Like any good startup, Uber, the rideshare taxi service, has disrupted an industry that hasn’t seen much change or excitement in a while.
From a marketing perspective, Uber has been pretty spectacular to observe. From “UberKittens” where Uber brings kittens to your doorstep on National Cat Day, to just recently being heavily criticized for jacking up prices in Sydney during the hostage crisis, Uber’s marketing highs have been high but their lows have certainly been low.
From the good to the bad, Uber’s roller coaster has been a trove of marketing lessons to glean both inspiration from and what to watch-out for. Here is a list of a few favorite Uber-Lessons witnessed along the way.
1. What Uber Did: Surprise and Delight Consumers At Every Corner
Beyond their famous UberKittens, Uber has thought up loads of share worthy, “Did-You-Hear-They-Did-THAT”-type stunts. From offering helicopter rides in East Hampton for $3K, to having Uber drivers deliver roses during Valentine’s Day, to allowing people to hail ice cream trucks — these sorts of stunts get noticed and get talked about — en masse.
What We Learned: A brand surprising and delighting a fan doesn’t go too far if no one but the fan hears about it. Uber’s stunts however, do much more than just provide a fun service to the few consumers who take part in it — the $3K helicopter Hamptons package was not about driving mass scale around Hampton helicopter rides after all — but these stunts get major amplification and word-of-mouth buzz.
Pairing an over-the-top stunt with cultural or topical moments, like National Cat Day and Valentine’s Day, gives people social fodder to share with friends. “Did you hear what Uber did today with the kittens?” Whether or not you experienced it, it’s a cool story you’ll want to pass on.
2. What Uber Did: Made People Really Like Them
All of these stunt-like surprise and delight efforts make people really like Uber and become brand advocates. But the stunts don’t necessarily make more people try Uber at scale. For that, Uber gives away rides for free so people can get a taste for the service and then become repeat costumers.
In Austin during SXSW, Uber paid residents an hourly rate to use their cars as taxies. The folks on the ground looking to get from one place to another got a quick and easy ride for free. This gave people not only a great first impression of Uber but a clear understanding of how the product works, and most importantly they left the experience with the Uber app downloaded on their phone — ready to use when they need their next ride.
What We Learned: These types of efforts build an invaluable base of passionate brand advocates. For a startup that is disrupting a traditional industry, it is vital to convert people to be brand advocates first. If Uber gets pulled out of markets now as they battle government regulations, people complain because not only do they like the company, but they have become repeat customers and have gotten used to the service.
If Uber can continue to transform people to love their technology and brand, people can influence municipal leaders to embrace Uber and allow the platform to continue to grow.
3. What Uber Did: Not Play By The Rules, Not Even Acknowledge the Rules Exist
Uber is disrupting the transportation industry. But Uber is quick to say it’s not a transportation business, it’s a technology business. So when things go wrong, which they have, Uber has a tendency to vehemently deny blame. For example, in San Francisco a 6-year-old girl crossing the street was struck and killed by an Uber driver. Instead of taking responsibility, Uber released a statement clarifying that the driver wasn’t working for Uber, and then later released another statement clarifying that he wasn’t working right that minute for Uber because he was between picking up passengers, which for Uber meant they bore no responsibility.
There have been a slew of recent bad-driver behavior incidents, from rape allegations to anti-gay rants to physical assaults. What these instances all have in common is that Uber is quick to skirt responsibility for any of them.
What We Learned: A basket filled of UberKittens isn’t going to make up for an Uber horror story. It’s not just bad for riders and drivers, it’s bad for the brand. If Uber remains publicly flippant as more of these stories emerge, people will view Uber not as taxi replacement, but as modern-day hitchhiking. Put up your thumb, hope for the best, but don’t dare tell your mom because we all know it’s dangerous.
Uber needs to take responsibility and ownership for the industry they are disrupting — transportation, which has safety regulations in place to keep drivers, riders and pedestrians safe. Uber needs to recognize this and lean in as opposed to fight against the system where people’s safety is concerned.
As a brand it’s imperative to show you are listening, not just to where the money is, but to the people using your service. Stand behind your riders and your drivers to provide a safer, better service. Uber says it’s about a technology that’s disrupting a traditional industry, but really, at its core Uber is about connecting people together. Uber needs to realize that without these people, it’s still a piece of technology, but that technology is now obsolete.