News & Views

Opinion / Your Marketing Should be More Like Car2Go

by Chris Barth

You can hardly have a conversation about marketing these days without someone slipping in that dastardly four-letter-word: Uber. But while we focus on that multi-billion-dollar 'upstart', I'd argue that another car-sharing platform deserves a little more of the spotlight. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that Car2Go is the golden standard to which modern marketers should aspire.

Allow me to make the case.

Car2Go, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of availing yourself of its cheerful utility, is essentially a bike-share program on steroids. Available in 29 US and European cities – and recently launched in Chonqing, China – the Daimler AG-owned service uses a fleet of Smart Fortwos to create what it calls a 'free-floating' car-sharing network. Its one million global members can simply hop in a car, drive to anywhere they want (within certain urban boundaries), park the tiny vehicle and walk away. Rates are charged by the minute, with an hourly cap, and are typically, at least in my experience, far below the rates of taxis or UberX rides.

When Car2Go first launched in Brooklyn in 2014, it was a novelty. I signed up on a whim, encouraged by a promotion that waived the one-time $35 membership fee and offered some free drive time. As the cars became more prevalent in my neighborhood, I took to pointing them out excitedly to my wife. 'Look! Car2Go!' Note: this is an extremely fun game for 50% of the participants.

Since then, however, my novel fascination has turned into true love of the service. I've used the cars to meet up with friends, to escape rainstorms, and to adjust to changed plans on the fly. I've moved cities, and the service moved with me, enabling extra flexibility without requiring me to buy a car that would spend 99% of its time sitting idly by. My lack of love for cabs has recently made Car2Go my preferred method of transport to and from the airport. I even used one of the tiny vehicles to transport a 6-foot party sub across town, which may or may not have required driving a few miles with a foot of sandwich sticking out the window. 

But more than just a party sub transportation solution, I think Car2Go represents a new breed of marketing strategy that many brands could stand to emulate. Here are four things I think Daimler is doing right, that we could all stand to consider in the campaigns we make every day:

It's a hands-on demo that puts the product in the hands of potential customers.

Smart Cars don't appeal to people in rural areas who drive on big highways. They're specifically designed for urban driving – easy to park, low on gas consumption, great for short trips with one or two people. (For more on Smart Cars, subscribers can check out our interview with Smart USA's head of brand management, Eric Angeloro.) Car2Go directly serves the population looking for that type of vehicle, giving them the ability to test drive its cars easily and on their own time. Should they decide in the future that a personal vehicle fits their lifestyle better than a shared one, there's no doubt that Smart cars will be in their consideration set. And recently, Car2Go has experimented with adding four-door Mercedes vehicles to its fleet in three Canadian cities, increasing the visibility and possibility of another Daimler brand to urbanites.

Research at Ohio State University found that people place 60% more value on items they physically hold in their hands  an idea known as the endowment effect. And retail services like Trunk Club and Try.com are built around the theory that people are more likely to fall in love with items once they've had the chance to try them out.

Consider: How can you let your brand speak for itself? How can you get people to experience it first-hand?

It's forward-acting, not just forward-thinking.

Plenty of brands are thinking about what might impact them in the future. But Daimler isn't just talking about those threats – it's taking action. Rather than digging in its heels and letting the transportation revolution pass it by, the brand is figuring out how to sweat its manufacturing assets in the upcoming economy. 'We're a Daimler company and we're able to work with the different departments on how to make this further step in car-sharing,' CEO Paul DeLong told Fortune in September. 'There will be a day when people open up their app, like they open up an app for car2go, and the vehicle will show up to them, instead of trying to find a vehicle or trying to park a vehicle.' Plenty of other car brands are trying their hand at car-sharing pilots, but none have come close to the scale and success of Car2Go so far.

Consider: How can you position your brand to blaze a trail as the consumer landscape changes over the next decade?

It's a simple-to-use service that delivers utility.

To be quite honest, I don't use Car2Go because I love driving Smart Fortwos (although the ease of parking is a definite advantage in cities). I use Car2Go because it is exceedingly convenient and cost-effective. The in-car system walks you through each step of the process. The cars are almost always nearby when I want them. The app is clear and intuitive. The customer service is responsive and kind (I once parked in an illegal spot; Car2Go paid the ticket and reminded me to be more careful next time). In the spirit of Byron Sharp, the brand is both mentally and physically available, encouraging me to engage with it on my own terms and my own time. (For more, see our interview with Sharp's co-author, Jenni Romaniuk, in the most recent issue of Contagious Magazine.)

Consider: How can you deliver utility and value to real people through your product and related services?

It's committed to continuously getting better.

Car2Go isn't a flawless service, but it's constantly improving. Launched with a $1000 insurance deductible for drivers, the brand listened to customer response and dropped that to $250 by adding a $1 per-ride driver protection fee. The app has gotten better, and now enables drivers to reserve cars up to half an hour before using them, if one happens to be parked in a convenient spot. The service has added new cities and new parking options, trialled new vehicle options, and even shuttered in a few cities where the demand didn't live up to expectation. It's far from static, and is consequently a service that is evolving alongside customer expectations and demands.

Consider: How can you structure your brand and its offerings to be more adaptable, flexible and biased toward improvement rather than stagnation?

None of these ideas are rocket science, but I suspect most brands could stand to gain by taking an honest look at themselves through these lenses. Increasingly, marketing is not a process to be undertaken every now and then; instead, it is an ongoing effort to remain relevant and useful to consumers and potential consumers. By embracing change, experimenting, listening, taking risks, and improving, Daimler AG and Car2Go have engendered love for both the service they provide and the products at the heart of that service. Which, if you ask me, is pretty damn Smart.