Better Place battery-swap demonstration
Given soothsayers' record on end-of-the-world predictions, this probably won't be humanity's last year on Planet Earth. But for the folks at electric car start-up Better Place, 2012 has brought more than its share of doom and gloom.
The biggest downer came in October, with the firing of Better Place's founder, Shai Agassi. That was followed by an announcement that the company would cut its workforce in Israel by a staggering 40% due to serious cash-flow problems.
Much of this turmoil is due to the company's lackluster sales. At the end of November, Better Place had sold fewer than 500 of its Renault Fluence ZE electric sedans, putting its hopes of acquiring 4,000 customers by next summer in jeopardy.
According to many in the field, what's missing from Better Place is a robust marketing plan. Now, the company has hired an international branding guru to take charge on that front.
IT GETS BETTER?
Like many new companies, Better Place has found itself at a disadvantage when it comes to marketing. In fact, you could say that Better Place's road is even bumpier than the one followed by other start-ups. Not only does Better Place have to generate awareness of itself among the general public, but it also has to explain an unusual, disruptive, outside-the-box product.
Think of it in terms of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf. Though both have had their stumbles on the sales floor, the Volt had more difficulty explaining itself to consumers. The Leaf? It's just a car that runs on electricity instead of gas. The Volt? Have a seat, because that's a tad more complicated.
Eventually, the Volt found its rhythm, but it had to spend a lot of time (and money) educating the public.
Better Place is in a similar, um, place. If its vehicles just ran on electricity, that would be one thing. But Better Place's battery-swap option? That adds a new layer of complexity.
Worse for bean-counters, Better Place's current return on investment isn't all that big because (a) it has to devote massive sums of cash to infrastructure, and (b) the company is focused on penetrating fairly small car markets like Australia, Denmark, and Israel.
When Better Place ramps up its presence in the U.S. and China, it will need to spend even more time, energy, and funds, but the potential returns are exponentially larger.
Today, Better Place announced its intention to boost its marketing game with the hire of international branding expert Peter Economides. His resume includes extensive agency experience at McCann Erickson Worldwide and TBWAWorldwide, as well as heavy involvement in campaigns like Apple’s “Think Different” and Coca-Cola’s “Always Coca-Cola”.
Economides replaces the former VP of marketing, Sigi Eshel. Joe Paluska, who started four years ago in the CMO slot, was previously promoted to Vice President for Global Communications and Policy.
According to Better Place:
In his new role, Economides will lead the company’s global brand and marketing strategy along with strategic co-marketing initiatives with the company’s industry partners. Economides, who will begin immediately, will report to Better Place CEO Thornley.
Economides will undoubtedly bring a great deal of expertise and acumen to Better Place, but will Thornley and board listen to what he has to say? Can his plans save the struggling company -- and if so, will he be given rein to implement them in time? Or will Economides follow in the footsteps of some of Better Place's other upper managers?
Whether you're betting for or against Better Place, feel free to weigh in below.