How Zipcar Creates a Self-Defining Brand – And Why This Should Change How You Think About Marketing

How Zipcar Creates a Self-Defining Brand“When we create products for our Zipsters, when we create a user experience, we do it as if we’re Zipsters and we’re going to use it every day. We do it through their eyes. We do what’s right for our community. That’s going to build a great company.” — Scott Griffith, CEO of Zipcar.

Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith has a lot going on. His company filed for its IPO on June 1. He’s adding cities to Zipcar’s expanding international footprint. And he’s also playing a central role in re-imagining what urban cityscapes will look like with fewer cars on the road.

But what stands out is more subtle.

Scott Griffith is also creating an Eigen Value.

Let’s back up for a moment. Have you heard of the concept of an Eigen Value? An Eigen Value is a self-defining entity: its outputs are identical to itself. “This sentence has five words.” This is an Eigen Value. It’s a truism. It’s unarguable.

If I were to say, “This sentence has lots and lots of words,” this would not be an Eigen Value because it’s subjective and frankly depends on what you think “a lot” means. In any case, it lacks vividness and we quickly discard it.

And that’s the point.

When we create Eigen Values in our cultures and our marketing, we create images that are sticky. They’re vivid. They reinforce each other so that calling the brand’s customer support line is as much a branding “moment of power” as opening its retail packaging or visiting its website would be. Everything is working together to reinforce exactly the same message.

Why is this important? Two reasons come to mind:

Because we have limited resources. We need every bullet to count. We can’t afford to have our website looking like one company while our customer service people sound like another and our press releases look like a third. We need to make every ounce of effort amplify every other.

Because they have a limited attention span. Them, they, those customers out there, beyond the footlights – they really don’t care about your brand. It’s only remarkable to them when they desperately need you or when you fail while doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You need to break through the ambient noise. And when you approach them sounding like five different companies, none of which speak their language, they move on very quickly.

Back to Zipcar. The company is re-imagining urban cityscapes by offer personal transportation – cars, in this case – as a service, not as a product. This takes a lot of cars and their requisite infrastructure, like parking, out of dense urban environments. They offer flat, no “gotcha” pricing – often as low as $8 an hour – including gas and insurance. They exist to serve those customers who want to have a lighter footprint in their communities and save a lot of money in the process. Look at their core values on their website and you’ll see the heart of this strategy transparently written down in public for anyone to see.

What we see in the company’s product portfolio, from pricing options to the actual cars themselves, as well as its pricing and corporate positioning all emanates from these principles. Zipcar is an Eigen Value.

And an Eigen Culture, said another way.


Stephen Denny Stephen Denny is a competitive strategy and marketing consultant, speaker and author. His book, Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry is now available. You can follow Steve online at Stephen Denny, where he blogs about strategy, marketing and big ideas.

6 Reactions
  1. Zipcar has tons of “Gotcha” pricing. Somehow, every $8/hour rental turns into $69.

  2. Strength of the team is great

  3. I love the idea behind ZipCar, but until consumers start supporting the idea with their hard-earned money it won’t take off.

  4. Michelle Shapiro

    This idea of the Eigen Value is so important in online advertising. Companies need to make sure that they are on the most relevant pages, next to or in the most relevant images, to keep their company messaging consistent.

  5. Martin Lindeskog

    Stephen Denny: I am getting curious to know more about Eigen… I have to check out your book. My blog and company name has one self-defining entity: EGO (I in Latin). Every business idea comes from a thought by an individual.