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Car Wars: Uber, Lyft, Hailo Compete for a Spot in the Driver's Seat

  |  July 18, 2014   |  Comments

A look at the different marketing tactics employed by these car services in New York City, and how their strategies are helping them to win customers.

All's fair in love and war...and ride-sharing apps. And whether they're legal or illegal, inexpensive or over-priced, one thing's for sure: we love them.

We, the public, are so fed up with cab companies that over-charge, show up late, are rude, and don't even pick up the phone, we've welcomed these brands with their revolutionary apps/services and questionable legalities into our cities and towns with open arms. Even if they came through the door fighting.

The Godzilla and King Kong of these ride-sharing apps are obviously Uber and Lyft. And the fight between them - and, to a lesser-extent, Hailo - for King of the Hill in New York City is being waged, full-force, as we speak. And, while Hailo currently is Uber's only competition on the island of Manhattan, it's probably not going to last long, as Lyft is currently doing its darnedest to infiltrate the five boroughs - with or without the approval of the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).

Interestingly enough, while each brand presents a uniquely different face to the public, if you look at each companies' respective marketing and promotional strategy, they're almost identical:

Each has offered "free rides," each has offered "credits," and each has offered bonuses/credits for referrals or new sign-ups. But, that's where the comparisons end.

According to every social media marketing expert I spoke with, when it comes to "out-of-the-box" strategy, there's no touching Uber.

Uber has offered play-time with cuddly kittens on National Cat Day, Christmas tree delivery in December, helicopters to the Hamptons on July 4, or partnering with a condom company for Gay Pride Week - the other two companies can't come close to its unpredictability in the marketing arena.

Big Spaceship's vice president of social media, Victor Piniero, feels the main reason Uber is currently number one in New York, despite its criticism for its surge pricing, is due to its "surprise and delight" tactics.

"The most impressive thing about Uber's marketing is how they've managed to take 'surprise and delight' to an entirely new level. While social media managers everywhere are sending fans products, Uber has sent fans kittens, allowed them to hail ice cream trucks, delivered roses for them, and even picked up passengers in Deloreans."

Piniero adds, "No one knows what to expect from them, only that it will probably plaster a smile on their faces. Their campaigns aren't just slightly magical, they're really smart."

Unfortunately for Hailo, they don't "fare" as well:

BuzzFeed recently called Hailo's latest attempt to keep pace with Uber in N.Y.C. a, "desperate attempt at promotion."

Ian Schafer, chief executive (CEO) of Deep Focus, goes a step further and asks, "Why bother? Uber's simply much better at everything, from in-app promos to delivering cars with Xboxes in them to sky-writing over customers down the Jersey Shore, etc."

Schafer also points out, "I've removed Hailo's app from my phone entirely, as it never works."

He also questions the usefulness of an app to hail a yellow cab, which will always pick up a passenger on the street, first.

"Whether there's an app or not, you're still subject to the same availability as everyone else. Thus, if there are no cabs at rush hour, there are no cabs for Hailo users, either," he says.

When it comes to social media, while Lyft plays it clean and sticks to the usual straight-forward "discount" ads on Facebook, Uber goes right for the jugular - urging users to "Shave the Stache" (a reference to the 2-foot-long pink mustache Lyft drivers put on the front of their car), and offering $250 to Lyft riders if they get their drivers to switch, as well as $500 to Lyft drivers for their first trip if they jump ship.

According to Megan Dickey of Business Insider, "Uber's strategy of mimicking/one-upping Lyft in whatever territory it launches seems to work well. For example, just as Lyft was preparing to launch in Brooklyn/Queens, Uber announced it was slashing prices in the five boroughs. And when Lyft announced a two week free promotion in 24 cities, so did Uber."

Because of their direct approach, identity-wise, Uber comes off more than a bit like Darth Vader, whereas Lyft wants to be everyone's BFF. And, maybe it's working.

While Uber is still the undisputed king in the New York area, data leaked by Gawker at the end of last year showed Lyft as a whole growing at three times the rate of Uber. Uber counters that by saying Lyft starts from a smaller user base, and adds that winter months always show less growth.

Between these three heavyweights, at the moment, it seems Uber is definitely winning the race when it comes to being New York City's most innovative and most popular ride-share app. But there are still many more laps to go.


David Fagin

David Fagin is a New York-based writer/producer/musician.

His resume boasts an incredibly diverse range of contributions, from top news sites such as Salon, AOL News, Yahoo, and The Huffington Post to a wide-range of humorous entities such as The Onion, The Muppets, Comedy Central, Dennis Miller Live, and Howard Stern.

He is fascinated by technology and social media and the seemingly love/hate relationship we have with the changing world. He is also a food snob.

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