Uber vs. Lyft: a PR lesson in Industry Rivalries

Rebecca Haynes

ompetitors are inevitable and in fact some say they are the most sincere form of flattery because it means that your company is doing something right. Yet what happens when your competitor starts getting a little too close for comfort?

The most recent Uber vs. Lyft battle comes to mind as their escalated feud went from Twitter  trash talk to trading powerful accusations about dirty ride-cancellation tactics leading to exposure in popular publications like Fast Company, Tech Crunch and Venture Beat.  The competitiveness continued when both ride-sharing companies released a new carpooling feature that was announced on the same day showing no signs of a ceasefire and, even further exposing their rivalry.  Wall Street Journal now calls Uber and Lyft “Tech’s Fiercest Rivalry”, even bigger then say Google versus Apple.

We’ve all heard the saying “any press is good press”, but in reality there’s a negative and a positive side to these PR battles. The key to winning a rivalry of this kind is to understand both the pros and cons so that with this foresight your company can be one step ahead of your main competitor and come out on top.Competition

The positive side is that competitors push companies to be at their very best and this competition overall increases innovation. This might explain why Uber hasn’t acquired Lyft yet, while they easily could have at this point with a valuation of $18.2 billion, and Lyft standing at a mere $700 million in comparison. If your company has generated a new innovation due to a competitive rivalry, you should use it to your advantage and highlight the unique innovation in a PR campaign. The reason why PR and media coverage work so well is that it provides 3rd person credibility, so use that to back your innovation claims and emphasize what you do best.  Since the spotlight is already on your company, use this time to communicate what’s different about your company from your competitors, but not necessarily what’s better. It’s important to make your company seem great without anyone knowing you are trying; you want future customers to come to that conclusion on their own.

Competitive rivalries can be blinding, so be weary that you can lose sight of your customers and leave way for other competitors to sweep in and capitalize on your undecided customer base. As Uber and Lyft were busy with their street war, a new competitor called Hailo came in with a great ad campaign. As people were hailing cabs on the streets of New York, Chicago and Toronto a hired team of Hailo bicyclists would ride by giving away phone-shaped promos or brand new phones with a preloaded Hailo app.  This was a timely guerilla campaign on Hailo’s part and a clever way to get indecisive Uber and Lyft users to download the Hailo app. To stop this from happening you need to make it clear to your audience that you haven’t lost sight of what is really important –your customers. Now is the time to pay gratitude to those customers that have been with you since the beginning. For example, have a social media campaign that demonstrates loyalty is important to your company, have a throwback thank you, a giveaway to longstanding customers, or start promoting a future loyalty program.

Social media is paving the way in how you interact with your customers and your rivals, but it’s also a tool that you can use to show that your company is confident in the direction it is headed. Reinforcing the consistent growth of your company via social media will solidify that your company has not been threatened by any competitor, that your customer base is strong and that your company isn’t going anywhere. Customers are also using social media to voice their experiences and concerns, now is the time to monitor and interact with these customers because their voice is more powerful than yours or your competitors.

Uber and Lyft’s best next move is to use this PR ammunition to join forces on the greater cause of ride-sharing and the fight against the government, so that they can both stay in business to compete another day.

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