Taxi apps show even disruptors must stay on their toes

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Even the most innovative digital businesses can’t afford to sit still for long, as the crowded taxi app market is now demonstrating, with brands forced to add new strings to their bow to differentiate themselves from a glut of competitors.

Disruption by digital businesses has caused no end of pain to established operators in many markets, with the most prominent of them at present being taxis. Last week, black taxi drivers brought central London to a standstill in a protest against the regulation of minicabs using ‘e-hail’ apps, which allow smartphone users to book a cab instantly from their location – often for a much lower cost than standard taxis.

The best-known of these, Uber, was the focus of a similar driver demonstration last June, which backfired by raising the profile of the app, leading to an 850% increase in downloads over the previous week. Uber declined to comment to Marketing Week on the latest protest, saying that it was not directly targeted at its service.

However Uber is undoubtedly surging ahead of a growing pack of rival taxi apps in terms of brand awareness, in a constant battle for share of voice. One of these rivals, GetTaxi, is responding by rebranding in the UK today (30 April) to become Gett, the name it already uses in the US. It is also developing its offering beyond taxis, branching out to food delivery, beauty services and home cleaning.

Clearly, even disruptive digital businesses can’t stand still for long, for fear of being disrupted themselves.

Shahar Waiser, founder and CEO at Gett says: “The rebrand signals our strategy to develop our offering in the on-demand space beyond taxis and into a new range of products and services that people need and use every day.”

He adds: “They’ll soon be able to use our app and our technology to make time in their busy lives by getting what they need on demand, whenever they need it.”

It’s a move that Uber made earlier this year with UberEats in Barcelona and UberFresh in Los Angeles delivering food from local restaurants. Gett’s vision is to “lead the change” in the UK with an on-demand marketplace that evolves to offer a broader range of products and services, having “strategically invested in this direction starting in 2014”, Waiser says.

Rather than branch out into offering other services beyond rides, taxi aggregator Kabbee is looking to enhance the features it already has. To complement its existing loyalty programme, which includes a full refund for late cabs as part of its ‘five-minute punctuality promise’, an upgrade to a premium car and free credit to say thank you to loyal users, it launched Kabbee Treats in November last year.

It gives users the ability to automatically earn miles for each pound they spend in with the company. The app’s top users are entitled to a range of rewards based on how many miles they have earned over a three-month period, and can earn more miles by referring a friend or by upgrading to a premium car for the journey.

Rewards can be redeemed with brands such as LateRooms.com, Naked Wines, Pact Coffee and Hubbub.

“We pay a lot of attention to continually speak to our customers. We run surveys and focus groups monthly to really understand what they like, what’s working and what we can do differently,” says marketing director Cristina Astorri. “If we are about to launch a new feature we always check first with them – for us that is fundamental.”

The Uber taxi app has high brand awareness and is branching out to other areas including food delivery with its UberEats app in Barcelona

For Hailo, driver engagement is the differentiator. The brand recently unveiled its ‘face to faceless’ project, which is a series of portraits designed to stand up for the role of the driver and “remind the city that cabbies are part of its DNA”.

The portraits were projected onto landmarks in London where each taxi driver was captured in a photographic style designed to represent their knowledge and the stories they can tell about London. The brand also engages with the drivers through football quizzes and runs three ‘town hall’ sessions a year where it invites 30 drivers at a time to the office to hear about what the brand is doing.

Gary Bramall, chief marketing officer ay Hailo, says: “[Communications] primarily stem from the way the business was created: our brand was founded by three black cab drivers and three entrepreneurs so it’s a balance between knowledge, both in the traditional sense of knowledge of cities, and of technology.”

He argues that the taxi industry is not experiencing unique challenges, but change has been exceptionally quick: “There are a lot of experiments going on – people are trying lots of different models, sharing or ‘social swarming’ models, longer or shorter trips.”

He adds: “We believe by offering a service that works in collaboration with drivers that we can make [cities] better for the people that live in them.”

Cab firms themselves believe quality of service is what sets them apart from the experience of using an app. Addison Lee, which has been around since 1975, operates in 350 cities worldwide and carries over 10 million passengers in London each year.

“Even though over the years the way people interact with us has changed we believe great service will never go out of fashion,” says Nick Constantinou, head of marketing and product innovation.

Constantinou says going up against the mobile platform businesses that grab the headlines is “a challenge but an exciting one”, and is concentrating on reminding customers of “its proposition against software only private transport businesses”.

“We believe great service is delivered by agonising, in detail, over every aspect of our service – while price is important we also believe people are prepared to pay for service,” he adds.

But for Kabbee, the price is ultimately where consumer trust is won or lost. “The transparency is in the price – you know the fleet we work with, arrival time, and the route. We make sure customers are in control and know what is going on,” says Astorri.

In any event, the influx of competition is forcing transformation and experimentation in a market that previously had not changed for many years. The challenge for operators new and old is to build a profitable and sustainable offering that is different from the next one.

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