The Uber vs Lyft war: the Product vs Brand Experience

Yesterday, at around noon, The Verge posted a critical post describing how Uber sabotages Lyft by actively recruiting their drivers by ordering rides. Uber counter-posted an explanation about how yes, they have a marketing program designed to actively recruit Lyft drivers, and explained the process.

Today, the discussion is mostly about the pros, cons, and morality of Uber’s tactics. But yesterday, an interesting discussion centered on how different the Lyft and Uber products are, and are they actually interchangeable. From the product perspective I found this discussion fascinating and tried to break down into well-defined layers. I’m still not sure of the breakdown so that this post is more of an open ended question than any sort of answer.

Delighting the user on an Uber.  Source: Ouriel Ohayon

Delighting the user on an Uber.
Source: Ouriel Ohayon

So, breaking it down to different implementation levels may look like this:

  • Level 1: the actual software: this is the one thing the company has complete control over. In this case, it’s the app and pricing.
  • Level 2: the measurable metrics of the experience such as the time it takes to get a response, the time it takes to get a pick-up, the optimality of the route chosen, etc.
  • Level 3: the intangibles: cleanliness of the car; courtesy of the driver; the temperature in the car, the driver’s driving style, etc.
  • Level 4: the “delight the user” features: a phone charger, candy and other giveaways, etc.

So which level(s) constitute The Product? All four? Which levels are part of the Brand Experience?

For the sake of argument, let’s look at a pair of Levi’s jeans. They can be bought at Costco, where there are two or three styles in a limited set of size, stacked on one table where customers can look for their size. There’s no place to try them on, there’s no one to help find the model, size and color the customer wants. This is a basic Level 1 experience. Nothing beyond the jeans. Compare that to a department store like Macy’s, with multiple colors for every style, numerous styles, dressing rooms (level 2) and a courteous salesperson (level 3) to help the consumer find the right jeans or find them in another store or online if they’re not available at that branch (level 4.) None of these amenities exist at Costco and they can be called the “experience” but are they? The consumer would pay more for the same model/color pair of jeans at Macy’s than at Costco so in essence they are paying for a different product. Yet, they’re getting the exact same pair of jeans.

So, is the Brand Experience part of the Product? Are Uber and Lyft the same because their apps and pricing are similar or are they different because of the candy? You tell me.



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