Gabey Goh
Dec 14, 2015

Wild west data days are over: Wego CMO

SINGAPORE - When it comes to the handling of data, the ‘wild west’ days of the industry appear to be waning, according to Joachim Holte, chief marketing officer of Singapore-based travel search engine Wego.

Joachim Holte
Joachim Holte

“It used to be quite ‘cowboy’ and crazy, but now it’s fairly tight with the agreements signed with third parties we work with,” he added, during an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific in late October. “Our first-party data is ours and will never be shared, and it’s written into our agreements with DSPs or DMP partners.”

Holte said the situation “used to be a lot worse” but has been improving, though it can still be a messy state of affairs for those who don’t know what they’re doing.

He added that with DMPs and DSPs, it’s not their best interest to share data with others unless you ask them to do so, as part of a revenue-generating effort.

“In which case, you can make money out of that,” Holte said. “There are also services you can use to check if that’s happening or not, but most are very clear about data usage. It’s better now than it used to be.”

Plugging the data gap

Wego has an advertising sales operation, which sells anonymised data as one of its revenue streams.

“For example, if someone is travelling between Singapore and Hong Kong three times in three months, we will sell that anonymised behaviourial data,” he said.

Holte said that the business has been growing, with many interested advertisers in Asia, mainly due to the lack of data available in the market.

“In the US and Europe, there’s a lot of third-party data so the DMPs have an easier time of it over there,” he added. “They can go to CMOs and talk to them in a language they understand, saying ‘I can get you this ABC1 audience in these 16 postcodes and target them online’. That’s how advanced they are with this.”

However in contrast, the ecosystem in Asia is different because of this data dearth, and is part of the reason Holte believes, Wego’s ad products are popular in the region.

“Our data isn’t based on demographics but rather search behaviour, which for our advertisers has been quite successful,” he said. “I’d love to have that third-party data but in many markets in Asia, it’s just not there yet.”

Asked about the plethora of local providers versus the incoming wave of global players in the programmatic space, Holte said that the focus for marketers should be on the unique inventory offered.

“It doesn’t matter as much who you access, it’s the audience you want,” he said. “Some have better tech than others of course, but it’s about the inventory, be it Google or a little DSP in Indonesia, we don’t mind as long as the audience is one we’re after and can’t access in other ways.”

Holte said that in terms of how conversations with clients have evolved in the last 12 months, that discussions with Wego advertisers such as hotel chains and OTAs around its meta search product haven’t changed all that much.

But in terms of display advertising and programmatic, there’s now a much greater understanding in the market of what is possible.

“Especially in terms of behavioural targeting, people are starting to appreciate that it’s a premium product and not necessarily something they could get done themselves,” he added. “Of course, conversations differ based on the marketer’s objectives, some want to build their brand while others are looking purely at ROI or a bit of both.”

Mobile matters

Wego launched its mobile app in mid-2014, and Holte shared that the app has become “the third tenet” of its marketing approach with the company devoting significant resources to marketing the product to consumers.

With regards to its annual marketing budget, Holte declined to share details but quipped: “It’s never enough!”

Asked about the company’s overall marketing strategy, he added the team tries to be laser-focused. “We also try and make anything we do pay for itself.”

“As a digital company, performance marketing is our bread and butter, things like paid search to SEO,” he added. “And we also do brand campaigns in various markets from traditional television to YouTube.”

But the company discovered that in some markets such as Taiwan and Dubai, the mobile app really took off based on the strength of the product alone, becoming an asset to overall brand-marketing efforts.

“We do push the app hard on a digital marketing basis, but we’ve also been really lucky as our mobile product team is second to none,” said Holte. “It’s been featured by Google and Apple based purely on quality of product, which has been a game changer for us and made it quite it successful.”

Holte was unable to disclose exact user numbers, but claimed that “millions of people” use the app each month.

Given that the technology landscape changes so rapidly, and each market will have it’s own trends, Holte said the team relies heavily on its on-ground team members to keep track of new developments—especially in social media or new popular channels.

“It’ll be a case of our guys in Indonesia going ‘hey have you heard of this?’ and I’ll go ‘er, nope but let’s try it anyway’,” he added. “We’ll try anything once and if it works, we’ll keep doing it.”


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