On June 21st, Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick resigned, giving in to pressure from the company’s largest investors.
Uber has been under a cloud for many reasons lately: sexual harassment allegations that show a systemic pattern of abuse, ethics issues, bad driver behavior, turnover of key executives, even a video where Kalanick is berating one of his own drivers.
For a long time, it seemed like Kalanick was invincible. But eventually the myriad problems and missteps caught up with him. The question is what will happen to Uber as a business from this point forward. The private company has been valued at as much as $70 billion, yet it’s not clear who will take the reins from this point forward.
Five Marketing Lessons from Uber
Here are five marketing lessons that we can all learn from the recent Uber experiences:
• Bad behavior trumps a great product and ruins a great brand.
It doesn’t always matter how good your product or service is, how much it’s valued, or the strength of your brand. Continued instances of bad behavior—whether on the part of executives or employees in the ranks—will destroy your brand power and negate the great work you do in providing a desired product or service.
• When in doubt, admit mistakes and move on
For months, Uber ignored the rising current of discontent, both from customers who uninstalled the app as well as from drivers and employees. No company is infallible. The public is willing to forgive those organizations that admit they’ve done wrong—as long as they have a plan to move forward. As a marketer, it’s important to ensure that messaging in this type of situation reflects both humility as well as a desire to take action to make things right.
• Amidst every corporate disaster is the seed of a great new opportunity.
Is this the situation every marketer dreams about inheriting? Obviously not. But it’s not necessarily fatal either. The good news is that Uber is in the public spotlight and actions and communications will get buzz. That means this is the time to develop and highlight initiatives that address the key issues, such as embracing diversity, developing a no tolerance policy for workplace harassment, better screening of drivers, and more transparency in general when issues arise.
• You can’t out-market company culture.
Uber’s problems didn’t appear overnight. The culture that developed at the company encouraged the type of incidents that caused Kalanick’s downfall.
No amount of marketing dollars can overcome a culture that allows and encourages bad behavior. But marketing can help communicate cultural changes as they are implemented. Employees need to understand and embody the culture and brand you want to build. Uber’s new management should invest in efforts to ensure each and every driver understands what Uber stands for and how they are expected to behave.
• Don’t gloat at competitive missteps.
It’s easy to focus attention on Uber, but it’s important to recognize that the glare of the spotlight now turns on the secondary performers. Is Lyft really that much better than Uber? Can they avoid the same fate? What can they do to differentiate themselves on an ongoing basis? This is the time for everyone who might be caught in this type of situation to look carefully in the mirror and clean house before they too become the center of attention.