Darren Peacock is on a mission. The Marketing Communications Manager for Avis Europe is on the offensive to raise brand awareness of Avis-owned Budget UK against the market leaders. For Peacock there is one obvious channel which can deliver this objective – digital.
Budget Car & Van Rental remains a force to be reckoned with. As one of the top three global car and van rental companies, the company operates in over 3,400 locations, within 128 countries worldwide, including over 800 airports.
“We are big in the US but not as well known in the UK so one of the biggest challenges for us is to raise awareness against the market leaders,” Peacock confessed. “Car hire is very commoditised and a very competitive sector, especially here in the UK, where not only are the traditional players and a lot of newcomers, but also local players and brokers.
“For us, it’s about looking beyond the price point message. Hiring a car is one of the last purchase decisions a person generally makes in their travel plans, after booking their flights, accommodation and so on.”
The new commitment to digital has seen Budget assigning an additional 25% of marketing spend into digital, focusing on digital creative, online media buying and paid-for search.
The move is part of the wider UK marketing strategy, which is leading the way for the firm’s Europe-wide plans.
“In the US, strategies tend to focus on the local market, but the UK is leading the European strategy,” explained Peacock. “Within the global marketing picture however, the core brand values remain the same in so far as we are a ‘value brand’, not cheap, but with a simple lead-in price.
“We’re not looking at digital as separate to traditional channels but as part of a marcomms plans including press, POS and press. However, it offers a highly targeted way to reach consumers and allows us to change the message as they travel along the purchase funnel.”
He continued, “We can follow their journey and make them aware of additional add-on options to help them on the road.”
The UK Marketing Communications boss has to admit that after three-and-a-half years the company is still learning about consumer behaviour along the journey to purchase.
But rather than simply looking at the final purchase, the company is looking at different sets of results at different points in the funnel.
Meanwhile increased investment in search marketing - restructuring keyword groups and investigating how to lift Google page rank - has seen bookings triple. Offline PR is used to help raise awareness and reinforce the brand with the objective of driving search terms.
With Avis has been making significant strides in the social media field. The wetryharder.co.uk blog is used as a consumer engagement tool, rather then simply as a promotions channel. Meanwhile the company Twitter feed has more followers that the rest of its competitors combined together.
“We first approached social media as a communications channel but increasingly we are looking as somewhere were we can engage with consumers and as a customer service channel,” explained Peacock.
“The more we engage with them, the more they expect, but it’s very important for us.”
Avis’ approach to Facebook is to use it as a weekend inspiration resource with ideas for leisure weekend breaks as opposed to having a heavy commercial presence. The hope is that fans will use Avis car hire to take their planned trips with the added incentive of a 5% discount.
“The fan membership has been growing slowly, but is still growing and the numbers a re highly engaged in commenting,” added Peacock.
In a market where price is king, how does a marketer instill brand loyalty? Peacock admits it’s ‘the million dollar question’. Some 90 percent of Budget’ customers are from the leisure market, but the brand also targets SMEs with added-value discounts.
A bi-monthly newsletter passes on tips on driving, health and safety issues relating to business travel. The tips are accompanied by price point messaging.
Meanwhile a leisure consumer eCRM programme sees a monthly newsletter featuring worldwide deals and an early booker message offering 20% off when bookings are made two months in advance.
Other programmes include an anniversary mail on the back of previous rentals and a birthday mail for customers.
How things will pan out remains to be seen but the commitment is clear with a recent restructuring of the agency roster. Creative agency Acknowledgement will help drive Budget’s creative digital solutions, Webliquid will be focusing on its online media buying strategy, and Unique Digital will be tasked with boosting Budget’s paid-for search offering.
The new agency hires are in addition to the existing relationship Budget has with Shiny Red, The Red Consultancy’s digital arm, which oversees the brand’s social media activity.
So does Peacock have any advice for his peers?
“We have learnt not to be afraid to take calculated risks. We were driving high with a focus on ROI, but now have other models, such as looking at engagement and brand recognition,” he said.
“If we do four things and only one works brilliantly, well that makes up for the other three. It’s about moving forward rather that staying with what you know to keep ahead of the competition.”
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