03 Feb 2017
Uber fluffs its reputation management

The Wonderfully Unpredictable World Of Brand Reputation

Impact on brand reputation is difficult to control or even predict. Just look at a couple of news stories from this week. Uber, a brand lauded for breaking all the rules, showed us that reputation can plummet in the blink of an eye (or tweet). Then there’s Telstra, which despite many inadvertent attempts to piss customers off, saw its brand image back on the rise after a troubled 2016.

#DeleteUber Became A Thing. A Big Thing.

Disruptive darling Uber got itself into a tricky situation by driving into the middle of the Trump versus Muslims debate.

The US President’s newly signed executive order disallowed travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country, even those with US residency or visas. In response, protesters gathered at JFK airport on Saturday night. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance joined in, announcing it would stop pickups from the airport between 6 pm and 7 pm.

Shortly after this the ride-sharing service, which is sometimes better known for controversy than convenience, tweeted that it was lifting its surge pricing around JFK airport. Cue instant fallout as #DeleteUber started trending.

Uber issued a statement to Fortune, claiming: “The decision to turn off surge pricing was made specifically to avoid profiting from increased demand during the protest. The company has previously made a similar commitment to limiting surge pricing during disasters, after being accused of taking advantage of riders in times of need.”

Such criticism included during the Sydney Lindt café siege in 2014, where it changed customers a minimum of $100 to get out of the city.

The latest move effectively turned Uber into a strike-breaker on a picket line that was generating strong feelings among many of its customers. That the company’s CEO Travis Kalanick was on Trump’s economic advisory council didn’t help. (Kalanick has since announced he will quit the council.)

Unfortunately for Uber, it seems like it can’t win in a crisis. Up your prices, and you’re capitalising on misfortune. Lower your prices and you’re condoning racial vilification. It’s a lesson in being able to read the mood and react to past criticism.

Telstra Triumphed Over All Aussie Brands

Despite plenty of negative headlines this year, Telstra retained its crown as Australia’s most valuable brand for the second year running. Globally it’s in 125th spot.

Three of the four big banks, Commonwealth, ANZ and NAB, ranked just behind the telco. Interestingly, Westpac slipped from fifth to seventh. An eagerly awaiting Woolworths replaced it, possibly on the strength of its ever-on-point Twitter feed alone.

The company dishing out the accolades, Brand Finance, makes its determination based on companies whose enterprise value is most positively impacted by the strength of the brand’s image. It estimates Telstra’s brand value to be about $18.8 billion.

So why do Aussies love Telstra so much? Telstra thinks it’s because its customers’ tightly link the brand with the performance of services on its networks. But have you ever heard a person outwardly praise a Telstra network? Or any Australian network for that matter? And somehow we’ve all forgotten about the embarrassing outages of 2016.

So kudos to Telstra, and its comms team, for proving that everyone loves a bounce back. Now let’s see if Uber can do the same.

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