Ridesharing services have transformed the transportation structure in major cities from coast to coast, with Uber and Lyft engaged in a Coke vs. Pepsi battle for drivers and riders.
This corner of the sharing economy remains in its infancy, even as apps such as Via, Sidecar and others stake their parking spaces. And things are getting interesting as Google joined in in August with the pilot of a service built on its Waze GPS app.
Lyft is a currently working in 200 cities, offering some 14 million rides a month, but according to the Pew Research Center, all the ridesharing apps have barely made a dent on American car culture.
We spoke to Kira Scherer Wampler, CMO of Lyft, about the challenge of being a challenger brand while also being a disruptor, building a company in a hackathon, and using Shaquille O’Neal as a cabbie.
Velocitize: You are a challenger brand. Where do you see the challenges and opportunities?
Wampler: The opportunity is that you have a lot more of the playing field to work with than you would have if you had been the category leader. That allows the challenger to define the brand, differentiate the brand in very unique ways that would be harder for the category leader to do.
We’re not in a traditional consumer packaged goods “who’s the category leader and who’s the upstart” experience. The category of ridesharing is six years old—maybe.
Velocitize: So how is it different, being the challenger in a disruptor segment, versus a legacy consumer segment like packaged goods?
Wampler: I think the biggest difference is speed; being able to grow your brand and grow brand affinity—at least in our experience so far—much more quickly than many other brands have the ability to do in more entrenched categories.
The vast majority of Americans have not experienced ridesharing. Fewer than 1% of automotive trips in the United States are ridesharing trips, even today in 2016—that’s Pew Center research that came out a few months ago. So we look at it as a young brand, as the opportunity to grow very, very quickly.
Certainly, we are in a challenger position, but we think of it more as a category creation position. Our opportunity is to help people in the United States understand the category, be comfortable in the category and feel that they’re getting in a reliable, safe, affordable ride from a company that has a very strong, human, authentic, trustworthy brand and ethos.
Velocitize: How much of your marketing is building awareness of the concept of ride sharing versus building your own brand affinity, as more established brands do?
Wampler: You can look at our body of work. One of my favorite pieces of work is our Undercover Lyft series, where we had different celebrities providing Lyft drives. Passengers who are sitting six inches away don’t realize they’re sitting next to Shaquille O’Neal, Danica Patrick, Demi Lovato, etc. and in the course of the ride they have this amazing interaction. It’s very fun, very engaging and at the end of the ride the reveal occurs.
I love the Undercover Lyft series because it’s not only a way to help people understand the category—which is that ridesharing is accessible, it’s safe, it’s friendly, it’s reliable—we are expressing those features of ridesharing while at the same time really continuing to bring our unique brand to life around this concept of drivers and passengers treating each other well in the car.
Velocitize: Do you have to pivot as other challengers continue to come in the market? It’s not just you and Uber anymore.
Wampler: We’re a company that was born in Silicon Valley. (Lyft founders) John (Zimmer) and Logan (Green) had been ride sharing and car sharing for probably about seven years before they pivoted to Lyft and built Lyft in a couple of weekends in a hackathon. As marketers we have to be to very, very quick because the bar for fast is a couple of weekends.
As a result, that means our every day is about moving quickly, experimenting, taking risks and investing more in areas that really work for us. Of course, we have to operate on both sides of the marketplace. We’re both bringing on new passengers, as well as bringing on new drivers and entering new markets.
Velocitize: Does that hackathon culture inform the marketing now, instead of top-down management?
Wampler: We’re certainly not a traditional company by any means. We do have an AOR we work with Made (Movement) out of Boulder. But we have a very, very close collaborative relationship with them.
It is extraordinarily important for us to have clarity on our brand guidelines and our brand principles so our teams can move quickly against them in the ways that are unique fits for us, whether it’s the work we do with the AOR, like our out-of-home work, or the work that we might do with Undercover Lyft, which is done in-house.
I don’t see a world for us where there’s any kind of traditional top-down hierarchy. That is very indicative of the kind of environment we’re in and where the category is and where it’s moving so far.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t take time to be thoughtful and to really understand passengers and drivers well. I’m a big believer in consumer insights and market research. It’s really important for us to have those deep insights that we use to craft our marketing efforts and our campaigns.
Velocitize: Do you capture rider data in some way, do surveys, or a mix of both?
Wampler: It really just depends on the question that we are asking the team to answer. We’ve done a long series of immersive trips where we’ll pick different markets, we will bring a team of people and we go deep in a market.
We say: “OK, you go and try to take the bus and you go try to take Lyft and you try to go walk. Let’s do that and see what the experience is like to navigate a specific city using the different transportation options.”
We have the opportunity for passengers to rate their riding experience and the drivers rate the ride as well. And any ride that is one, two, or three stars immediately gets outreach from our customer support team to check in and see how we can do better.
We’re operating at an enormous scale, so we’ve got to understand our data quantitatively and how we can improve and continue to learn. But I’m also a huge believer in the power of (qualitative data) and the work that qual can do for you and help really shade and build those early insights from which to develop your marketing campaigns.
Velocitize: What should we expect to see next? Are you trying some new media?
Wampler: We run the full gamut of marketing channels depending on the market, depending on challenge that we’re trying to solve. Undercover Lyft has now been a yearlong series of episodes and that continues to be extraordinarily successful for us.
Our marketing efforts span pretty much every channel and we are active every minute of every day. Remember, we’re operating on a scale where we are matching supply and demand in minutes or less, which is not your typical kind of marketplace business. We’re employing all of the channels quite actively every day.