When Successful Marketing Hurts Your Brand
A failed 2nd date with ride-sharing app, Lyft
Disclaimer: I am not an investor in either of these companies, nor any company in the ride-sharing space.
I am just a rider. Just a customer. I’m also in the business of marketing startups — which means I touch everything customer experience-related: communications, the brand, UX, product design, CRM, monetization, et cetera.
My story begins with a nice email I received from Lyft offering me 50% off.
I appreciated the gesture, decided to give them another shot, grabbed the app, and moved it into the “ 🚐 ” folder on my iPhone’s front page — officially reopening competition between Lyft and Uber.
Email opened, check.
Email Click-thru, check.
Re-download app, check.
Update payment info, check.
I fancy myself a pretty loyal Uber customer, so to this point, Lyft’s marketing efforts are paying dividends and working precisely how they imagined.
Our 2nd Date
Heading home from Midtown on a Thursday night after dinner, I remember all of the recent flirting Lyft and I have been doing in their attempt to win back my business.
Request a ride, check.
This is when things go off the rails. Despite the large volume of cars on-screen, I’m looking at surge pricing and a 50% cost increase because… “It’s Busy!”
I’m aware that 50% surge + 50% savings is still a deal for me, so I don’t immediately pull the plug. A few seconds later, I refresh my screen to find 75% surge pricing. Commence furious SMHing. Surge pricing is eating away most of my discount.
In real terms, this isn’t that egregious a crime, but when customers build relationships with brands, its because of what happens on the margins. It’s the little things. Brand building is about exceeding expectations, even just by a little, every single time.
My Lyft experience fell woefully short of expectations. The discount made me feel important, followed by me wondering if this was just a strategic (and very cheap) ploy to bring customers back using much smaller discounts than originally promised. Whether it was true or not, I felt manipulated.
In my line of work, this is a disaster scenario that could have been avoided by (1) recognizing a customer is returning after a very long period of inactivity, and (2) guaranteeing that customer a great experience. It’s what you have to do when you’re in 2nd place. There simply isn’t a way around this.
When customer experience doesn’t fulfill marketing’s promise, the damage to the brand is often irreparable. I can’t proclaim I’ll never use Lyft again, but I can say with absolute certainty that my relationship with the Lyft brand is in worse shape than it was before the initial email.
I checked back in at 7:23 Friday morning wondering if last night’s experience was some wacky supply & demand-driven anomaly…
Nope. 100% surge pricing.