It's not just an advertising slogan, says Scott Deaver, chief marketing officer of Avis. It is a business strategy and an operating manual for the company.

Scott Deaver, Avis
he tries harder
Scott is talking, of course, about We Try Harder, arguably one of the most famous and enduring ad slogans of our time. It was first used 40 years ago, introduced in 1963 by ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, and was intended to stick it to the number-one car-rental company, Hertz.

But now, four decades later, the phrase is so much more than a clever headline, says Scott: "Originally, it simply meant that we're number two, so we try harder. Now it means we try harder because we have to have a better product to justify a premium price."

Actually, it's more than just a product -- it's a whole portfolio of services that Scott says is designed to reduce the stress of renting a car and make the car rental experience as good as it can possibly be.

One of the latest such products -- and one about which Scott is especially enthusiastic -- is something called Avis Access, a program to enhance the Avis experience for disabled drivers. It provides in-vehicle modifications for disabled drivers, knobs on steering wheels, hand controls for people who operate entirely with their arms, and wider mirrors for hearing-impaired people so they see more, for example.

Says Scott: "It's right for our brand space because Avis is supposed to go the extra mile, do extra things and love our customers more. It's symbolically great, but also great from a practical business standpoint. We're going after a big market with a product innovation."

So, in other words, it's forty years later and Avis is finding a whole new set of ways to stick it to Hertz. In many ways, this transition from ad slogans to customer services is a metaphor for what has happened to the business of marketing over the years. Indeed, even though Hertz is still number-one in airport car rentals, and spends five times as much on advertising relative to Avis, the most recent Brand Keys survey ranked Avis number-one in customer loyalty. And while "We Try Harder" apparently has transformed from an ad slogan to brand DNA, it appears that concepts of customer service are part of Scott Deaver's genetic twist, as well.

Scott grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and went to college at Suwannee, a little liberal arts college in Tennessee. After graduating, it was a ten-year run for Scott with Holiday Inn, including a turn at Trailways, the bus company. He was also involved in developing the initial marketing plan for Embassy Suites and Hampton Inns.

It's 40 years later and Avis is finding a whole new set of ways to stick it to Hertz.

Then a funny thing happened. Scott took a hard left turn back into academia, spending about seven years getting a doctorate in English and teaching comedy courses (as in Shakespeare's comedies). "This was me changing careers," Scott explains. "But then after I had my academic fun, I took the opportunity to return to Holiday Inn, to put together the group that was consolidating the Howard Johnson and Ramada franchise systems into one company."

That was in 1989, and in 1990, the group was bought by Henry Silverman and became HFS, which, over time amassed a portfolio of nine hotel brands. Along the way, Henry Silverman also bought Century 21 Real Estate, Coldwell Banker, ERA, and a number of other properties. "He's acquisitive," says Scott of Silverman. "He will buy a company."

And so, over the past 14 years, Scott has worked in every division of the company, now owned by Cendant, including a 1999 dot-com venture called, which basically was a rollup of all the online assets of Cendant's real estate companies, with the idea of taking it public. Instead it was sold to a real estate portal called, in 2001. Scott then headed back to Avis, to take the chief marketing job of what is now known as the Cendant Car Rental Group, which today also includes Budget Rent-a-Car.


Why does Avis score so well on customer loyalty versus Hertz?

Well, a couple of things work in our favor. One is, Avis is more focused on excellence in customer service than any company I've ever worked for. And I mean focused. Everybody thinks about customer service all the time. Everybody's measured for it. People are dead serious about fixing the things that are wrong and making the good things even better. That focus really does pay off in a better customer experience.

The second thing is, if you dig into research about Avis and Hertz, what you find is that Hertz tends to get credit for high-tech products and innovation. Avis tends to get credit for "people" values. One of the things that enables us to at least go toe-to-toe with Hertz is that we're focused on those values. We're true to them. We build in that brand space. We've got that real, unique and differentiated position in the car-rental market that gives us a lot of strength.

When you talk about Hertz and its use of technology, are you talking about CRM?

No, but I can give examples of both kinds of technology. Years ago, Avis was the first company to have a little remote control device to alert an agent to come out to your car and hand you your receipt. Hertz had one soon after, but Avis had it first. When we did our annual research that year, consumers said that they had experienced the technology at Avis, but they were more likely to give Hertz credit for having it first.

By the same token, when we ask people which company would be better about getting you help in an emergency, Avis beats Hertz at that measurement by a wide, wide margin. In practice, the two companies perform about the same.

So, Avis gets credit for the "people values." People think that if it were somebody taking care of them, Avis would be right there first. Hertz gets credit for the technological values -- if it's a gee-whiz machine, then it must be Hertz.

And in that other dimension of technology -- the use of data to segment and treat your customers right -- is that as important for Avis as it is for Hertz?

Oh, yes. It's super important for us. One of the reasons we're able to do as well as we do on loyalty in a world where they outspend us so much on advertising is that we talk to our own customers a lot and we pay attention to what we say to them.

We differentiate communications. We have a very good electronic CRM system, so that we're sending the right offers to the right people. Once you become an Avis customer, we're good at relating to you in a way that makes you want to come back and stay loyal to the brand.

Why is Avis still number two?

There are several reasons. Hertz's corporate strategy is built around "number oneness." They have a couple of big, key accounts and make financial sacrifices to hold onto them for volume's sake. At this company, the focus is on profitability and service excellence, and not just volume.

That leads us to decisions that are not driven by what's going to make us the biggest. It's driven by what's going to make us most profitable for our shareholders and the best company for our customers. We don't have any particular commitment to being bigger than Hertz.

Avis has singled out various consumer segments such as the gay market. Why the gay market?

For one thing, the gay and lesbian market is a very big market with a lot of discretionary income that is spent disproportionately on travel. It's also a market that fits into Avis' footprint perfectly because it's a market of consumers who are willing to pay more to get better treatment. That's important to us, because that's what our brand position is -- we cost more because we're better.

And finally, we felt that we could create real brand loyalty with the gay and lesbian market, because, as a group, they tend to pick a brand because of its affiliation with their group. So that's one side of it.

Scott Deaver, Avis
In addition, going way back to around the mid-'90s, we extended our policy that a spouse could drive the car without paying an extra driver's fee to include domestic partners. This was not necessarily intended as an outreach into the gay community, but just common sense. We didn't want to be asking customers to show marriage licenses. But we were the only ones in the car-rental business exercising that practice, and it gave us a head start in the gay and lesbian community.

Avis actually has a long history of making extra effort to support diversity and outreach. We win awards for being a great place to work for senior citizens and Asian Americans, for example. Ethnic groups regularly honor us for our open policies, especially for our employment practices.

On September 11, 2001, Avis' local managers took great liberties with company policies to help customers. What made that possible?

Avis' culture has always been very big on empowerment of local managers. They know the profitability of their own stations and they're empowered to make decisions to ensure that their operations run well, that their customers are satisfied and that they make money.

The second thing that happened, though, was that the president of Avis, Bob Salerno, and the people who work with him, told the field just to get people into cars and get them wherever they had to go. The directive was to take care of people first and worry about the cars later.

It cost the company a lot of money. It caused the company a lot of problems, too, because so much of our fleet was then out of place. But the Avis culture is designed for this kind of empowerment. It was a great moment for Avis.

How does the marketing of Avis differ in North America relative to the rest of the world?

Everyone uses "We Try Harder" -- or at least everyone in the English-speaking world does. Our marketing in Canada, Australia and New Zealand is pretty similar. Those countries are much more dependent on airline mileage and other kinds of earning programs. That's just the nature of those marketplaces.

Avis is number-one in Canada, and certainly in Australia and New Zealand. So, they still try harder, but they are not in second-place in size. The overall marketing looks very similar. We like to use television advertising in the United States, while they tend to not have marketing budgets big enough to fund much TV, so they rely more on print. But that's just a low-level tactical matter of the marketing mix. The overall strategic direction is about the same.

What does being part of Cendant do for Avis?

Three huge things. One is, in a world where car rental companies have undergone financial vicissitudes in the last three or four years, we have a stable, well-funded parent who makes sure we are buffered from economic downturn, acts of terrorism -- the things that put Alamo and National on the ropes. So, the biggest thing is financial stability and a well-financed parent.

The second thing is, we enjoy considerable synergies from Cendant's travel businesses. Cheap Tickets, which is an on-line travel portal, is a Cendant company, as is Galileo, one of the global distribution systems. Cendant also operates Traveler's Advantage, which is a discount travel club. All of these things together generate an awful lot of car days and we, of course, are the share leader in those car days. At another level, there 's just the cross-selling opportunities, the would-you-like-a-rental-car-with-that? kinds of transfers. Those kinds of synergies are very big for us.

The third thing is, we have marvelous IT people, marvelous strategic thinkers, and beyond-marvelous financial people. We get a lot of help. Cendant Corporation has the best and the brightest at the top and they're talking to us about how to make our business more successful. That's a real benefit.

What do you make of Zip Car and its hourly car rentals? Would Avis ever get into that business?

'd be surprised. Zip Car has an interesting idea, but it's a small business and always will be. In the end, that business model will only work in certain kinds of environments and depends on certain things like populations without cars. Zip Car is not going to play in every city or town the way that Avis does.

Avis and Budget's management have long flourished by doing what we really know how to do, and doing it very well. That's not Zip Car. That's airport car rentals and general purpose off-airport car rentals. In that whole Zip Car model, there are some things that are not particularly scaleable -- and we like scaleable.

Are there any lessons you learned from your dot-com experience that have been especially helpful to you in your role at Avis?

Most of all, I learned a lot about how to create a user experience that makes people loyal to the site. The best thing that can happen for my brand is a positive customer experience. When somebody rents a car and they have a great rental -- that's the very best thing that could happen to my brand. It's a hundred, million, times better than any TV commercial.

What I keep in mind is that renting a car on a dot-com is a branded experience, too. When somebody goes to and finds it really intuitive, easy, convenient, informative and helpful, they're going to come back. They're going to love my brand better and that's what we're in it for.

So, at the end of the day, what does "we try harder" mean to you?

It means that on every occasion you do whatever you do -- whether it's advertising or customer service or cleaning cars -- that you push to give it your very best effort.

It's as if you're a runner and every single time you go out for a run you're running for your personal best time.It really is about "personal best" kinds of efforts, and a commitment to doing whatever job it is as excellently as you can possibly do it.

It's not about establishing a routine and doing it the same way you did it last time. It's about challenging yourself to do your job better than you did it yesterday. That's what it means to me.