‘Betting on ideas’: Why Uber prioritises relevance over perfection

Uber marketing boss Meg Donovan believes that making big, bold bets requires close collaboration between marketing and product, and a willingness to sacrifice perfection in pursuit of relevance.

UberBeing prepared to bet on ideas and choose relevance over perfection helped Uber shift from ride hailing giant to essential delivery service at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at the Festival of Marketing, global director of brand and product marketing, Meg Donovan, explained that in the six years she has spent at the company the focus has always been on experimentation and never more so than in response to Covid-19.

“We’ve always had a cultural value around making big, bold bets. Those are bets that sometimes don’t always pan out. We’re open to experimentation within the company, because we know that even when there are products we put out in the world that don’t necessarily have the impact we’re looking for, at least we as a company can learn from that,” Donovan said.

“It’s embedded within our culture to bet on ideas we think are solving really important needs that aren’t yet met for the consumers we serve.”

She explained that Uber is able to “de-risk” some of these bold bets by ensuring the marketing and product teams work closely together. Donovan herself sits within the product marketing organisation, encompassing roughly 70 people, and her team are just as responsible for understanding the product as they are for understanding the user.

She describes the number one job of a product marketer as thinking about the adoption of the product from day one, meaning taking into account the entire process as you’re defining the positioning and bringing it to market.

“Having marketers who are truly embedded within the product development process helps with moving quickly and being comfortable with experimentation with the product. It ensures we’re not doing so blindly, we’re doing it with the customer in mind,” she said.

It’s embedded within our culture to bet on ideas we think are solving really important needs.

Meg Donovan, Uber

The marketers at Uber are also “equally close” to the customer experience research team, who bring design thinking into the product development process, as well as the market research team, responsible for getting to grips with customer needs.

Donovan explained that at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic Uber had to reorientate the business as people moved from ride hailing to staying at home under global lockdowns. A “huge focus” was placed on Uber Eats and onboarding new restaurants for the legions of consumers stuck at home.

Delivery in general also came to the fore during Uber’s weekly qualitative research groups. The research found that a big barrier for consumers was being housebound and unable to get hold of goods. The company also started to see customers sending friends gifts or essentials via Uber.

From this insight the brand developed Uber Connect, a same-day, on-demand, no-contact delivery service.

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Donovan’s team used research to guide the design of the product and understand how it needed to show up in the app, as well as to devise the name. Developed in a matter of weeks, Uber Connect is now live in almost 200 cities worldwide and has delivered millions of products.

“Typically speaking, some products even within agile tech companies take a year to bring to market because it goes through a lot of testing and experimentation before you get the right product and bring it to market,” she explained.

“In the case of Connect there weren’t as many people using the rider app so we couldn’t do a tonne of experimentation and testing, so we ended up bringing it to the market over a series of weeks rather than months, which is the typical standard.”

Relevance over perfection

Having an agile mindset at Uber means being open to making quick decisions, pivoting when needed and understanding that when a product goes to market it’s not necessarily the finished article. A large part of the process is launching the best possible product and then improving on it over time, focusing less on perfection and more on relevance.

“It was interesting to see agility in practice this year during the pandemic. We’re a business of people who get really excited by solving problems and this was one of the most massive challenges we had ahead of us in terms of defining how to pivot when the conditions have changed so much,” Donovan said.

“For us, that meant not just when we launch products, but when we launch campaigns and messages, optimising for speed and relevance versus perfection. Being ok with not putting the absolutely perfect product or the absolutely perfect message or campaign out there, but being ok with delivering something that’s relevant and timely, and working in small groups to make decisions quickly.”

Uber Eats
Uber Eats became a big focus for the company at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Uber marketing boss is a fan of starting with a big idea and large teams, but then moving quickly to focus efforts on a small working group, an approach which enables you to make decisions at speed.

Back in April, Uber launched its ‘Move What Matters’ initiative in increments, understanding that getting goods or rides to people quickly was more important than a perfectly packaged campaign.

Described as a “large social impact commitment”, Uber said it would serve 23 million deliveries, rides and meals at a global level. The team developed a marketing framework to communicate the Move What Matters message, which was that the best way to flatten the Covid-19 curve was to stay put and let Uber move people and essential goods.

While the campaign was developed at a global level, each region took a slightly different approach appropriate for their market. In the UK the focus was on supplying food and rides to NHS workers, whereas in the US Uber partnered with Feeding America to serve meals to vulnerable people, and in South Africa the service focused on delivering healthcare packages.

Donovan explained that the approach taken at Uber is “freedom within a framework”.

“In order to collaborate well with teams you have to have a really strong, universal vision that can work across regions or disciplines, but at a company like Uber we need to also offer flexibility so people can make that their own and make it feel locally relevant,” she stated.

Donovan is confident that an agile growth mindset – such as the one flourishing at Uber – can be taught, but you must be prepared to acknowledge there is always room to grow and learn.

“Within our culture we have this belief that we see the world as it can be, not as it is today, and that’s our general approach to how we look at product development, how we look at our work – that your job is never really done,” she added. “There’s always an opportunity to push and make a better product or build a better brand.”

Meg Donovan was speaking at the Festival of Marketing. Her session, as well as the rest of the agenda, is available to watch on-demand for those with a digital pass. To buy a pass visit www.festivalofmarketing.com/buy-your-pass.



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