RelayRides is quickly going from startup to major player in the fast-growing car-sharing category. The company has received $13 million in funding since launching regionally in 2010, and last September it announced an exclusive, national partnership with General Motors. The partnership enables GM owners to rent out their cars to RelayRides renters using GM's OnStar technology.
Still, the car-sharing brand's new VP-marketing Scott Kinzie, who most recently held a top marketing role at Johnson & Johnson's Babycenter.com, wants to turn RelayRides into a "household brand." He talked to Ad Age about showcasing differentiation in what's becoming a competitive rental market and how to incentivize car owners to build businesses around their own vehicles.
Ad Age: The category is getting crowded – Avis acquired Zipcar, Enterprise acquired Mint and other new car-sharing companies like Daimler's Car2Go and Hertz On Demand are popping up left and right. What makes RelayRides stand out?
Mr. Kinzie: I believe we're the Airbnb of 2009. They experienced many of the same [awareness] challenges we currently face. But the successes of organizations like Zipcar and Airbnb are the reasons why we're seeing so many brands like GM investing in the [sharing] category as a whole. Zipcar and Avis are apples to apples. They manage large fleets. It's a great business. The encouraging thing for me that differentiates us from these organizations is that while they manage their own fleet we simply do not. The total market potential is much larger [for us].
Ad Age: What is your marketing goal? Does it go beyond awareness?
Mr. Kinzie: While we're focused on awareness, I'd say 40% of our strategic efforts are now focused on direct [owner and renter] acquisition activity and differentiation from other car-sharing experiences. Last year, our campaign was more focused on awareness. We engaged with Kwittken for communications strategy and management and also hired Teak in San Francisco. In 2013, we're focused on helping potential consumers understand they have an asset of value they can monetize. We want to assuage concerns largely anchored in lack of awareness or fear of the unknown to get them to try [renting their car] for the first time.
Ad Age: How is this goal reflected in your marketing efforts?
Mr. Kinzie: We launched our first coordinated cross-platform campaign that included communications, TV and digital activity – social performed well for us. We created and published video content across YouTube channels and invested in digital strategy – in stream and search ads with the objective to drive awareness and traffic. We saw a tremendous increase in total traffic. This year, some of our experiments include work with GM.
Ad Age: What challenges do you face as a small startup that's just gone national?
Mr. Kinzie: There's nothing but opportunity ahead of us, but the trick is capitalizing on that as quickly as we possibly can with growth and speed of growth. Right now we're well enough resourced to execute against strategy this year, and we're focused less on acquiring resources and more on delivering on the plan. We'll revisit the resource question again later in the year.
Ad Age: How much have you grown since officially launching last March?
Mr. Kinzie: We've had 40x growth in total fleet and 7x growth in total reservation volume. It's consistent with our focus on owners. We started in five states and now we're in 49 states.
Ad Age: What is the breakdown in the marketing budget?
Mr. Kinzie: 80% of the total marketing budget is dedicated to working media dollars. Seventy-six to 78% of that is digital media. Of that, between 60% and 65% is traditional digital media. We have a small budget – around 10% of the digital budget - for digital innovation and experimentation. It's a new category and can be spread across social or new digital channels. Of the remaining 20%, PR represents 8%.
Ad Age: What, if anything, has surprised you about your consumers and how will that information impact your approach going forward?
Mr. Kinzie: There was an interesting surprise in the form of owner appetite. Some owners are earning $250 a month renting their car. They've developed their own fleets where they're putting between two and four cars into the marketplace themselves. One owner specifically, in 2013, expects over $60,000 in income renting out cars.