Finding our way - Waze on advertising, data, and GDPR

Tyrone Stewart

Tyrone Stewart talks to Finlay Clark, UK country manager at Waze, about the company's approach to advertising and data, and its plans for the future.

Waze Finlay Clark

Navigation app Waze knows where its users are heading and can make a reasonably fair assumption on why they’re heading there, So, while its making sure you arrive at your destination in the safest and most efficient manner, it’s in a good position to serve driver-friendly ads with relevance.

“In our case, a lot of what we’re trying to get around to is being helpful. So, thinking about the mindset of the consumer in that moment and try and say to them ‘we think you might have forgotten this’,” says Finlay Clark, UK country manager at Waze.

Driving customers into stores
Waze’s desire to help its users makes it a desirable advertising platform for services and businesses that respond to the specific needs of people – such as fuel companies or fast food restaurants.

A lot of the time the advertising from brands can come in the form of pinning their location on the map, meaning drivers are able to see where their nearest branch is as they’re driving to another destination.

“You’re low on fuel, and you see a Shell logo, that’s actually quite helpful. That’s an advert but it’s actually a service – so that’s why so many of the fuel brands love working with us,” explains Clark.

“Moving further afield, when we worked with B&Q, it pinned Christmas tree logos when they wanted to sell Christmas trees and we saw the engagement rate was four times as high.

“I would say to people that we’re a map. Maps are useful and the tell you things that are going on around you – so we do highlight businesses to people. We’ve noticed in the fast food and QSR space that if you’re hungry and you see your favourite fast food place on the map, we see people actually pulling in to grab a coffee or a burger. It’s just simple proximity-based marketing. It’s why a lot of the fast food places do out-of-home near their restaurants.”

With Waze being a driving app, as well as its approach to ads and the fact that it doesn’t directly track users who have seen ads, the measurements available to advertisers differ to the engagements and click-through rates that are usually spoken about.

At the same time, Waze doesn’t like to focus too heavily on ‘in the moment’ re-routing that its users may do upon seeing an ad.

“When we go see a McDonald’s or a Shell or a BP, we can show them that we can re-route people into your place of business and they love it. The truth is, when you’re driving with Waze on, there are only a small number of times that you’re going to actually re-route in the moment. So, although that’s a nice piece of insight we can tell you, what’s more important is how is the trend of people arriving at the business changing over time,” says Clark.

“Someone like Marks & Spencer is using Waze to re-route some people in the moment, but what’s more interesting to them is knowing that at certain times more users on Waze are driving to them and doing their shopping than they were before. We can show them that with incremental footfall uplift and lots of other things which just gives them an insight into how being visible on the map drives footfall not just in the moment but over time.”

When providing businesses with these insights into footfall, Waze doesn’t base its figures any geolocation or tracking of any sort. Instead, it shows brands how footfall has increased amongst Wazers since they launched their ad campaigns.

“What’s interesting about Waze is that we’re a little bit different than the geo ad tech layers, who put ringfences round different places and track to see if certain phones are going in there. We do it a bit differently,” adds Clark.

“If you’re an advertiser, what we’d be able to show you is how many people were travelling to your business before you started to run Waze ads and how many people started going to your business through the campaign. But also, how many people are searching for your business through our search engine. We can show brands if you’re more visible on our map and you’re getting all this added value by being near the top of our search engines, people find you and visit your places.  

“Our tracking is robust because it’s reliant on the user typing something in after coming from an ad – it’s not tracking in the background. The numbers are smaller but they’re a lot more meaningful because it’s user input, as opposed to ‘we’ve spotted where you’ve been’.

Clear road for data
Of course, even when not tracking users, Waze still carries some user data that it shares with advertisers and with cities, in order to help improve their transportation networks.

With GDPR looming, and the data of around 100m global users to deal with, Waze and its parent company, Google, take transparency and the privacy of data very seriously.

“For us, it’s a different proposition because people are aware with our app that you get a pretty good service. I.e. we need to track where you are for the GPS and, in return, we might serve you two or three ads per journey and, if we’ve done our job properly, they’ll be things that are useful to you on that drive. I think most people are aware of the value exchange that an app like Waze will need access to your location and, as long as we’re transparent with how we use that and how we store that, then people are alright with that,” explains Clark.

Google and Waze have huge teams working on getting GDPR-ready by next month. And Waze “are changing some of our policies and there will be a consent bump that we’re doing shortly.” With this, Clark doesn’t feel the satnav app has much to worry about because “we’re quite transparent. When you sign up to Waze, we detail how it is, how we’ll use that data, how we’ll anonymise, and how we’ll give it to partners – not just advertisers but cities also.”  

Waze also doesn’t hold on to any user data for more than 30 days, as a means to ensure both privacy and safety. Even then, the data they hold doesn’t go as deep of knowing what car people drive or whether they are male or female.

“We try to not be too pervasive in what we know about you and what we give to advertisers. A lot of the time, we don’t even know if you’re a man or a woman, which is weird when so many people are attuned to demographic targeting,” says Clark.

“From the privacy side, we’ve got all the Waze and Google security, so we don’t have many data leaks, but it’s also about allowing people to take ownership of that and share with us what they want to or not.”

Journeying into a traffic-less future
Looking ahead, Waze hopes that its recently introduced carpool app is a success. For now, that has only arrived in the US, Israel, and Brazil, but it’s part of the company’s plans to be a transportation app that works to reduce traffic around the world.

It will also look to continue working with cities and transport bodies around the world – such as Transport for London (TfL) – to reduce congestion and journey times.

“We’ve not a taxi driving app. There are loads of ways to get around cities, moving people and things is going to be a lot cheaper in the coming years. We plan to be an option at those commuting times of morning and evening drivetime and it’s not taxi drivers, it’s Wazers who live and work near you,” says Clark. “You probably couldn’t take an Uber to work every day because it would be too expensive. We’re hoping people can share their cars and Waze carpool to work every day because it’s more efficient.

“Traffic is a huge problem, a huge drag on the quality of life. We’re trying to end traffic and in order to do that, we all need to work together. That’s what Waze was always about. With Waze Carpool, it’s like ‘okay, we’re working together but we’re also sharing cars.’”

The most important thing for Waze is to continue being helpful to its users but, at the same time, it wants to be known as more than just a satnav app because “we’re actually a transportation company,” according to Clark.

In becoming that out-and-out transportation company, it will look at “transforming from this app that people love to actually playing a wider role in how cities think about their infrastructure and planning, how cities communicate with drivers, and how real-time information can be used to help.”