Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Citibike: A Marketing Opportunity Revisited

Now that we New Yorkers have lived with Citibike for nearly a year, it seems like the time to revisit two posts I wrote nearly two and a half years ago about how brands could use the service as a marketing channel.  One post was serious, the other...not so much.

To recap the Citibike saga, the service launched in May of 2013 after some delays stemming from teething problems and Superstorm Sandy.  New Yorkers and visitors quickly embraced the service, which allows members to borrow bikes for up to 45 minutes at a time from over 300 stations in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn.  However, Citibike has faced adversity as well, including losing money at an alarming rate.  Some called it winter.  Disclosure: I am one of those nuts who rode on chilly days.

The Wall Street Journal said "Finding additional sponsors has proved challenging because the program has become so closely associated with its eponymous supporter."  So, what could Citibike do to engage marketers?  Or, put another way, what opportunities could marketers exploit with Citibike?

As a New Yorker since the waning years of the crack wars, I staggered at the rapid adoption of Citibike.  It seemed that within days of the program's launch, I saw bikes everywhere in Manhattan--making loops in Central Park, under the High Line and everywhere else.  Citibike became as much a fixture of New York as the subway, Times Square or Duane Greed.

By the same token (pun intended with extreme prejudice), don't think about as treating Citibike like a shiny, blue billboard.  Instead, think of it as becoming part of the urban firmament.

Here are some ideas:

  • Sponsor a station.  When the subway first began connecting New Yorkers, once-obscure neighborhoods became hot properties because the train stopped there.  Longacre Square gained a new tenant, a certain newspaper of record, and it became Times Square.  In a similar vein, retailers and real estate developers should sponsor bike stations as an amenity and as a feature.  "Steps from Citibike!"
  • Citibike should sell bags that fit into the luggage rack.  Further, they could partner with retailers to offer their NYC customers a bag that fits on the bike.  Put the retailer's logo on said bag.  Boom.  Done.
  • Bike picnics.  Why Cafe Metro, Pret a Manger, Pax or any of NYC's other quick lunch joints don't offer a lunchbox sized for the Citibike luggage rack mystifies me.  Citibike and the participating restaurant could actively encourage office workers to take a real lunch break somewhere other than their keyboards.

Got any other marketing ideas for Citibike?  Let's hear 'em in the comments.

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