What Marketing Teams Can Learn from Two Auto Companies Embracing Disruption

When I think about relaxing activities, “buying a car” is at the bottom of my list, right there with “going to the dentist” and “planning a wedding.” The whole process can be overwhelming. There are as many models to consider as there are horror stories. With more transportation options than ever before, it almost doesn’t make sense to deal with the burden of owning a car. But with a car comes freedom and convenience, two things consumers will always value.

With the popularity of user review sites and the sharing economy, it’s no surprise that consumers are rethinking car ownership and transportation in general. Consumers want to know how much someone paid for their car and whether or not they’d recommend it. The reliability of ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft has caused consumers to rethink if it’s worth buying something that drops in value as soon as it leaves the lot.

It’s no surprise that consumers are rethinking car ownership and transportation in general.


Two companies have embraced this disruption: TrueCar aims to bring transparency to the car-buying journey by serving as a platform where consumers can share posts about their car purchases and share reviews. General Motors, on the other hand, has capitalized on consumers viewing transportation as a service by creating its car-sharing platform, Maven. Both reach out to consumers directly to acknowledge these shifts, and while they’ve faced their fair share of challenges, their marketing strategies have helped them achieve impressive results. We’ll dive into both models and also serve up marketing takeaways your team can put to use today.


“Transparency across all parts of the car-buying journey will be the catalyst to dramatically improve the ways people discover, buy and sell cars.” - Neeraj Gunsagar, Chief Marketing Officer at TrueCar

The mission of TrueCar is inherently disruptive: TrueCar works to create transparency in the auto industry. TrueCar aggregates car purchase data provided by its users and compares it to the factory invoice price and the MSRP, helping consumers determine what a “fair” price is before setting foot in a dealership.

Disruption doesn’t happen without challenges. While TrueCar initially had dealer buy-in, dealers started to drop off from using the service. State regulatory issues arose, and TrueCar even had to deal with some lawsuits.

TrueCar stayed true to their course while adapting to these issues. They worked to get dealers on board by adjusting their model to focus on shoppers and dealers. But staying customer-centric is crucial to their success, so TrueCar maintains trust with its customers by leaving advertisements off their site. What they have is more powerful: more than 500,000 owner-verified reviews, accessible to users through customizable searches such as location or interests.

There’s more in TrueCar’s quest for transparency: They’re now looking to highlight great car-buying experiences with their new hashtag, #TrueCarMoment. Now, consumers looking for a new car can quickly scan through this hashtag and find posts of real people proud of their new cars and sharing how they found them: with TrueCar.

Marketing Takeaways for your Team:

  • Stay customer-centric through social media. TrueCar takes the backseat on social. Instead of focusing on the TrueCar platform, TrueCar uses social to tell the stories of its happy customers. Creating content that resonates with your customers builds trust, which will serve you well when it’s time for them to make a purchase.

  • If you have a long buying cycle, social can help you bridge the gap. Does your customer only buy your product every few years? That should affect your social media content strategy. She might not follow you, but you can bet she’ll turn to social before buying anything to see what kind of experience she’ll have with your brand. Take advantage of these sporadic check-ins by creating the right kind of content for your customer at the beginning of her journey. Highlight your previous customers and the positive experiences they have had with your product. #NewCar is an example of content that will always be relevant. It clearly showcases the one thing your customer is looking for: a great purchasing experience.

If your customer only buys your product every few years, that should affect your social media content strategy.



“By offering transportation on-demand, Maven is leveraging General Motors’ strengths as a car company and addressing a clear, demonstrated need.” - Julia Steyn, Vice President, Urban Mobility and Maven at General Motors

Maven established its position as a transportation service by speaking directly to the generation who embraces the sharing economy: millennials. Maven appeals to millennials through targeted marketing initiatives that incorporate their values. Using micro- and macro-influencers, Maven creates advertising that speaks to being money-conscious but still wanting to be part of unique experiences. With social media contributing to feelings of loneliness and isolation among its users, Maven’s advertising encourages the user to put down the phone and chase what’s out there: “Don’t heart the picture, be in the picture.” The message is clear: you don’t need a car; you just need Maven.

It’s risky to put so much stock in one group, even more so as a 109-year old enterprise with a reputation on the line. But Maven staffed up with millennials to make sure they would stay true to their vision. 40% of their staff are millennials, and this group challenges long-held beliefs even within the company to ensure alignment with their consumer’s needs and interests.

When targeting a particular audience, consider tailoring your staff to mimic the demographic you’re trying to reach.


Embracing the shift has paid off: Maven has emerged as a heavy-hitter in the car-sharing industry by sticking by millennials. As a result, Maven has hit some impressive milestones, including logging 2.5 million electric miles since its founding — more than any other company.

Marketing Takeaways for your Team:

  • Look for the most impactful audience segments. Maven could have cast a wide audience net when it started, but it would have spread itself too thin. By honing in on one audience and building its brand alongside its product, Maven has established itself as an authentic transportation service that aligns with millennials’ attitudes and aspirations. Commitment to millennials sets Maven apart from other car-sharing companies. With a clear audience in mind, Maven can confidently make decisions that could feel like risks (like working with micro-influencers), knowing that they are on-brand and will pay off.

  • Staff accordingly. Maven is successful because its team knows its demographic best. Know your audience, know your vision, and assemble a team committed to both. Tap into their expertise, trust their suggestions, and be along for the ride. You'll be pleasantly surprised with where you end up.

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Jacqueline is the Brand Marketing Specialist at Spredfast, where she runs the Spredfast Ambassador Program and amplifies customer stories. Find her on Twitter talking about her favorite things: dogs, beekeeping and Beyoncé.