Like many cross-category peers, Uber has done an impressive job of successfully replicating a global business model in India. As a result, playing a reasonably transformational role in our lives, making short-haul private transportation both affordable and accessible. Quite predictably its success has spawned commendable clones who are delivering the experience equally well, generic category codes more influential than discernible brand advantage.
It is, therefore, time for Uber to develop the Series B brand strategy, the experiential equivalent of the second round of funding that leads to this naming. To extend the metaphor further, this round is necessary when the first set of inputs has done its initial job and now a fresh infusion of capital, customer value in this case, is necessary for the next level of growth. Following a rigorous template and driven by considerable energy, Uber has developed the app-based taxi services as an urban necessity, a truly democratic union of smartness and comfort. Its influence as a societal enabler extends way beyond individual advantages; employment generation, usually-fair pricing, enhanced service standards and reducing the need for gas-guzzling and traffic-inducing private transport. The app, of course, is its spiritual foundation, a disarming conduit to a hitherto-complicated cartel of unruly providers. However, now that significant others have successfully developed scalable value-added replicas, the Series B branding strategy is rendered necessary.
This must have its roots in the deepest-possible understanding of customer behaviour, an interplay of cultural nuances, user insights and operational realities brought to life by simplifying technology. Due to the chaotic nature of Indian traffic management and the prevalence of whiteness, your chosen cab is difficult to identify in a busy location. This leads to switched passengers, time-wasting snarls and overall inefficiency, which can be solved by a simple line-of-sight beacon located within the app. Quite simply, by pointing your phone to the general direction of taxi arrivals, like an airport or busy high street, the torch will direct you to the number-plate of your appointed partner, with an alarm-like sound effect. Inversely this can be true for the driver as well, quite certainly this is a matter of minor technology but with a significant convenience edge.
While Uber Hire has picked up momentum, opportunity is ripe for a product named Uber Wedding, designed intuitively for the movements of the happy season. For starters, there can be flexible Bulk-Hire Packages, families enjoying the virtues of a rental service on call, paying for exact usage and not the often-wasteful regime of 12-hour fixed packages. The tab can be linked to a special single account or payable single-serve, depending on the specific requirements, picking up vendors as well as core guests, extending to airport drops and pick-ups. In a special association with Google Maps, the wedding venue can become a temporary map location, defined by the name of the couple and not just the description of the address, printable on wedding cards and digital invites. This will avoid the enormous confusion of identification and also, through the deal offer, even self-paying guests will be immune from surge pricing, if applicable, during their travels.
The above model can be extended to the entire MICE segment, from medical conferences to Make-In-India summits or even major sporting events. By creating an institutional affiliation, Uber can build the next level of loyalty, rooted in its retail mojo but extending it smartly to build emotional bridges. On a different note, standards of hygiene are quite abysmal in India and we have all experienced even premier cabs in a dishevelled condition. Car-washing is a garage industry and most freelancers are busy during the early morning so building a partner network of cleaners, once again through the app as a service for drivers, is easily comprehensible. Cleaning centres can crop up anywhere and they can be identified on the map, an actionable culture of hygiene can be created giving the brand a definite advantage. All of the above to be considered from the lens of an overall experience, not simply an application feature.
The entire purpose of a Series B Branding strategy is to earn some own-able advantages for brands currently caught in category traps, erstwhile proprietary pluses replicated ably by eager foes. Even the new round of experience edges will eventually be replicated but till then, it will successfully breed a fresh round of loyalists before the next level of parity happens. What is true for Uber is also true for many like Zomato and the Grocery apps, basically any category without sufficient exit barriers, unlike the cases of WhatsApp or Paytm. Advantage is rarely a permanent thing for brands of this age, so it must be viewed as a summation of brief instalments and not a lifetime privilege.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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