Uber and Careem! Brand or Commodity?

 

When it comes to hiring a chauffeur driven car, Uber, is an app that is globally known. However, when looking at the success regionally, Careem is also another app that makes the list.

Uber led to many passenger transportation apps popping in different parts of the world today and helped the industry make billions as a result. It operates in 65 countries under passenger transportation and has an array of payment options.

In recent years, the Middle East witnessed the need for such apps in order to have better services and avoid the hectic cab rides.

Two brands that come to mind are Uber, a San Francisco based company and Careem, a Dubai based company. Both brands share similar values but Careem still holds the unique value over Uber by giving the option of “book later” and leading the region with cash option payment.

Uber’s first regional destination was Riyadh, Saudi Arabia then it gradually expanded throughout the region. Careem, in recent years, has expanded to most of the region but not all of it.

My goal, in this article, is to focus on as a brand what their brand message to their audience is and which company is more intact when it comes to the commodity of transportation. I fully understand when a brand chases quick expansion it intends to lose its focus.

So for the past two months, I used both brands aggressively to experience all the brand touch points. So let’s look at each of the brands.

You can clearly see from the name and the few of the brand touch points, Careem as a brand is positioned as your local app. Given that positioning, the core question always was “who is Careem?” The simple answer is a regional transportation app, which is generic. If the app takes you from one point to another then it’s a commodity. You can’t hold the company responsible if the management treats the brand as a commodity. Question is and will remain, what idea as a brand are they trying to sell to the public? A transport app? Well so is Uber and others.

During each of the experience, you’ll notice Careem calls their drivers “captain” while Uber calls them “chauffeur”. So which of the two holds premium? Clearly Uber. When you travel to a congested city like Cairo, the two offer a totally different experience as they speak to completely different audiences. Careem caters more to the middle and lower class while Uber is targeting a higher class. The Careem app is user friendly. However, you are in for a few surprises once you have placed the order and their brand promise becomes a reality.

Careem has GPS issues – it has an accuracy problem. Drivers either end up on the wrong side of the road or a block away. Second, because proximity is not added, like it is in Uber, you end up waiting longer for the driver to arrive. What I mean by proximity is that Uber is closer from your point of pickup and is available in less time.

Before I start with Uber let me finish Careem. Firstly, for the life of me, I just can’t figure out what Careem’s brand essence or promise is? I feel the brand was developed as an app and went only through a design experience.

Today, customers can’t expect so much from Careem other than the most shared value “convenient”. You order a car and the car shows up. Other services including the recent launched “go”, propose more value but remember many of Careem’s values are originally owned by Uber. During my different visits to Cairo, Riyadh and Jeddah, my experience with Careem changed. When Careem first launched, it made every effort to retain customers, different types of drivers and cars. Today Careem doesn’t cares as much, I guess. To test the brand experience, when I was recently in Riyadh, I ordered Careem and at the same time I ordered Uber. The Careem driver failed to find my location which was the Al Faisalia hotel. It took him almost an hour from the time I ordered. The Uber driver showed up in twenty minutes due to rush hour. While I was heading to my meeting in Uber, I called the Careem driver and the customer service to locate the driver. Both failed to respond so I finally cancelled the order.

What is Careem’s brand promise? What’s its brand essence? We understand that Careem was good in positioning itself as the regional brand but sorry that’s not good enough to deliver what customers expect. Customers are paying for the entire experience of the brand. Sometimes, I feel the brand Careem we knew became a commodity. The amount of price discount they give away is crazy. The text messages they send for discounts is not any different from Al Ahram in Jeddah that sells low priced clothing. I never received an email from Careem like I do from Uber which focuses on experiencing the city you are travelling to. So is Careem a brand?! I need to get my brand facts book out to be convinced.

On the other hand, Uber lives as your private chauffeur. A promise they made and delivered in so many ways. Now let’s get the record straight here, I don’t favor any. In fact, when Careem first launched, I was an advocate of theirs but you can’t be an advocate to something that has ignored the core of their experience. Uber is expanding to 65 countries and the experience in each of the country differs due to local laws and so forth. For example, Uber in Germany has to operate under a licensed cab company but not in Austria. But, for the most of it, Uber still manages to keep its promise. Even though, Careem’s app is much more user friendly, Uber’s app is still friendly. During the time of order, their driver’s proximity is much closer than the Careem drivers and GPS is much more accurate. Recently Uber realized they are more than just passenger transportation and evolved their brand. Today, Uber is hire a driver, helicopter, order food and courier. Don’t be surprised at what’s next.

Since the company is evolving so fast they need a core essence that will hold everything together. Something that says who they’ve become. Today, in simple term Uber is “logistics”. You can hire a car, they will arrange it. You can hire a helicopter, they’ll arrange it. You can order food, they’ll arrange it. You can send a parcel, they will arrange it. They simplified logistics to one single app which is just a click away. The brand has evolved and so did their marketing mix. Their positioning is reflected in their new look and feel. You will notice the key word “availability” and their promise is “reliable at all times”. The rationale behind Uber’s new brand idea is to bring together two things that were in separate worlds for over seventy years. And they are doing this by bringing them together as the “Bits” and the “Atoms”. The bits for Uber is the technology and its ability to express its efficiency, ability and power. The “Atoms” is responsible for how technology moves cities and their citizens, and the goods that are transported everyday. The brand tells its story from its inception of the famous tweet to its recent evolution of serving its new created purpose. We all can agree that Uber has disrupted the transportation industry across the 65 countries and 400 cities but we can never disagree that Uber is one of the most talked brand in this era.

Uber and Careem are two different brands. While one is massively evolving and other is catching up. Uber provides the experience and Careem is turning into a commodity.

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, an author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renowned Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

Uber: The New Identity

Uniting the “Bits” and “Atoms” for the first time, the bits is the refined “technology” and atoms is everything around us “objects”. Uber’s rationale behind the new identity is unifying the two for the first time, the technology and the atoms. The technology is used as process and the atoms is the object that moves from one point to other. If we look at the business strategy of Uber which evolved from passenger transportation to logistics and transportation, the new “Uber” brand core perfectly says who they’ve become

I’m a strategist not a design expert, many designer could disagree on the use of font, color palette and so on and that’s not my argument here but from a brand strategy point Uber successful reflected their evolution and their new rationale perfectly reflects their evolved business strategy

On the other hand many argued why Uber will ditch the slick stylish logo the most recognized in today’s app world, I agree but the more the brand delivers values the higher chance the symbol becomes recognized. Google’s identity looks like grade school kids drawing but since the company delivers constant values you can’t help but constantly recognize their identity

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, an author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renowned Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

Sustainable Brands and Universities

Just like other organizations in other industries, institutions of higher learning need to compete in order to survive. But because of the fear of sounding too corporate, universities often hesitant to borrow proven methods from business, or are late to the game. Branding is a case in point. At the turn of the century, universities started to dip their toes in the branding waters. Many of the early approaches focused on creating new taglines, changing logos and spending a great deal of money on advertising. Those attempts reinforced the skepticism that many stakeholders had about branding, especially the faculties.

Today universities realize that in order address affordability, competition, innovation, equality, employability, divestment, funding and other issues that challenge their image and future, universities need to embrace an approach based on mission and core values. They need to adopt an approach that focuses on culture and stakeholders. They need to stand for something. They need to be authentic. This approach aligns the internal culture and external reputation of the university, and ensures sustainability.

It’s vitally important that universities in the Middle East and specifically in GCC understand the value of owning a brand and how the brand reflects the institution, students and recruitment processes. Today there are many great local universities in Saudi Arabia such as Effat, Dar Al Hekma and King Saud. They are all considered reputable, but even reputable universities need to connect their missions and their core values to their stakeholders.

Rex Whisman is the Founder and Chief Strategist at BrandED Consultants Group that guides organizations/institutions beyond logos, taglines and Advertising campaigns. In the last 25 years, he has held many senior-level positions in Branding, Communications, Engagement and Marketing, on both the institution and consultant sides

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, an author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renowned Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

 

 

Looming Financial Crisis, Brands and Commodities

I don’t see the Financial Markets settling soon. Global Financial Markets will stay volatile till 2020, possibly beyond. It’s like a FINANCIAL BAZOOKA, like a train coming straight at you and you are not going to stop it by standing in its way. I see more financial bloodbath and rocky times ahead for many countries & their markets. Simple investors will have sleepless nights and smart investors will have peace of mind with their funds. But the question is where to park your funds when markets are so uncertain and unpredictable?

The Answer: Follow the basic rule of LIFE and invest in REAL ASSETS for Wealth Preservation. The global economy stands at a crossroad of growth and decline and few financial markets might even collapse. If we analyze economic history, we see that there is a recession in the global economy after every 7/8 years. So it’s long overdue now and which is why 2016 has started on a rocky note as markets went down in China, Europe, US and Asia. Financial markets look too choppy at the moment. According to Sam Zell—American Business magnate and Real Estate mogul:

US economy is knocking at the doors of deep recession in the next 7 to 11 months. Global economy is witnessing a bigger crisis which will last longer and perhaps will be more severe than the 1930s… History is repeating after 83 years and many investors are not aware of the gravity of the situation

So what’s a MARKETERS ROLE IN TOUGH TIMES? Consumers are very sensitive to Brands. FMCGs are much stable even in hard times when the economy hits rock bottom but the same doesn’t apply to Retail especially for Auto and Luxury markets as these two sectors suffer the most. The question that Economists frequently ask: Can Brands sustain themselves in times of hardship when companies cut their Marketing budgets?

The answer is simple; Brands can live long if they are real Brands (and not commodities) because of their relevance for and being the preference of their target segment. In a volatile Economy, Brands who share the same Category Values suffer the most because consumers end up making decisions based on Price. In these times, Marketers who depend on huge budgets suffer the most because they depend on Advertising as a means of influencing Consumer decisions unlike Brands which are grown organically and are sustainable in a recession economy simply because their consumers’ habits and reactions depend least on communications or any tools that influence their call to action. In tough times, Brands survive and thrive over commodities, for example: McDonald’s globally and Saudi Brands such as Al Baik and Al Marai will still perform well, like previous times

It is only in uncertain times that Marketers can innovate and come up with strategies to move ahead and support the companies’ reservation on spending

Shan Saeed is Chief Economist at IQI Holdings whose expert views have been aired on CNBC, Bloomberg and Al Jazeera English. He advises clients in the Middle East and South East Asia

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, an author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renowned Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

What comes first: Category or Brand?

Most confuse the process as they think that Brand comes before the Category. We’ve seen so many battles with this thought as most focus on the Brand than the Category while consumers think of the Category instead of Brand. Do you say I need to buy a new phone or an iPhone? Do you say I need to travel or I need Expedia or Thomas Cook? The strongest Brand will be the reference to a category. So what comes first: Brand or Category? Category comes first not the Brand. Whenever we say tissue we think of Kleenex, whenever when we think of information or search we think of Google, whenever we think of tablets we think of iPad and the story continues. Some of these Brands created their respective Categories and they’re the dominant players thereof

Let’s think how Brands can evolve a Category to own. The best example is Yahoo vs Google, Yahoo created the Search Engine, it was the reference before Google but Yahoo was everything not just search engine, the management decided to expand the portal and be the One-source Destination. Google came in with a new experience to search with great sets of values but Google (unlike its competitor) was focused on search and became relevant and preferred which is why today everyone says Google it, not search it. Yahoo Mail and hotmail faced the same scenario as that of search, Gmail came with new sets of values and took over which is why today Gmail is the largest Free Web based Email

Categories are created through Values, followed by Brand as a reference. Brands are ideas with sets of values as their core. If the Brand offers great sets of values as well as a very unique experience to consumers/users then the Brand is the reference to the Category

For example: in the US, the courier category within the shipping industry had many players till the mid-90s (Brands like DHL, Airborne Express, TNT and FedEx). When FedEx introduced the great value of delivering package overnight and before 10 am, it took over much of the local market making it the Category Reference. No one today says ship/courier the document in the US anymore; everyone says: FedEx It! Since then FedEx grew enormously and as a result DHL stopped serving the local US market while others like Airborne Express folded. FedEx evolved the category to own and they own it to this day

Today when we think of the category of smartphones, both iPhone and Samsung occupy our minds and not the operating systems iOS, Android or Windows. The Power of the Category serves the Brand in many ways as each of these Brands i.e. iPhone and Samsung; address two different target audiences. iPhone is more chic and appeals to intellectual and deep pocket users whereas Samsung appeals to Price sensitive users. So who owns the smartphone category? Both. Who owns the App category? Apple. Each Brand that owns a Category hardly spends money on Advertising e.g. Starbucks, The Body Shop and few others. Think of Kleenex, does Kleenex ever advertise? Does Starbucks ever advertise? Today Categories play a great role for those that create a Category or Sub-category. Yahoo created the Search Category, Google owns the Information Category, two different sets of values so what comes to mind first: Information or Search? Of course Search as its actionable followed by Information

Social Media had players like Friendster, My Space and others; today Social Media Category is dominated by facebook. It created new sets of values and therefore, is the first reference to the Category itself whereas Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube etc. are Sub-Categories with each focused on its own purpose. Example: Youtube=Videos, Instagram=Pictures. The Social Media phenomenon comprises of two sets of environments and two different experiences i.e. Web and Apps. So focused Brands such as Instagram and Snapchat are creating great presence. Considering how dynamic technology is, everything could change overnight and different Categories and Sub-Categories will emerge

Things to consider:

  1. Think of the Category first and not the Brand
  2. Think of the Target Audience. Which segments you plan to address and concentrate more on Demographics and Psychographics
  3. Think of the Brand idea that’s relevant to your Audience (not to the Management)
  4. Plan both your short-term and long-term visions to own the Category or to create a Sub-Category
  5. Don’t battle within a Category that some other Brands own unless the Category is still maturing and your second or max third entrant in the market
  6. Research is a benchmark not a guideline to follow and most, unfortunately, fail to create but are clever to follow

If we look at the regional market, the biggest economy is Saudi Arabia. Most Category owners in the region are foreign Brands while very few are dominated by local Brands. This brings us the question: How rich is the region on Brand Knowledge and Experience? The obvious answer is that the region still works on Commodities while thinking of them as Brands. The region comes from strong trading mindset with short-term goals, completely opposite to its Western counterparts. Let me share both the prevailing Market logic and examples with reference to the regional behavior

  • Logic: The region is a trade market more familiar with tactical approach than strategy. The region aims for short-term gains over long-term ones which put pressure on the entire organization thereby resulting in continuous changes to its business model in order to acquire immediate sales. You can hardly build Brands on these termsThe organizational behavior within the region with most companies is more relevant to Commodity selling than selling the idea of the Brand which facilitates the users’ experience

    Let’s use one great local example:

    • Al Nahdi, the local Saudi Pharmacy chain, decided to evolve and move from the category of Pharmacy to Wellness Lifestyle. The company has done a remarkable job in restructuring and building great fundamentals to support the new evolution of the Brand from Pharmacy to Wellness Lifestyle Category. As much as I think that Al Nahdi did a great development within the Pharmacy Category by bringing a new meaning to the overall Pharmacy Experience in the Kingdom compared to others, at the same time I think Al Nahdi’s evolution from Pharmacy to Wellness Lifestyle will take a longer period to mature as an idea for Audience to embrace it as a way of everyday experience, Why? In the past three years the brand sold “Hope” and not the Brand idea that supports the evolution
      1. Al Nahdi’s approach on Brand is clear: To Reposition the Brand as Wellness Lifestyle which is a lifestyle that means to Stay Healthy and Look Great
      2. The Repositioning approach lacked both Brand Idea and Purpose. If the idea was to sell to the public “Hope” then how would that support the Repositioning of the Brand? Hope is more of a community initiative than a Brand Idea. So what’s the Idea or the Brand Purpose? I pondered on both for long and I can’t seem to nail them. We all know that Positioning controls the entire Marketing Mix but the Brand Essence needs to be more aligned
      3. Since Al Nahdi planned to evolve into the Wellness Lifestyle Category, what experience did they offer? Usually experience comes from a single promise. Is that also Hope? If I have to agree on Hope then how do you apply it to Wellness Lifestyle? Or how do you bring hope to Makeup, Skincare or Haircare products? These are part of Al Nahdi’s evolutions and they’re its reality
      4. I think the company did a remarkable job on the Marketing Mix and I salute them for it but the Brand was completely disconnected from the entire Mix and both are about one single purpose
      5. How the name Al Nahdi resonates with the audience as Wellness Lifestyle? Well not today but if the Brand is focused enough and more aligned, they will eventually evolve to resonate but this approach takes longer to materialize (they will have to witness generation change). Today Al Nahdi, after three years of Repositioning, is still perceived as a Pharmacy
      6. In store experience needs tremendous amount of work. You have to ask a human being for directions as in store lacks proper guidelines

Suggestions:

  1. Al Nahdi (with such a name) and Repositioning the sets of values should’ve been extremely unique in order to influence change
  2. Entering a new category or evolving from an existing one takes a long time because during that process others competitors can respond fast. Al Nahdi should’ve developed a clear Brand Idea that serves the essence of the Brand i.e. Wellness
  3. The Brand needs more focus, it also needs to break away from Hope because it rarely serves all the values that Al Nahdi is trying to sell to their customers
  4. Bring the Brand promise to the store level. Let customers experience the values
  5. Align the Brand with the Marketing Mix: Opening in malls was brilliant because that enforces your evolution

Overall, Al Nahdi has come a long way and I’m hopeful that with the new CEO, growth will continue. To evolve a Brand from one Category to another Category is not an easy task. It requires time, investment, education and momentum until the Brand is recognized in the new position. Creating a new category is the same as evolving as it requires time, education and acceptance

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renown Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

He can be reached on AskBaaghil.com

The article was first published on Linkedin Pulse on 17th December, 2015

Coffee advice

There are many that speak of Branding and on a separate note, speak of Marketing. Since when the two are separable even if they play different roles? They are both inseparable, they have one purpose and that single purpose is towards the audience. Treating both as separate entities is a problem. Let’s first agree on these two facts:

  • Since the idea of Brands and Branding came into being, Marketing became a support entity and more Tactical. In the era of commodities, Marketing was the core but today, it acts as a support to the Brand idea. Marketing is still as important but not in the driving seat instead Branding is the one driving
  • Second, let’s agree your Ad agency is not the miracle answer to your Brand problems, most are better focusing on design and in avoiding strategies

The Advice:

  • If the organization is not intellectually rich, avoid getting into the complex of Branding and Marketing, the process requires a certain type of mindset
  • If your organization is after immediate returns then avoid being a Brand, keep things the way they are, otherwise evolve
  • If your head of Marketing thinks Advertising is the way towards Branding, please fire him asap
  • If your Ad agency pressures you to be visible everywhere, fire them because they’re after the billing not quality of work
  • If your Advertising agency suddenly becomes your Branding adviser, you’re in serious trouble

Now you sit back and decide where you want to take your company. Every decision matters but your decision should be for the interest of the company and nothing personal

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renown Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

He can be reached on AskBaaghil.com

Every Brand, Belongs

Everything BELONGS to something and something belongs to everything! It is the same with Brands

Every Brand has its own culture and community, much the same way a child belongs to his parents, the way we stem from the family tree and how we all belong to mother Earth

From the starting point to the end—and every point in between—everything has a process of Belonging

For example: You belong to your Family, You belong to a certain Religious denomination, You belong to a Nation, You belong to an Ethnic group….(the list goes on and on)

Belonging is an endless process that has a great impact based on Emotional Attributes and the Emotional Connectivity between Desire and Wanting

Brands are no different from humans. They belong to a certain audience and if built and nurtured correctly, they will live in the lives of their audience for the foreseeable future

Said Baaghil is the ‘Unconventional’ Branding and Marketing Adviser to reputable companies in the Middle East, author of many reputable books including the ‘The Power of Belonging’ and a Speaker. Baaghil appeared in books published by America’s experts on Branding and Marketing such as Dan Hill and Libby Gill. Most recently Baaghil was interviewed by world renown Brand Consultancy firm Siegel+Gale on Branding in the Middle East

He can be reached on AskBaaghil.com

The article was first published on Linkedin Pulse on 26th February, 2015