07 March 2009

Zipcar

The NYT Magazine has an interesting article about Zipcar and some of the business decisions that have been instrumental in its success. Perhaps first and foremost, its management realized that in order to make an impact, Zipcar would have to operate at a large scale— even if it meant angering environmentalists:

To some environmentalists, it was anathema to make driving seem fun [with the slogan "Wheels When You Want Them"]. [Founder Robin] Chase was unconcerned. "The whole game at Zipcar was to get people to join so that they would sell their car or not buy one. I used to joke that I would have put a Hummer in the fleet if it would get people to join."

More people will get on board if you ask them to drive less than if you ask them to stop driving.

Other ideas: fostering a sense of community (cf. Yelp)...

Chase threw potluck parties for them, mixers, a swim at Walden Pond. It didn’t matter that only a few people showed up: simply knowing that such events were taking place seemed to burnish the Zipster identity. Customers were encouraged to come up with quirky names for each Zipcar; naming the cars, Chase found, personalized them and encouraged members to treat them gently.

And picking a good name...

Then we tried 'U.S. Carshare.' That was how I learned that 40 percent of the people I talked to had an extremely negative reaction to the word 'sharing.' The word makes people nervous. They feel they're being scolded or told to wait their turn. At that point I banned my staff from using the phrase 'car sharing.' Do we call hotels 'bed sharing'? That's way too intimate.

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