NASHVILLE: Brands need to be with their customers, according to Zipcar, the innovative car rental service, which is following six key steps in order to achieve the highest levels of "delight and delivery" for its clients.

The company started 13 years ago with an investment of just $67 and a marketing programme that relied largely on word of mouth (WOM). In March 2013, it was purchased for $500m by the Avis Budget Group.

Speaking at The Market Research Event, a conference held recently in Nashville, Lesley Mottla, Zipcar's global evp/product and member experience, said its success was largely attributable to focusing on six priorities.

"Be with your customers" was the first of these. "We use all types of research, but we really built a strong ethnographic practice at Zipcar," she said.

"We spend time driving with our members – sitting in the backseat, quiet as a mouse – while they're driving. We watch them get lost and we watch them get anxious or confused."

A second principle is to "imagine the ideal". Even from its start-up days, Zipcar had to think beyond the immediate future. And that's where the notion of the "ideal" entered into the planning process as a target to work towards.

"Once you've done your research and you've spent all this time with your customers you can now say, 'What would be ideal?'" Mottla said.

Thirdly, Zipcar "designs the whole experience". An example of this was when it received a large number of calls from people who couldn't find their vehicle.

Its solution helped consumers as well as staff on the ground by adding photos of each lot to its mobile app, repositioning physical signs for greater visibility and using solar lighting at night.

A fourth objective is to pursue a model based on "recovery-as-opportunity" or "design-for-recovery": that is, when bad things occur, as they inevitably will, the firm strives to turn them into good news wherever possible.

Fifthly, the organization attempts to "reassure, rinse, repeat". It does so by combining data across the "whole global experience", from how people find and reserve cars online to its ethnographic research and customer feedback about their experience.

"And that gives us a really good picture of where and how we need to focus our attention," said Mottla.

Underpinning all these efforts is a fundamental belief in the importance of "humanizing" the brand and its purpose, rather than solely emphasizing financial metrics.

"Your company needs to have a human-centered mission and values that are not just financially related. Zipcar's mission is to enable simple, responsible urban living," said Mottla.

Data sourced from Warc