How Deliveroo can win

The delivery company has appointed its first CMO. That's a good start, says brand agency CEO Jim Prior.

by Jim Prior
Last Updated: 24 Jan 2019

Delivery service Deliveroo has the stomach for a fight. It is muscling up for expansion and to outpace competitors by creating the role of CMO. Ines Ures, former CMO at online beauty booking platform Treatwell, now has the remit to keep the brand relevant and scale up. Although global appetite for Deliveroo doesn’t appear to be waning, a host of external factors mean that it needs to be prepared to meet expectations as people’s relationship with technology and food delivery brands rapidly evolves.

Fundamentally, having a takeaway delivered to your door is not a new idea so there is nothing radical in Deliveroo’s core concept, at least as far as consumers are concerned (it is creating new behaviours among restaurants that didn't do deliveries before, with the rise of so-called "dark kitchens"). In fact, there is something quite archaic about a business model that relies on a group of people riding about town on bikes. Yet despite this, the brand has grown into a multi-million pound operation.

A part of the success has been the branding. Bold, distinctive and bright blue, Deliveroo riders stand out from the grey urban environment and skyline and have helped establish a presence in consumers’ minds. But there’s much to the brand than just its logo. They have managed to turn a previously mundane act – the delivery process – into a disruptive business model and branded experience that has significant social impact.  

Deliveroo’s growth goes hand in hand with that of the gig economy, and questions around Deliveroo’s brand are interlinked with those around this new industry. While some doubts persist around the gig economy’s corporate issues, such workers’ rights, I do believe that the innovation in customer experience that it allows is a net positive for society.

The start-point for most successful innovation is an unmet customer need – there’d be no Google if people didn’t need to search – and any business model that makes satisfying that need more possible must surely be a good thing. And beyond the customer benefit, the gig economy creates the opportunity for people to have choice in how they are employed and when they work, which is socially and economically positive news for many people.

(There’s perhaps an interesting sub-story here around how the demographic and nature of people that are attracted to work in the gig economy becomes a shaper of the experience of the brand by default: slightly anarchic, road-warrior bike riders don’t tend to prefer 9-5 office work).

So, Deliveroo’s role in the gig economy is an integral component that I’d argue Ures must protect.

Deliveroo needs to keep pedalling

The challenges Ures and her team will face in the next phase of Deliveroo’s development fall into two categories. The first is to double down on the existing brand experience and raise its standards. For the most part, that task is straightforward and good CMOs take it in their stride. But the second, much harder and more important category is the need to innovate and disrupt beyond its core business because simply sticking to its current focus of activity is probably not going to be enough for it to survive.

It’s the problem with being a challenger business: as soon as you become the establishment you lose your founding raison d’etre, and therefore risk losing your relevance to your audiences. Ure’s real challenge at Deliveroo is not to improve a disruptive business model, it is to disrupt it all over again.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Deliveroo has now is that it is a specialist business among increasingly diversified competitors. Their nearest current competitor, Uber Eats, is already part of a consumer eco-system that can deliver a lot more to customers than food.

With the current pace of innovation in transportation and infrastructure, the competitive set could even increase to automotive brands – in an era of driverless cars why would you need an unreliable human to bring you food? And what about Amazon, or Tesco, or any number of companies that have access both to distribution capabilities and food?

Deliveroo’s position as a leader in food delivery could easily go the way of Kodak’s once dominant position in photography if it doesn’t keep its pedals turning fast. What else could Deliveroo deliver – perhaps shopping, medicine, people? Maybe like Nokia – which started its business making rubber boots – Deliveroo’s future will have nothing to do with food, or delivery, but could evolve into something currently completely unknown.

My point here is that as a disruptive business in a disruptive sector in disruptive times, Deliveroo has many challenges and opportunities ahead. It’s important that Ures and the Deliveroo team don’t become too focused on the status quo and work hard to maintain the creative and innovative spirit that has got them where to where they are.

Or another company may come along and eat its lunch.

Jim Prior is global CEO of brand agency Superunion, a WPP company.

Image credit: Monsieur J/Flickr

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