg on how the company uses marketing towards its goal of making car-sharing more popular than car owning.

In the On the Market Watch four-part series, we interview industry leaders about how technology and business are evolving the way companies use marketing and social media. This post is brought to you by our partner, IBM.

As the world’s leading car-sharing network, Zipcar’s goal is to launch a “future where car-sharing members outnumber car owners in major cities.” Amongst the company’s “ambassadors of change” leading the charge is Rob Weisberg. In his two and a half years as CMO, Weisberg has doubled Zipcar’s membership base to more than 700,000 in major markets in the US, Canada and Europe, as well as more than 250 college campuses. Before joining Zipcar, Weisberg worked at agencies including Grey and Ogilvy, and served as VP, Multimedia Marketing at Domino’s Pizza. Weisberg talked with GOOD about the changing nature of business marketing and how Zipcar is expanding its audience through targeted messaging.

GOOD: How have you noticed the role of CMO evolving?

WEISBERG:The CMO role has certainly changed and transformed over the last decade. Years ago, the CMO was only responsible for brand building and advertising campaigns. Now, CMOS are expected to deliver a measureable return on investment. We have to have a broader view on business in general. We are the brand advocates, certainly. We’re also the voice of the consumer. We need to provide and teach leadership. We need to provide quantifiable business results. And at the end of the day we need to innovate, motivate and really drive change for the organization.

GOOD: How do you see marketing strategies changing?

WEISBERG: Really knowing your audience is key. We strive to ensure that we have a deep understanding of our members as well as potential members. In Zipcar’s case we have a high percentage of millennials in our member base and, therefore, high technology adoption. Ninety-five percent of our members carry smart phones—about double the national average—and are very active in social media.

Millennials have very different attitudes about car ownership and personal transportation versus their parents. So to really understand their needs and desires, we go back to fundamentals in terms of conducting research on their attitudes towards transportation and collaborative consumption, as well as social media. We’re very active in mobile, social and online. That’s where our members are.

GOOD: Has Zipcar had to make innovations in this vein or were they already on top of it from the get-go because of its structure?

WEISBERG: Three years ago none of our reservations were being made via mobile devices. Today, approximately 60% of our reservations are being made via mobile devices. Three years ago, Zipcar also wasn’t active in social media; today, we actively monitor it. Really engaging the audience in those channels is something that had to go from zero to 60 in response to consumer needs and demands.

GOOD: Because of who your target audience is, how have those relationships evolved?

WEISBERG: With this audience, we think in terms of localizing the brand. We have local offices in our 18 major metro markets and have a lot of involvement with those local communities. In each of those markets, we provide our members with local benefits like discounts to local museums, a special offer at a bike shop, a discount gym membership. We have local Twitter handles in each of our markets. The reason for that is to ensure the content we’re delivering is as relevant as possible to those individuals. They should walk away from the relationship with Zipcar feeling as if this brand really understands them as an individual and understands their community—it’s a brand that really resonates with them.

GOOD: In what other ways can these relationships be personalized?

WEISBERG: We use data as a competitive advantage in understanding the customer base, understanding the segments of consumers we have and what’s important to them in order to have and ensure the service is personalized in such a way that it’s not a one-size fits all model.

GOOD: With all these changes in the marketing world, what new skills, relationships and tools are needed?

WEISBERG: All the expectations of our predecessors and CMO roles around creative and branding is still of paramount importance, but it really needs to be married to a data-driven insight and measurement criteria approach.

Nowadays, consumers have to feel good about the brand. This requires driving awareness, consideration and purchase intent. We have the ability to do dynamic messaging, getting very targeted with our audience by methods like serving a particular banner ad to a particular person in a particular geography.

As a result, marketing needs to be data driven. You can have thousands of test cells, a complex experimental design set-up and testing matrices that give you the ability to get smarter much faster—to refine your marketing message to assure you’re leaving the right message with the right offer via the right marketing communications channel at the right time. It really is that marrying of art and science that can bring that brand to life. Marketers of the future are going to have to have that diverse set of skills.

Image (cc) via Flickr user S. Diddy

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