Syed Gilani of Safr: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do to Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image”

Deliver an outstanding customer experience. No matter what you do, always remember that your presence in the market is because of your customers so make sure you serve them well. Your brand should encompass all your strengths and convey them to your market. Make it about people first.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Syed Gilani is the CEO and President of Safr, a rideshare startup focused on women’s empowerment through safe transportation. A seasoned business leader with 25 years of experience in North American, Asian, Middle Eastern and European markets, Syed leads Safr’s global growth, investment and overall company vision to build a better, safer and more empowering future for women around the world. Complementary to his leadership role at Safr, Syed founded and led Z-Square Technology, the platform driving the future of ridesharing by innovating and merging government transportation infrastructure with public and business economies for improved public safety and driver experience. Z-Square Technology concentrates on smart transportation system, secure credentialing and border management verticals. As a new company in a highly competitive market, ZST has gained significant momentum by implementing its solutions in the U.S., Caribbean and globally. Syed holds a Masters in International Relations from Harvard University; an MBA in Marketing from University of the Virgin Islands; and a Master of Science degree from Lahore School of Economics. Syed writes for Forbes and other publications and has spoken at conferences around the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Syed! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you very much for the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers. I have been associated with the technology-focused business sector for the past 25 years and the concepts of smart transportation and smarter societies always intrigued me. Having grown up in a developing country where liberty of movement for women has been limited due to lack of public transportation and availability of vehicles at home, I understood the importance of a reliable and safe transportation for women. If we wanted them to be an active contributor in the society, they would need the means to get around safely and effectively. My experience of working on four continents made it clear to me that the challenges faced by women in every society are quite similar. Working on Safr, a rideshare startup focused on women’s empowerment through safe transportation, is my calling. It’s important for all genders to come together and help tilt the scale of wealth accumulation and economic empowerment towards women.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We are lucky that we’ve had more wins than mistakes. While rideshare was gaining steam, we noticed a gap in the market. No one was providing safe and reliable rideshare experience to women, children and families. There was demand but little supply. Had we ignored the demand, it would have been a disservice to millions of women who had been looking for a safe rideshare experience and liberty to earn without the fear of their safety being endangered by driving after-hours with unvetted passengers. We are a rideshare choice for women, children and for everyone who values safety and female empowerment. When it comes to mistakes, some of us fail to act because of the fear of failure, but we should remember that these failures and mistakes are our best teachers.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

When we launched the Safr app to test the market, we realized we had hit the tipping point where we received a higher-than-expected number of downloads all over the US and the world. We have an incredible opportunity to provide a safe rideshare service to women, children and elderly but also to provide social and economic empowerment to the 58% of the world’s population — women.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Working on Safr, a rideshare startup focused on women’s empowerment through safe transportation, is the most exciting thing I have ever done. The economist in me always sought to make a difference in this world and I am proud to do that with a team of intelligent and driven colleagues. While growing up in a developing country and traveling through the region in my early years, I realized the importance of active involvement of women in the GDP of a country. Women still struggle for economic and social independence in many parts of the world, and personal safety should be least of their concerns. Existing transportation services have not been serious about the safety of women and their families, as their focus has been on global domination. Furthermore, they have underreported the criminal activity and sexual assault problem that is rampant in the rideshare sector. For riders, Safr is about providing a safe transportation alternative to women, children and the elderly. For drivers, our mission is to provide equal and better opportunities for those who wish to earn higher-than-average compensation on a flexible schedule. Safr believes that once people can move freely in their countries and communities, without fearing for their safety, they contribute more towards the growth of their families and nation. We are here to support them.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

People are simple and at core they want to satisfy needs in the most basic, simple and pure way. Therefore, the brand, messaging, and its communication should be simple, honest and direct. Marketers often complicate what could be a very simple product or service. Even a wise person sometimes cannot see the answers right in front of them. The way around this problem is to ensure you have a good team, do you market research and due diligence, and test your product before rolling it out on a large scale. If your product or service touches your heart, chances are that it will speak to others’ hearts as well. At Safr, we believe in the simplicity and purity of our message. We have created programs that actively involve our target market as Captains, Ambassadors and Heroes. We believe in the power of our market to communicate our message to others effectively and with passion.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Advertising is an extension of brand marketing. It’s imperative that your advertising reflects the ethos of your company and its brand. At Safr, we have not only created a great brand that can resonate with our target market, but we also pay close attention to how we communicate with our market. All of our programs are geared towards women’s empowerment and safety. Last year we introduced Safr’s Captains program, which allows women from every zip code in the United States to be able to empower other fellow women and their families through safe transportation. The underlying idea was to encourage ownership of our brand and to offer economic empowerment for women who may be interested in working with us in their zip codes. Since the introduction of our program, we have received thousands of applications from all over the country and the reason behind is that our advertising has taken a form of conversation with our market.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Your brand is the representation of you when you are there, and even when you are not. It distinguishes your product and service from hundreds of others in the market and creates a clear image of you and your company in people’s minds. At Safr, we invested early in branding, creating the right font, color and an easily-recognizable beacon parachute icon consistent with our message. We understood that our brand should be able to speak with our core business of rideshare consumers and drivers, but also properly position us as the rideshare platform of the future. Investing resources and energy into building a brand that will last the test of time is imperative. Create a great brand, and build the foundation for both short- and long-term success.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Small and large companies alike have transformed their businesses with rebranding, from KFC changing its name from the longer Kentucky Fried Chicken, to Yahoo evolving from a search engine to a digital information platform. Market trends, customer preferences and current events can compel a brand to make necessary changes to both the branding as well as product or service. Safr is a leading female-focused rideshare company that will change the sector for the better, forcing the competition to rethink their businesses and introduce better safety measures. Regardless of what rideshare the consumer chooses, Safr believes that the consumer deserves a higher industry-wide standard. Prior to Safr, it seemed like larger players were free to do whatever they wanted, without having to adhere to quality and safety standards. We are proud to be considered a market leader in our vertical; this is due to the massive support we have been getting from all over the world.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Any rebranding effort may come with an inherent risk of losing customers, but done correctly, the chances of significant upside are much greater. Recently, in the aviation industry we saw the failure of Boeing’s flagship aircraft and the ensuing relaunch of the same aircraft under a new brand. Every company has to evaluate if their current brand image is working for them, is it attracting the right kinds of customers, and if a rebranding effort is necessary. A rebranding can not only help secure new customers, if done in an authentic manner, it can keep old customers happy as well. At Safr, our brand was created to speak to our target audience and to empower them through our platform. We believe that Safr as a brand will actively engage women from around the US and around the world and urge everyone to be a part of this movement.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

When it comes to branding, re-branding and communication of the brand with its target audience, keep your objectives — and customers — in mind. With nearly three decades of experience, here are my best tips on how a company can re-energize their brand and image:

1. Create a strong brand identity. A brand is a depiction of your company’s goal and mission. Understand and communicate it well. At Safr, we wanted to clearly communicate that we are a safer alternative to other rideshares and that we are the besst transportation technology platform. We created a brand called “Safr” and used a customized font and safety beacon or safety parachute as our symbol.

2. Conduct market research. Before re-branding your image, solicit help from your target market. Allow them to help you better understand their needs and what they would like to see from you. At Safr, we understood the demand for a safe rideshare platform that allows women to drive and ride with us in a safe and secure manner.

3. Make it easy to use and understand. Your brand should easily convey the essence of your company in few words and phrases. Try not to complicate it or confuse your audience. Safr’s mission of women’s empowerment through safe transportation sums up its mission through its brand and its magenta-colored beacon. We want people to download it, use it and benefit from it — with the click of a button.

4. Focus on brand adoption. Consumer adoption and acceptance of your brand is very important when you are trying to create a new service. If your brand is easily adopted and shared by your market, you have a winning formula. We have been lucky to have more people joining our platform and movement without much marketing and effort.

5. Deliver an outstanding customer experience. No matter what you do, always remember that your presence in the market is because of your customers so make sure you serve them well. Your brand should encompass all your strengths and convey them to your market. Make it about people first.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Companies all over the world understand the benefits of initiating a brand makeover. There are plenty of examples where companies started off doing one thing, and over time, completely changed their business models. Although Amazon started as an online book retailer, it is now the largest retailer in the world encompassing every product on the planet. When American automakers were under attack from German and Japanese car makers and were losing their market, Ford Motor Company brilliantly positioned its brand as an all-American symbol of innovation and transportation. McDonalds is another example of interesting brand makeover, modernizing their store formats and increasing menu selection. Similarly, the Safr brand makeover from earlier version of “Safeher” was an interesting journey that took us to the more communicative and powerful brand name of Safr. Successful companies develop a strong vision for their offerings, including an audience and growth path, and smartly go through a brand makeover when necessary.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Even in the 21st century, we are still trying to educate the majority of people about all the injustices that should have been realized and remedied long ago. It’s important to understand that 58% of the world’s population, women, own very little of the global wealth. Women make 34% less than men but spend 38% more than men on their transportation. At Safr, we strongly believe that the provision of women-focused rideshare that promises safety and empowerment is only the beginning. Safr has so much potential when it comes to truly empowering its users, their families and friends by offering them economic and social freedom, access to more opportunities and helping them realize their dreams. I encourage everyone to sign up to be alerted when Safr is available in your city. Download our app for iPhone here and Android here and visit us at

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

We must focus first on making a positive impact in the world, and good things will follow. A wise man once said, we as humans don’t know where we will end up, but all our lives we act like we know everything. Sometimes it’s important to understand that we don’t know the answers of every question. It’s okay to not know all the answers; do what you can today to solve problems and create solutions. This is the only true way to improve human society. By admitting that we don’t know every answer, we can remain humble and have a better perspective of our life in this world. The important thing is to do what you can today with the information you have. You will have more information tomorrow.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn at, on Facebook at and on Twitter @syedzgilani. I also have my website and you can read my opinions, interviews and other work there.

Syed Gilani of Safr: “Brand Makeovers; 5 Things You Should Do to Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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