Ananya Pathak
Road To Recovery

"Will lead with actions, not just ads": Sanjay Gupta, Uber

Uber's global brand director, APAC, says hygiene and safety have temporarily replaced traditional category benefits like price and availability.

When the Coronavirus pandemic broke out earlier this year, most businesses had no idea of what to expect in the coming months. Strategies tanked, campaigns were scrapped, and sales dipped. This was also the case with cab-hailing service Uber India – the brand that facilitated 14 million rides a week in the country last year, as per a February 2020 report.

The American multinational company’s global brand director, APAC, Sanjay Gupta finds these unprecedented times difficult. He is looking at ‘re-learning’ and ‘re-adapting’ in the post-lockdown world.

Sanjay Gupta
Sanjay Gupta

The marketer has around two decades of experience in global, regional and local marketing roles across tech, e-commerce and consumer goods brands. Before joining Uber in May 2017, he was the chief marketing officer at Urban Ladder, an e-tailer of online furniture, decor and interior design services, for over a year. He has headed marketing – wellness and youth at Marico, and has also worked for Purple Squirrel Consulting and Accenture in the past.

afaqs! spoke to him about the 'unique' marketing challenges in 2020, and how the brand, which earned Rs 1,414 crore revenue in 2019, is dealing with them.

Edited excerpts:

As the country 'unlocks', transport is going to be a big question. Also, today, you don't just rival Ola, but the entire used car market. How do you appraise the situation?

These are unprecedented times and difficult to crystal gaze. Global reports indicate 70-90 per cent decrease in public-transit ridership in major cities across the world. Operators will need to implement and control strict hygiene protocols, such as compulsory face masks, restricting the number of riders, disinfection of vehicles, etc.

At Uber, we envision riders in the ‘new normal’ to expect the highest standards of safety, reliability and affordability. Despite these immediate trends, mobility will always remain a basic need to keep cities moving. Operators will need to adjust their strategies to focus more on hygiene and safety as explained above. The need of the hour will be to invest in technology that will ensure the safety of citizens.

During the first phase of the crisis, it’s been heartening to see our communities come together with a collective sense of responsibility. As we move into the 'new normal', it’s our goal to encourage this same sense of shared responsibility. Uber, riders, drivers — we all have a role to play in keeping each other safe!

Walk us through the safety measures being taken by the brand.

Over the past few months, Uber has launched a comprehensive set of safety measures. These include the Go Online Checklist and a mandatory mask policy for both the riders and the drivers. Then, pre-trip mask verification selfies for the drivers, mandatory driver education around COVID-19 related safety protocols, and an updated cancellation policy, where both the riders and the driver can cancel trips if they don’t feel safe. Uber is also distributing over three million masks, and 200,000 bottles of disinfectants and sanitisers to its driver partners, free of cost.

Our new campaign, #SaferForEachOther, aims to underscore that safety, too, can spread if each rider sanitises their hands, wears a mask, and doesn’t travel when sick, thereby making the entire platform safer for the next rider. The campaign highlights ‘self-care spreads safety’, and that riders can start a chain reaction, whereby each rider makes the platform safer for the next one boarding the car.

The digital first campaign is aimed to dispel some of these fears by showcasing the comprehensive measures we’ve taken to ensure greater platform safety. Vehicle disinfection before each ride, in-app safety features, mandatory masks policy, safety kit distribution to drivers - and some of the steps that riders, too, can take to contribute to a safer platform.

With this, we aim to build a shared view on safety, where riders care about their safety and take all the recommended safety precautions to keep themselves safe, thereby ensuring the safety of the driver and the next rider as well. We will focus on reaching our riders, leveraging a mix of efficient and impact media, including our owned media channels, digital and traditional media.

"Uber is distributing over three million masks, and 200,000 bottles of disinfectants and sanitisers to its driver partners, free of cost."
Sanjay Gupta
"The campaign is aimed at dispelling fears by showcasing measures we’ve taken to ensure safety."
Sanjay Gupta

The usual tenets of marketing may not apply in these times. What are the marketing challenges unique to 2020, and what have you learnt in the process?

These are challenging times for both the markets and the brands, with no precedent to follow. The pandemic has forced us all to rethink how we approach our work and brand strategies.

While there is no 'one-plan-suits-all', in these challenging times, there are three things that marketing teams should focus on. First, start with the customer, understand how their needs have evolved, their expectations from the category, and reimagine the product portfolio to cater to these needs.

Second, focus on safety and hygiene. Any business that needed physical contact with the customer will need to reimagine their processes, hygiene protocols and assure customers that they are safe to use. And finally, lead with actions, not just ads. Now more than ever, brands should focus on creating tangible solutions that enable customers to navigate the 'new normal', and not gloss over by simply creating COVID-19 ads.

"Brands should create tangible solutions that enable customers to navigate the 'new normal', and not gloss over by simply creating COVID-19 ads."
Sanjay Gupta

Going forward, what role will communication play? What has changed on that front?

As we gradually transition to the 'new normal' and resume normal lives, the biggest challenge brands will face is to win back customer trust, confidence and loyalty. Today, more than ever, tone matters. The need will be to focus on campaigns and communication which are authentic and reaffirm the safety measures being taken by the brand.

At Uber, we believe safety is a shared responsibility. As we all adjust to a 'new normal', it’s time to expand the collective responsibility demonstrated during the first phase of this crisis to this critical new phase of recovery.

In times when hygiene is the biggest worry of consumers, what equity does discount hold?

The hierarchy of benefits that are important to our customers keep evolving. The pandemic has resulted in an alteration of the hierarchy. Today, safety, hygiene safety in particular, is the top priority for our customers. They want to know if it's safe to travel, then and only then will they consider travelling.

So, it's important to get this right for the drivers and our riders on every trip. Once we deliver on this, then traditional benefits of the category continue to be relevant, like price and availability. But, it is unlikely people will be willing to travel for a lower fare if it’s not considered safe.