Ken Mandel, Regional Head of GrabAds and Brand Insights, speaks with DealStreetAsia about the evolution of GrabAds from “ads on taxis” to a full-fledged online-to-offline digital marketing solution.
What do you think are some of the most significant changes and additions made to GrabAds since its launch in August 2018? What were some of the impulses that drove these changes?
When GrabAds was launched in 2018, we were focused on fleet ads (car wraps) and in-car tablets. Ever since, we have evolved to become a full-fledged advertising platform offering an extensive on-ground fleet of vehicles, a vibrant digital presence with digital marketing capabilities that match, and user insights for better customer targeting. These elements combine to make us the ideal online-to-offline (O2O) partner for advertisers to reach and engage their audience.
For example, on the one hand, we have our 4-wheel and 2-wheel vehicles across Southeast Asia that give advertisers access to an extensive network of ‘moving billboards’ on the roads. On the other, our mobile app can put online brand ads in front of our large active user base with over 187 million downloads of our app. We have users in 351 cities across eight countries in Southeast Asia.
We officially moved into this online advertising space with the launch of our GrabAds Masthead in June 2020. The Masthead sits along the top of the home screen when launching the Grab app, representing one of our most prominent ad spaces. The positioning gives brands maximum exposure and includes a landing page to direct users to a relevant Grab service, advertiser site or details page for better engagement.
This year, to help our partners grow and thrive online as COVID-19 hit the region, we also launched GrabMerchant. It includes Ad Manager, an ad creation and analytics tool tuned for SMBs that empowers merchant-partners to build their own food banner and food search ads in one place. Timely consumer insight is critical. Ads are a key pillar to business growth and so we have enabled brands to track their ad performance in real-time.
Beyond offering new tools, we introduced more format options. While customer communication has always been important, the evolving nature of the COVID-19 situation means brands need to communicate even more – and more meaningfully – to keep their customers updated and interested.
To do this, many of our partners have adopted our new Rewarded Ads product, which rewards consumers with Grab Points. Businesses are looking to instantly ‘give back’ to their customers who interact with them, while at the same time communicating their messages. These points can then be offset by users for their transport, food costs or the purchase of an item from our reward catalogue.
In a recent interview with Campaign, you spoke about how initially, GrabAds was viewed – even internally – as ads on taxis. Could you take us through how that change in perspective caught on within the organization?
Since the launch of GrabAds, the key question we’ve been asking ourselves is: How can we help our partners create ads that drive business outcomes? While we initially started with fleet ads (car wraps) and in-car tablets, this question has driven our transformation to becoming a full-fledged O2O advertising platform.
From the outset, our vision has been to create an offering that is different from other digital platforms. One that can span the entire customer journey, while empowering brands with behavioural data along the way. To do this, we leveraged our existing technology and invested in building the necessary infrastructure, so our advertising offering now covers everything from awareness through consideration to purchase.
We also understand that, at the end of the day, business leaders want to know if their ads are working and what the return on investment is. We now have the right infrastructure in place so that businesses can track this sort of data in real-time.
I’m also constantly challenging my team to think outside the box, to see how we can create offerings for our merchants and ad partners that put the consumer at the center. For example, inspired by the gaming industry, we created a program that gives something back to users for interacting with an ad, and works for advertisers – something I call the ‘flywheel effect’. It drives conversions by rewarding users who complete an action such as watching a video, filling out a survey or applying for a credit card, thereby increasing both engagement and conversion simultaneously.
Your recent presentation to launch the Masthead product was interspersed with interesting insights gleaned from users on the Grab platform. Could you give us a few examples of how marketing strategies have been refined and sharpened based on these insights?
The strength of GrabAds platform is the wide user base, with the Grab App downloaded in more than 187 million mobile devices. The rich audience data based on real-life behavior derived from different touchpoints from transportation to food services, combined with a rewarded ads experience makes GrabAds a compelling platform to connect with audiences in a relevant way, driving high returns on advertising spend regardless of campaign objectives.
Marketing companies have been claiming for a while now that they want partners with first-party data and for their ads to be showcased in a brand safe environment. How have they responded to the GrabAds offering?
The need to provide more personalized, relevant customer experiences is forcing marketers to pay attention to where their data is sourced from. GrabAds is a compelling offering for advertisers as we can provide both standardized and custom audience segments for targeting first-party, action-based audiences unique to Grab.
In addition, our native ad units are seamlessly integrated within the Grab app ecosystem, giving companies access to premium, brand safe and fraud free inventory on 1 in every 4 smartphones in Southeast Asia.
Which are currently the largest markets for GrabAds and what sets them apart?
Our largest market Indonesia is firing on all cylinders with a good mix of merchants, agency and brand advertisers. Singapore has also had very strong performance with some top brands and a growing ecommerce advertiser portfolio. We see a lot of potential in the majority if not all of our markets.
A perennial bugbear of targeted advertising is it makes customers wary – how does GrabAds walk the fine line between being relevant and non-intrusive?
Our suite of native ad solutions aims to deliver relevant and cohesive ads that are well integrated across and within the Grab app ecosystem. By creating an environment where there is a seamless transition between in-app content and marketing messages, we not only create a better experience for our users, but also deliver optimal engagement to our advertising partners.
Could you take us through the evolution of the partner ecosystem at Grab? In a post-COVID world, is the car as a convenience store model that was being pursued a while back via the Cargo partnership still as relevant?
We have sunset this particular Cargo partnership, but we are in discussions with various partners in the physical goods space as we eventually move out of our current Covid world. In 2018, we launched a FMCG sampling business where we can distribute physical samples to consumers via our various physical consumer touchpoints, and then digitally remarket to consumers who were receptive to the sample.
What sort of an impact has COVID-19 had on the GrabAds trajectory? How do you foresee the product changing in the near future?
As the pandemic hit, we remained agile and evolved alongside the public health crisis so we could continue to support our partners and users across our different verticals. A common trend we saw was that COVID-19 increased technology adoption and shifted many businesses’ operations online. Not to mention, with lockdowns and work-from-home arrangements in place, consumer movement and shopping behaviors have changed and moved online too.
While economies are picking-up, we expect that these trends will persist and continue to evolve in their own right, and with offline channels disrupted, we have been and will continue working with brands to offer them new digital ways to promote and transform their businesses.
We have always been focused on supporting partners with offline and digital advertising capabilities, so we were already operating in this space. However, COVID-19 accelerated our innovation process and the openness of merchants in our ecosystem to adopt our digital offerings.
For example, as part of the launch of Grab’s Small Business Booster Programme in June, we embarked on a series of campaigns in Singapore where we worked with consumers to create ads for their favorite merchants. These ads, which were featured on prominent channels throughout the app, were highly successful with featured merchants collectively seeing an average of 20 per cent increase in orders week-on-week.
Additionally, we also launched GrabMerchant – an all-in-one, self-serve merchant platform for business owners to help grow their online customer base and optimize their operations while keeping costs in check. As mentioned, a key feature of this platform is the ads creation and analytics tool which empowers businesses to build and track performance of their own food banner and food search ads. With many merchants going online during this period, the tool helps them continue to go and grow online in the months to come.
Although countries are easing measures, one of the key challenges will be getting people to go back to offline retail outlets. To encourage this and support businesses during this recovery period, we launched online-to-offline (O2O) closed-loop ads, which includes rewards that customers can only redeem in a brand’s physical retail outlet through GrabPay or unique verification codes. Customers simply save the offer in their Grab Wallets and subsequently use it at the offline point-of-sale, where the retailer can then determine the attribution of the ad, effectively closing the loop.
As businesses embark on their recovery journey and operate in the post-pandemic landscape, we will continue to enhance and create online and offline offerings that help our partners reach and engage existing and new audiences, while improving brand loyalty.
With certain markets in the region opening up, how is the O2O Closed Loop program working out? Can we have a few examples of this in action?
Approximately 90 per cent of users in Southeast Asia still make their final purchase in-store and not online. Our O2O Last Mile solution reaches consumers online through the Grab homepage feed and then drives them to purchase offline at our partners’ brick and mortar stores.
These integrated campaigns are an exciting component of the GrabAds offering, giving advertisers the opportunity to not only increase in-store traffic, but also to connect and measure their online advertising with offline sales providing them with real-time ROI.
In a previous DealStreetAsia story on in-app advertising, Credit Suisse’s Varun Ahuja, a telecoms and internet analyst had said ‘The contribution of in-app advertising revenue to Southeast Asian unicorns’ revenue is still small currently, and will take some time before it makes a meaningful difference.’ How do you respond to this statement, given the development and evolution of the GrabAds product?
Grab has a diversified business model, and GrabAds is one of many growing verticals. As we explore more monetization opportunities on our platform, we are doubling down on our GrabAds offerings to both merchants and brands in various industry sectors such as FMCG, financial services, travel and hospitality and TMT (Telco, Media and Technology).
While much of what we are doing in this space is new, the size and dedication of our user base across Southeast Asia’s many distinct markets uniquely positions us to offer a strong product to advertisers.
This content was created in partnership with Grab. Please visit GrabAds to know more about the advertising options and offering available on the Grab platform