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Sulin Lau on hyperlocalizing the Grab experience for every country

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – From its origins as a ride-hailing platform, Grab has since grown into a brand that fulfills the needs of urban Southeast Asians across the region — from deliveries, mobility, financial services, and utilities in one superapp. The need to cater to the growing demands of the region was made even more evident at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, and urgency is the nagging insistent auntie of change,” Sulin Lau, Regional Head of Marketing and Brand at Grab quipped while talking about how the field of marketing has adapted to disruptions and shifts in consumer behavior.

Sulin began her career at Grab in 2019 as Regional Head of Country Marketing, and has held chief marketing titles previously: she was Head of Agency in Southeast Asia for Facebook from 2017 to 2019, and held the role of Head of Marketing Services and eCommerce at Malaysia-based telecommunications company Maxis for four years.

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Sulin Lau, Regional Head of Marketing and Brand at Grab

Grab has flourished under Sulin’s wing; regarded for her fresh and passionate work, she has grown the widely successful Southeast Asian platform and worked its “magic” to bring more of what people love by hyper-localizing the app experiences in every country.

Through Sulin’s leadership, Grab has accomplished remarkable and out-of-the-box campaigns, merging new and upcoming tech with the beating heart and soul of their audiences.

In 2021, Grab stood in support with Indonesia after it became the epicenter of the Covid-19 virus, turning its promo code platform into the “easiest, most massive Covid-19donation collection platform in the country.” Users simply had to key in the code “BERSATU” to donate.

Through the power of artificial intelligence, Grab also launched GrabFood Delivery Doodles, which guesses what you or your child wants based on one’s doodle. The initiative was launched in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Finally, in December, Grab launched a new Beta feature called “100+ Cities Delivery,” allowing Grab users in any country to send Christmas treats to their friends and families in 100+ cities across Southeast Asia where GrabFood or GrabMart is present — such as overseas Filipinos in Singapore sending over their favorite dish to a sibling in Bacolod and vice versa.

Sulin is a go-getter by nature. It’s no surprise that Grab was able to launch an immersive brand experience for users, drivers, and small businesses, all pieces that form the backbone of their app. The Grab CMO chats with adobo Magazine about brand purpose and how today’s marketing practice can help contribute to the greater good.

The field of marketing has evolved in the past decade — more so as the industry faced massive disruption amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As plans to rebuild and recover are underway around the world, how do you foresee the industry moving forward amid these changes?

Marketing today is more resilient, more purposeful, and more inspiring than it was two years ago. From ground events to car showrooms, lots of tried and tested marketing methods that hadn’t changed much in 50 years suddenly had to be reinvented, and marketing is much better for it. For example, we’ve seen many brands — from air purifiers to skincare — leverage our network of food and mart merchants and our fleet partners (via GrabAds) to reinvent old school product sampling in a much more immersive and scalable way.

The past two years have been rife with talk about the “new normal” consumer. As we make headway into 2022, what are your thoughts on the “new normal consumer” and how has this new behavior affected your marketing framework, objectives, and strategies?

I guess what we’ve all learned is the only constant is constant change. Every single time anyone declares “THIS is the new normal,” the world flips again. In a world of constant sudden change, Grab’s unique ability to get “instant real-person insights” via our app platform itself helps us be far less reliant than other brands on traditional survey research methodologies that are hampered in both speed and sampling precision.

In your opinion, how important is it for brands and marketers to create a brand experience for their consumers? What should brands take note of in conceptualizing these experiences, especially in 2022?

(Read more on Grab Bersatu untuk Indonesia)

Above all, be useful.

When brands sincerely adopt the lens of usefulness, even the most mundane things can transform into powerful tools for change. Last August, when Indonesia was hit with a big surge in Covid-19 infections, Grab turned our humble promo code feature into a massive donation crowdfunding campaign. In just 3+ weeks, over 700,000 users donated IDR3.7 billion (about US$258,000 or PHP13.5 million) towards Covid-19relief efforts in 19 Indonesian cities by simply typing “BERSATU” (translation “United as One”) into the promo code bar.

What makes an effective campaign? Could you share with us your creative process? Can you share with us some case studies or campaigns that you have done that showcase the points on effectiveness and your creative thinking process as shared above?

There’s a difference between effective marketing and uncommonly effective marketing. Both are important to every marketer, but they employ very different muscles from a marketing leader to achieve.

To be commonly effective, CMOs have to utilize every iota of proven best practice by institutionalizing rigor, thoroughness and discipline such as mobile-first creatives, proper event tagging in analytics, et cetera.

To be uncommonly effective, a marketing leader has to work on energy, motivation and relationship with partners — creating the kind of psychologically safe environment where open mindedness, curiosity and exploration can thrive. Where everyone — whether my internal team or external partners and agencies — feel the joy of experimentation.
If we get things right, our teams will be far less afraid of proposing so-called “crazy ideas” because by then, hopefully no idea sounds too crazy.

Pandemic-inspired examples include GrabDelivery’s Doodle Feature, catering to bored kids stuck at home when schools are closed. Why not use AI to scan kids’ doodles of cakes, satay and pizzas into instant GrabFood orders to support struggling F&B merchants?

(Read more on Grab Delivery Doodles)

We also found that 60 percent of Grab users wished they could send gifts instantly to friends and families in other cities or other countries they haven’t seen in person due to pandemic travel restrictions. Our marketing team worked with the product team to launch an experimental Beta feature called 100+ Cities Delivery, just in time for Christmas 2021.

Last Christmas, millions of Overseas Filipino Workers unable to return to the Philippines got to surprise their loved ones back home in Cebu or Bacolod with gifts delivered via GrabMart and GrabFood in 30 minutes — again enabling additional income and sales for merchants in 100+ cities across Southeast Asia.

Brand purpose and authenticity have been front and center in campaigns in recent years, how do these tie into your brand story and in creating customer relationships?

Social purpose and digital inclusion is core to The Grab Way. Our Grab for Good programs include: assisting people with disabilities to earn a living via Grab, reducing our environmental footprint and encouraging consumers and partners to opt for greener choices, expanding financial, digital and business literacy through driver and merchant academies, connecting local farmers to digital consumers, and many more initiatives.

What marketing trends or projections are you most keen to see materializing this year?

Over the years, Grab’s own marketing teams have been using our own Superapp platform to discover many incredible consumer insights, turning these insights into interesting campaigns. This year, one of my personal resolutions is to be more proactive in sharing all the wonderful stuff Grab’s own marketing teams have learned to help other brands and advertisers unlock the true potential of Superapp Advertising.

adobo presents Meet the Remarkable Marketers of Asia 2022 Series, where we feature some of the most fearless, agile, and creative brand leaders across Asia. They share inspiration, insights, and key learnings that have shaped their business, from surpassing industry benchmarks and launching effective campaigns, to initiating best practices as they navigated through uncertain times.

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