What brands can learn from Uber

I just broke up with Uber, and I feel great.

It’s funny how my emotions surged in this one simple action. Empowered, angry, and quite honestly sad, I said goodbye. My feelings were unlike those I felt passing by Ivanka Trump’s shoes at Nordstrom. Unlike her designer knock-offs, Uber had a place in my life because I thought they reflected important things about me.

Uber made me feel smart, tech-savvy, and even generous for using their app. I experienced more than just great benefits, I saw my values reflected; I was proud to associate with them. And Lyft was nowhere to be found on my phone.

As someone who has spent an entire career working for big-name brands, I’m convinced that the strongest brands share the values most dear to their customers.

These valuable brands sell us on more than just a product or service; they sell an idea about ourselves that we want to be true. When I see my values and myself reflected in a brand’s actions, the brand comes alive to me and we form a relationship. An ‘it’ becomes a ‘they’. That’s brand love… as long as their words and actions remain congruent.

So why the break-up? I read Susan Fowler’s essay describing how she was treated working at Uber. When I did, Uber’s benefits were quickly over-ridden by their incongruity with my personal values. Not only is Susan’s experience believable, it’s all too relatable to me as a woman in advertising.

For companies and brands alike, stories such as Susan’s can impact businesses in explosive ways. We all have the power to make values-based decisions with our wallets. We want our wallets to reflect our values. And never has it been so easy. Actions speak louder than words. So whether you call it corporate conscience, corporate social responsibility or transparency, the label matters far less than the action itself: Delete.

A fast-growing movement in consumer behavior is underway. This behavior is defined by how we see ourselves in relation to our world. More and more, there’s only room in it for brands that share our values and whose words and actions make a statement about who we are and want to be. This movement is rooted in our power to proudly put our money where our hearts are and then share our choices to influence others.

Brands must recognize that how they’re perceived isn’t only about marketing. While it’s true that marketing matters a lot, every brand needs to take a hard look at the values communicated by their actions. If what’s perceived doesn’t align with the consumers they serve, the costs will be steep. Change will be essential.

Branding is most effective when it reflects a company’s inner compass. Who you are ­– leadership, culture and values – matters far more than what you sell. Brands that grow year-over-year understand this. A Havas study reveals that consumers wouldn’t care if three-quarters of all brands disappeared. It’s easy to imagine why.

Yes, Uber’s app was transformative. But no more transformative than my power to delete it. By this one simple action, I send a message about who I am and what matters most to me. I hope they’re listening.

Michelle Fitzgerald is a communications strategist and principal at Brew: Creative Media in Minneapolis. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Professional M.A. in Strategic Communication program at the University of Minnesota.