Guest Post: What Uber Explore tells us about the experience partner marketplace

Guest Post: What Uber Explore tells us about the experience partner marketplace

Simon Macfarlane, EMEA executive director of technology at VMLY&R, asks what are the likely trade-offs as travel brands look to own the complete customer experience from pre-booking to post-trip

If excellent customer experience is defined by the interactions people have with a brand or business across the entire customer journey, most will ask where that journey starts and where it ends.

Can a brand really own an experience in totality?

With the announcement of Uber launching Uber Explore in the US and Mexico alongside partner Yelp, the 'mobility-as-a-service' provider has extended its reach far past its existing services. 

Via the Uber app, users can now access experiences in art and culture, nightlife, or even make dinner reservations.

Once, the Uber experience was tied only to the journeys people took and the time they spent choosing and waiting for their food, but now it’s a gateway to physical experiences outside of a vehicle or a home.

The Uber and Yelp partnership makes complete sense in this first iteration, but I wonder, in the value exchange between the three key actors – Uber, Yelp and the end destination experience – who actually benefits? 

In destination services, where competition is rife and choice is vast, differentiation is critical to capturing customer promotion, loyalty and spending. And it is easy to see why such partnerships are attractive.

But relinquishing some control in maintaining that critical differentiation by bringing in a partner is a challenging conundrum. And for businesses looking to dip their toe into the curated experience marketplace, finding the right partner can be a minefield. 

As technology becomes more and more embedded in delivering the value exchange between business and customers, it can be an insightful and valuable way in. 

Contextually relevant and location-specific activations are becoming more and more prevalent as brands tap into the readily available infrastructure that surrounds us.

Brands need to stay disciplined. There needs to be a fine balance between amplifying self-serving offers and promotions and creating a connected experience that stands out, is rewarding and is truly relevant to each particular customer’s needs. 

Finding a partner that has invested equally in robust technology and built a connected customer journey that enables meaningful interactions and rich data will be crucial here. 

Unless technology can be aligned between partners so that data can be seamlessly harnessed, measured, and insights surfaced, the result will be misaligned intelligence and activation and bring no tangible value back to either party. 

Consider a partnership between Airbnb and Apple or Google. The former leads the way for holiday rental booking through its intuitive platform, and the latter are data-led giants with products to match. 

Together, they have the potential to collaborate in the age of the connected home, with Apple or Google smart home technology providing Airbnb customers with a much richer and more valuable experience - from keyless entry to smart home product control through the Airbnb app.

As exciting as this may feel, opportunity in this space isn’t exactly new. Travel and destination services have been a fertile ground for technology and disruptors to drive transformation for over fifteen years. 

Customers are well versed in hopping between various providers to build their desired experiences, as proven by the success of brands such as Skyscanner, or Open Table. 

And offering adjacent services that surprise and delight your customers is just the same; just think about Amex or O2 and their early bird tickets.

So as we enter this next stage of curated connected experiences, businesses need to think deeply about the residual value they want to create - the one that exists outside of the time spent in the experience and truly drives growth - and whether the risk of diluting their brand equity is genuinely worth the data.

Ultimately, they cannot forget that the most important question of all will always be how does it benefit the customer?