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Agile responses to marketing challenges: Unilever and Grab on collaboration for good

The partnership covers Grab’s transport, GrabFood, GrabMart and GrabExpress services.

With countries in South East Asia (SEA) working hard to ensure their people’s health and safety needs are met during the Covid-19 pandemic, transportation and adapting to the digital economy have become extremely critical, leading to two big brands in the region coming together.

Singapore-based super app Grab and FMCG giant Unilever have joined forces to protect Grab drivers and riders on its ride-sharing platform, as well as support the livelihoods of small business owners as they weather the impact of the pandemic.

“Working with Grab will give Unilever the opportunity to create a clean and safe commute for drivers, passengers and customers, while also enabling small retailers in South East Asia – many of whom do not yet have a digital presence – to expand their reach into e-commerce to support their livelihoods,” Aseem Puri, chief marketing officer at Unilever explains to The Drum.

The partnership covers Grab’s transport, GrabFood, GrabMart and GrabExpress services. Unilever’s personal and home hygiene brands such as Lifebuoy and Cif will support Grab drivers to deliver safer and more hygienic rides under GrabProtect.

Russell Cohen, the group managing director at Grab, tells The Drum it was natural for the app to partner Unilever as it addresses some of the challenges Grab’s partners face today, while also supporting the increased demand for online retail and home deliveries during this period.

By pooling both brands’ resources together, he hopes they are able to develop an agile response to address the key challenges their respective customers and partners face.

For example, Grab and Unilever is setting up virtual ice cream stores listed on the Grab platform which will offer users instant access to their favourite Unilever ice cream brands. Orders are fulfilled by Unilever retailers located nearest to the consumer, a majority of which are offline businesses such as neighbourhood mom-and-pop shops and ice-cream carts.

Unilever will utilize their GrabExpress fleet to ship stock from warehouses to retailers - giving them a way to respond quickly to real-time demand. This also creates additional and diversified income sources for Grab’s driver-partners as well.

“A new normal has arisen with the pandemic. Consumers are shifting to more online purchases, while they continue to have heightened health and safety awareness. This has also impacted businesses, particularly small and offline businesses that have had to quickly pivot online in order to sustain their livelihoods, while also ensuring that they keep up to new safety regulations,” says Cohen.

“Grab and Unilever is aligned on our goal to help our community tide through the impact of this pandemic. By bringing together our resources - such as Grab’s platform and consumer reach, and Unilever’s product range and network of retailers - we’ve identified many areas of synergy that allow us to better serve the needs of consumers while creating more opportunities for small businesses and our delivery partners.”

To identify the challenges that people from all walks of life in SEA are facing, both brands are tapping into their wide network around the region to understand the ground. For Grab, Cohen says the app has kept its ears close to the ground, as well as relying on its data.

GrabProtect, for example, notes Cohen, is an added precautionary measure that Grab has in place to protect the well-being of its passengers and driver-partners, especially given the heightened hygiene awareness that Grab has observed across the board.

Unilever is using its in-house market research team to analyse data from social media, consumer care lines and digital marketing to respond directly to consumer feedback, explains Puri.

“We are seeing a concern for safety and hygiene, which is why we launched Safer Meals Philippines as part of the GrabProtect programme. GrabFood merchants and delivery partners will receive hygiene kits that include Lifebuoy hand gel and Cif multipurpose cleaner to use in their restaurants or stores,” he says.

“By teaming up for the GrabProtect service, we are pleased to be able to help communities with our known and trusted hygiene products as well as providing education on correct use. Besides Grab’s multi-vertical services, Unilever is also partnering with hotel chain OYO to provide their staff and guests with hygiene products to be safer on the go.”

With Grab being focused on using technology to solve everyday problems and Unilever working to make sustainable living commonplace, the coming together of brands could be a way of solving big, global challenges, such as the global pandemic, climate change and social inequality. Big problems like these will need collaboration and such partnerships could become more commonplace.

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