Uber is one of the most widely used brands in the U.S., and it’s also one of the most hated by both consumers, employees, contractors (drivers) and government regulators. On the heels of the #DeleteUber social media campaign, founder ouster and sexual discrimination allegations, Uber is struggling to rebuild trust and positive sentiment for the brand. In June 2017, the company lured Bozoma Saint John, a charismatic marketing specialist, from her role as head of global consumer marketing at Apple Music & iTunes. So, what’s her plan? When Saint John dropped by the Computer History Museum to talk about her progress, BOCAteers were all in.
Moderator Lauren Goode, senior technology editor at The Verge, addressed the elephant in the room early on. Why would anyone want this job of handling brand reputation for a company so deep in crisis? “I joined BECAUSE Uber was going to be the poster child for everything that’s wrong,” she said. “If [Uber’s] culture and way of operating can change to be good, then can’t every company?” Saint John notes that there are very few options to either build a brand or turn one around, and she sees Uber as a huge opportunity to define a brand that had never been crafted.
Back when she was still working at Apple, Saint John says that none of the Uber news shocked her. The company was behaving like “a 6-foot tall 3-year-old.” The only thing that really surprised her was that people were finally talking about issues that everyone knew were going on. Hired by Uber’s Founder Travis Kalanick just before he was ousted as CEO, Saint John made it her first priority to understand how Uber had created a product that people love buta company people hate. She knew transparency would be key to creating a new brand identity for Uber, and she had strong backing from the company’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.
Here’s how she is executing her plan to earn positive sentiment for Uber’s brand:
- Implementing a culture of transparency so that problems can be surfaced and solved quickly and openly.
- Recasting employees and contractors as citizens of the company who are empowered to help one another thrive.
- Exemplify new cultural norms through intolerance of “assholes” and advocacy for citizens who feel marginalized for any reason.
- Fostering a sense of empathy for the wellness and care of neighbors, whether they’re citizens, customers or the world at large.
- Creating love for the product by telling so many good stories that the occasional bad story will just look like an aberration.
- Learning every time from mistakes the company will inevitably make.
Saint John is using the following metric to gauge her success: “I want every person who wears an Uber t-shirt to the grocery store to be proud to wear it. I want people to go to dinner parties and say they work at Uber and have people not respond with ‘Why would you want to do that?’”
Most companies don’t have the depth of image problems that Uber faces, but all can take a page from Saint John’s tactics. Transparency is key to earning trust among your employees, customers, partners and journalists. Further, employees can only be ambassadors for your brand when they feel empowered to fix issues. When they feel good about their jobs, they spread the love through empathy and advocacy for all constituents.