Image showing FREE NOW logo and car
Brand Deep DivesAugust 12, 2021

Built Globally, Tailored Locally: How FREE NOW Became Europe’s Leading Multi-Mobility Platform

August 12, 2021
Maddie Duke
Maddie Duke
Freelance Marketer

When mytaxi was first launched in Hamburg in 2009, founders Niclaus Mewes and Sven Külper wanted to revolutionize the cab industry by enabling a direct connection between passengers and taxi drivers. Fast forward through a decade, an acquisition, and a hefty rebrand, FREE NOW is a dominant player in the urban mobility sector.

Absorbed into Daimler Mobility’s YOUR NOW urban mobility brand family in 2019, FREE NOW currently offers a comprehensive multiservice mobility platform. Operating in over 100 cities, serving over 14 million passengers, and working with over 100,000 drivers, it is the leading provider of its kind in Europe.

So, what has driven the success of FREE NOW? What has worked for the brand and what hasn’t? And, most importantly, what can other brands learn from their story?

The Mobility Market in Europe: Key Insights

Within less than ten years, advances in technology have transformed the cab industry, including the breakthrough of ride hailing as a major industry in itself. Yet, it’s not the only market relevant to FREE NOW.

The way people move from A to B has diversified, with new smart mobility services pushing their way into the market. From e-scooters, e-bikes, and mopeds, to car- and ride-sharing, customers have more choice than ever and are quick to adopt the myriad of new choices.

Bordering a number of market segments, let’s consider the economic environment in which FREE NOW operates.

Ride Hailing & Cab Market

The ride hailing and cab industry is the one we most associate with FREE NOW. In Central and Western Europe, it is projected to reach US$30 million in revenue by 2025, serving 65 million users. The growing demand can be attributed to the ease of booking, rising brand awareness, as well as environmental concerns regarding air pollution and increased traffic congestion in cities.

Smart Mobility

The broader smart mobility market, which connects elements of technology and mobility and includes ride sharing (car- and bike sharing), car rentals, as well as ride hailing, is expected to reach almost US$350 million in revenue by 2025. More and more companies that originally began as ride hailing companies are breaking into this space.

Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

Perhaps the most relevant market for FREE NOW is Mobility as a Service (MaaS), which is defined as integrating various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand. This market is projected to reach a whopping US$198 billion by 2025 in the EU.

The Success of the FREE NOW Brand

FREE NOW have had a lot to contend with over the years, whether that be emerging industries and competitors, as well as changing consumer behavior. Yet the brand has managed to come out the other side of the last decade smiling, But it can’t have been easy, especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in the demand for mobility services decreasing across the globe in 2020.

But how did they do it? And what can other brands take away from FREE NOW? Let’s explore.

Built Globally, Experienced Locally

The FREE NOW brand experience is designed to be consistent, no matter where you are in the world. The app is intentionally built with a global intention, but deals with realtime information in local environments all over Europe and Latin America.

Brand campaigns, too, have been tailored to local markets. The approach to each country differs depending on the local environment and target audience.

FREE NOW Local Campaigns

In London, for example, a customized digital (DOOH) campaign utilized data triggers to target customers at the exact moment they’re most likely to consider alternative modes of travel, for example subway riders faced with cancellations and delays. By running ads timed to coincide with people's real-time need to get from one place to another, FREE NOW presented a solution specifically at the moment people were likely to be experiencing frustration or friction. The clever campaign resulted in a hefty 31% increase in brand awareness.

Another brand campaign designed specifically for the UK market was a collaboration with popular drag queen and influencer, Tia Kofi. The “Cab Chats Trivia” brand campaign provided a light-hearted look into the experience of a FREE NOW journey within London, with Tia Kofi meeting and quizzing a number of different FREE NOW drivers on local trivia.

A rebranding campaign in Ireland involved Ireland’s largest ever out of home campaign. While there’s often some debate about the value of OOH in a digital world, with the right strategic and creative execution, FREE NOW was able to create a powerful and memorable campaign that targeted some of its key audiences: city center shoppers, airport arrivals, people on a night out. A survey conducted afterwards showed that two thirds of consumers thought that posters/screens are a good way of finding out about new products/services.

For the German market, FREE NOW has launched a German-language podcast, Von A nach B (“From A to B”), exploring the journeys and adventures of real people getting from one place to the next. For this project, FREE NOW aligned with a content creator with an existing following, in an opportunity that allows the brand to reach his audience directly and build a story behind the brand, while the brand itself takes a backseat.

The Lesson

By collaborating with local influencers, and developing campaigns that reference local trivia, FREE NOW gets the message across that although it operates in 100 different cities, the brand is also right at home with its customers.

This is a great reminder that when branching out into new regions or markets, it’s important to think not only about how your brand and campaigns will be perceived by different cultures, but also about giving it a localized feel, so that people can experience your brand on a more personal level.

Several Services, One Product

In its initial iteration as mytaxi, FREE NOW was a ride hailing app. It allowed the supply and demand of taxis and passengers to be balanced in real time, and enabled the two to connect directly via one platform. This model differed from other ride hailing apps, such as Uber, whose initial concept was to connect passengers to private vehicles.

2019 was not just the year of the FREE NOW rebrand, it was also a monumental year for the product itself.

With the mission to provide people with a wider choice for how to get from A to B, several new mobility products were added to the mix across a number of European cities. These included FREE NOW Ride, a chauffeur service, FREE NOW Lite, a taxi service with cheaper conditions and upfront pricing, as well as E-Bikes, and the E-Scooter brand, Hive. All of these smart mobility options are offered within the same app, putting customer convenience and freedom of choice at the heart of the product.

Since 2019, FREE NOW has continued to expand its platform to integrate a full range of mobility services. It has also expanded availability into more cities across Europe and in Latin America. Its rapid expansion was made possible in part through the merging of existing and established ride hail brands, including Kapten, Clever Taxi, Beat, and Hailo.

In addition, FREE NOW has strengthened its own brand and product offering by establishing and leveraging strategic partnerships with third party apps and MaaS providers. Partnering with MILES ride sharing app enables FREE NOW to offer car sharing services in some markets without having to build an entirely new competing infrastructure and fleet.

By bundling these smart mobility services together in an all-in-one platform where they’re available with a tap or a swipe, the FREE NOW brand has established itself as a fully integrated service provider, getting passengers seamlessly from A to B in whichever way they choose.

The Lesson

The reason this multi-mobility model works so well in favor of FREE NOW is that it puts the customer’s experience at the core. When they make a transaction with FREE NOW, customers don’t buy a trip in a car or a ride on an e-bike, they buy mobility — getting from A to B.

By providing several options for people to get from one place to another and integrating them into the same platform, customers can stay within the brand while they weigh up their options — even if that means getting a MILES instead of a FREE NOW branded taxi. You sign up once, set up your payment method once, and you’ve got access to a range of alternatives at your fingertips. That sure beats downloading and setting up yet another app when you see there are no carshares in your area.

So, how can you make your customers’ lives easier? Can you broaden your brand promise to address the core need of your customers, rather than narrowing yourself down to the product itself?

A (Nearly) Seamless Rebrand

Let’s talk about the name.

Following BMW and Daimler’s 2019 decision to pool a number of their services under a joint venture, the former mytaxi underwent a rebrand to FREE NOW. We know that rebranding can be tough to pull off, so how did FREE NOW do it?

For the UK and Irish markets, the app had already undergone one major rebrand when Damiler acquired UK taxi app Hailo and merged it with mytaxi in 2016. For some, it was simply too much. People were confused about the meaning behind the name — was mytaxi now free?

FREE NOW’s Irish boss, Alan Fox, acknowledged that the name itself might seem a little strange. “There may have been some confusion that (the service) is free, but it’s about freedom”, he reassured customers.

Without the broader context of the YOUR NOW umbrella brand, under which FREE NOW sits alongside brands like CHARGE NOW, PARK NOW, and SHARE NOW, it’s understandable that the change could cause some friction. These brands are all part of the vision of the future of urban mobility that Daimler Mobility works towards. With this in mind, it starts to make sense.

Despite the confusion for some, the rebrand was made as simple as possible on the consumer side. Existing customers did not have to create a new account or even download a new app, so there was no onboarding process for current users. This was an incredibly smart move: new customers tend to be picky when it comes to onboarding experience, existing customers are likely to be even more sensitive. When Hailo was merged with mytaxi, users had to create a new account with new credentials, and customers were not happy!

The Lesson

We don’t all have the backing of two of the world’s biggest brands behind us to justify and support a bold rebranding strategy. People needed time and context to accept the rebranding of FREE NOW, and there’s no doubt that the impact (and marketing budget) of Daimler Mobility made this much less of a gamble than it could have been.

So, the lesson isn’t simply to go forth with an ambiguous brand name and trust it will work out. Rather, to make sure you weigh up a decision like a name change or rebrand. Consider what it will take for your existing audiences to embrace the change. If it’s going to be a stretch, do you have the resources to explain, educate, and nurture your customers as they grow to love it, or will it just alienate them?

Real Commitment to Climate Change

Today’s brand must be willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to claiming to value the environment.

FREE NOW plans to be the first mobility platform in Europe to reach Net-Zero emissions. It has begun investing in tactical efforts to achieve this goal, including investing €6 million to encourage cab drivers in Ireland to go electric, and planting 20,000 trees across European cities to offset emissions.

23% of consumers are willing to switch to buying products from an organization that shares their values on environmental issues, and FREE NOW are providing a greener choice within the mobility market. Moreover, it makes sense that the people who choose alternative options like FREE NOW over private car ownership are likely to care more about climate change. By demonstrating that the brand values the environment, it aligns itself more closely with the values of many of its potential customers and demonstrates brand integrity by backing its claim of sustainability as one of its own core values.

The Lesson

When it comes to corporate social responsibility and climate, consumers put their money where their values are. Yet, in order for them to do that, there needs to be a choice. Could your brand be that choice?

What would it take for your company to start demonstrating a value or contributing to a cause that your audience cares about? Consider what their values are and whether you can turn that into a differentiating factor for your brand.

Staying Focused Throughout a Crisis

A number of local marketing initiatives have been undertaken by FREE NOW in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including free trips for medical personnel in Italy, collaborating with volunteer drivers in Spain, a courier service in Cologne and Munich that offered food delivery to high risk community members, and helping transport homeless people to self-isolation accommodation in the UK.

These proactive efforts are designed to truly benefit the wider communities, neighborhoods, and cities in which FREE NOW operates, demonstrating the company’s commitment to the people who make up its driver and passenger communities and building new, valuable brand associations.

The Lesson

When a brand understands that it plays a part in the networks and communities in which it exists, there’s an opportunity to accept and embrace a role as a contributing member. What can your brand do for your community? How can your brand respond to a crisis or act to show compassion in a time of need? Whether it’s the ongoing pandemic or something on a much smaller scale, look for opportunities to participate and give back.

Final Thoughts

We couldn’t discuss the success and impact of the FREE NOW brand without considering the influence and resources of the parent brand, or brands, as they ultimately are. By joining together, BMW and Daimler have been able to combine strengths, expertise, and budgets to contribute to their overarching mission to establish a new player in the fast-growing market of urban mobility.

It’s difficult to speculate on where the brand would be without this monumental backing, or rather, where mytaxi and Hailo would have ended up, but nonetheless, FREE NOW has made some bold and clever moves that we can all learn from. From a customer-centric product that focuses on providing a range of solutions in one place, to a risky yet successful rebrand, to recognising the need for a brand to feel local even as it continues to expand to new cities, FREE NOW has demonstrated skillful brand establishment.

FREE NOW maintains its place as the first choice in multi-mobility service providers, at least for now. Sister brand PARK NOW is set to be sold, and Uber has their eye on FREE NOW — only time will tell whether yet another rebrand is in store!

In the meantime, consider what FREE NOW has already undertaken to be successful. There is a lot of valuable advice in this article that you don’t want to miss!

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