-Randall Hull, The Br@nd Ranch®

There is an old branding adage: A logo is no more a brand than a steering wheel is a car. Yes, both are important components, but they are not the thing itself.

So, when I heard Uber, the ride-hailing service, was “rebranding” earlier this year I thought they would invest in the experience of interacting with and using their service. But it seems they left that in the trunk.

Their “rebranding” effort was driven by an in-house team with Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick personally steering the redesign. He attempted to explain the new look in a blog post justifying the months spent on researching local cultures, scenery and architecture in an effort to develop different pallets to decorate around the app. The company even created an Uber Brand Experience web site.

The response has been quite negative, as noted here, including criticism of the CEO for expending a significant amount of time on a corporate identity exercise — more than two-and-a-half years according to Wired Magazine. (http://www.wired.com/2016/02/the-inside-story-behind-ubers-colorful-redesign/)

Here is the before and after:


Say what you will about the elements of the new look, a design critique is not my point here. My point is this — let’s not confuse corporate identity systems or redesigns or “realignments” — or whatever a company decides to call the exercise — with branding, or rebranding, as in this case.

That is not branding.

As Marty Neumeier said in his excellent book The Brand Gap, “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company…It’s a PERSON’S GUT FEELING, because in the end the brand is defined by individuals, not by companies, markets, or the so-called general public. Each person creates his or her own version of it.” Your brand is the aggregate of every experience your customers have with your product, service or company. That is where the rubber meets the road.

Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, was quoted as saying: “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” This is in sync with Neumeier’s statement “A brand is not what YOU say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.”

And what is the foundation of a brand? Trust. Trust should always be the goal. No product, service or company will ever succeed at communicating value — fundamental to a successful brand — without establishing trust first. Neumeier succinctly states, “Trust comes from meeting and beating customer expectations.”

No amount of “tailored colors and patterns, illustrations, and photos” from an internal team, even with the most clever designers or CEO at the wheel, will achieve this. The Uber brand was created and will continue to be redefined by its customers’ trust in the organization based on their experiences. And, these experiences are determined by every interaction with Uber, its employees, and, most of all, its drivers.

This is where Uber swerved. They were distracted by the sparkly hubcaps of a new corporate identity and took their eye off their customers’ experience. It would have been a far better investment in their brand to have pointed their high beams at the litany of incidents and complaints from drivers and customers rather than a multi-year ‘reupholstering’ project.

Examples of the problems can be found here, here, here, and here.

This doesn’t signal the end of the road for Uber, but it is a substantial s-turn they will have to negotiate. Do that and Uber will be steering in the right direction. Then a trustworthy brand will follow without a trailer hitch.