Uber’s Scandals Prove the Relationship Consumer & Employer Brands Have

by Kate Weimer
March 2, 2017
Uber’s Scandals Prove the Relationship Consumer & Employer Brands Have

Last week my colleague wrote about why your consumer and employer brands should be linked. There’s a bunch of great info in there as to the importance of making sure what you put out in the consumer world reflect what is going on in your employees’ world. Maybe I’m bolstering the argument or maybe I’m defending the opposite, but either way I would say not only should your employer brand and consumer brand match up, these two distinct brands do match each other—whether you like it or not.

Case in point: Uber.

Uber could easily call 2017 “the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.” And we’re only two days into March.

#DeleteUber

Uber’s first troubles came about right after the inauguration of Trump (don’t worry—not getting political here, just stating facts about what went down). One of the new president’s first moves was the controversial immigration restriction executive order. In response, taxi services in the NYC area protested the action by refusing to do pickups at the airport; around the same time, Uber killed their surge pricing which many people interpreted as a way to capitalize on the taxi drivers’ protests. As outrage grew over the surge pricing moratorium’s presumed meaning, more details came to light about Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, being on the economic advisory board and defending the decision to join to his employees.

That was all it took. Within 24 hours #DeleteUber had blown up on Twitter.

While this was obviously a very politically charged outrage, let’s look at the numbers. Vugo, an advertising service tailored to ridesharing, put out a report earlier this year that says 57% of rideshare users (this includes Lyft and Uber, but we can assume the isolated numbers for Uber are close enough) are millennials. Now take into account the fact that exit polls show millennials overwhelmingly did not vote for Trump in the presidential election, with just over 1/3 reportedly doing so.

Again, politics aside, simply looking at the numbers shows the corporate brand Uber is presenting (or, supposedly presenting) with these interpreted actions does not jive with the majority of their users. Even more nonpartisan, it’s never in good form for a corporate brand to try and make, what many people saw as, a quick buck in the light of a controversial situation.

The biggest evidence that it’s corporate brand suffered from these actions would be Kalanick’s decision that was made a few days after the #DeleteUber fiasco. Obviously the masses speaking out made enough of an impact because he would eventually pull out of the economic advisory board.

Susan Fowler

Our nation’s short attention span would soon drop the issue of Uber’s relationship with Trump and Uber’s perceived denigration of the taxi services protest, and its corporate brand recovered just in time for a new fire. Less than a month after #DeleteUber took over Twitter, Uber’s employer brand found itself in hot water.

On February 19, Susan Fowler, a previous employee at Uber, published a scathing post on her blog. By now, everyone—whether you’re in HR or not—has heard about this post and hundreds of thinkpieces have spawned from it. Here’s the long and short of it: Fowler gave an inside look to the operations of Uber through her eyes and what comes through the looking glass is not pretty.

Sexism, poor leadership and HR taking on the form of a big bully.

All bad looks for a company’s employer brand. Fowler could even be called gracious in her writing about the company—she never cusses, never name calls, she simply states the facts of her experience working for Uber. Even then, I don’t know about you, but I would want to work anywhere else in the world.

Put ‘Em Both Together…

At face value, these back-to-back scandals have very little in common. When you dig a little deeper, however, they’re more closely tied than you think. One is a consumer brand showing bad face; the other is an employer brand falling down a few flights of stairs; both come back to one person, and one person only: the CEO.

When a company struggles brandwise, you really have no one to blame BUT the CEO. Everything in the company trickles down from them. Culture can be manipulated, but overall it derives from how the CEO is running the business and if one part of the business’ brand (consumer) is struggling, regardless of if it’s known to the public or not, another part of the business’ brand (employer) is probably struggling as well.

It took one final scandal for Kalanick to finally own up to this—the most recent scandal, involving Kalanick coming face to face with the monster he has created: shitty company culture. A video went viral just this past week of an Uber driver who happened to luck out and get Kalanick as a rider getting into a screaming match with Kalanick.

If nothing else, this most recent scandal is a beautiful metaphor for terrible leadership, because it shows leadership truly does start at the top. Kalanick addressed the incident by making a statement, and saying something that is hopefully a step in the right direction:

“This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”

Whether you like it or not, your consumer brand and employer brand are reflective of each other. The both affect the other, and both stem from all the way up the chain of command. With Kalanick’s willingness to figure out leadership and improve his company’s employer brand, the consumer brand may yet have a bounce back. Because, in today’s connected digital age, it’s a +1 for your consumer brand when consumers know the people who are serving them are being treated right.

Kate Weimer

Kate Weimer is a Marketing Lead at Kinetix, specializing in social media recruitment marketing and account management. Using a combination of her background in social media and love for the written word, she’s shoving all buzzwords aside and making HR and recruitment marketing work in today's digital world. Want to hang? Hit her up on Twitter or LinkedIn , or contact her via email.

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