Zipcar, the world's leading car sharing service, is anything but a secret these days with more than 400,000 members, 7,000 vehicles and fresh plans to take the company public .
But marketers may be more interested in what's under the hood of its Web site.
The Zipcar Web team has assembled an online experience that is fun, conversational and clever--one that stands in stark contrast to a sea of corporate-speak sites full of marketing gobbledygook.
I've been fortunate to work with the talented Zipcar.com team on the agency side, and also experience the service as a Zipcar member for the last five years.
I'm convinced it very well may be a modern-day digital blueprint for connecting with customers online.
Let's Start with the Cars
First time visitors to Zipcar.com are greeted by Terrance, Scotty and Moxie. Even the cars on this Web site are brimming with personality. But it's more than a skin-deep marketing gimmick. The names help humanize the service, explain member benefits and invite visitors further into the site to 'meet the fleet.' Just compare this to the impersonal and flat experience on a site like Hertz.com to understand the differences.
These first impressions on Zipcar.com are faithfully carried through beyond the browser to the membership experience. You reserve vehicles by name and see them clearly labeled upon arrival at their permanent parking spot. It sets the tone for the entire relationship between Zipcar and its members.
A Dash of Delight
Using humor on a Web site can be a delicate operation. Too heavy handed or gratuitous, and you may overreach. Too understated and you may miss the mark.
Zipcar threads the proverbial humor needle. Just navigate over to 'How it Works'  and watch the educational video (shown below).
That slick corporate video you may expect is replaced with a quirky take on the service led by an odd but charming fellow named Zach Pete. You'll be hard pressed to watch it without smiling, and it still manages to educate along the way.
Apps that Honk
Zipcar unveiled its iPhone app  at Apple's 2009 Worldwide Developer's Conference in San Francisco.
The app is both elegant and useful, but the real crowd pleaser came during the onstage demo when Zipcar showed off its ability to unlock the door and honk the horn with the flick of a finger. The audience erupted with applause and laughter.
Yet another example of exceeding expectations at a key customer touch point. It's delightful, unexpected and decidedly on brand for Zipcar.
Fueled with Content
The real genius on Zipcar.com can be found beyond the funny videos and vehicle names--it's all about the content. The Web site brings a fresh and conversational voice that educates and engages.
Take for example the four simple steps to Zipcar freedom . The entire notion of car sharing is condensed into an easy-to-understand infographic.
Or navigate to a vehicle page . Instead of giving you the metric size of a trunk, Zipcar provides specific examples of what items the vehicle can hold (bike, small dresser, etc).
Calls to actions on the site are fun and persuasive, inviting users to 'hop on board' to join the service. For the uncertain prospective member, a 'is Zipcar for me ' section presents eight scenarios from the serious (I want to save money) to the entertaining (I want a cute car to match my shoes).
On the more subtle side, the use of lower case headlines help create a more accessible and informal experience that prioritizes user needs over business jargon.
Content is often the last priority on Web sites. On Zipcar.com you can tell it comes first.
Nothing may embody the personality of the brand better than the fact that Zipcar doesn't have members--it has Zipsters . The site explains that "being a Zipster is about more than car sharing. It's about our community."
This is a community that identifies with the Zipcar culture and mission of transforming urban life and driving social change. It's clear that the entire brand and online experience are developed for and by this community.
Zipcar acknowledges on the site that "we could call them members, but Zipsters just seems more fun."
I think it's just that kind of rationale that makes the Zipcar.com experience work so well.