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Ride-Share company Lyft recently went public.

Now, I don’t attest to know all that much about investing in the stock market. (I purchased a stock once. It plummeted within a year and I haven’t ventured to dip my toe back in those waters since.) So, listening to the interview about the initial volatility of the IPO – and what that might mean for Lyft’s future – was somewhat lost on me.

But there was something that the interviewee said that caught my marketer’s ear. Lyft, she said, was “a nice alternative to Uber.”

It wasn’t so much that she was considering Lyft an alternative to the leader in the industry, because, as we all know, that is its place in the market (at least for now). But it got me thinking about those #2’s. Can those companies that come after an industry leader ever really take on – or over – their competition? Especially when that competition has become a verb.

Brand “Verbification”

We don’t “take a rideshare home” from a party. We Uber.

We don’t “do a search online” for movie listings. We Google.

We don’t “go inline skating”. We Rollerblade.

And it’s not just verbs. In my house, tissue has always been – and will always be – Kleenex. And I still refer to my Bearpaw boots as my Uggs (or Ugg-style) when I want someone to know what I’m talking about.

This idea of Brands getting “verbified” certainly isn’t new. Karen Tiber Leland wrote a great piece for Inc. a few years ago that posited that “Brands that become verbalized replace sentences that represent actions with single words. For example, people don’t say, ‘I will Gmail that’ because a word for that, ‘email’, already existed. They do, however, say, ‘I’ll Uber,’ because, prior, only a sentence such as ‘I’m going to call a car service to get home from the party,’ could convey the idea.”

And you can, in fact, find many articles about pondering if becoming a verb is good for a brand (Xerox was not too fond of it).

What seems to be less a topic for discussion is what to do when your competition has become a verb. How do you position yourself in the market? How does Lyft break through when “Uber” is already part of our vernacular?

When Your Competition Has Become a Verb

  • Do you try to beat the competition by “out-verbing” them?
  • Do you resolve to make the most of always being the company consumers try 2nd?
  • Do you hope their company will make some bad business decisions and simply implode on itself?

For many years, a lot of people I knew “TiVo’d” until better choices became available and TiVo’s presence in the marketplace seemed to fade into the background. And I’d argue that most inline skating brands are probably fine with people rollerblading. Especially if their product is priced lower than Rollerblade.

But, what about “out-verbing”?

When Yahoo! made its debut, it tried it’s best to get people to “Yahoo!”. But the verb never took, and then Google came along a few years later. So, while it’s highly unlikely you’d be able to “out-verb” a brand that is already part of the vernacular, you can certainly use it to your advantage!

As Justin Bariso wrote recently, Lyft’s co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer did something brilliant a couple of years ago when they turned their focus to “what made their company different from its competitor. For example, Lyft built a reputation as the kinder, gentler of the two brands, partially through efforts to prioritize drivers.

It’s this focus that perfectly positions the company to take on Uber as they slog through the work of rebuilding a brand tarnished by scandal and bad press. Lyft has a compelling story to tell as to why they’re the best alternative to Uber and the best choice in the rideshare industry. They’ve worked intentionally at creating a business model and platform that draws sharp distinctions from the industry giant.

They just need to capitalize on it.

So, is it possible to take on a brand that has become part of our everyday vernacular?

I think so. 

About the Author: 

Jacqui Genow is the founder and principal of J. Genow Marketing. She works with clients in aligning their brand message, streamlining processes, building their marketing roadmap, and helping them stay on track to move their business forward. As a Brand and Business Strategist, her focus goes beyond marketing; making the connections between how marketing decisions made today can impact a client’s business in the future. You can find Jacqui on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Opinions expressed here are the opinions of the author. Influencive does not endrose or review brands mentioned.