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Uber on Creating a New Global Customer Experience Through Rebranding

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Kindra Cooper

Uber rebrand

Stratospherically successful Silicon Valley startup gets trailed by a constant raincloud of data breach scandals, fines in the hundreds of millions and eyebrow-raising remarks in the media from its recently ousted founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick.

Sound familiar?

That was Uber’s legacy when it decided to rebrand last year for the second time in three years.

As an Uber user, you may or may have not noticed the changes to the logo and mobile app experience, subtle as they are – an entirely deliberate stratagem on the part of a company struggling to regain customer trust.

Another important mandate was to design a brand system that would resonate globally as the company started to lose market share to local US-based competitors like Lyft and Curb, and acquisitions by a number of international brands including Grab, which operates in a Southeast Asian market where the Uber brand was ill-received and unprofitable.

Uber rebrand

Left: Uber's previous logo before the rebrand; Right: The new logo

How a rebrand can represent a culture change and recommitment to customers

Uber contracted New York City-based design consultancy, Wolff Olins, to conceptualize and execute the rebrand.

“[Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi] was truly interested in transforming the company culturally, giving it a north star and a mission but ultimately having an expression that was scalable, that was able to help them as global practitioners be better at what they did,” Forest Young, global principal at Wolf Ollins, said at a recent event at The New School in New York City.

Uber rebranding

Peter Markatos, executive creative director at Uber and Forest Young, global Principal at Wolff Olins at an event in New York City

Typical of a startup coming of age, Uber wanted to expand its value proposition from just a ride-hailing service to a global mobility platform supporting multiple modes of transportation.

Case in point: one of the reasons Uber lost to local rival Grab in Indonesia was because the app only allowed commuters to reserve cars in a country where motorcycle taxi and hop-on, hop-off chartered vans are the most popular way of getting around its gridlocked cities.

Uber’s global expansion in general was also perceived as a “plug-and-play” Silicon Valley export largely neglectful of localized consumer tastes.

“We really started to see the more we traveled that it’s really about this multimodal experience,” said Young. “There are scooters and tuk-tuks and vans and flying cars.”

Note this last point. Uber’s brand overhaul is designed to be business unit- and product-agnostic - meaning that if its litigation-fraught experiments with self-driving cars and flying vehicles pan out, it won’t need another rebrand.

The redesign also seamlessly integrates with its UberEats and UberFreight brands, while the marketing voice has been revamped in favor of “audience-first communications,” according to the project brief on Uber’s website.  

Using Voice of Customer to shape the look and feel of the new brand

After conducting more than 1000 hours of interviews with its customers in “mega regions” around the world, Uber decided to bank on its household-name status by investing in a wordmark rather than a symbol for its new logo.

Its previous logo, a location stamp imprinted on a dubious-looking ‘U’ against a colorful background, has been widely compared to an “a**hole” when turned on its side. Incredibly, the bits and atoms design was inspired by bathroom tiles, easily turning it into, ahem, the butt of a joke.  

More importantly, customers didn’t associate the symbol with the Uber brand. It didn’t heft the iconographic punch of the Apple logo or the Nike swoosh.

Customers suggested the following:

  1. Let in the light, embrace black
  2. Invest in a wordmark, not a symbol
  3. Bring back the ‘U’

Uber wanted a design that customers waiting curbside for their ride would recognize at high speed from a distance - one untarnished by the former CEO’s “Boober” remarks, allegations of spying on Beyoncè, to Trump ties and a Google lawsuit. Initially, the company was dead-set on pivoting away from its monochromatic aesthetic, but customers felt differently about it.

“A lot of this process was figuring out what we have positive equity in and what we have negative equity in,” said Peter Markatos, executive creative director at Uber.

“When we interviewed and surveyed the general population we found that 88 percent of them actually had a positive association with Uber and black and this was really hard to convince our stakeholders because we’d just come out of the dark forest of 2017 and we thought, we can’t be black, that’d be terrible. This was actually a huge surprise to us.”

Humanizing a brand through photography and storytelling

Storytelling and putting user faces to the brand are kind of a go-to strategy these days for monolithic brands under pressure to appear more “human,” but it goes a long way towards establishing trust.

“We really wanted to celebrate the people that were part of the Uber ecosystem - the drivers, the riders and even the policymakers that were interested in safety,” Young explained. “We wanted to think about simplicity and championing ease of use.

The app redesign rid itself of complicated user flows and unintuitive price quotes that made it difficult for customers to estimate how much a ride would cost them. Now, the app opens with a new animation onto a map that asks simply: “Where to?” Once you’ve selected a destination, you can view the different Uber products along with their price points and ETAs.

In order for Uber to be truly considered a “mobility platform and aggregator,” Young envisions that future iterations of the app will combine public transit metadata along with Uber rides - sort of like a blended Google Maps experience, to help users decide on the best transportation options for them.

In fact, Uber is already making strides towards becoming a “one-stop” app: users can stream music through apps like Pandora from inside the app, as well as browse the menus of eateries at their destination.

Read more: Experiential Marketing - Creative Ways Brands Build Customer Engagement