- Melissa Waters has overseen Lyft’s tremendous growth this year as its marketing chief.
- The ride-sharing company gained significant market share, went international, hit 500 million rides and launched a major marketing effort in 2017.
- Waters says that Lyft plans to jump past Uber and become No. 1 in the market.
2017 was a breakout year for Lyft.
As its biggest competitor and market leader Uber floundered due to a series of mostly self-inflicted crises, the ride-hailing company made massive inroads both in the US and beyond.
Lyft went national, with the company’s service now available to 95% of the US population versus 54% at the beginning of the year. It facilitated more rides in 2017 than in the previous four years combined, reaching 500 million total rides in October.
And it also launched its first marketing campaign that encompassed both digital and traditional media, touting itself as a socially-conscious alternative to Uber, which endured a brutal year public relations wise.
In fact, by the end of the year, Lyft is expected to swallow a third of the market share. And much of that has happened under its relatively new VP of Marketing Melissa Waters, who joined Lyft from Pandora a little over a year ago.
Business Insider caught up with Waters – who also features on our list of the most innovative CMOs in the world -and chatted about everything from the company’s expansion plans to its marketing approach as well as the state of digital advertising. Edited excerpts follow.
Lyft is learning from Uber’s mistakes
Waters said it was key for Lyft to not take on too much too fast.
“Our management team is very systematic and methodical,” she said. “So we’re only going to do something when we know we can do it well, do it right and do it without sacrificing our focus on other things.”
She pointed at rival Uber’s business, and said it was the classic business tale that Lyft wanted to avoid, with massive cash going toward international expansion and multiple business model like Uber Eats.
“For better or for worse, Uber has gone and penetrated a lot of markets,” she said. “And we can learn a lot by looking at how their business is going.”
It hates being called the challenger brand
When Waters got on board, she realized that no one really knew what was different about Lyft in a competitive and cut-throat market. Plus, with everything starting to go downhill for Uber, it was as good a time as any for Lyft to communicate who it was as a brand and what it offered to its audience.
“We were in the press a lot, but we needed to tell our own story,” she said. “It was all about cementing our positioning, helping people understand what we were all about and making sure we were top of mind.”
Lyft decided against taking shots at Uber. Its first fully integrated campaign by agency Wieden + Kennedy launched in early September, featuring Jeff Bridges talking about the biggest trends in the history of transportation.
“We don’t see ourselves as a challenger brand – we see ourselves as an inevitable category leader,” she said. “We’re here to demonstrate that inevitability, rather than simply live in the challenger position.”
To that end, the brand’s latest campaign highlights what Waters called “remarkable stories of great human connection.”
“The more we focus on our competition, the more it distracts us from our goals,” she said.
Lyft is a values-driven company
Despite the highly polarizing climate, a wide array of brands were happy to embrace social and political issues and voice their stands loud and clear in 2017. Lyft was one of them, taking a strong stance against President Trump’s immigration ban earlier this year.
In an email sent to users, Lyft said that it is “firmly against these actions, and will not be silent to issues that threaten the value of the community,” also announcing that it would be donating $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the next four years.
This was not a marketing ploy, said Waters.
“It is very much emblematic of the spirit of Lyft – it’s in our founding story,” she said. “We’ve always been a values-driven company, it comes through in the focus on our customers and in the way we treat people.”
The company wants to take back control from platforms like Google and Facebook
Issues of fraud, transparency and brand safety were top of mind for marketers this year, and Waters is no different. But the biggest challenge for Lyft, as a five year-old brand, was to get its message out as efficiently as possible, she said.
“The landscape out there is hard for marketers today, which is why you have to have a portfolio approach,” she said. “If we only focus on one channel, it’s only going to be so effective. So I really believe in a mix of channels.”
Waters also said that platform giants like Google and Facebook wielded too much power, and hoped that moving forward, brands wouldn’t be beholden to them if they failed to keep their end of the bargain. Both Google and Facebook had several brand safety and measurement snafus this year respectively.
“I feel like we’ve been held hostage by the platforms, and it’s time to take back control,” she said. “But if we’re going to spend money on these platforms, they better step up and deliver the reach, frequency and safety we’re paying for. And if that doesn’t happen, marketers need to take back that control and not feel beholden to the platforms.”