Silvercar — the Austin-based startup that only rents silver Audi A4s, the company that uses wireless technology and smartphones to dispense with paperwork and rental counters, the company that was just infused with $14 million from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, among others — is a traditional car rental company at heart. And for this reason, traditional car rental companies should have a look-see into Silvercar’s marketing playbook.
Silvercar’s marketing strategies are a mix of cutting edge and tried and true, with an updated twist. Russ Lemmer, Silvercar’s marketing guru, speaks frankly about the most effective ways to leverage Silvercar’s marketing dollar.
- Use social media to build brand awareness, not transactions.
“Right now, per dollar spent we get more leverage out of social,” Lemmer says, with the caveat that social is not a medium for transaction-oriented efforts, at least for car rental. “Unlike Netflix, you can’t click a link and immediately consume whatever deal I’m trying to offer you,” Lemmer says.
When it comes to social, “the trick is to stay relevant and engaging, without continuing to just say, hey, we’re new car rental, and fatiguing the eyeballs,” Lemmer says.
- Give them content and keep it fresh.
When it comes to social media, “the single greatest thing you can do is serve up content,” Lemmer says.
Silvercar has posted on Facebook regarding favorite movie car chases, best car-related video games or coolest drives within two hours of San Francisco, for example. “With that, we get comments, shares and likes,” Lemmer says. “While those don’t necessarily perpetuate transaction growth, they build my awareness.”
- Promote your lifestyle.
Social media is about branding and associating your brand with a customer base that aligns to your lifestyle. “Car rental is one of those things that is hard to get jazzed about,” Lemmer admits, so that’s why Silvercar is positioning itself as a lifestyle brand, with social media as the platform.
Inherent in this initiative is Silvercar’s partnership with Virgin America, another lifestyle brand. “They’re pioneering an in-air experience that we’re trying to do on the ground.”
- Define your customer segments and market to their preferences.
Two key areas of customer understanding are how they found out about you and what their preferences are. That’s where user surveys come in. “We ask the users; they’re the best source of information,” Lemmer says.
Silvercar finds out if you’re a first-time user and how you got there: from a friend, social media, an online article, an online ad, the partnerships with Virgin America or Audi, or a referral network.
Surveying allows you to market to “cohort” groups, or defined demographic subsets. Lemmer gives the example of a customer who is “male, late 30s, loves sports, travels 10 times a year for leisure and 15 times for business and prefers these particular brands.”
This information is self-reported through the survey. With this level of detail, you can then see what they respond to. “You’re cracking that next level of personalization,” Lemmer says.
As well, Silvercar uses a Facebook tool called Website Custom Audiences, which allows advertisers to create Facebook ads that target users who also have previously visited the advertisers’ websites. These criteria — based on how users interacted with Silvercar.com — are collected in a “pixel” that is dropped in the users’ Internet browsers. When users return to Facebook, they will see an ad tailored to their preferences.
“You get far more relevant ads per user; it becomes a much more personal experience,” Lemmer says. “The key to unlocking the power in social is to make things personal.”
- Make a game out of it.
Gamification, the new marketer’s favorite buzzword, is essentially the concept of applying game mechanics to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. “People love contests,” Lemmer says. “Whatever carrot is on that stick, we as human beings are inclined to chase that carrot.”
In car rental, it could mean giving a four-day car rental to the user who refers the most potential customers. Internally, Lemmer will incentivize local operating managers to turn satisfied customers into positive Yelp reviews. The reward will be a pizza party or gift cards for the team, for instance. The result is to turn “that positive experience from the singular and isolated into the universal and appreciated,” he says.
- Surprise and delight.
In this category, Lemmer brings up an ingenious marketing campaign from behemoth ride-sharing company Uber, which partnered with Paramount Studios on the new “Transformers” movie.
In select cities, lucky Uber passengers could select “Optimus Prime” as their ride. A tricked-out monster truck showed up to pick them up. “It surprised and delighted the people,” he says. (To a lesser extent, Hertz used “surprise and delight” when it offered surprise upgrades to its Dream Cars fleet of Ferraris and Porsches.)
The real power of marketing is not just me convincing you of something, but me surprising you and delighting you. And when you do that, your customer becomes your best salesperson.
- Incentivize your customers to become your best advocates.
Referencing Malcolm Gladwell, your most powerful salespeople are your customers having a great time with your product and then telling other people, Lemmer says. “It’s a much more leveraged marketing dollar than me shelling out money for specific ad buy.”
Users who love the product or service will want to talk about it — and if there’s an incentive, say, a contest on social media, that becomes a catalyst to tell many more people: “That’s where you really start to see your leveraged dollar.”
“Incentivizing a customer to post and share [on Facebook or Instagram, for instance] is very valuable to us,” Lemmer says. “Our marketing department in Austin is two people, yet we have people in Silvercars doing far more interesting things than I could create an advertisement about. I’d much rather have them embrace the brand and post their experience to their own network, because it’s so much more validating than an old-school advertisement.”