Corinne Aaron

Chief Marketing Officer
Lynk & Co
"What you choose to focus on eventually becomes the essence of your brand."
Today's guest in CMOtalk is Corinne Aaron, Chief Marketing Officer at Lynk and Co. Corinne discusses a car brand that's changing the game, a brand that breaks every business rule in the car industry. We discuss the rules of the game and disrupting an industry - what role does marketing play? We also dive into Lync & Co's strategy and tactics.
Read more about the research Lynk & Co conducted among Europeans about the city of the future in this (Dutch) article.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the brand?
It's a mobility brand that's really changing the industry. We offer month-to-month subscriptions for consumers who really want a flexible option for mobility.

It's a subscription model but you can also buy the car, right?
You can also buy the car.

On the website it says you can subscribe, buy, or borrow. We'll come to the borrow-bit later. How is the subscription model different to leasing a car?
We've really taken the car industry from five years which is a typical length of a lease down to one month because you can get out of this subscription every single month, similar to your Netflix subscription.
Lynk & Co is not the first disruptive brand you've joined, for example Tesla, what makes these brands attractive to you?
I love the adrenaline of fast-paced, innovative, and rule-breaking companies. At Tesla when I started in 2014, we were building a new brand and the work to be done there was really to change the mindset of the consumer in Europe towards electric vehicles. I would say for a lot around Europe we accomplished what we wanted. At Lynk & Co, we are allowing consumers to opt for the way that they want to consume mobility. We're focused on providing access to service in a flexible way of life rather than access to product ownership.

In Amsterdam where we are, we have Swapfiets, are you like the car version of Swapfiets? You provide the whole service, don't you?
Maintenance, insurance, and road tax are all included and it's 550 per month. I tend to be attracted to new brands who are doing something different. Both just happened to be in the world of mobility. I also spent some time at Lovevery where there were consumer stage-based play products for babies and that was based on a subscription as well, it’s always a really nice challenge to work for disruptive brands when you explain the concept to people, you certainly see that “aha” moment go off in their faces.

Talking about disruption, who do you want to disrupt basically at Lynk & Co?
Well I think we're disrupting the entire OEM industry. We're doing things different. We were the first ones really to have the month-to-month subscription in the way we're doing it. But the car also allows for sharing. You can share your car with others and make money while you're consuming the car.
Is that generally a way to go for lots of things? A generational shift away from ownership to subscriptions?
For the car, what we see is that 94% of the time, your car is sitting idle so why not be more sustainable and allow others to use it and have a little bit of a revenue stream for yourself? What we see at Lynk & Co is that consumers who in the past would have spent 100 thousand euros on a car are changing their mindset and they want more experiences than to hold onto something, a possession. And they're using that money to experience.

I can imagine there's a big threshold, the people who own a car and who have owned a car for decades, if they're in the market for buying a car, that's a big mind-gap. How do you convince consumers basically?
The model may not be for everyone. There are some people who need their car every day and they want to have a car every day or they really pride themselves on that. And they can also buy the 01 -So the way that we look at mobility is ‘mobility on your terms’. That's why we say "buy, subscribe, or borrow".

In terms of marketing, do you take on this challenge in a different way than you did at Tesla, for example?
At Tesla we were really early in the EV industry and the car was really the forefront of the brand at Tesla. At Lynk & Co we're doing things very differently. Both great experiences but at Lynk & Co. we are really focused on the brand and the experience and actually creating a community, so we have really exciting clubs, for instance, which are quote unquote our "stores" and we have clubs in great locations. So members can come there, they can work, they can have a cup of coffee, they can relax, just have a chat. Or non-members can come in to learn more about the car.
It's more than just a flagship store, it's an experience. What is standing out in disruptive marketing? Do you have any brands that are an inspiration for you?
I think there are so many cool brands that are just doing things in a different way and every day there seems to be a new one that's popping up. I think I'm more drawn to brands that are focused on not only selling their products but also taking care of the environment, taking care of the world, I think those are the brands that are going to survive in the future. So making sure that they are using materials that are more sustainable or conscious materials and I think the consumer is going to more and more in the future really demand that brands are responsible. Business for good.

Is that what you love about working for these disruptive brands?
Yeah. Also the excitement, there's always something new, there's a lot of work to be done because we tend to work with very small teams. Because we are in growth-mode and there's a lot of work to be done and there's always change. I always say: the only constant is change. There's a new challenge every day.

When you manage disruption, both digital and marketing, is there a set of rules you follow or a process you use to be successful?
I think staying true to your purpose. Due to new trends or new information, I think staying true to your purpose through the end, obviously as a new brand or as a young brand, you need to adjust and be agile but remember why you're in the business. We have a strong purpose at Lynk & Co, and we're very tied the idea of sustainability as well. We prefer that there are less cars on the road and more people to utilise those cars. For us it's not so much about selling as many cars as we can, it's about using those cars in a more efficient way.

What is the purpose of Lynk & Co?
To make sustainable mobility more accessible to everyone.
Do you foresee a day when nobody owns cars anymore?
I think we could get there, yes. If we look at the way even the Amsterdam market is, there are so many car sharing options already. At Lynk & Co we're doing it in a bit more of a premium manner which is nice to have options at all levels. But I think we could easily get to a point where ownership is no longer a thing.

Is it a cultural thing? You're active in a number of countries. Do you see some countries are more open to it than others? In Britain a car is such a status symbol, people love their cars, it's part of the family, part of them.
What we see is that there are very different mindsets. We're in seven countries right now and we see that they're very different mindset and very different reasons for why consumers buy into our subscription model. In The Netherlands actually, we see the largest draw towards the sharing model. It’s a dense population and they're already used to sharing Green Wheels and the other companies that have started years ago. A lot of Dutch people only have bikes in the urban setting. When they do want to have a car, it's the flexibility that they're looking for. I think Lynk & Co and other car companies that are doing something similar are great options for them. In other markets, like Sweden, it's not such an important factor for this subscription model.

Is this due to the distances involved or is it more the mindset? Do you know what the difference is?
We don't actually know yet what the differences are but it's a good point. The Netherlands is a fairly small country compared to a country like Sweden where getting to another city may be four hours away.

How big is the market? How many customer subscriptions do you have currently?
For our seven European markets, we have 150,000 members and for the Dutch market we have over 40,000 members. It's going well. I can't share exact numbers, but the growth is really high. This year was a different year because of many manufacturers across Europe having supply-chain issues and chip shortages. We were able to also fill the gap because we did have cars coming in from China. Next year we are on par to grow that number. We have a waiting list, particularly in The Netherlands.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Are the supply-chain issues and chip issues being resolved?
From what I understand, the chip issues are getting better so next year I think there will be more cars available in general across most manufacturers.

It's a monthly rental, you can stop the rental every month. What's to stop someone from having a car for six months, stopping the rental, and getting a new one, a newer model?
We like to give consumers a fresh car, so about every 12 months we actually give them a fresh car. They're not stuck for five years with the same car, but we swap their car every 12 months if there is a new date update available.

Other brands are also looking into the subscription model, Volvo and Polestar for instance and they all have deep pockets. Is it hard for Lynk & Co to keep the number one position in the car subscription market?
We’re not in competition with our sister brands like Volvo and Polestar because there’s room for everyone. Beyond that, with more competition, I think we will normalize the subscription world. Elon Musk used to say that he wanted other companies to get on board the EV revolution and that was because it would accelerate the facilitation of infrastructure and consumer adoption. At Lynk & Co we believe that innovative mobility companies are not our competitors, but our partners. By joining forces with other companies, we incentivize building adequate infrastructure for more sustainable mobility like charging posts. It allows us to also encourage policy makers and governments to rethink mobility and in essence create a new approach to the industry. We have the advantage over larger automotive companies who are maybe 50 to 100 years old and are not as agile.

In terms of competition, who are your main competitors?
Our main competitor is car ownership. So, people like you Klaas who already have their own car. Our car is an SUV so it's hybrid and it's not in the same segment as, let's say, a Tesla Model 3.
Who is your key market? Who is your ideal customer?
What we see is our consumers are really varied. However, I think there's one thing that is the red thread across all our consumers is open-mindedness about mobility. We have a lot of families, we have a lot of businessmen and businesswomen who have our cars, we also have a lot of businesses who are buying our cars or taking our cars into their fleets. We have rental car agencies that are very interested in our business model and that's also great for us because it does mean that we're having more butts in seats and higher utilisation of the cars which is exactly what we want.

If you're an agency guy like me or an employer basically, you have these very long lease periods and when people leave you have a big fleet of 4, 6, 8 cars sitting idle, and this is a great proposition. How do you innovate in terms of marketing?
In my current role as CMO at Lynk & Co I have quite a wide scope including the digital team but also the retail team which is the team that manages the clubs or our stores. Our stores are really a big part of our marketing experience because they really impersonate the brand. Our brand is "wow" but it's also simple and we want it to be hassle-free, so we make our clubs very warm, very open, very welcoming, and inclusive. I like to think of it a little bit as the cost-free Soho House. So that's a big part of our experience. We just this year launched a marketing campaign called "Leave the owner-shit behind". It was a bit edgy and a bit bold which is also very similar to our brand. Our PR team just launched a new campaign called Cities Reimagined where we really pushed designers to think about it. It started with a survey into countries asking: what would you like to see if there were yet less cars in your city? So, you take a city like Madrid, and you say, "if there were less cars, what would you like to see in this market?" And the consumers responded and then we developed a concept out of that, what it looked like today and what it could look like with less cars.

With car sharing, presumably the goal is to have less cars on the roads parked on the streets, taking up the streets. What's the goal, what's the dream?
What we heard from consumers is more green space, more spaces for their kids to play freely, more spaces to like we're doing on my street, grow vegetables, and have a community garden. Less congestion as well, less pollution as well. This is what the images in Cities Reimagined also portray. And better public transportation as well to support that.

The new marketing tools emerging like the Metaverse, Augmented Reality and AI - they bring a whole new level to customer experience which will have a huge experience on retail. Are the days of flagship experience centres or clubs counted?
For us it's still important to have a physical touchpoint to build our brand. I completely disagree with this statement. Even though we're not in the business of selling cars like other OEMs or automotive companies, for most consumers it's still a big-ticket decision. Experiencing the product in person is still their go-to, I think AR has been around in many sectors for a long time, but people still try clothes on in stores, right? They still have amazing food experiences, and they still often want to see how they fit in a car they may drive every day. I think the personal interaction is not yet an outdated concept. The challenge would be I think in the future to ensure that we are offering both offline and online experiences that fit the consumer so they can really choose which they prefer. I think we've also approached our retail stores, and like I said before we call them clubs in a very unique way. We have 10 clubs across Europe, including here in Amsterdam. A Lynk & Co club is not a showroom nor is it an experience centre, it's really a welcoming space that is for our members and for the public. You can of course ask about the car and see the car and sit in it, or you can do a test drive there. But you can also just flex work.
Can you envision yourself replicating that in the Metaverse, for example?
Could possibly be. We don't have plans to do that now because we are still in a bit of start-up mode, and we have other things that we need to accomplish. We're still busy with opening new stores and opening physical touchpoints and we're not yet looking at the Metaverse at this point.

Does Web3 offer any opportunities for car brands and Lynk & Co specifically?
Yes, but I think the car industry if you are a consumer who is going to use your car every day, I think there's still really a strong offline draw. I think it will take longer for the car industry to get there and especially the car industry has been quite traditional. Even what we're doing is ground-breaking in the car industry at Lynk & Co because it's a very slow-moving industry. They've been doing the same things before Tesla came around, most OEMs were doing the same thing.

What was the last aha moment that really inspired you in your work or made you realise something incredible?
In my career, I had an incredible experience at Tesla building that brand in Europe and I have an incredible career at Lynk & Co. For me, it's been exciting to see that having marketing and communications focus on everything but our product still works. So at Tesla we were hyper-focused on the product and at Lynk & Co, the car doesn't come first. So I would say that my “aha” moment is: what you choose to focus on eventually becomes the essence of your brand. Our brand is centred around community building and creating better open spaces and offering mobility solutions more broadly. We're there for early adopters who are open to new mobility solutions that are flexible, most sustainable, and on their terms. You may say that that's more of a young consumer, but I would say it's more young-at-heart. So instead of shouting from the rooftops that we have a great car with all the best specs and seats with recycled fishing nets, we encourage instead a better utilisation of it today. Cars that are standing still 96% of the time have so much unused potential and that's really what we're tapping into. We have built an app that allows our members to share their car while making some extra money.
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