The Lyft Formula: 5 Steps to Getting Noticed in a Dominated Market

The Lyft Formula

Whether you’re building a business, launching a new product, or starting a blog, you’ve likely faced one major crippling fear:

Why would anyone choose me over [Insert Awesome Competition Here]?

I thought the same thing when I started a copywriting blog last year — Why would anyone read me over an awesome, established site like Copyblogger?

It’s a crippling thought, and one that stops many would-be entrepreneurs in their tracks.

How do you break into a market when someone else is already dominating it with an outstanding product?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at one of the most current David vs. Goliath battles in business: Uber vs. Lyft — the only two players that come to mind when you bring up the ride-sharing industry to anyone.

To quote the New York Times, “A year ago, Lyft was seen as one of many Uber-wannabes. Now, thanks to wild expansion and a brilliant marketing campaign, Lyft is seen as a substitute service.”

How has Lyft gained traction in a market dominated by Uber?
How has Lyft gained traction in a market dominated by Uber?

The question is…how? How has Lyft entered a space dominated by a company that’s raised around $1.5 billion in investments, and scared that company to the point where they’re hiring contractors who attempt to convert Lyft drivers into Uber drivers during rides?

Sure, you can attribute it to “wild expansion and a brilliant marketing campaign,” but what were the specific actions that went into that campaign and expansion?

After closely studying Lyft and Uber’s marketing materials, and reading just about every article about the two services, I zeroed in on five specific things Lyft has done that have allowed them to gain traction against huge odds.

(Hint: They involve a lot more than slapping a big, pink mustache on your car.)

This post will dissect each ingredient and show you how to apply them to your specific business so you can stand out from the biggest competitors in your market.

NOTE: To get the most out of this article, be sure to grab the Lyft Formula Checklist here or at the end of the post. It’ll walk you through applying these strategies in your business.

1. Market What Makes You Different

If you look at Lyft’s marketing, you won’t find any overt claims of superiority over Uber. You won’t see any messaging like Samsung releases whenever a new iPhone comes out.

But you will notice one major thing — Lyft is different, and they want you to know it.

All you have to do is look at Lyft’s website in relation to Uber’s. Both sites feature large slider sections above the fold. Check out the slides below and you’ll see the difference:

The Lyft Formula

The Lyft Formula

The Lyft Formula

The Lyft Formula

Now let’s check out what’s going on with Lyft’s home page slider:

The Lyft Formula

The Lyft Formula

The Lyft Formula

Lyft’s site conveys a completely different feeling.

Bold color replaces black and white. Smiling folks dressed casually replace supermodels playing it cool. A playful font replaces Uber’s slick sans-serif font.

But above all, what stands out is the copy: 

Lyft: “Your friend with a car.”


And those are just the obvious differences. Here are the subtle ones: 

  • Drivers vs. Passengers: Lyft puts the spotlight on their drivers more so than their passengers. The driver is visible in every home page slide, while an Uber driver is only visible in two out of four slides (and in one of them he’s just a blurry figure in the background).
  • Gender: Everyone in the Lyft home page slides is female, which may be leftover influence from Lyft’s original plan to create a service specifically designed to make women feel safe. 
  • Button Copy: Ah, the subtlest of the subtle. Lyft goes with the familiar “Download on the App Store” and “Android App on Google Play” while Uber has a “Sign up for Uber” button. Lyft’s button implies you, the visitor, allowing their service into your life, while Uber’s implies them, the company, allowing you into their ecosystem.

It’s easy to take these differences at their surface levels and draw generic takeaways like “Lyft is going after a different demographic” or “Lyft wants to be fun instead of luxurious.”

But when you go beyond the surface, you’ll see that Lyft’s ability to cut through the noise comes from a much deeper understanding of what their product is and whom they’re creating it for.

Which brings us to number two.

2. REALLY know your audience.

Lyft isn’t different for the sake of being different.

They didn’t simply look at Uber and say, “How can we do that differently?” — they saw a different need and created a service to fill it.

And in that different need lies their audience.

This is apparent if you study how Lyft was described when it first started gaining prominence. After Andreessen Horowitz invested $60 million in Lyft back in May 2013, Scott Weis, a partner at the investment firm, wrote the following in a blog post about the investment:

“Lyft is all about taking cars off the road via ridesharing. This is NOT merely a cool new use of technology to efficiently onboard and route more cars, cabs, towncars and limos. Lyft wants to use technology to get everyone who currently owns a car to join a trusted information network to share rides.”

Translation: Lyft was created to be a service for folks who want to take advantage of the empty seats in other people’s cars, as well as their own. (Whether that’s still their aim or not is debatable, but that was the vision that carried them to relevancy.)

This leads to the question that allowed them to define their audience: What type of people would be open to getting in a stranger’s car and/or let a stranger get into their car?

The answer? People who are young, adventurous, and eager to share an experience with someone new — the exact feeling their home page conveys.

Of course, simply knowing who your audience is isn’t enough to make them fall in love with your product. To accomplish that, you need to create an unforgettable experience. 

3. Create a Memorable Experience

Though the pink mustache was certainly a great branding move for Lyft, it’s only a small part of the overall experience they created early on in their development.

TechCrunch writer Drew Olanoff described the experience perfectly in an early article about Lyft from 2012:

“What I’ve found is that the Lyft experience is completely different than the Uber one. It’s a more jovial and interactive social experience than simply getting into the back of a slick black car. One is not better than the other…it’s just different.”

It’s an interactive and jovial experience, the exact type of experience that might attract the initial audience Lyft was seeking.

The Lyft Formula
Sure, this photo is from the Lyft press kit, but it’s a depiction of the experience they strive to create.

So, what ingredients make up that experience? Let’s take a look:

1. Driver Behavior

Lyft cultivated a culture of drivers who made their tagline (“Your friend with a car”) come true.

Rather than keeping things quiet and “professional” like typical private car drivers, Lyft drivers greeted their passengers with a ceremonial fistbump and encouraged them to take the front seat.

2. Encouraged Passenger Interaction

Once passengers hopped into the car, many drivers would offer them a phone charger and the opportunity to play DJ for the trip. Drivers have also been known to offer passengers snacks or fun surprises like Capri-Suns, as a Business Insider article mentioned. 

3. Company Ethos

As I mentioned earlier, though the pink mustache was a great branding move that helped word-of-mouth and added to the overall experience, the real difference that sets Lyft apart is more about what the pink mustache stands for. And that is this, according to Lyft’s founders:

“What does the pink mustache stand for? It’s a question we get asked frequently. People are curious when they see it for the first time, but once you’re a part of the community, a bigger meaning comes through. The pink mustache is a smile. It’s the goal of finishing your ride a little happier than you were before. It’s the belief that people are inherently good. It’s the idea that a great conversation on a trip across town can result in a new friend, a job offer, or even a hug after a tough breakup. Longtime Lyft driver, Danielle, put it best when she said “Lyfting restored my faith in humanity.” 

An ethos is basically the collection of beliefs that guide a group’s behavior. Ethos manifests itself in your company’s culture, decision-making, and, ultimately, results. (We emphasize ethos in a big way at LeadPages, and it starts with our leadership.)

Whether you realize it or not, you have an ethos, and it shows up in every aspect of the experience you’re creating for customers.

4. Take Advantage of Trails That Have Already Been Blazed

It’s a fact — when you disrupt an industry, you’re going to ruffle the feathers of the establishment. That’s what Uber quickly learned when they started pulling market share away from the taxi establishment.

They were met with mountains of cease and desist letters and restrictive regulations in virtually every new city they entered. 

And that’s not to mention other tough issues Uber has had to face, such as the proper way to insure drivers and the ethics of surge pricing, to name a few. 

This is one instance where not being the first to market has its advantages. For example, by the time Lyft was stepping into the spotlight, Uber had already done a lot of the heavy lifting to influence eventual policies like the ride-sharing regulations California created in September 2013.

These regulations effectively brought legitimacy to all ride-sharing businesses, not just Uber. 

This isn’t necessarily the result of anything Lyft did, but it’s an advantage to be aware of. You don’t have to focus on just the negatives when entering a market that’s dominated by a large competitor. Realize that it can mean a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done.

5. Build Communities

When we looked at Lyft’s company ethos, it was clear that their leadership set out to create more than just another ride-sharing service — they wanted to create a community. And not just a community of consumers, but a community that encompassed both their employees and customers.

That’s why they have an entire community site at where they create content specifically for Lyft drivers and dedicated fans.

They give out “Golden Fistbump” awards to drivers who go above and beyond for the community (like Sacramento driver Robbeelee, who organized other drivers and friends to pool together some essential household items for one of her passengers who was a recently emancipated foster child — just like Robbeelee had once been).

They also let drivers write pieces for the site, empower them to host driver meetups, and offer helpful tips for maximizing the Lyft driver experience.

The Lyft Formula
Lyft uses their community site as a platform to reward drivers and let them share stories.

This, of course, is in stark contrast to the public’s perception of how Uber feels about their drivers, particularly after recent comments from CEO Travis Kalanick where he insinuated that he can’t wait to use driverless cars to replace Uber drivers (or, as he referred to them, “the other dude in the car”).

The lesson? Happy, empowered employees who get fulfillment from their work can be just as powerful as a perfectly executed marketing campaign.

What Happens Now?

Yes, with their huge market share and deep pockets, Uber has a good shot to remain ahead of Lyft in market share for years to come. Yes, Lyft has gotten away from some of the things discussed in this article that made them different, as the two companies become ever more indistinguishable commodities.

But here’s the point — if Lyft can gain enough traction to get a $60 million investment and a national presence in the face of a monolithic competitor…don’t you think your idea might have a shot after all?

Your Greatest Asset

In any David vs. Goliath story, David’s greatest asset (or the person/company filling that “David” role) isn’t his prowess with the slingshot.

His greatest asset is realizing he isn’t Goliath.

To carve out any piece of a market that a great company is dominating, you can’t start out doing the same things they do — you have to be different.

To help you apply the Lyft Formula in your own business, we created a checklist based on the five points discussed in this article. It contains questions that will help you discover your marketable differences, identify your audience, create a memorable experience, and more.

Simply click here or the button below to get your copy.

Click Here to Get The Lyft Formula Checklist

And before you go, tell me — are you currently applying any of these strategies in your business? Are there any you plan on incorporating? Leave a comment and let us know.

  • Thanks for this piece of marketing education, Will! I’ve been using Uber pretty exclusively when a friend or family member isn’t around, and hadn’t done much comparison with Lyft. Now I’ve got a better idea of their points of differentiation and will give them a shot.

    More importantly, I love your overall thesis, “if Lyft can gain enough traction to get a $60 million investment and a national presence in the face of a monolithic competitor…don’t you think your idea might have a shot after all?”

    As I’ve worked with a number of newer coaches and business owners who are worried they’re too late to the party, this concept provides the kick-in-the-butt they need to find their unique slingshot to gain that traction.

    And for me personally, I’ve become a unique voice in the online business training world because I didn’t let the fact that bigger named gurus already provided programs that are (at least superficially) similar in purpose to what I create. There are ALWAYS gaps in the marketplace – either in the audience that’s being served (or not), or in the mode of delivery.

    • Awesome, Bob, be sure to let me know how you think the two services compare once you’ve tried Lyft!

      And thanks for sharing your experience. I think that’s one of the hardest realizations for folks who are just getting started — there are always gaps in the marketplace. It’s really easy to talk yourself out of doing something when you see someone else in the same space with a similar service who is doing well. That’s a big reason why I wrote this.

      Thanks again for sharing!

  • I use Lyft almost exclusively. Now I know how they got to me 🙂

    • Ha, that’s great! I’d say you’re definitely a great fit for their customer base, Clay.

  • Kerstin Castle

    Hey Will, I love your articles where you pick sales and marketing copy apart and explain each little element to the layperson. I don’t think anyone does it like you, so don’t ever think of quitting. I’ve read copyblogger articles, lots of them, but they lack your clarity of though. They lack examples that matter. I don’t care about Uber, Lyft or Apple. But I care about exceptional copy, and your analyses help me understand why.

    • Ah shucks, thanks Kerstin! I really appreciate that, and I’m glad you found this article useful. I’ll try to keep it up. 🙂

      • Will, there is NO “try”, only “DO”. I think Yoda said that. 🙂 Doing a blog post weekly and even monthly may be tough to pull off
        with your current schedule. At least consider giving us all one of these
        analysis every other month. Greatly appreciated!

        I have used Uber a half dozen times. Loved it. Met a Lyft driver at Cracker Barrel. He was actually the waiter. He gave me a card for a FREE ride. I will try it now.

        Great job explaining all of this. I always love to follow your thinking process. Thanks, Will!!!

        • Thanks, Robert! Appreciate the Jedi motivation. 🙂

          I’d love to hear your perspective on how the Lyft experience compares to Uber’s. Report back after your first ride!

  • Joel Widmer

    Excellent branding breakdown, Will! Really enjoyed comparing the copy differences and the subtle differences I hadn’t even picked up on. I’ve only used Uber so far but haven’t been to either website, just the mobile app. I’m looking forward to trying out Lyft now just to try it even though i’ve been really happy with Uber.
    I think there’s going to be even more players come to market even faster in the next few months now that a lot of the heavy lifting is done by both companies.
    It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds.

    • Let me know how the experience compares, Joel!

      And I think you’re right. The ride-sharing market is huge, so we’ll probably see more folks giving it a shot. I think the big question is will another company be able to compete at Uber’s scale? To me, there will always be a market for the Lyft experience. But I’m not so sure it’s big enough to make them a major player in the long run.

      Thanks for the kind words and your thoughts!

  • “His greatest asset is realizing he isn’t Goliath.” Yes sir!

    We all know we need to be different, but establishing our differentiators is more difficult than it sounds. At a very minimum, you’ve got to have the courage to say “I’m not them”. Great point Will!

    • That’s a great way of putting it, Alzay. Thanks for reading!