Culling for growth: cutting features to affirm your brand identity

Do you remember Waze in the early days?

Living in Los Angeles, where traffic is notoriously horrible, I was delighted to stumble upon Waze about 5 years ago, well before Google acquired the company in June of 2013. The functionality, which uses real-time user reports to navigate traffic, was a hands-down blow out – in LA, Manhattan, or Singapore, Waze magically routed my car through all kinds of traffic and hazards, often using counter-intuitive routes – to get there in less time and with less aggravation. And the graphics, featuring adorable (yes, adorable) little car icons zooming through the city’s pinpoint precise maps, were appealing and seductive.

But more. Waze offered fun as well; features that turned a commuting grind into a charming adventure. You could customize your car on the map with “mood” icons, and on certain days, random prizes or figures would appear on the map, such as cute cartoon monsters on Halloween. These features were engaging and adventurous – what would Waze come up with next?

Today, in a pre-show talk at #CES2017, I had the opportunity to hear Paige Fitzgerald, Waze’s Head of New Business Development, in a “One on One Conversation” with the Consumer Technology Association’s Chief Economist, Shawn DuBruvac.

Paige began her comments by championing Waze’s strength. The company now has over 65 million monthly active users, using 43 different languages. Their focus on “community”, with users contributing both active and passive data, has resulted in the most comprehensive database of real time road conditions of all time.

She waxed passionately about Waze’s new capabilities through data partnerships. 2-way data exchange partnerships with governments now permit cities all over the world to share information about road closures and construction with the Waze community in advance, while allowing local governments to better understand current traffic flows and develop plans to route traffic more efficiently. While preparing for the 2016 Olympics, Rio de Janeiro used Waze data to configure and construct two new highways, to better manage the city’s traffic and avoid Olympic bottlenecks.

This kind of real time data also can significantly impact public safety. Paige pointed out that for 63% of 911 calls in the United States,  callers do not know their exact location. When Waze users report an accident or crash with great accuracy, this data can be shared quickly with emergency responders. In fact, she reported that 70% of the time, crashes are reported by Waze even before a call is made to 911, which can  shorten emergency response time by 4 minutes! This technology can literally save lives.

Waze has made a steep and sharp turn away from its early days of fun and frivolous icons. When I asked Paige what happened to those contests and holiday-themed events, she emphasized again the importance of core values; “safety”, “community”, and deep, data analytic partnerships. This is why, for example, Waze has added features such as ETA sharing. (Since the app can update contacts with the drivers’ ETA in real time, drivers don’t have to text this information from the road.)

Waze has experienced phenomenal growth since their early days. As they have grown, they have shed some features and added other capabilities, deepening and refining their brand identity and core values.

Does your brand need to let go of certain legacy attributes, features or products which are no longer relevant? How can you focus your intentions on what is most central to your value system, and what will garner the most long-term value?

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