Let’s face it, ride hailing apps are not going anywhere. The consumers have spoken and they love the service that ride hailing apps provide, despite all the policy and legal wars being fought in courthouses.
While the issue is definitely not a simple one, to an average consumer the arguments of taxi companies can sound too defensive and ludditic. Arguments like ‘they are taking our jobs’ do not always connect with consumers, especially with those that naively think taxi companies could overcome this hurdle by building a mere app. Yes, there should be a level playing field for competitors in a market, but taxi industry also has to be wary of their activism being caught in a perception of victimhood.
Don’t get me wrong. Taxi companies have valid arguments regarding subjection to extra regulations. But the real question is — is the taxi industry really the underdog in this fight? And would they fare better against their competitors if they base their strategy on playing offense?
First and foremost, taxi companies must realize that the real battle is not just fought in courthouses but also in consumers’ minds. Even in places where Uber’s services are deemed illegal, consumers haven’t stopped from using the app. The message is clear and simple – if you want consumers to use your service, you have to try to be the best and the most convenient service out there. Taxi companies have to accept that there is a bare minimum today – a functioning app with mapping, payment and rating features. From banking to grocery shopping, consumers today are used to managing their daily life from their mobile devices. There is no reason for hailing a cab to be an exception.
The strength in numbers
Now going back to the underdog argument, the cab industry vs Uber is a far cry from a David-Goliath story. The National Taxi Workers Alliance has more than 200,000 taxi workers and has chapters in most major cities in the US. The network can not only be used for anti-Uber mobilisation but also for nationwide business strategy brainstorming and tactical implementations. The taxi industry has its share of powerful sympathizers – New York and Chicago mayors Bill De Blasio and Emanuel Rahm. In New York City, Washington DC and Chicago, taxi drivers have received help from local city governments to build cab hailing apps. To add to that, there are private companies like Flywheel and Curb that taxi drivers should count as allies. The taxi industry is clearly not without supporters. What it needs to do is channel all this support to reinvent itself to meet consumer expectations because even factors like having a confusing selection of multiple taxi apps with different UIs and less than perfect mobile technology can drive users away. The taxi industry hence must define core, simple user experience strategies and work on centralizing taxi apps with laser focus.
Innovative and Proactive Solutions
The days of having laissez-faire approach to taxi solutions is long gone. Cab companies should embrace it and introduce their own innovative solutions to fight Uber’s solutions like UberPool and Spotify in Uber. Incentivize drivers to supply taxis with amenities like water bottles, wifi, etc. Work with price comparing companies like PriceRide to guarantee the lowest price to combat Uber’s price surges. Utilize taxi drivers’ knowledge of a city’s geography and traffic trends to start a ‘shortest path guaranteed’ campaign in less structured cities. Experiment, learn and communicate.
No Way but Guerilla Marketing
To say Uber spends a lot on ads and lobbying would be an understatement. On a particularly vicious campaign in New York, it spent $3.2 million on TV ads. What it has also successfully done is mobilize its riders and drivers to appeal to their local governments in support of Uber. To fight Uber’s huge PR machine, the taxi industry itself has to invest heavily a guerrilla marketing campaign. Launch campaigns that tout new taxi hailing apps and friendly drivers. Focus on how ride sharing apps could be potentially dangerous due to lax background checks, drug and driving tests and in some cases inadequate insurance coverage. Pull heartstrings to show how our lives are too precious to take a chance on inadequate safety measures. With media covering Uber related assaults like a hawk, there is not even a shortage of content for a very aggressive PR strategy for taxi companies. There is no other way – taxi industry must expunge its unfriendly image and launch a guerrilla marketing campaign to bring consumers on its side.
Adapt and survive – every species, industry, company has to live by it. A business and technology overhaul is coming and the cab industry must prepare to be agile enough to go through a market re-calibration. Whether it is going to be a relatively smooth ride, only time will tell.