Back to black

Black cab Lars Plougmann:FlickrToday, London will apparently come to a stand still. Not because of the eager anticipation of the Fifa World Cup kicking off in Rio, but instead because one of our long-standing institutions is coming under threat.

Black Cabs of London will unite against the rise of Uber, the rise of change, competition and technology itself. Well not quite, but that is how one side of the argument will present and promote the event. What we will actually see is a brand that is under threat, reacting and making a stance. However underneath this lies a real opportunity and potential to gain greater revenue and presence in the consumer conscience.

The shared economy is here and it is here to stay. It is an evolution of society and the commercial world we live in. We will no longer spend money to own things that we don’t regularly use. Instead there will be an efficient sharing of our belongings that is not only economically advantageous but also brings people back together. Who would have thought that after the digital revolution, which has taken us away from the high-street, there would now be a tech phenomenon that promotes human interaction, belonging and togetherness?

For Black Cabs their history defines a brand that has evolved and shaped itself through the needs of  Londoners. We didn’t want horses anymore, the combustion engine saved the day. We needed more room, the FX4 was introduced. We needed a more modern mode of transport that was accessible and iconic, the TX1 came to our streets. Today the Hackney Carriage has become a brand as synonymous with London as the RouteMaster, Tower Bridge and the Royal Family. But since its introduction in 1625 competition has been limited due to restrictions around entry into their market. The regulation of taxicabs, use of a taximeter and of course the Knowledge.

The problem lies with the organic growth of the brand. The result is that it is not in control of its destiny. While they are a part of Transport for London they also need to stand up for who they are and their own unique proposition. The values of the Black Cab can be found in the expertise of the cabbie, the design and function of the cab itself, no other car has a turning circle quite like that of a London cab, trust and safety of the service that to be frank, we’ve started to take for granted.

So what can they do to not only overcome the likes of Uber but actually develop further and reinstate themselves as a cornerstone of London’s culture, not just its travel system?

They need to re-evaluate their audience and specifically Londoner’s needs. Getting across town can be an absolute nightmare. However a London cabbie knows this, they have the insight we need for how to overcome the problem. With this kind of information their service becomes even more valuable. It is not about transferring people from A to B but providing a service and experience that can only be achieved with a black cab.

Presence

It is a key attribute to the black cab. Always around the corner and with apps like Kabbee and Halo making it even easier to find one they should be promoting the fact they are a service to be relied upon.

Personal contact

Some people love the chitchat with a cabbie, some don’t. What can’t be denied is that your experience while in a cab can be improved considerably by conversation at the right time and the use of that infamous ‘Knowledge’. It’s part of our nature as humans that we like to interact and we love to gain information that helps or inspires us. Nobody knows London quite as well as a cab driver. What building is going up here, why there’s a jam there. It’s like your very own private tour of the capital.

Profile

The black cab has many benefits. We just don’t know what they are because nobody is championing them. You may ask who cares if it has past safety test of the highest rigour or that it can turn on the spot. But if we don’t know this then we are not making our service choice with all the facts. We know with any brand that an emotional connection can play a big part of our decision making. But then there is also the logic. When choosing how to get across town the Black Cab has more than enough attributes to persuade us, they’re just not obvious.

I’m a great believer that the shared economy will change the way we live, the brands we interact with and experiences we value. All of this will be for good because it will ensure that tried and trusted brands take a fresh stance and continue their own evolution. The result is a competitive marketplace that the consumer will appreciate, engage with and buy-in to. For me the cab is just one case of business and brand evolution, but there’s no way we won’t be going back to black in the near future.

Ben Wright is the co-founder of branding and creative agency DesignStudio