Taxi brand’s message takes a wrong turn

Ruth Mortimer

A month ago, Addison Lee was a brand lauded for revolutionising its sector. The London-based minicab firm had taken the often frustrating experience of calling a taxi and made it streamlined and transparent, using texts and smartphone apps to deliver a positive user experience. It had won customers, business prizes and governmental contracts as a result.

Now Addison Lee is being held up as an example of bad crisis management. After a dispute over bus lane use, the government announced last week that it would not renew a cross-governmental contract with the firm. Meanwhile, Transport for London has been granted an injunction against the business to stop it using the bus lanes.

So where did it all go wrong for Addison Lee? The company has made two classic branding mistakes, in my opinion.

First, if you are going to do something controversial, make it obviously on behalf of your customers. In mid-April, Addison Lee chairman John Griffin urged his drivers to use bus lanes, which is a privilege only granted to black cabs. While Griffin moaned that it was bad for customers not to use bus lanes, the main thrust of his argument was the anti-competitive nature of the policy.

Addison Lee chairman John Griffin urged his drivers to use bus lanes… then lashed out at cyclists in the company’s magazine

Ryanair is brilliant at making even bad news come back to being cheap for customers. Whenever it does anything that might receive negative press, it highlights again and again how this is for the benefit of its customers. More charges? Oh, but that’s making it cheaper for the majority. Griffin might have this kind of strategy in mind, but the message has been lost along the way.

Second, don’t blame the wrong people. Griffin was not only confronted over Addison Lee’s use of bus lanes, but he had also lashed out at cyclists in his company’s in-house magazine. He is quoted as saying: “It is time for us to say to cyclists ‘You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up’.”

While Griffin was quick to admit he had possibly been “too inflammatory” in his comments on cycling, the impact of the row was to give the impression that the firm was trying to shift the conversation about road use onto another more vulnerable group of transport users. It simply added to an overall impression that the company felt it should have more road rights than anyone else.

What does this mean for Addison Lee? The company has prided itself on making life easy for its customers. It set itself apart from other cab brands by offering a professional level of service. Now it looks like a overtly commercial machine, rather than a customer-focused service.

The brand needs to go back to the basics that made it famous – a scrupulous obsession with the customer’s journey. Look at Addison Lee for an example of how quickly your most important brand message can get lost. Don’t let this be your story.

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