Uber vs Lyft – Brand positioning, customer expectation and internal culture.


One of the most underutilised outcomes of a business developing a brand strategy and a clear brand positioning, is the effect it can have on organisational culture. Most of the big brands get this, but SME’s need more education in my experience. Those that do ‘get it’ can create a real competitive advantage by using their brand strategy to drive culture development. Creating a great culture not only benefits employees who become more engaged in their work, it creates a better brand experience for your customers. It’s a win-win.

Perhaps one of the reasons not every business ‘gets it’ is because of a common misconception. They believe branding is just function of the marketing department. This is a quite limiting definition of branding, which is simply not true. While marketing is often the most visible expression of a brand, it is but one of many hundreds of touch points where a brand is created.

The strongest brands are built in the minds of customers through people to people interaction and customer experiences, as much as they are through marketing efforts. A good brand strategy will provide direction for decision making across the entire business, from marketing right through to customer service and culture development programs. 

I recently came across a wonderful example of the effect brand positioning can have over both internal culture and customer expectation recently, listening to an All Things Considered report on NPR about the battle for drivers that is heating up between Uber and Lyft in the United States.

In interviewing around two dozen drivers who worked for both Uber and Lyft they saw very real differences between the types of customers (passengers) and employees (drivers), that each of the brands attracts. These differences are closely linked with the distinct brand positioning each company has taken.

Uber started as a luxury brand. It’s original service (now called UberBlack) using high end ‘black’ hire cars driven by professional hire car drivers. Their brand promise (their marketing slogan) is ‘everyone’s private driver’. Being first to market it has been very a very successful positioning for them, and they have become a brand synonymous with disruptive innovation by offering people a transportation service that is much more convenient and customer focussed than the taxi industry around the world has become.

Their competitor Lyft is not yet in Australia. For anyone not familiar with Lyft they essentially offer the same product as Uber, however, their brand is built for a slightly different purpose. According to Lyft’s CMO while both companies want to improve transportation, they have a goal that is environmental: having fewer cars on the road and filling empty seats.

Lyft’s brand promise is ‘your friend with a car’ which drivers say does come with a different set of customer expectations when compared to Uber’s ‘private driver’ promise. As a brand, Lyft positions themselves as being a more ‘relaxed’ experience for both the driver and their customer when compared to Uber, and it’s right there in their promise.

When competing for the same pool of drivers, it is understandable why Lyft’s proposition might be more appealing for part time drivers with other jobs, who are looking to make a little extra cash using the spare room in the car, rather than be seen or treated as someone’s chauffeur. When positioned against Lyft, Uber is the more luxury brand, and as their UberX service becomes more synonymous with the brand I wonder how happy they could be about that.

I think this is a really interesting case study to highlight for a few of reasons.

While the product is essentially the same, Lyft is challenging Uber with a unique positioning and promise born from a clarity of purpose. When your business purpose is aligned with your brand strategy, wonderful things can happen. ‘Your friend with a car’ isn’t  just a cute marketing slogan, but a promise that directs the expectations of their customers and, in turn, has a tangible impact on their internal culture. That’s real authenticity at work.

Every business without a clear brand strategy should take note of this. It’s very hard to be ‘unique’ these days. Almost everything has been done before in some way, however, meaningful difference between businesses that offer similar products and services always comes from clarity of purpose.

If your organisation really understands its business purpose and has defined it – I mean why you exist and what gets you out of bed every morning, not merely what you do, or how you do I – then it’s possible to turn that into a real meaningful difference and a powerful strategic advantage for your brand that positions you clearly against your competition… attracting like-minded customers like a magnet.








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