Metro, Business, Featured Story

BC Alum Helps Builds Zipcar Into Global Brand

As a child, Brian Harrington, BC ’89, would eagerly sit in front of the television, watching. He wouldn’t watch the programs, however. Instead, Harrington watched the commercials—one after another. There were times when he would sit in front of the television for hours, marveling at the jingles and slogans that appeared in ads ranging from the New England Aquarium to the Boston Museum of Science.

Harrington’s interest came to life in college. As a marketing major at Boston College, he became fascinated by the notion of why people buy, and what things motivate consumers.

Now, the kid who loved commercials on TV is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Zipcar. As part of his duties, the self-proclaimed “Boston Townie” is responsible for global brand building, membership acquisition, as well as social media and public relations to keep the marketing of the company running like a finely tuned engine.

By now, BC students are familiar with Zipcar, a Boston-based startup that introduced car-sharing to the digital age. The company works with users who want to avoid owning a car, as well as those who rely on public transportation in a major city.

When the company was introduced in Cambridge just four years ago, it faced harsh criticism from the public. Many critics argued that Zipcar’s business model of sharing cars would not work in a prominent city. Now, Zipcar has expanded from Boston to 26 cities in the U.S. and across Europe, as well as to over 350 college campuses and 30 airports, providing 10,000 vehicles for nearly 850,000 users. The startup is currently under the control of rental car company Avis, and it has grown to be the world’s largest car-sharing service and is showing no signs of slowing down its progress.

“Zipcar is obviously very well-known and is on its way to becoming an iconic brand,” Harrington said. “We’re impacting the market by making city living easier for people, and I’m working on growing and cultivating our brand’s message.”

Prior to joining Zipcar in 2013, Harrington was enjoying a successful career in a number of fields. After graduating from BC and receiving his MBA at the University of Notre Dame, Harrington led the consultancy Little Harbor Group, as well as leadership roles at brand communications agency Boathouse and I’m In!, a travel website he co-founded.

“I was really swayed to come back to Boston and join Zipcar,” Harrington said. “As a marketer, you always look for opportunities to be able to work for brands that are popular and have a unique tone or personality. Zipcar has great ‘juice’ because of its superior member experience—something that you look for and want to cultivate in a new company.”

Zipcar targets three types of audiences for its service: regular consumers, college students, and businesses. The college segment has been the fastest growing component of the company, spanning over 380 campuses in the U.S. and Canada. With the influx of college students in Boston—many whom do not own cars—the city boasts one of the largest user bases. The percentage of residents in Boston who are Zipcar members far exceeds any other city, including New York, and the local marketplace is a key reason why the company has been able to expand across the globe.

“Boston is unique for us because its culture and transportation infrastructure encourage our service,” Harrington said. “A big part of that relates to college students, and our hope is that once you start to use Zipcar and get used to it on campus, you will eventually move to a city after graduation and continue using your membership.”

Since joining Zipcar, Harrington has been in the driver’s seat, leading a team that has been responsible for advertising to a global user base. Over the past year, the company has expanded across the U.S. and overseas. Dallas, Houston, and Sacramento are just some of the recent local developments. The service also expanded to Paris in September and most recently to Madrid on Oct. 30.

Looking to the future, one of the biggest challenges Zipcar faces is familiarizing these new markets with its service. Many people have heard of the brand, but are not sure how it works. Harrington’s new platform, titled, “Win at city living,” is designed to inform users about the company’s presence in cities, while also teaching them how to live a better life within a city environment. Last year, Zipcar also launched its blog, “Ziptopia,” with the purpose of sharing some of the success stories by members in each of its 30 metro markets. Both initiatives have been influential in driving Zipcar’s brand image around the world.

“We’re a company that is growing very quickly, and I think that our brand will continue to evolve and become more meaningful to people,” Harrington said. “We are establishing ourselves as a viable option to car ownership or buying a second car—an idea that I think is only going to take off in the future.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Zipcar

November 5, 2014