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The Tale of Two Brand Strategies: Uber vs. Lyft

Approx 7 min. read

Gabriella Cane

February 24, 2022

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black car and pink car showing brand identity

You just finished dinner. After saying goodbye to friends, you walk outside to a white Camry where a stranger calls your name and happens to have your home address pre-programmed in their GPS. Do you get in?

Not only do we get in, but ride-share companies have become part of our everyday life. Companies like Uber and Lyft penetrated the transportation industry and remain active on-demand competitors because they continue to access brand strategy in ways that directly addressed areas of tension consumers faced when hailing a taxi. 

These app-originating companies capitalized on the "on demand" culture to make a ride just a tap or two away. Real-time GPS tracking with ETA, fare transparency, and cashless payments are just some of the hallmark features that really began to win customers over. What is that old saying? A ride in the smartphone is worth two down the street?

On the surface these companies may seem like two sides of the same coin, however, both have different cultures, services, coverage areas and rewards programs.

Perhaps most distinctly they have different brand strategies. This tale isn't old as time, rather it is a deep dive into the real world applications of a strong brand strategy and its magical powers to transform brands and transcend an industry standard.

Branding strategy is the long game where the finish line is the development of a brand that is easily identifiable, approachable, and fosters brand loyalty. A successful strategy is built upon the foundation of effectively communicating your concrete mission and the tangible and realistic promises you make to your customers. 

 

The Importance of a Strong Brand Strategy—What Kicks Your Brand in Drive

Merriam Webster defines the word uber as being "a superlative example of its kind or class." Indeed this was the guiding light for leading rideshare mogul, Uber. Debuting in 2009, Uber's genesis began marketing luxury vehicles to their initial target customer base—business professionals. The sleek black and white logo paying homage to a classic black limo, took aim at making luxury transportation more widely accessible. Uber's biggest challenge? Its initial brand strategy to market exclusivity. Their model didn't scale. Tailing only a few years later, enters Lyft in 2012.

Lyft’s initial brand strategy focused on short-distance rides. Society was already introduced to the concept but they needed a way to stand out in the traffic. They chose pink fuzzy mustaches to enforce a strong brand recall and marketed a friendly, whimsical take on the business. Co-founders interviewed drivers themselves at the startup. Drivers were trained with the vision of the company in mind: a ride-share experience akin to hopping in a carpool line or grabbing a ride from a friend. They actively narrowed the gap between driver and passenger. The Lyft "fist bump”, riding in the front seat, a conversational driver—these were the market differentiators that Lyft built its brand upon and customers followed.

Uber also grew as large cash infusions helped them aggressively expand to new markets faster than any of their competitors. These brands simultaneously became standard and set the standards. Both companies gained this traction from offering newer vehicles, apple pay, animated locations of your driver just to name a few. Their strategy was so powerful that it showed consumers what they were missing from the taxi industry and didn't even know it.

 

Brand Equity

While the brand strategy that made Uber and Lyft major modes of transportation proved wildly successful, they needed to evolve as the companies evolved. In London for example, Uber's largest international revenue stream, the government banned the company several times due to lack of passenger safety guidelines claiming Uber as "not fit and proper." Failing to report claims of sexual harassment and lax background checks on drivers were at the forefront of London officials’ concerns. Brand recognition and popularity just were not enough to excuse Uber from meeting standards of safety in London. The check brand equity light was on. 

Often misconceived, a branding strategy is not the sum of your logo, color palette, or website; though these creative elements are integral to a successful branding strategy. A branding strategy revolves around all the intangible elements that over time drive brand awareness, brand equity, and brand sentiment.

visual elements of a pink Lyft car and black Uber car

Brand equity is a living breathing thing that like water ebbs and flows, slipping through the cracks if it is not replenished with consistency and dependability. Positive brand experiences appreciate in value. Brand awareness becomes preference.

This is also where color comes in. Color you say? Yes, pink specifically. The choice for Lyft’s pink was not random.  It is a color that is playful, fun, a strong contrast to black and taxi cab yellow for that matter. But pink is also- safe. Pink is feminine, think baby girls and Breast cancer awareness. With the press surrounding the potential safety hazards and headlines about complaints made against their competitor, the color of their logo was powerful. Approachable. Both companies have chosen to pay homage to their hallmark color scheme. Lyft Pink is now the name of their membership service offering discounted rides. Uber Black is the option to choose a luxury car. Did that one even need an explanation? Probably not, because that is how strategic and powerful color can be.

 

Brand Value

During 2017 Uber conducted its second brand strategy overhaul in an effort to appeal to a customer base outside of the Silicon Valley percenters. "The word UBER was a visual manspread, evoking the members-only corporate club from Uber’s roots as an on-demand black car service for Silicon Valley’s elite,” stated Mark Wilson in an article for Fast Company. The induction of a new CEO to combat the "toxic culture," new safety policies and a less aggressive, rounded font aptly named UberMove spearheaded this overhaul. Uber's new brand strategy: "instantly recognizable, works around the world, and is efficient to execute.” Uber had already penetrated international markets, but their new brand strategy sought to tell a "global mobility story" that continues to keep them at the front of the pack. Uber's new logo was a visual representation of the company's efforts to overhaul not just their visuals but leave salacious press and a tired image in the dust.

Uber beefed up security protocols, and after the brand overhaul, London chose to overturn the ban on the app. Over 3 million Londoners were using Uber, with over 40,000 drivers. London was an example of how mega brands aren't always too big to fail. An investment in brand strategy helped propel them into the stratosphere where they might just now be.

Building your brand requires a careful balance between trust and image. You need to craft an image that is memorable, but what’s equally important is the emotional attachment customers bring to this image. When that connection between image and emotion is met, you develop trust with your customer. This is where the magic happens.

 

Recognition, Reputation & Connection

Being recognizable is more than simply customers knowing your brand, they need to have an emotional connection to it. A powerful brand message amalgamates those two emotions—quality coupled with a meaningful connection. How to leave your customers with an emotionally recognizable impact is the work of your brand.

Lyft did just that. They no longer needed pink fuzzy mustaches for brand recall. Instead they rolled out the use of the Lyft Amp—a light up device set in the dashboard to help with sustainability. “How you ride with Lyft is up to you” was the title of an email sent out to customers with simple pictorials as an effort to transition away from inaugural Lyft culture (i.e. the fist bump).The initial practices that carved out Lyft's place in the market were now limiting them away from the point A to B'ers.

As Lyft grew, their brand strategy shifted from establishing a customer base to expanding it. Uber expanded to food delivery with UberEats. The app that delivered people worked for food, too.

brand design of black Uber app and pink Lyft app

Once you have solidified your position as a contender, you must compete. Their approach to price surging, for example, was a powerful market differentiator. The software that powers these apps is impressive. As an example, Lyft Engineering, the team behind the app calls this Dynamic Pricing and trust us when we say it involves a lot of math. In a nutshell, however, Lyft uses this to offer the "wait and ride" option to allow users the ability to wait out surge pricing. This is just another tactic to empower the consumer. Maybe you do want a luxury vehicle, Uber will show you several fares to the same destination based on car size and type. This also builds the recognition and trust that is so key to garnering future business.  Perhaps most importantly it is where your marketing efforts really begin to pay off. 

 

Staying Nimble with a Dynamic Brand Strategy

Brand Strategy and good branding should never be underestimated as they play a vital role in the success and growth of your business. Having a dynamic brand strategy is crucial for tapping into new customers. After confidence in ride-sharing was concrete, these companies were able to expand their market share to other services such as the now intergalactic UberEats which has spawned its own separate market joined with the likes of Doordash and Grubhub. A sweet spot in brand strategy sees the lifetime value of a customer as a true pillar of long-term success. Enter the likes of Uber Health.

Uber's new message "Care begins with getting there" flashes on the landing page of Uber health. "Uber Health is a HIPAA-compliant technology solution for healthcare organizations that leverages the ride hailing power of the Uber platform. The web-based dashboard allows hospitals and other healthcare professionals to request, manage, and pay for rides for others, at scale." —Uber

In 2019 they rolled out a partnership with Boston Medical Center, and many other health systems are getting on board. Lyft followed suit with their "quickest route to safety." In Lyft’s 2019 Economic impact report, 29% of riders reported using services for healthcare related transportation. Of these riders, ¾ said this made their health and well-care access “less of a hassle.”

 

Take us Home

Today, you pull out your smartphone, swipe until you find the preferred icon, type in your destination, choose your vehicle preference, and wait for the screen to flash how many minutes until your car arrives. This platform didn't happen overnight. In fact. Years went into building and stabilizing a strong brand strategy that went into making getting in a car with a stranger feel safe. Feel more than safe—become part of your commute or your big night out. It is brand strategy that turned market disruptors like Uber and Lyft into the transportation staples they are today.

As far as global brand strategies go both Uber and Lyft are home runs. While Uber has focused on their expansion and continues to invest in new markets, Lyft has become an exciting competitor in the domestic sandbox. Both thrive in a market of their own creation. Effective brand strategies focus on areas of tension. Offering customers solutions to their everyday problems is one of the best ways to foster customer loyalty and continue to garner business. For example, Lyft’s partnerships with Walgreens and Uber Health were each an answer to the question: how do we appeal to loyal customers in new ways, while appealing to new customers in old ways?

Communication between your organization and your loyal customers is important to maintaining their trust. Communication means more than talking; it is about the connection that brings your product or service to the attention of both your customer and your employees. Communication in and of itself was a point of friction in the taxi cab industry that ride-share companies capitalized on. Access to a reliable ride is literally now in your pocket. App-based services are wildly successful mainly because they empower users. We like things at our fingertips.

Though developing a brand identity is incredibly important, creating a plan to market and grow that brand is equally so. You need to convey who you are and what you stand for if you want to succeed in your field. When you execute a quality branding strategy, you start by showing customers what makes your business unique. Then, you need to continue to do it in new and exciting ways. When you deliver on your promises and achieve your goals, customers are more likely to turn intent into action. Why? Trust. Your business feels like a safe place to spend well-earned dollars. This means that they are more likely to not only browse your services and engage with your brand elements but hire you to provide them. These are your intangibles. This is a strong brand strategy. It gave Uber back their new car smell. It gives us a Lyft. What could it do for you?

EverWonder’s Brand Development Services can be helpful in getting started and building a brand strategy, regardless of where you are at in your business. Ever wonder about your brand strategy? Reach out.

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