Marketers, Brands Need More Than Innovation

A few weeks ago on a chilly afternoon in midtown New York City, I tapped my iPhone’s Uber app to summon a car to whisk me 40 blocks south. There was nothing unusual in that. Uber has become a habit for me and many other drivers. But then, instead of watching my iPhone for an approaching car, I looked up and flagged one of a stream of yellow cabs.

During that ride, I learned the driver has been a full-time cabbie in New York for almost 20 years. He told me he supported a family of three girls and that he was thankful for his job. I enjoyed the ride and the conversation. After months of Uber sedans, this ride reminded me of jumping into a Checker taxi as a young boy with my father as we headed to Madison Square Garden for a basketball game. From that day on, New York taxis have served as reassuring escapes from the city’s commuters and chaos.

 While I’ve enjoyed the game-changing convenience of Uber, I expect to take more standard taxis in the future. For one, I like experiences that are authentic to cities I visit. For another, I am more than a little turned off by Uber’s basic branding and communications missteps.



At a time when every company wants to create innovative, break-through products — every year some 50,000 new CPG products are reportedly introduced — it is important for all marketers to remember that game-changing offerings aren’t enough to win and keep customers.

Great brands need:


Great brands and passionate, likable visionaries often go hand in hand. Amazon has Jeff Bezos. Starbucks has Howard Schultz. And, although A.J. Lafley isn’t a household name, everyone in business and investment knows why he was brought back to run Procter & Gamble two years ago.

Without a doubt Uber co-founder andCEOTravis Kalanick is dedicated to his mission but he comes across as more arrogant then likable. In the March issue of GQ, Kalanick referred to Uber as “Boob-er,” suggesting that running Uber had helped him meet girls. And Uber EVP Emil Michael’s smear campaign against journalists who were critical of the company still resounds in the halls of media organizations.


Great brands have a conscience. They stand for something. Brands like Warby Parker and Starbucks do this well by providing consumers with an ever-evolving brand story and a promise to make a difference. What is Uber’s USP? Whatever it is, it’s hard to grasp with all the headlines and questions about its privacy policies and employee access to riders’ locations and other data. Then there are its ill-advised promotions, such as turning gay marriage into a marketing stunt and, in Lyon, France, pairing riders with “hot chick” drivers.


Great brands are consistent in voice, tone, visuals and manner. And they treat their users with respect. Uber? Surge-pricing during tough times for travelers, such as major snowstorms, hurricanes and, notably, in Sydney during a hostage crisis, show the company is out to gouge passengers. Sure, it has offered free rides and refunds after being called out on social media, but the damage is done.

Luckily for Uber, we’re all addicted to convenience. But is convenience alone enough? Standing on a New York City corner hailing a cab can be a nuisance. Particularly in the cold. But that hard-working, longtime New York cabbie got me where I was going just as fast for about the same amount of money as Uber.

Sometimes the tried and true beat the new and improved.

2 comments about "Marketers, Brands Need More Than Innovation".
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  1. Len Stein from Visibility Public Relations, February 9, 2015 at 1:17 p.m.

    Good for you...take Yellow. However, by standing up the Uber car, your passenger rating took a hit..s.o next time they may stand you up. But more importantly, not only does Uber want to kill taxis drivers, they just announced plans to develop driverless cars.

  2. cara marcano from reporte hispano, February 9, 2015 at 2:12 p.m.

    Some good points here. Also some interesting #diversity questions for Uber @ women.

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