Brand Business – Norbert Richard Meinike of Blacklane

Norbert Richard Meinike, Director of marketing

Norbert Richard Meinike joined Blacklane in October 2017 as the director of marketing after several years of senior marketing roles with organizations in other sectors.

For our November theme, PhocusWire talks to marketing chiefs on the challenges of their roles and the impact of technology and data on travel marketing.


Q: How does Blacklane use marketing to raise the profile of the sector (chauffeured cars) when cheaper alternatives are available?

We see chauffeured rides as a craft that blends passion, skill and service. Therefore, we want to highlight, not hide, what separates chauffeurs from drivers in other types of ride services.

New photography, videos and messages highlight the value that chauffeurs bring. Their service mentality inherently goes above and beyond.

Their local knowledge gives you insights you can’t find online. Their attention to detail means you can focus on the purpose of your trip rather than the logistics of finding and taking a ride.

Cheaper rides are most common for short‐distance, inner‐city mobility. We focus on longer‐distance rides, including airport transfers, hourly rides and inter‐city trips. Guests value chauffeur service the most when they take rides long enough to value premium vehicles and enjoy a top‐notch experience.

People most often book a chauffeur to ease their travels, so we want to show how Blacklane bring peace of mind between the front door and airplane gate. One way this translates into our marketing programs is by portraying Blacklane as hospitality on wheels.

We use a diverse marketing mix of digital and non‐digital channels to promote our quality of service. These include performance and retention marketing, social media, event and partnerships, blog posts, public relations material, brand
ambassadors and influencers.

Q: What has Blacklane learned about the differences in digital marketing in multiple countries?

Every country differs in behavior and culture. In some countries we need to position our service a luxury and in others as premium to align the experience with guests’ expectations.

At the same time, we must have a consistent, recognizable global brand.

We need to localize all our marketing efforts. It’s not enough to simply use the same landing page in just another language. You also need to adapt the usability, colors, images and people in the images or videos.

Q: Looking back, what were the most important lessons that you learned from your rebrand in 2019?

The biggest lesson was to find a clear and validated customer insight as the “North Star” of all customer touchpoints.

Then the marketing and product teams could create brand consistency in communications and physical and digital products.

Second, the rebrand had to unite the whole Blacklane crew behind the new strategy. We needed to excite the company from the C‐levels to our newest employees. Only then will they have the passion to deliver creative material in all channels and to all audiences.

In our case, that means guests, bookers who make rides for others, corporate travel managers, and our extended crew of chauffeurs and airport concierges.

Finally, we learned to think beyond Blacklane. We started with rebranding the company, but ultimately, it became more about rebranding the industry.

Chauffeur service was one of the last travel sectors to modernize. At our founding, we re‐thought the business with lower and all‐inclusive fares. We quickly expanded to dozens of countries to create a global chauffeur brand. In 2017, we led the industry by offsetting all rides’ carbon emissions.

It was only natural to next refresh the industry’s image. We focus on those delivering services, bring modern visual elements and make the digital experience as high‐quality as the rides themselves.

We took 17 months to rebrand our visual identity and elevate our messaging. The rebrand features our chauffeur partners’ personalities, soft skills and local expertise.

We use black and white imagery to evoke black vehicles and black suits. We changed our tag line to “Upgrade Your Travels” to encompass both our chauffeur and airport concierge services. We will build on the new elements of the rebrand for the foreseeable future.

We have also created a new content strategy. For example, rather than running a blog with an inward perspective on company news, we instead curate global travel expertise and tips. This education has increased monthly page views to the high five‐digit mark and growing.

Q: As Director of Marketing, how do you support multichannel marketing efforts?

Performance marketing remains a bedrock of our marketing program. SEM, SEO and paid social continues to drive new customer acquisition.

App store optimization drives our App store rankings. Our target group, however, is online and offline, so we must have a 360‐degree touchpoint strategy. We are strategically tackling when, where and how to deliver the right message at the right time.

One example is testing print and other offline marketing measures. We have selectively advertised to business travelers in a couple of markets and to private jet customers in targeted magazines.

In public relations, we publish original data. For example, over the summer we released the first global comparison of how long travelers take to get from the seat on the plane to the seat in their Blacklane. We analyzed this by domestic and international flights so people can evaluate this part of the travel experience for the first time.

We are investing more in retention by customer segments, customer lifecycles and behavior patterns to strengthen our retention lifecycle loops.

We are expanding awareness to new markets and new traveler segments through partnerships around the world in multiple verticals, with brand ambassadors including Wyclef Jean and social media influencers.

Q: What are the greatest challenges of your role?

The biggest challenge is focus. Opportunities on both the business‐to‐business and business‐to-consumer sides could take us in dozens of directions.

Part of growing as a company and as a marketing department is learning when to say no. A small example is declining sponsorship from high‐quality companies to prioritize national and international opportunities.

A bigger example is segmenting our guests to know which types of people to target with performance advertising and branding campaigns. Mass market visibility is appealing, but not cost‐effective for a premium service such as ours.

Q: How do you get the buy-in from your boss when you want more budget for a new marketing initiative?

Our C‐levels expect an analysis of customer acquisition costs and customer lifetime value from our marketing initiatives.

Through transparent planning and execution of our marketing initiatives, w involve all relevant stakeholders and get the buy‐in. We have the freedom to experiment, learn and adjust to make campaigns more profitable.

Q What advice would you give an experienced marketing expert from another sector who is considering a move into the travel industry?

I came from telecommunications, so I can speak to myself from a few years ago.

You need to be passionate about traveling, both for the journey and the destination. You need to be a traveler on your own to understand the different types of travel benefits, use cases and issues while on the road.

You need to know what peace of mind means from the moment you leave your front door, so you can help bring that to others wherever they’re traveling.

I also recommend building a team of experts around you. You need people who know the intricacies of the industry from the guest and supplier sides. Your team needs to know how to create smart marketing initiatives and tactically execute, learning from past campaigns.

Q: What is Blacklane’s greatest marketing threat right now and what is its greatest marketing opportunity?

The threat is the noise generated in ground transportation. Sometimes we get lumped in with other services simply because we are a young and innovative company.

Other disruptors focus on different geographic markets, types of trips and modes of transportation. Many of them have playful and casual brands, which conflict with our approach.

There’s also a limited space for attention in ground transportation. Whether it’s public relations, search ads, speaking slots at industry conferences, or travel partnerships, one service could crowd another out.

Our opportunity is why I joined: to build a truly global chauffeur brand. This market is so fragmented and the largest companies typically operate in one or two countries. Blacklane can break free of that legacy model by working with local chauffeurs worldwide.

By replicating high quality from Dublin to Dubai, Shanghai to Chicago, we will become travelers’ go‐to chauffeur company globally.

Q: What things from your previous experience has prepared you for the Director of Marketing role at Blacklane?

I gathered knowledge about various marketing channels and tactics in my previous roles.

I ran e-commerce and pure mobile marketing campaigns. A core responsibility in several companies was to build brands, and I learned how valuable a strong brand was to our success.

My teams did strategic brand building in national TV campaigns and performance marketing in Europe. All these experiences have shaped me to be a well‐rounded marketer who could take Blacklane to the next level in global visibility.

Q: What do you think is the next big thing in transportation marketing?

Right now, the message is often about the cheapest or best way to get from one place to another. The next evolution of that message is focusing on the tools and services to optimize travelers’ time on their journeys.

People want to focus on the point of their trips, whether business or leisure, rather than managing the logistics of getting from A to B. Blacklane is perfectly suited to meet that need in 60 countries around the world.

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