Disrupting the Disruptors, or How to Grab an Uber

The combative tone of Anthony Tan’s message to his troops this week got me thinking about market differentiation. Let me explain – Tan runs Grab – a taxi app from Singapore, and he was in fighting mood following Uber’s decision to sell off its China business. Uber has “lost once, and we will make them lose again”, proclaimed Tan. You can read more here

The pugnacious tone of Tan’s words sounded familiar I thought, but why? Of course, it was Uber-speak. The online transportation giant, which counts ‘fierceness and super pumpedness’ as qualities to develop in its people, has being demonstrating a ruthlessness to business since its inception. I suspect that approach will soften, but in short, it’s a tone that’s owned (for want of a better word) by Uber. So, why Tan’s hawkish words?

I could set up an argument for Uber having set the dominant corporate tone-of-voice for the sector, which Tan taps in to, but that’s a hard one to prove. No, my argument is that Tan appears to have missed a trick in not positioning his business away from Uber’s apparent alpha-male sensibilities. There’s room to pitch the brand effectively enough to demonstrate a point of difference, while still achieving growth. Women, for one, need to be a big part of any brand proposition and not from just a customer perspective. Ditto, the communal aspect of the service they offer; in short, the community building.

In light of Uber’s global-reach tentacles, there’s also differentiation in the concept of local, but I guess there lies the nub – why stay local, whey you have an application that can work anywhere and have competitors who are doing exactly that? Well, we may just want to go back to where we started and Uber’s decision to pull out of China – for success may be about recognising the limits of your ride.