An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance.
Uber’s image has taken a beating. A shellacking. A bloody thumping. And it started long ago.
I’m one of the few humans who finds nothing to like about Las Vegas. But when I’m reluctantly in town, I use Lyft to shuttle around. Upon occasion, the Lyft driver will also have an Uber sticker in the windshield. I always ask them who they like working with better, and why.
In a word, they think Uber is a hard-nosed, cheap outfit, difficult to work with. Okay, that was more than a word – but their dislike for Uber is palpable. In fact, they would rather drive for Lyft but they still bow to Uber’s market dominance.
Which is fading.
Where did Uber’s bad reputation begin? It appears to have started at the top, where all corporate culture begins. From there, the next rung of management generated similar modes of internal and external disgruntlement, which flowed sewage-like down from there.
A Brand’s Beginnings
A company’s brand is the sum of every interaction it has with people (customers, the media, investors, etc.). This means every interaction, from every employee, counts – how the receptionist answers the phone, how the CEO talks about sexual harassment in public, how a driver discusses their relationship with the company. It is all counted toward the global image of a firm.
Branding, then, begins with corporate culture (and if you want the best review of how to craft your corporate culture, check out Ray Zinn’s book Tough Things First). In Uber’s case, at least by media accounts, the fish rotted from the head down. Uber’s corporate culture was all about growth, and nothing about humanity. Hence, over time and numerous interactions, Uber earned a brand as an inhumane company.
All this time Lyft was driving a brand of fun, happy drivers, and pink mustaches.
Back to Brand Basics
Silicon Strategies Marketing wrote the definitive definition of branding:
“Branding is making the market think and feel what you want them to think and feel about you and your products.”
We could ask, “What did Uber want the market to think and feel, and did their top-down actions drive that brand definition?” I suspect you can ignore the first part of the question, as the second part overruled it.
When we coach companies on branding, we drive home the point that the brand must first be defined, then it must be lived. The two cannot be separated. If it is not defined, it will develop accidentally. If if is defined but not lived, you will achieve an unintended brand.
Uber is doing backflips to find footing after numerous public exposures showing generally unpopular activities, from abusing their own drivers to electronically tracking their competition. All this added to the current Uber brand, which their transitional management must correct. Yet they cannot correct the brand until they correct the culture, and it takes as much time – maybe longer – to undo a bad brand than to build a good one.