We’ll come back to the Girl Scouts in a moment.
For now, I want to talk about Uber. I love Uber. Really, I do. I use them often and I’ve only ever had amazingly good experiences. I’ve told all my friends and family about them: a veritable volunteer Brand Ambassador.
Which is why I find the recent news about Uber so disturbing.
Initially, the news to which I refer here was that out of Paris. Look, I get it. No one likes to see their market so swiftly and severely disrupted. But those taxi drivers-cum-thugs who threw rocks at Uber drivers and their passengers were just absurd. I raised my voice in defense of Uber in many a conversation when that news hit the Twitterverse.
But then I found myself disturbed by a different tale of thuggish-ness. Only this time, it was Uber that was the perpetrator.
Not the news regarding the overly aggressive tactics that Uber recently deployed vis-a-vis Gett — a rival black car service provider in NYC. That was also a tad on the thuggish-side, yes. But New York is a tough town, and the toughest guy usually wins.
No, the thuggish behavior that’s caused me to reexamine my enthusiasm for Uber was their churlish campaign against the ride-sharing service, Lyft. Perhaps you’ve seen the ads on Facebook?
I love Lyft. Really, I do. I use them often and I’ve only ever had amazingly good experiences. But those experiences are very different from the ones I look forward to when I choose to ride with Uber.
Both Uber and Lyft offer an outstanding on-demand transportation service. Both can boast efficiency and, more importantly still to many of their riders, convenience at a fair price. But Lyft offers something that Uber does not: a sense of community.
And that matters to me. And, I suspect, to other passengers of both services.
It’s a bit like shopping at Whole Foods and at the local Farmer’s Market.
I shop regularly at Whole Foods. It’s expensive, yes. But I love them for the quality products they offer, for the outstanding customer service I know I can expect, for the incredible selection of items.
And I also love going to the local Farmer’s Market. Even though I’ll occasionally pay more for products that are no better than those which I’d find on the shelf at Whole Foods. (And sometimes less good.) Even though the “service” can be spotty. And despite the fact that the range of items on offer is vastly smaller than what I’d find along the aisles at Whole Foods.
I go to the Farmer’s Market for the experience of being there. I like the element of community that prevails: real farmers offering food items, that they themselves have produced, directly to those who’ll serve them up at their dinner tables later in the day. I enjoy the thrill of discovery: you never know what surprising treat may be on offer at one stall or another. That makes the experience consistently fresh, and fun. And I enjoy strolling about with Others Like Me who are at the Market for the same reasons.
Does the Farmer’s Market compete with Whole Foods?
Sure. At one level it most certainly does. And I suppose that the folks at Whole Foods need to give some thought to that. But how silly would it be for Whole Foods to run a snarky ad campaign directly aimed at those local farmers whose company I’ve come to enjoy? Not only would those ads reflect poor character, they’d reflect poor understanding of the market.
Which is why the headline about Mrs. Fields caught your eye.
Now, to be very clear, I made that up. I’m sure that the good folks at Mrs. Fields enjoy their Girl Scout cookies as much as you and I do. But imagine if Mrs. Fields did run an attack ad against those neighborhood darlings with their pig-tails and their Peanut Butter Tagalongs and Thin Mints. It would spark some degree of outrage, wouldn’t it…?
Do the Girl Scouts compete with Mrs. Fields? Sure, at some level. But I suspect Mrs. Fields sees the Girl Scouts and their cookies for what they are: a local community experience that is filled with meaning for people which runs far beyond the products on offer.
I buy Girl Scout cookies because my daughter is selling them. I buy them from my neighbor’s kid. And from my daughter’s BFF Hailey, from the next zip code over. I buy Girl Scout cookies because I belong to a community in which they’re sold as part of a community-building exercise. And that community matters to me. (Plus, the cookies are pretty good.)
This is the point that Uber is missing. Lyft riders use Lyft for the experience of being part of a community of common character, as well as to get across town. And by making snide comments about the community ritual that is the Lyft fist-bump, Uber doesn’t just take a side-swipe at Lyft. They take a shot at me, and the community I enjoy being a part of.
And that’s just a remarkably dumb way to try and capture market-share.