Canoo’s Head of Marketing Shares How to Build a Pre-Launch Brand

From General Mills to MeUndies to Lyft, Matt Kerbel’s experience across traditional and DTC companies has provided the perfect footing for his latest endeavor—disrupting the automotive industry and redefining the future of mobility. As head of marketing and strategy at Canoo, the electric vehicle (EV) membership company set to launch in 2021, Matt and his team are building the brand from the ground up. Here, he shares meaningful career lessons and how the brand is game-ifying customer acquisition and thinking about “phygital” experiences.

Make sure to catch Matt in conversation at our Challenger Brands Summit, March 4-5 in New York!

Why did you choose to join Canoo? 

Growing up, I received a great piece of advice from my father. He told me: “When you get there, try a few things early in your career. Like relationships, you’ll learn what you want (and don’t), diversify your experience, meet incredible people and find your place along the way.” I can safely say that it was advice well taken.

I have spent the past fifteen years building brands at companies of varying sizes, maturities, business models and industries. In 2016, I was fortunate to join Lyft at a time of exceptional growth. Our small team, leading marketing for southern California, quickly grew Los Angeles to be the company’s No. 1 market. It was at Lyft where I gained a deep appreciation for what solving issues related to mobility could mean for today’s cities and the next generation.

What ah-ha moments did you gain from your previous roles that you’re bringing with you to Canoo? 

The first is to lean into research and brand. Early in my career at General Mills and Activision, I learned the value a deep consumer truth can bring to brand building. Today, our team is fortunate to have an opportunity to build a bold new brand the right way. To do so requires empathy and understanding of what the next generation of consumers are thinking about right now, which extends beyond merely how they get around. We’ve spent a lot of time with people across the country figuring out how we might fit into their lives rather than forcing them to fit into ours. The second is the inherent value of being intentionally different and taking calculated risks. At Canoo, everything from our vehicle to the business model, to brand, to even our job titles are distinctive—because that is the mentality and commitment it will take to succeed in the automotive space.

With a subscription-based model in its early stages, how are you thinking about customer acquisition?

Our primary goal is to connect with consumers on a human level. Nearly all car companies have branding that is driven (excuse the pun) by their automobiles. The industry is set in its ways and there remains a lack of storytelling, diversity, civic responsibility and organic community building that modern consumers are seeking out when deciding on a brand.

To acquire and retain prospective members, we’re focused on educating and intriguing consumers via unexpected content and experiences they would look forward to sharing with others. For instance, our recently launched waitlist (dubbed The First Wave) represents our approach to what otherwise might have been a boring waitlist meant to drive ongoing community participation. You can sign up in seconds, move up in line by referring others and providing product feedback, and earn limited-edition swag by achieving specific referral milestones. Thousands joined the waitlist within the first several hours and buzz continues to be significant. We’re really pleased with the results and excited about the potential to evolve the industry.

What are you currently working on that’s unique or innovative?

alexa.comeau@adweek.com Alexa Comeau is the programming manager at Adweek, where she works on event curation while dabbling in some writing.
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