Citi Bike is a branding home run

July 12, 2013

The launch of the Citi Bike Share program, the largest in the US, is achieving undeniable business success in a very short time. With over 6,000 bikes, 300 stations, 55,000 annual members, and 840,000 trips¹ since its May 27th debut, the concept is instantly become a part of the NYC landscape.

From a branding point of view, this program is another kind of success. It brings together two things that are at the heart of building great brands in today’s environment: engagement and exposure. If you take a snapshot of the elements at work, Citi’s participation may be one of the most successful branding efforts of its kind.

Here is my short list of what’s behind the program’s branding success:

Exposure: One of the world’s most enduring icons is the NYC yellow cab. In one fell swoop, Citi has created a presence that can rival it. There are now 6,000 bicycles bearing the Citi brand traveling the streets of the city – nearly half of number of yellow taxis in NYC. The impressions generated by the bikes, kiosks, website, app, and so on will be enormous over the long-term.

Association: The bike share program promotes values that are great associations for Citi. Health, wellbeing, exploring, convenience, freedom, and access are just a few of the emotional and rational feelings that are associated with how the program serves New Yorkers. That affinity to the brand is what every marketer dreams of achieving. Naturally, when winter rolls around or technical difficulties emerge, those feelings may change – but when you look at the riders today, you see lots of smiles.

Sustainability: We are often asked how corporations can use sustainability issues to enhance reputation and build better brands. This is a great example at work. Citi is underwriting the push to create a sustainable city. Since the launch, there have been over 1.9 million miles¹ traveled. This is not a trivial number. Over the course of year, the program could easily log over 7 million miles. When combined with Citi’s broader sustainability efforts, this will greatly improve the reputation that is still on the mend from the banking disaster of 2009. It’s good for Citi, good for NYC, and good for people.

Engagement: With social media at the center of every marketing conversation, it is nice to see a branding program straddle both the digital and the real world. The bike share movement is both a very communal and deeply shared experience. Riders get to share that experience on the streets as well as in the digital space… and the Citi brand is now at the heart of that engagement. Again, a marketer’s dream come true. From the citibikenyc.com website, apps, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest to seeing a fellow CitiBike rider in Central Park, the engagement levels are simply remarkable.

The 41 million dollar, five-year contract is expensive to be sure. But, if the bike share program continues building momentum, Citi stands to get a lot of return for its investment.

Interestingly, Mastercard is the other sponsor for the program but overall, it feels like its brand is lost in the mix – a mere glance at the bikes, stations, and kiosks overwhelmingly says “Citi” from the color to the typography. It will be interesting to see what Mastercard will do to create a stronger connection to the brand beyond the kiosk payment systems.

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¹ Source: Citi Bike Stats System Data as of July 11, 2013

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