This week Lime e-scooters were withdrawn from the streets of Auckland. Principals’ Steve Main explains what went wrong for the brand which came second in the 2019 Brand Alpha study.

Let’s get this straight, I’m a fan, but Lime hasn’t been easy to love. From a brand agency perspective, it was an accident waiting to happen. A missed opportunity to transform first-mover advantage into long term success.

Astoundingly our 2019 Brand Alpha Brand authenticity research with the Marketing Association ranked Lime as the second most authentic brand out of 55 surveyed. Beaten only by ecostore. A truly amazing result from a standing start that had us scooting back to our data for rechecking. The facts showed that the market voted with its legs and very quickly transport disruptor Lime was an accepted part of our commuting and transport infrastructure. Lime even became a verb. And I repeat the second-highest most authentic brand in our survey pushing aside brand titans like Icebreaker and Whittakers.

Our research measures brands against four key factors: Visibility, Vitality, Value and Virtue. The result showed outstanding results for Visibility and Vitality (and yes momentum). Visibility makes sense as they were hard to miss on the street. Vitality makes sense too. As a first-mover innovator, they earned loyalty by being bold enough to dramatically change the behaviours of 300,000 registered users. Anecdotally car numbers were supposed to have dropped in the Auckland CBD and the non-fossil fuel burning, micro-mobility electric scooters increasingly looked like the way of the future.

However, the research also showed weaknesses, especially around Virtue. Specifically a lack of declared beliefs and sincerity. Which was weird for a disruptor who could possibly reduce our dependence on cars, ease congestion, help us get around and do it having fun. But things started to take a wrong turn and the number of reported incidents started to stack up. Speeds remained unrestricted, pedestrians were upset, and my daughter face planted on College Hill.

Early on an impossible attempt was made to circulate helmets then much too late Lime restricted speeds to a safe 14kph in a defined area. Lime incredibly missed an opportunity to tell a story of Virtue and as well as winning us over with Visibility and Vitality. They failed to prove they have our best interests at heart as well. And in 13 months Lime has gone from hero to zero. Their speed wobbles from our perspective were easy to see in advance in our Brand Alpha research.

This morning Joe Kraus, the President of Lime sent me (and 300,000) others an email expressing a determination to earn the privilege to operate in the city again and will invest to improve safety for riders and non-riders. A great virtuous message that might make Lime easier to love.

Will the brand be back? Possibly but it would have been a much less expensive exercise to tackle these issues head-on while it was still the market leader proving once again that for brands to go the distance in the current climate, Virtue matters.