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Uber’s lessons on being digital-first in marketing: design for digital

Uber's Astha Kalbag on designing for digital with marketing

By its nature Uber is a digital-first (perhaps even mobile-first) business but in Asia, where mobile is the primary channel for many of its key audiences, it is business critical to be digitally savvy at all times.

So by being a mobile company in a mobile first region, what lessons has it learnt that less digital businesses can learn from? Astha Kalbag, performance marketing manager for Asia Pacific at Uber, says that Uber has had its fair share of fails and that sometimes the best answers are obvious.

Speaking to The Drum at Millennial 2020 in Singapore last month, Kalbag said the key thing is to be digital-first and not come in with a traditional mindset. Kalbag’s way of describing this approach is around ‘designing for digital’.

“I personally think of myself as a digital-first marketeer and I have been growing up with consuming Facebook etc, but a lot of brands are very traditional, they’ll do something on TV and then push it on another media channel that is digital. What brands really need to do today is design for digital and really understand how consumers behave on mobile and cater to that.,” she says.

“If you think about marketing on mobile, and that is fundamentally where consumers are consuming a lot of content or information, over the time we have learnt quickly (and had our fair share of failures) that there are some things that are so obvious. They are so simple but they really help us win from a marketing perspective,” she adds.

A key thing for Uber was making sure that mobile video content was vertical, particularly on social networks. “When you think about Facebook advertising, vertical videos work really well because that’s the way you consume content, people don’t tilt their phones, brands think they do but they really don’t.”

Another lesson Uber has learnt, again around mobile video content, is that the brand needs to be up front, rather than tailing at the end, due to the shorter tie brands have to grab someone’s attention.

“A really simple example off the back of my mind is having your brand up front or visible and helping users or consumers associate that particular message with your brand. If you have your message at the end, which is how TV would have it, you have actually lost most people,” she explains.

“In my opinion, the most painful thing a brand can do is have great content but people don’t associate that great content with your brand. As a brand, fundamentally you are focused on making sure people know it was created by you, that’s how you create more space in people’s mental availability.”

In terms of people’s mental ability, Kalbag believes that the nature of mobile and social networks has also changed who and what you are competing with for attention.

“From a marketing perspective, you are really not competing with anyone else except from the next scroll and everyone’s attention spans have become so limited. That is just how people behave now and the brands that design to cater to that particular behaviour I believe will win, and we are still on our journey,” she admits.

In Asia, Uber has launched its first major brand campaign ‘Unlocking Cities’, which aims to position Uber as a business that does more than get people from A to B. In an attention-grabbing, and very local, twist Uber recently launched a stunt in Singapore to highlight its parking issues.

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