Uber is eyeing a comeback.
After a string of corporate disasters dented its brand last year, the ride-hailing company seems intent on winning back hearts as it prepares for an IPO next year. Perhaps with that in mind, it just appointed Rebecca Messina as its first-ever global chief marketing officer this week.
The seasoned marketing executive was most recently the global marketing chief at liquor brand Beam Suntory, spending 22 years at Coca-Cola in a variety of roles including senior VP of marketing and innovation for venturing and emerging brands prior to that.
Business Insider caught up with the incoming Uber marketing chief to talk about her vision for Uber. Here’s an edited version of the conversation.
Tanya Dua: It’s an interesting time at Uber. You are gearing up for an IPO, and still recovering from last year’s corporate setbacks. Why is it time for the company to get a CMO?
Rebecca Messina: The first is the change in the CEO. We now have someone who really sees the landscape holistically and understands the work that needs to be done. They’ve already made tremendous strides in terms of the evolution in engagement with drivers and with consumers, and built an incredible product that we all need in our life. Now, it’s the perfect opportunity to create a brand that also lives in our heart.
That’s really the role of a CMO, right? I like to call myself, really almost like the ‘chief meaning officer,’ in that how do I really help bring meaning into this great brand around the world and what it stands for. It’s been recognized that in Uber’s trajectory, what got the brand here won’t get the brand where it wants to go. So I think there was no time better than now. And I think Dara saw that and made it first about rebuilding trust. With trust built, we can build meaning on top of that. Trust is the first fundamental.
Dua: Speaking of consumer trust, Uber recently embarked on a massive marketing blitzkrieg. Do you think that has helped? Is it working?
Messina: My sense as a consumer is that we all live in the Uber landscape, right? It’s such an important part of our lives. I think it’s certainly taking the right steps, but I don’t think it’s enough. I absolutely think it’s helping. Dara has integrity in that he means what he says, and I think that’s genuinely felt by consumers and hopefully drivers at large.
Dua: What else do you plan to do to win audience trust back? What are some of the biggest branding challenges that you see for the brand that still need to be overcome?
Messina: There are a number of stakeholders. And my first job, I feel, is to really put my arms around the inside, around all the marketers inside the company, because I think they really have a pulse on all of Uber’s markets around the world. [They know] what’s going on with their consumers and their drivers, and both play an incredibly important role in building trust back with the brand. But we don’t have the luxury of doing that sequentially. We’ll have to quickly ensure that we’re also engaging through our brand experiences with our drivers and consumers.
It’s about employees’ belief and trust in the brand, and engagement of our marketing community and then understanding how we really continue the trust journey with consumers and the drivers everywhere. So I think it’s multifaceted. And we will probably never be done. I don’t know if you’re ever done on a trust journey. Trust is like a relationship. It can get eroded quickly and it can get built back slowly. And I think that’s something we have to recognize — that we will be on this journey for a long time.
Dua: What is your marketing strategy moving forward? What is your biggest priority?
Messina: Certainly, first and foremost, priority number one is about engaging with our 700 marketers around the world, learning from these folks and recognizing the great work that’s already been done. But then obviously standing up and also formalizing the marketing function. There’s a lot of marketers, and we need to organize how we’re going to do our work and how we’re going to engage the other functions in the company and really take that forward.
The second priority is obviously getting really clear on this brand, and that’s not fast work. We have 75 million riders around the world who engage with this brand, and it’s critically important that we are quickly able to articulate a consistent brand vision around the world, a consistent brand meaning, a consistent set of brand values and live those through the actions that we take. It’ll be the first thing I get at with that marketing community and everyone else at Uber.
Dua: Can you give me a sense of how you plan to spend as well? Do you see doing a lot more TV, or do you see yourself branch out more?
Messina: I’ve always come from the camp of where you tell your stories needs to depend on what story you’re telling. And so, until we’re super clear on what the brand is going to stand for, I think it’ll be hard to answer that. But it’s going to be multifaceted for sure. Every one of those mediums has a role. Dara’s message was so worthy of television, and needed to be told with that high awareness and high reach. But not every story needs to be told that way, some need to be told more intimately and more one-on-one. We have to figure out the stories we want to tell and where they’re best told.
Dua: As someone coming in from the outside with a fresh pair of eyes, what are some things that you think have worked for Uber as far as marketing is concerned so far that you plan to continue with? And what are some things you really want to overhaul or, or bring in and establish?
Messina: The experience tends to be consistent. Not every car is consistent of course, but the reliability is there. Those are things that are core and help build the brand. I can count on it. That’s really important. It’s reliable. I’d love to continue to push further on making it a little more personal, kind of taking a step forward and just getting a little more intimate, a little more one-on-one and personal with its consumers. I can see opportunity there.
As an observer, as a rider currently, I can see that it’s got reliability, but it might need a little more personality. There’s human interaction every time the rider gets into a car, every single time there’s a conversation waiting to happen. Its about humanity. We do 15 million rides per day globally. That’s a moment for human connection. And that is so powerful and that’s something that makes Uber so incredibly unique. There is something in there that we need to unlock, around humanity and personalization.
Dua: So you’ve obviously had a ton of experience at legacy companies like Coca-Cola and Beam Suntory. A lot of those legacy companies themselves are struggling to adapt today, but there’s a benefit to having had a foundation there. How do you think your time there has prepared you for this role?
Messina: I have the benefit of having been at Coke for some of the best years of their trajectory, in terms of really becoming a global business. And because I got to see it from so many vantage points, from the headquarters, from my time overseas, I saw that growth trajectory and what that looks like. But there’s certain steps, some brand-building fundamentals, that you can’t skip. Uber’s come up so much faster — it’s exponential — that maybe the product got ahead of the brand.
And I think I’ll be able to bring that healthy tension of let’s ensure that the brand and the product are singing the same song and one lives up to the other, instead of one getting in front of the other. And that’s one thing that you learn from a legacy company that built a brand the old way, that there are just certain steps. Consumers have to fall in love with brands and they have to do it step by step, just like we do with people.
Dua: And what are some things that you hope to learn from a startup environment like Uber, that you think you probably haven’t experienced yet?
Messina: I’m humbled that I have this opportunity to join an organization of people that grew up native to this new environment. I’m excited to learn about doing things a little bit in reverse to the way I learned at Coke. Mistakes that we made at Coke were righted in a much longer timeframe, but today we have realtime feedback. Today, we have an ability to do things and adjust and optimize constantly. That is a privilege.
I had once only dreamed of all these ways of measuring my marketing activities that I now have today. I’m walking into a company that does it every single day, naturally. And that is, that’s a wonderful situation to be in. I certainly think I may bring some things that I hope can help advance the organization, but I certainly think I have equal parts to learn.
Dua: What do you think makes for a successful brand and business today? It’s obviously not how the Cokes of the world built themselves.
Messina: The things that make a brand today are some of the things that have always made a brand. It sits on something that is fundamentally a human need or a human desire — and not always a desire that is known. It was smart folks who came before me who realized that there was an opportunity to provide the service that Uber provides, but it sits on something needed. And then, from there it absolutely has to play and speak to consumers hearts’ and consumers’ minds. And I certainly think that we’re on the brink here of becoming one of the greatest icons in the 21st century.
We have an opportunity to make this brand meaningful at both levels — hearts and minds. We have a very rare opportunity to engage the two sides of the marketplace, when a lot of legacy brands have only had a one-sided marketplace. This is where the whole idea of a consumer and a driver coming together is so incredibly powerful. But the job to be done ultimately is still the same. We have to talk to both, we have to bring meaning to both. We have to stand for something we have to do with consistency, and that is key. That has never changed. Great brands are consistent.
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