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Did Uber take a wrong turn with its rebrand?

Did Uber take a wrong turn with its rebrand?

It’s no secret that the exercise hasn’t received universal acclaim, but a lot of that is a mix of sour grapes, indignation that someone who isn’t a designer was leading the initiative and the kind of stick-in-the-mud response normally attributed to people who, on principle, oppose any idea newer than the wheel – and we all know what their opinion is worth!

In a recent article, titled Celebrating Cities: A New Look and Feel for Uber, Travis Kalanick, CEO and Co-Founder, explains the rationale behind Uber’s rebranding.

It’s actually easy to be critical, but there’s only one issue here and that is “does it work?” It’s not difficult to measure these things, so let’s be a bit more pragmatic.

It’s our belief at Brand Lounge that the only reason to change an identity is because the business has changed. Most do, if only to keep pace with changes in their markets and that’s happening at an ever-increasing pace these days, so rebranding is inevitable.

Has Uber changed? Sure it has. It started as an up-market offering (as Travis Kalanick describes it “baller lifestyle”) and today it’s mass market. Not a unique story these days, but certainly a big change, so a re-brand is in order.

Next we need to understand that a logo, nor even an identity constitutes a brand. A brand is a community of people with shared values and beliefs. It is the values and beliefs that inspire the products and services and the structures and practices that deliver them. Some of the community members make the products others buy them. The logo is the badge that denotes the community and your membership of it and the identity is the way community members decorate the environment.

That being so, a logo should be short-hand for what the community stands for. At Brand Lounge we say a logo should convey your name clearly, express your personality, provide a clue to what you do and make you stand-out in our ever-busier market environments. Does it have to do all of these things? No it doesn’t, but before you settle for less you should ask yourself, in this fast-paced, cut-throat world can you really afford to ignore anything, however small, that will help you communicate with customers better and faster?

Once you have your logo, the identity is an extension of that. It adds detail to the information about you and what you do that the logo should have conveyed and it and makes your community feel at-home wherever they encounter it.

So, on that basis how does the new Uber logo and identity score. Well, I’m afraid it’s a fail. Uber’s rebranding strategy is focused on two separate identities for different purposes, similar to that of Instagram’s, which consists of a logotype and an application icon.

The app icons (one for riders and one for drivers) say nothing about the nature of their business, the logo itself doesn’t stand out and it doesn’t say a lot about the personality of the brand. I like the fact that it’s adaptable and works as far as it is able in a lot of different environments, but Travis Kalanick’s very defensive comments about the brand story are just a red herring. If you need to tell a story before people understand your logo it’s a failure on the most fundamental level. A logo should be telling the story, not the other way around!

He’s right on one point though, branding is largely an internal exercise (he doesn’t actually say that, but its implied in parts of his explanation). Brand development is about aligning your business behind an idea that resonates with a viable market. That means understanding what is important to them, working out how you can deliver that and then communicating it through your brand promise. To do this you firstly have to align your workforce behind the idea. They have the ideas for products and work out how to deliver them. They are also, along with your products and offices, the face of your community. Get them behind a single-minded idea and you are hot to trot.

I get the impression that Kalanick may have started in the middle of this process and worked in two directions, which is not the way to go. That would explain the agonising and indecision over basics that he describes. I guess that’s what you get when you don’t have experience in these things, which is why we have experts.

In summary, is this the right solution for Uber? I think not. Will they go broke as a result? I’m sure they won’t. Have they missed an opportunity (or ten)? Certainly. Is it a total failure? No because we are all talking about it and maybe it was planned that way. After all if you design an identity that isn’t really working you can at least help it along by spawning conversations that will link the logo with the business. It’s just that I’d rather be gaining all the extra impetus of linking a great logo with a great business.

Coincidentally, Brand Lounge recently rebranded. See how we did it.

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