The End of Uber: How "Storyless Brands" Fail

The Storyless Brand

A brand built on profit alone has no story. Of course, a brand without profit has no future. But survey the strongest brands in the world, or even in your neighborhood, and you’ll find a common thread: their story sustains them.

A brand’s story captures our loyalty because their story overlaps with our story. Their villain is our villain. Their portrait of a hero aligns with ours, and we discover that they’re going where we want to go. We value the product and service they provide, but what we really value is that we’re part of their story, and they are part of ours.

A brand’s story is their identity. It’s the brand’s lifeblood. It explains why a brand exists, the purpose it serves, how its unique from other brands, and every other element of a brand’s identity.

But what happens when a brand doesn’t have a story? 

It dies.

How did Uber decline so quickly?

My oldest daughter and I loaded into an Uber in downtown Seattle on our way to see U2 play at CenturyLink Field last May. I noticed the driver’s windshield also featured a Lyft sticker.

“Which do you like better, Uber or Lyft?”, I asked. 

“They’re pretty similar,” the driver said, “but I prefer Lyft. They treat their drivers a lot better.”

“Which do you use when you travel?” I asked. I wanted to test his loyalty. 

“I use Lyft whenever I can,” he said.

Employee loyalty is the “canary in the coal mine” for a brand’s health. Strong employee loyalty breeds a solid customer fanbase. And brands that haven’t earned loyalty from their employees find their foundation rotting beneath them. 

The driver’s lack of loyalty made me suspect that Uber may be in trouble.

And I was right.

The video of an altercation between an Uber driver and then CEO and co-founder, Travis Kalanick, came out just a few months before. Sexual harassment allegations, controversy over their response to Trump’s immigration policy, and several high level resignations sent Uber into a nosedive as 2017 unfolded. Under mounting pressure, Kananick finally resigned as CEO.

So how could such a prominent brand decline so fast?

Do NOT “Start with Why”

One of the most watched TED Talks ever is Simon Sinek’s 2009 TEDx presentation where he encourages brands to “Start with Why.” Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Sinek’s right about the value of Why for a brand, but he’s wrong when he says we should “Start with Why.”

We should start with Who.  

A brand’s Who is their identity. Their Why arises from their Who. Their identity is the beginning. This is where we should start. 

Uber doesn’t have a Why because they lack a Who.

Uber thinks they have a Who, but what they call their identity is just a great idea—Ridesharing. A good concept alone isn’t enough to sustain a brand. A brand needs substance, integrity, and purpose. 

A brand predicated on profit lacks a story. Consider what Logan Green, co-founder of Lyft, Uber’s main competitor, says about their culture, “The company culture is about being human, being good to other people.”

That’s a story that excites employees and resonates with consumers. Despite Uber’s concept and profits, they lacked a story.

Now we recognize Uber for who they are: a Storyless Brand. 

Can your employees and customers see themselves in your story? 

Strong brands function as a story. We see ourselves in their story and want to be part of it. 

Your brand story is your foundation. It sustains all other aspects of your brand. Know your story, own your story, communicate your story in everything you do.

The result is a story that draws us in. We want to be characters in your story.


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Andrew Robinson