What we can learn from Uber’s logo debacle

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This article originally appeared on Forbes.

The dust has settled, the commentary has been published, and almost everyone—from branding experts to the average Twitter user can agree—Uber’s rebrand leaves much to be desired, and that’s putting it nicely. As Uber attempts to sail out of this latest media storm, what are the next steps it should take to remain a Silicon Valley darling, and what can other brands learn from Uber’s rebranding mistakes?

First: what went wrong? Even without getting into the specific choices of colors, font and design, there’s plenty that can be said about missteps in the overall rebranding strategy.

Operationally, implementing this new branding worldwide will be a waking nightmare. Anyone with international business experience, branding-related or otherwise, knows that it can be hard to get various branches and subgroups to use one new logo or standardize around one new color or palette. This is an issue that I would not expect a young company to have institutional knowledge about, but I would expect them to seriously consider these challenges, or at a minimum gather some expert opinions. This whole rebranding effort may be a moot point if Uber is not able to consistently and accurately implement across the 60-or-so countries they serve.

Secondly, with this rebrand, Uber has thrown out its visual equity after amassing a value most brands would kill for. In ditching the old branding, Uber cut the link between the company’s name and one of the mobile world’s most recognizable visual assets. The sleek grey writing on a black background, suggesting luxury and modernity, was distinctly Uber. In today’s mobile world where apps are ubiquitous, close identification with a symbol like the Uber U is immensely valuable. Why cede all the value you did so well in creating and maintaining?

But the most glaring absence in this rebranding process has been the lack of story behind the change.  Design elements are a vital component to any rebrand, but they are only a Band-Aid if the story is missing. Google’s Alphabet rebrand came with a succinct, satisfying, and logical explanation: the company doesn’t just do search anymore; they do everything, from A to Z. The absence of such a narrative in Uber’s redesign has been jarring. Uber is in a state of transition. The company wants to be and to be seen as more than just a taxi service, but nowhere is this clear in the new branding, nor have I encountered an explanation that didn’t take a multi-page article to elucidate. If a new vision, purpose, and story were clearly communicated in the rebranding, complaints about specific design elements would come down to preference. But most worrying about this rebrand is the implication: does Uber really know where it is going, and the kind of company it wants to be?

So Uber made a mistake. The rebranding was premature and has not, as planned, served to chart a course forward. In fact, the opposite has happened and it has brought to light many of the issues the company is experiencing as it transitions from a startup darling to a global conglomerate. What are the next steps for Uber or any other company experiencing similar rebranding backlash?

1. Admit your mistakes and begin to chart the course forward.
No brand is perfect, and all brands make mistakes. Be prepared to be candid about what you think went wrong, address the concerns of customers and investors, and immediately start to plot the course forward

2. Avoid Steve Jobs syndrome and consult outside sources.
In the echo chamber that is Silicon Valley, we’ve seen many example of “Steve Jobs syndrome”: start-up founders believing that they should and are able to make all decisions about all facets of their business by themselves. Problem is, there was only one Steve Jobs. Now is the time, especially if you haven’t already, to consult experts.

3. Don’t pull a 180, but make strategic changes.
Perhaps the only thing worse than making the mistake is trying to erase it or pretend it didn’t happen. Even if your company does not have the spotlight of the world on it, like Uber, hitting the reset button is probably not feasible and definitely not recommended. You’ve made your bed, so it is time to start thinking about the most strategic way to sleep in it. Moving ahead will be an exercise in careful, considered course correction. Step up to the challenge and your brand will be stronger for it.

4. Engage your employees on why change is happening and let them be the ambassadors for your story.
On the days following the announcement I rode with two drivers and asked them about the logo change. Both shrugged their shoulders and said what most Uber customers say: “I don’t know why they did it, or what has changed so I can’t tell you. I just wish they got the app platform we use to work better.” That’s what customers and employees really want. This is a missed opportunity for Uber to tell their story, and implement improvements that would make their employees and customers happier, which in turn will enable them to drive global growth.

Jason Cieslak is President, Pacific Rim. 

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