How data and thinking differently are helping Uber partner successfully

In the latest of our brand partnerships series, Uber's head of marketing A/NZ talks us through how partnerships have built out the brand's position and why thinking differently is key to success

A willingness to move away from doing business the way you’re used to, along with passionate commitment across leadership, are vital for brands looking to striking successful external partnerships, Uber’s head of marketing says.

Partnerships have been core to the rideshare and food delivery business since its early days as a digital disruptor. In fact, partnerships were so dominant, the company didn’t have a marketing organisation when head of marketing for Australia and New Zealand, Andy Morley, first joined the team.

“Because our product is so unique, it gave so many opportunities to have an experiential element to the brand and start to engage with customers in a different way,” he told CMO. “We had a passionate, young and engaged audience where partnerships were important to them as well. With an initially small customer base of our own, working with other brands meant we also built our reach.”

As Morley’s team evolved into more a comprehensive marketing function, partnerships of all different shapes and sizes nevertheless remained core to Uber’s business model. A favourite for Morley has been Uber’s alliance with Optus to help both brands find cut-through on a previous Australia Day. The co-marketing effort saw the pair working on Australia Day to deliver professional cricket umpires - 'UberUmpires' - to umpire backyard cricket games.

More recently and as the COVID-19 global pandemic took hold, Uber aligned with Dettol around the common objective of making rides and transport safer for consumers. The agreement sees Dettol providing hygiene kits made up of its products to ensure drivers to equip their vehicles with hand sanitisers and disinfectants at no cost. It’s part of Uber’s $50 million global commitment to provide cleaning and hygiene equipment.

“When we think about the partnerships most fruitful for us and that get us most excited, it’s where we’re focused on solving a consumer problem,” Morley explained.

A previous and technically-inspired example he pointed to was Uber’s partnership with Spotify allowing consumers waiting for their Uber to connect to their Spotify account and listen to their music choices on their journey.

“That was a neat way of two brands finding a solution where both made the experience happen and it elevated both brands,” Morley said.  

Another form of partnership that’s gained increased emphasis for many brands in 2020 is community impact. Uber was no different and made a global commitment to deliver 10 million free rides and deliveries to people in need.

A longstanding community partnership for Uber is with Wesnet (The Women's Services Network) providing a service for women who have experienced domestic violence needing a ride to be transported to different places of safety. In 2020, this partnership approach was extended to help Lifeline volunteers get into the support service’s phone centres manning community calls for help.

“Calls were going through the roof because of COVID but it was limiting the numbers of staff they could get to service calls. We provided a solution to help with that,” Morley said. “Secondly, if you’re speaking to someone who is in a tough state, we provide transportation that will help them get to someone they know and care about.”  

In addition, Uber partnered up with PetBarn to deliver pet food to consumers – particularly older consumers – uncomfortable with or unable to go out and get pet food during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic locally.

In all of these cases, the brand benefits stretch from reach to accessing new demographics and improving consumer engagement, Morley said.

The rise of data

Increasingly, data insight is informing the partnerships Uber strikes. As a case in point, Morley highlighted the Uber Eats’ data-led partnership with McDonalds. As well as a restaurant partner, the pair undertake co-marketing together and increasingly product collaboration.

Having mined its data to understand what people were ordering at McDonalds, Uber realised significant swathes of users were ordering McFlurry sundaes as well as apple pies. One in four orders on Uber Eats included both a sundae and an apple pie.  

“It was an unusual over index in these products and led us to into research where we found people were getting apple pies to crush them up and put them inside the McFlurry,” Morley said. “We realised it was a key audience doing this. We co-collaborated on an Apple Pie McFlurry, a limited time offer only available via Uber Eats. It sold through the roof. It’s still been the most successful and popular co-product collaboration they have done.

“That was a great example of using data to help build a fresh partnership with commercial impact.”

Finding alignment

While Uber’s partnerships approach is broad, the difference between partnerships struck versus the number of organisations reaching out asking to join forces is significant. Morley said a key inhibitor to any partnership is the level of work and commitment required to foster something with real impact.

“We definitely see a lot of different businesses who want to partner with us underestimating the work involved to make it happen,” he said. “At the heart of it, you need to have a good business innovation or creative idea that excites people and builds momentum to create something of value within both brands. There’s then the effort required to make sure both businesses with very different expectations of what they want from marketing and the market can align.

“On top of this, you have to also find a way to collaborate and bring something to market. That takes real commitment from all parts of the business as it impacts all different resources. That’s why you need a lot of passion to achieve it.”  

For Morley, success also requires a willingness to find a solution outside of what both businesses are currently doing.

“I have seen contracts between businesses go round and round in circles, delaying projects. It often takes a real commitment from one side to say you know what, I’m happy to step outside our normal processes because I’m passionate about this and need a partner for that,” he continued. “People actually have to move away from doing business the way they’re used to. You also need that passion and commitment from all levels of leadership at the start to be able to find the solution that takes the partnership forward and who’ll say it’s ok to do things differently.

“Both brands need to understand how they are going to partner together, where the no-go zones are, what resources they’re going to need on both sides and identify those who’ll champion it to find solutions. And businesses need to show more flexibility – so often, this is where partnerships generally fall over.”

Permission to think differently

While COVID-19’s impact clearly saw partnerships across brands flourishing, Morley isn’t convinced it’s given marketing leaders more permission to explore the idea of external partnership.

“I think it’s more about people who have had a good experience investing in and focusing on partnerships over the last 12 months being inspired to put in the effort required to go down that path,” he said. “From our end, partnership has always been cool – we saw the benefits from the start and we’ll continue to focus on community and co-marketing partnerships, unlocking new retail partnerships and other brand initiatives.

“But I can see why other businesses and brands experiencing these for the first time and who’ve understood what’s actually required to do it are now finding the right partnerships can solve consumer problems.”

As to how Uber is measuring the ROI on partnerships, Morley said it comes down to the distinct objectives of the partnership.

“With the partnerships we do on the community side, one element is making a difference and the smartest place for us to make a difference,” he said. “When it comes to co-marketing, the ROI would be around the commercial objective and what that represents for both parties. For more innovative product partnerships, there’s a clear engagement objective we look at, as well as the innovation itself.”

Sitting across all of this is ensuring scale to make it worthwhile. “I probably get more than 50 emails or LinkedIn hits a week from people who have an idea. But when you look at it, it’s very small scale, or provides interesting things for them but not us in terms of value,” Morley said.

“Until you go through the process, you just don’t know understand just how much is required to do it well and the value impact it needs.”  

And ultimately, impact will come from solving the consumer’s problem, Morley concluded.

“If it’s not a consumer problem that has already surfaced, you will probably find it won’t be super engaging,” he argued. “We have spent a lot of time in workshops with businesses interested in partnering, who have a lot of scale or might be interested in an idea worth exploring, and it’s rarely something mutually beneficial for both sets of customers.

“Going in and being really clear about what is the problem is you’re trying to solve and making sure both parties really are committed to solving that is key, because it is a big risk. But when you do it, it’s magic and can spur a lot of other things, partnerships and ideas.”

This exploration of Uber's partnerships strategy is the latest in a new series of pieces by CMO A/NZ on how marketers can pursue more successful, disruptive partnerships.

Check out the first feature in our series exploring the rise of disruptive partnerships in 2021 here.

Check out how Booktopia's CMO is building the retailer's partnerships might here.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

 

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