Just recently, Uber Eats appointed Alia Bhatt as its brand ambassador in India, to gain necessary momentum in the $50-billion Indian market. While much of the public focus will now be concentrated on the ensuing campaign, this move raises many interesting pointers on modern-day brand strategies. Especially, the critical need to rediscover the rigour of customer analysis, leading to inspiring solutions that rise above technological proficiency.
It does seem rather old-fashioned for a brand as such to appoint an exclusive brand ambassador, an approach which is 50 years and running. While a digital exercise will certainly follow, a full-fledged TVC will surely be the primary port of call, dramatic scripting justifying the appointment of the lady. The same approach, conceptually, as the Lux campaigns of yesteryears, a film personality creating mass imagery and subsequently, leading to public patronage. Except, perhaps, the connection being sought is more attitudinal and driven by empathy, not a distant aspiration, amply aided by the conversational digital platforms. It does prove that for a vast market like India, critical mass is still achievable by proven techniques, the combination of celebrity and mass media, even if the service or product is clearly state-of-art. So, all the spiel about the demise of mainstream vehicles must be suspended in categories that thrive on the bigness of the customer base.
The second conversation, albeit more contemporary and connected, is regarding the approach of late movers in rapidly-growing categories. We do know that Swiggy and Zomato, in their collective might, have been successful in establishing and refining this category in India, arguably creating a fine foundation for the significant others to follow. Equally, these brands have moved to a second level of branding, loyalty programmes and value-added-services, to create exit barriers for their customers. While Alia Bhatt is one attempt to generate trials, Uber is aggressively leveraging its customised-tech credentials, honed through the original category. High-end tracking mechanisms, a higher quality of customer profiling connecting restaurants to preferences and a 35-minute delivery promise are all on the menu. Along with, most certainly, a bunch of great deals and offerings, that will aim to convert the current user as well attract an entire generation of new users. The secret sauce in the arsenal is certainly the aura effect of brand Uber, seeking an influence beyond human transportation.
At this point, it is necessary to delink differentiation and relevance, especially for the performance-driven world of tech-enabled services. The 35-minute delivery may sound valuable but to an Indian customer, even 45 minutes work, when the delivery is made within the promised time, the issue being reliability and not urgency. Proven clearly by the experiences of Domino’s Pizza and its peers over time, this market will not find much novelty in this promise. Equally, it may end up limiting the choice of restaurants, the fabled biryani joint 50 minutes away not covered by this service, thus denying the well-planned diner his beloved choice. Tracking software visibly similar to the taxi service also sounds very attractive, but the others have functional versions as well. Operational efficiencies and learnings from the core business may improve profitability but once again, will struggle to be a realistic benefit. This brand is also promising to help brands set up internet kitchens, once again a valuable service for the provider and not necessarily the user. As per the current menu, the Uber Eats advantage sounds very endearing but insufficient to dislodge or unsettle the current twosome.
So, what must be the winning formula for Uber Eats? The first part of the strategy must be to identify genuine points of sustainable differentiation, or at least long enough to gain consistent patronage. A special Uber Eats infection-free zip-lock that acts as a protection against elements or any other foreign particles, currently the competition carrying food in a casual manner. An exclusive panel of home chefs, ranging from normal to bespoke, offering unique content along with a home or office party-delivery unit, through a single-window multi-restaurant delivery service. Combination packages, connected to past customer behaviour at a special price, a ‘Biryani by Kilo’ offering biryani, kebabs and roti as a family unit. Automated estimated calorie count of the order, delivered by the app, which allows the measurement-happy eater of the day to assess the impact. Using the Uber taxi association intelligently, perhaps a takeaway facility at restaurants en route to destination, pre-ordered before or during boarding and a free five-minute stopover included as part of the ride. Another conceptual opportunity is the pure-reach game, within cities as well as in expansion terms, Uber Eats servicing more restaurants across more locations. If more is dug from the core psyche, many answers will emerge.
The second part of the strategy is already happening but must be amplified further, which is the influence of the Uber aura. While it must be noted that successful brand extensions are not particularly common in the digital era, largely due to the innovator-driven eco-system of this era, not structured corporate extensions. Uber is however a global movement, appealing to customers across every section and perfectly poised to represent other relevant movements. If Uber Eats operates on a purely transactional dimension, offering incremental advantages vis-à-vis Swiggy and Zomato, then it is less likely to succeed than if it appears as a life-altering value. Certainly, way more difficult to achieve as the third player, yet the finest opportunity for an iconic entity like Uber.
Alia Bhatt will certainly do the job in terms of making Uber Eats popular, whether she will be able to seriously worry the competition is the larger question. The scintillating insight that led to the original Uber must be replicated partially to ensure the success of Uber Eats. Anything sub-optimal will not satisfy the appetite of customers or investors.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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