"Brand Aware” explores the data-driven digital ad ecosystem from the marketer's point of view.
The project seemed fairly straightforward: Here's a city where our food delivery marketplace needs to accelerate growth. Here's a budget to buy some ads. Buy some billboards, spend some money on Facebook – that's all it should take to turn this around.
And yet, the route taken by two employees on the growth team was anything but buying ads, their tool set was anything but marketing and their results were beyond anything I ever expected.
What did they do? We'll get there, but first, some context.
Grubhub’s food delivery business is hyperlocal – having lots of restaurants on the Upper East Side in Manhattan doesn't matter for consumers ordering food in Brooklyn. As such, we need to approach each city – really, each neighborhood – as a separate marketplace in its own right. And if one ever struggles to gain traction, we send in "special forces" – folks who can turn that city around.
These folks diagnose the issue, and if it's about demand – not enough consumers, not enough awareness – they do what all marketers do: Buy ads. They increase the bids on Google, start new campaigns on Facebook and buy local TV. It's a well-understood playbook because that's what everyone else does.
And yet, these two women on the growth team saw their job as much more than marketing. They genuinely wanted to turn that market around – not check the box. So they put themselves in the shoes of our customers and started experiencing the product for themselves – "dogfooding." They found fairly quickly that the number of food photos for restaurants in that market were quite small, which made it difficult for our customers to find something appetizing to order. Consumers eat with their eyes, and based on what Airbnb did early in its history, there might be an opportunity for us to aggressively pursue food photography too.
So these go-getters called hundreds of restaurants in this city and scheduled appointments for photographers to do food photo shoots. They spent the next two months on the phone, arranging appointments with restaurant owners.
They then organized an A/B test for our consumer apps. Some visitors saw the new photos, others didn't; then, they looked at conversion improvements. We compared the efficacy of this investment against our "normal" marketing channels – Facebook, Google, etc. – and learned that this turned out to be the best possible way for us to invest money to drive growth in this city.
Happy ending, right? Heck no. After these initial results, these folks claimed that the process wasn't good enough, that they had a radical improvement in the works. Instead of the time-intensive and cancellation-prone phone tag with the restaurant owners, they rented Airbnbs and photo studios across town, and had the food delivered by our own Grubhub drivers to those photo shoots. This drastically cut down the phone tag and massively improved the throughput of the most expensive piece of the operation: the photographers.
My reaction to this plan? "A photo shoot of delivered food? It doesn’t really look appetizing!"
Luckily, they were determined to prove me wrong, so they showed me the first photos from the test. These pics looked a lot better than those taken at the restaurants because food stylists are amazing at their jobs and controlling the lighting and plating is a powerful factor. And, the costs were much lower.
Unsurprisingly, this operations-heavy effort turned out to be the most customer-centric and remarkably efficient route for driving growth. This duo of marketers who discovered this powerful growth tactic really taught me what the growth team is supposed to do: Drive growth, through any means necessary.
Growth means performance marketing. And brand. And operations. And product. And everything that it takes to actually grow your business.