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Get To Know Samuel Keret, Global Director Of Waze Ads

What have the marketing strategies been for Waze?

Waze is so synonymous with our lives right now.  Honestly, I cannot remember how life was before Waze (or any other GPS services, for that matter).  Waze has the power to move people, literally yet engaging them. Can you walk us back to when Waze first started?

Waze initially started as a project that Ehud Shabtai was working on called Free Map Israel, which aimed to build a free digital database of the map of Israel with the help of the community. In 2008, the team expanded with Amir Shinar and Uri Levine joining, and officially changed its name to Waze. The word “Waze” itself is actually a play on the word of ways, as in the variety of ways one can take to get to any location.

The first version of the app was essentially a blank page with a map that was fully created by users as they drove and passed on GPS location points. In the early stages, the founders would encounter a road that was not on the map and they would drive through it a number of times, taking every possible turn, so the system could integrate it. Fast forward to today, we have roads mapped in over 185 countries and a community of 30,000 monthly active map editors who continue to build and update the app so over 115 million monthly active users worldwide can get where they need to be.

It is exciting to see how Waze has grown. As a real-time crowdsourced navigation app, Waze is powered by the world’s largest community of drivers and it has been our mission since then to put people at the heart of our company.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your role at Waze, Samuel?

Sure, my name is Samuel Keret and I am the Global Ads Director for Waze. In my role, I oversee the global ads business of the company, which serves organizations across a wide range of sectors and sizes. I had originally joined Waze in 2008 to lead Sales and Business Development for the location-based ads platform and has remained with the company since then.

I have over 20 years of experience in the mobile space, including marketing, sales and business development roles at startups, technology vendors and mobile carriers.  What many people don’t know is that I am also an adrenaline junkie. In my free time, I enjoy kitesurfing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and also learning to play the drums.  

How many cities are Waze operating in now and how many more are we looking at in the very near future?

Waze has more than 115 million monthly active users across 185 countries. In APAC alone, we have more than 13 million monthly active users, which is a number that will continue to grow.

The idea of a community-based traffic and navigation app is exceptional; people looking out for each other and sharing traffic and road information.  When the idea first came about, was Waze ever concerned about how receptive people will be?

Community is, and will always be at the heart of the app. We believe that people living locally care about their neighbourhoods and know best what’s going on right now. Our mission is to empower them to share that knowledge – be it a new road that just opened in the neighbourhood or a hazard on the road – to everyone else around them.

There are lots of talks about how mobility has paved the way for more relevant and effective marketing.  Tell us about that, Samuel.

Mobile is primarily about handheld devices and platforms, but mobility is bigger than that — it’s about fulfilling consumers’ desire to stay constantly connected and helping people to get tasks done on the move. Mobility-based marketing hinges around the fact that wherever we go these days, we are sure to have our smartphones with us. The various apps we use are modern-day compasses that provide useful tips and recommendations that make going about our daily routines much easier.

In countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, you will see a lot of internet users accessing the web via mobile. In fact, mobile is the first choice when it comes to accessing online content or social media. The accelerated rise of smartphone penetration is also driving increased usage of location-based services across the region, and it did not take long for marketers and advertisers to tap into insights offered by these services to better engage with their customers.

Looking beyond location data, Waze understands mobility patterns of the driving community — where people are driving to, and what they are most in need of while on the road. These mobility insights not only help businesses market their products and services with greater intent, but they also help ensure greater relevance in the ads while also improving the driving experience.

Is Waze selective about who goes in as advertisers?

Waze is the ideal destination-based marketing platform to help brands turn their locations into destinations. Waze is particularly relevant for businesses that prioritize location in their marketing strategy and this includes verticals that Wazers need while on-the-go such as Fuel, Quick-Service Restaurants (QSRs), Auto, Finance (Insurance, Banking, etc.) and Retail. We focus on businesses that believe in the platform as a long-term partner—an always-on presence delivers consistent results for advertisers and a better experience for users.

What have the marketing strategies been for Waze?

From the advertising point of view, our strategy has always been to help brands and advertisers to reach consumers when they are on-the-go. The verticals that we are targeting the most are naturally the ones that Wazers need while on-the-go and this includes Fuel, Quick-Service Restaurants (QSRs), Auto, Finance (Insurance, Banking, etc.) and Retail. Our strategy is to continue to deliver scaled, frictionless advertising solutions with the power to turn a location, be it a restaurant or gas station, into a destination.

Tell us more about how the idea came about fostering ads on Waze.

Today’s mobile-first world presents a huge opportunity for brands and advertisers to target consumers  not only based on their location data, but also through leveraging mobility insights to drive foot traffic straight to the front door of their businesses. By providing targeted content that is specific to consumer needs, location-based marketing not only helps businesses stand out amongst the vast competition, it also fosters brand love and helps consumers feel more connected to the business. With this context, Waze is able to offer different kinds of ads formats including Nearby Arrows, Branded Pins, Zero-Speed Takeovers and Promoted Search, that aim to help businesses raise its brand awareness and drive footfall to stores.

Waze Ads 2.0 and its features are said to foster brand love and convert awareness and relevance, directly into foot traffic.  Can you expand on that, Samuel?

People are on the move now more than ever, making it increasingly difficult for brands to reach customers at the right place and time. As a navigation platform, Waze offers a unique advantage by staying connected with these consumers for their entire journey, understanding the context of their drive: whether they’re commuting to work or taking a leisurely drive; fast-moving or stuck in traffic; time of day; and what stores they will pass along the way.

With these mobility insights, Waze is able to engage its users meaningfully by showing each individual user personalised, contextual and targeted content. This could be a Branded Pin of a nearby café that reminds drivers who need their morning cup of joe that there is a special offer on cappuccinos today. Or Zero-Speed Takeover ads that include a “drive-there” call-to-action which can route drivers to a nearby store location. And as Waze ads move people to that specific store location, this helps to increase the engagement of the user with the brand.

With Waze, a brand has the opportunity to interact with the on-the-go consumers from prompting unplanned reroutes to businesses to becoming top of mind for future journeys and nudging drivers from intent to action.

Asia is having major growth in terms of population.  Is Waze foreseeing any challenges with that and if yes, what are the solutions?

It is no secret that Southeast Asian cities are expanding rapidly. While urbanisation brings with it benefits such as economic growth and human development, the unprecedented pace of growth is creating real challenges. From the lack of adequate housing to limited infrastructure and services, rapid urbanisations can stretch a city’s resources. More often than not, citizens living in these fast-growing Southeast Asian cities spend hours and hours each day just to get from one destination to another. Then there are also the ongoing road upgrades and constructions that seem to happen all the time. All of these factors contribute not only towards increasing travel time, but also road safety risks and more stress.

While there isn’t a single solution that can immediately solve today’s rapid urbanisation challenge, traffic insights can play a big role in improving the livability and efficiency in cities. Whether it is through sharing of data that can help to better prepare for the next record-breaking traffic jam or finding ways to prevent accidents and to improve road conditions, Waze has been able to actively participate in this effort towards building better and smarter cities of the future. We believe that building the cities of the future is not just about adding transport infrastructure or increasing road capacity; it is also about using technologies to optimize existing infrastructure.

Going forward, is there anything we can look out for or look forward to?

We will continue to innovate our products and services to ensure that we remain relevant to all of our audiences. We will continue to work with brands and advertisers to look at how Waze can turn their business locations into destinations.  

It is an exciting time to be engaging with mobile and destination-based advertising platforms. Mobility is paving the way for more purposeful marketing, with the popularity of mobile devices and destination-based services creating valuable insights that can drive critical decision-making for consumers as well as businesses. While the rapid growth of mobile also means an increasingly cluttered digital world, businesses that focus on delivering greater value for customers and keeping ads targeted and contextual will do well to stand out amongst the competition.

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Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen

Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen is the Marketing In Asia's Editor for Singapore. She is also a certified Image Branding & Lifestyle Consultant. Born in Singapore and blessed to have lived in a couple of other amazing cities in the world, Anjalika is currently expatriating in Kuala Lumpur. Follow her on LinkedIn and Instagram. You may also reach her by email at anjalika@marketinginasia.com.

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