March 3, 2021
Uber is one of the great innovations of the 21st century, a pioneer of both rideshare platforms and the concept of on-demand marketplaces. In addition to its technical achievements, Uber’s multifaceted marketing strategy was a crucial contributor to its immense success. Any app marketer — rideshare or otherwise — is well-advised to study Uber’s marketing strategy to see how the company drove growth from the very start.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Uber’s most successful early marketing strategies and highlight the lessons we should take away from each example.
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The launch period for apps is always a crucial window for marketers, but rideshare platforms face a few additional challenges — their two-sided marketplace means that they need to attract drivers and riders at the same time. The ideal solution is to promote early adopters’ initiatives, helping both groups feel like insiders. Uber handled this masterfully by leveraging early adopter advocacy and offering rewards for loyal customers.
When Uber needed to get the word out, a normal soft launch wasn’t enough. Instead, it developed a highly-targeted and localized early adopter strategy in the Silicon Valley area. Uber hosted sponsored events to introduce itself, gave free trials to tech influencers, and leveraged word-of-mouth marketing techniques. By the time Uber was ready to expand its reach, early adopter advocacy had supercharged its brand marketing efforts.
While local strategies are essential, rideshare platforms can go a step further with in-app mobile marketing and promotions. When implemented effectively, these techniques can have a similar impact at a grander scale:
Uber’s surface appeal is that any customer can hail a car, read driver reviews, and submit a payment from a single, easy-to-use app. Yet this perspective overlooks the fact that Uber’s marketing strategy is deeply rooted in local experiences. While Uber can serve mobile app users anywhere globally, the platform carefully segments audiences and precisely targets them by region and immediate needs.
For example, in countries like India, the average customer must deal with higher traffic congestion and reduced purchasing power than a North American city. In these regions, Uber showcases two-wheeler vehicle options so customers can reach their destination at a lower price. These kinds of local demand targeting decisions are continually refined by Uber’s engineers and lead to variations in pricing, marketing creative, and promotions.
Anyone seeking to promote their rideshare app must focus on local audiences first. One of Uber’s best marketing ideas was to segment audiences to the local level so that customer service, promotions, and even mobile ad creative would be far more meaningful than a more general demographic.
One of the reasons Uber became so memorable so quickly was its knack for forging innovative brand partnerships. As part of one joint promotion with Pepsi, Uber gave some customers free rides and beverages in an iconic DeLorean. During another, it partnered with BMW to showcase the 7 Series in select regions. While these events were temporary, they drove brand awareness while acting as a revenue stream for the growing company.
Uber didn’t stop at catchy experiential marketing events with viral appeal. While these short-term partnerships drove brand awareness, long-term joint partnerships cemented goodwill by giving promotional offers to customers of either partner. Perhaps the best example of this is Uber’s association with Hilton Worldwide, which lets Hilton guests earn loyalty points by using Uber services. Visitors can request Uber vehicles, set pick-up reminders, and flag local venues to visit from the Hilton loyalty app. From this partnership, Uber gained yet another revenue stream while building a presence within one of the biggest hotel chains in the world.
A rideshare startup probably can’t pitch a partnership with the Hilton right away. Still, the principle remains the same — partnerships with established businesses is one of the fastest ways to gain both marketing exposure and revenue. If you can effectively leverage short and long-term partnerships, customers will be far more receptive and trusting of your brand.
So far, we’ve focused on marketing and promotional strategies, but that doesn’t mean ad creative should be an afterthought. Some of the most successful Uber marketing campaigns target and resonate with core audiences, particularly smartphone-using millennials. But rideshare companies must never forget their smaller but still essential audience — drivers.
The Uber marketing campaign, “What drives you, moves us,” can elicit an emotional response from most viewers, but places the strongest focus on drivers. By acknowledging and showing appreciation for their hard work, Uber can retain drivers and potentially acquire new ones. This campaign was also an ideal opportunity to highlight new in-app features that make navigation easier, safer, and more reliable.
More recently, the most compelling Uber marketing campaigns reflect the company’s response to COVID-19. The Uber Eats ad “Bring it to the UK'' promoted the brand’s food delivery service during a time when dining out was discouraged. Another ad, “#GratefulUK,” acknowledges frontline health care workers by offering free rides and meals. Being acutely aware of rider and driver needs and addressing them in ad creative is one reason Uber remains so successful today.
It’s worth remembering that Uber doesn’t just have a social media presence — it intentionally maintains multifaceted social media strategies. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can unlock many doors for businesses that know how to segment their audiences and position themselves effectively.
In its earliest days, social media was a core element of Uber’s word-of-mouth marketing strategy. The company courted tech influencers in the San Francisco area to spread its message, highlighting a local service on a global scale. This tactic helped Uber focus on local Rideshare while building interest among non-locals.
Today, Uber’s organic social media presence has expanded to become a full-fledged user acquisition channel in and of itself. Most notably, it was the first rideshare platform to team up with Facebook Messenger’s Transportation service, granting users the ability to hail rides from the popular chat app. Whether you are trying to amplify your messaging or find unique ways to engage with customers, Uber is an excellent model to study.
Uber may be the first rideshare success story, but today’s market has far more competition to worry about. One reason Uber continues to stand out is that it pays close attention to brand positioning. From day one, Uber’s messaging implied that transportation must be a readily-available resource. CEO Travis Kalanick went so far as to compare rides to utilities like water — “Everywhere, for everyone.”
In theory, marketing to everyone sounds great. In practice, doing so fails to attract a core audience. While anyone can request a ride from a smartphone, Uber’s messaging tends to be far more focused. Early ads struck a sophisticated tone as well-dressed professionals summoned rides to work or luxurious evening events. Uber’s choice differentiated the brand from traditional taxis, but required adjustments as rideshare apps became the global standard.
Today’s Uber ads emphasize a broader millennial and Gen Z demographic that includes everything from students to professionals. The emphasis on accessibility is stronger than ever, from 24-hour service to an easy-to-use platform. As long as this tone remains consistent, Uber’s position will remain strong even as specific messaging instances change.
After an initial outsourcing period, Uber took the bold step of bringing its programmatic marketing efforts in-house. While a relatively new addition to the company, its internal ad tech team is responsible for all media buying, optimizations, and other paid user acquisition strategies. For a company like Uber, the issue wasn’t about cost — it wanted full ownership and control of its media buying instead of relying on third-party agencies. Making the switch allowed them to experiment faster and leverage their own intimate understanding of their business to drive higher returns on their mobile advertising investments.
It also made sense because, unfortunately, some agencies in the programmatic advertising space aren’t always fully transparent when it comes to their media buying. In most cases, this is a problem for marketers trying to understand their app performance or optimize their campaigns. As Uber’s programmatic display lead, Bennet Rosenblat explains, “It comes back to that question of incrementality. A lot of partners in the ecosystem will prey on high organic growth mobile clients to fire bogus clicks. Mobile, there’s a lot of tricksters and a lot of bad ads.”
According to Uber, having an in-house marketing team helped it A/B test advertising creative to find the best creative strategy while also taking a more direct approach to combating ad fraud. It’s an increasingly common approach, as more enterprises struggle with agency partnerships. Brining mobile marketing in-house affords marketers a greater degree of transparency and control.
Uber’s marketing strategy was so successful that its brand is now synonymous with the ridesharing category at large. Marketers hoping to promote similar apps prioritize early adopter advocacy, local segmentation, advanced user targeting, and strong business partnerships. Better still, the more control marketers can have over their paid advertising efforts, the more effective they can be.
Looking to take your programmatic advertising in-house in order to grow your on-demand service app? Get in touch with us to learn how the Moloco Cloud automated programmatic buying platform can help you scale mobile user acquisition efforts while hitting your ROAS targets.
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