Building Better CMOs
Building Better CMOs
David Mogensen (Uber) Transcript, Part 1
David Mogensen: As an industry, I think we're too embarrassed by what we do. Our job is to sell stuff and to grow our businesses. But as an industry, I think we tend to think that selling is a bit of a dirty word.

And so we do all this beautiful work that, as you said, wins all kinds of awards, but it's so afraid of being seen as selling that it doesn't actually sell anything. And in turn, it doesn't move the needle for the business. And so I think that there's this fallacy that you can either sell something or you can do work that entertains people. And at Uber, we're really thinking that selling can be entertaining and entertainment can sell.

Greg Stuart: Welcome to Building Better CMOs, a podcast about how markers can get smarter and stronger. I am Greg Stuart, the CEO of nonprofit MMA Global. And that voice you hear at the top is David Mogensen. He is the vice president of marketing at Uber. They don't formally use the CMO title, but he's really in charge of marketing worldwide over there. And before Uber, he worked across a range of marketing roles at BMW and Google.

Now, today on Building Better CMOs, Dave and I are going to talk about changing the way people think and feel about Uber; what makes its marketing division uniquely intense; why marketers need to stop being embarrassed to sell; and so much more.

This podcast is all about the challenges that marketers face and how to unlock the true power that marketing can have. We also look at what does real leadership look like and what do you most effectively do to drive growth today? David Mogensen from Uber is going to tell us right after this.

Hi everyone, this is Greg Stuart here with Building Better CMOs and David Morgensen, VP of marketing at Uber. Hi, David. How are you doing today?

DM: I'm good, Greg. It's Mogensen, not Morgensen, but other than that...

GS: Oh, did I? Oh, you know what's so funny about that, and we can leave that in, Eric, actually, by the way. My son's name is Morgan, and so it's funny, I was looking at your name earlier and I knew, and I inserted an R without even thinking about it.

DM: Well, you're in good company. A lot of people make it Morgensen, so I'm used to it.

GS: Mogensen. Mogensen?

DM: Mogensen, yeah. Mo-en-sen is actually how you pronounce it in Danish, which is where my father was born and raised. So it's a good Danish name, but not one you hear in the US all that often.

GS: Got it, got it, got it. Okay, well we'll work on that. Listen, let's just check in something real quick here as we've kind of rolled out of a pandemic now for a little while and check in on the Uber business. I'm just kind of curious because there couldn't have been a business at some level more affected, if I can say negatively, and then unusually positively. So can you talk a little bit just what's happened to Uber over the last couple of years, three years?

DM: Sure. I mean, yeah, I think everyone has had their own COVID pandemic experience, and Uber certainly was not immune to that. It was funny, because I actually started at Uber in February of 2020, which was a very interesting time to be starting at a company that was basically entirely a mobility business at the time. Needless to say, about a month in I was a little bit thinking, "What have I done?" The mobility business, as you can imagine, basically stopped almost overnight. And at the time I was looking after marketing for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Which meant I was, along with my team, having to think through how do we communicate what's going on in more than 40 countries around the world? All of which had different policies and guidelines and rules around the extent to which people could move. So it was certainly a very interesting time to start at this company.

And I would say we were very, very fortunate because in addition to the core mobility business, we also had Uber Eats, which is of course our delivery business. And while the world stopped moving in cars, all of a sudden delivery became almost the lifeblood of a bunch of restaurants. And also, frankly, for people just a way to feel like you were still able to live somewhat of a normal life. And so while the mobility business slowed down greatly, the Eats business went through the roof. And now obviously on the other side, to the extent that we are, we're seeing that the Eats business has accelerated massively over the last couple of years to the point where it was a much smaller business than mobility when I started at Uber, and now I would say it's on equal footing. So it's been an interesting few years to say the least.

GS: Oh, my goodness. I can't imagine February rolling into March, April. MMA is a global organization and I remember the early conversations with the MMA team, which obviously like everybody, we were doing pretty regularly. And there were parts of Europe that just were a giant shitshow around COVID and pandemic. And no disrespect obviously to the people. That's not what I mean, but I mean it really hit. Spain in particular I remember got hit really hard.

DM: It was really, really interesting just trying to keep up with the way every different country reacted to COVID. From very, very extreme lockdown, like you say, in parts of Southern Europe and what have you, to the Nordics, which were taking a much more laid back approach to it. And nobody really knew what the right model was, and I don't even know that today we necessarily know exactly either. But trying to manage through that was really rather interesting.

GS: And especially given the incredible close contact. I mean, I've sort of noticed just myself in the last year that I still enter an Uber, and I'm a very big Uber rider...

DM: Thank you, thank you.

GS: I noticed that when I enter now, I stop, I pause. I go, oh, no, I don't need to have a mask. Okay. I can get in and keep going. So it really sort of modified my forever impression of my behavior.

DM: Yeah, it was also interesting to think about when do you start pulling back on some of those things that had become so normal? There was that awkward transition where it's like, "Well, do we leave the mask rules in place?" And I don't know if you remember this, but in a lot of parts of the world, we also had these sort of makeshift dividers between the drivers and the passengers, and when do you take those down and what have you. But I'm very happy that we're back to a little bit more life as usual.

GS: Yeah, no, no, no. And listen, I'm not here to get into any public disclosures of information that isn't already in earnings, but is it really Uber mobility, Uber Eats is 50/50 give or take? Is that what I hear you say there or no?

DM: I mean, I don't want to say anything that I can't say either, but in general, the two have very equal footing at this point, I would say.

GS: And that is the funny thing, too, David. I remember talking to board members over the time, some of them were embarrassed to kind of go, "Well, I know it's really terrible out there and incredibly empathetic to their teams and even the mental health struggles..." But some are like, "But our business is really good." It really is just the whole craziest times for us as an industry and as a population have gone through. But David, you mentioned though that you had left Google. You'd been at Google, went to Uber, so that has its own story that we can kind of get into at some point. Pretty damn good company to work for, then to enter a pandemic with a mobility business. Prior to that you were at BMW and that was BMW, but largely North America, correct?

DM: Correct. Yeah. I am somewhat of a career monogamist. I spent a decade at BMW doing every kind of marketing one can do for the most part but always based out of the US. And then I spent another decade at Google, primarily on the YouTube business, but then the last three years looking after marketing for Northern Europe. And then like I said, in 2020, switched over to Uber. First out of Europe for a couple of years and now in the US for going on about a year and a half.

GS: And for our listeners, just so they know, Uber doesn't use the CMO title for whatever reason, they've decided not to do that. But David is the head of marketing globally for the company.

DM: That's right. Yeah. We look after about 70 countries around the world.

GS: Crazy. Yes, and I think I've taken Ubers in many or most of those. So the funny thing for you is that you got into BMW in part because you're a car guy, I think I've heard you describe yourself. But you didn't go into actually marketing, but then you got somehow lured into marketing with BMW. And I think your background, if I remember right, is trained in economics originally, your undergrad work was in economics. So BMW feels obvious because you're a car guy, and I'd love to hear more about what your passion is around cars, and then how'd you end up in marketing?

DM: As an economics major I wasn't really sure what I actually wanted to do when I grew up, to be honest. I always just enjoyed economics. And I went to a liberal arts college, which meant that was probably the closest major there was to a business major. And so rather than picking a job based on the type of job, I picked the job based on the kind of company. In other words, I didn't really know what I wanted to do, so I figured let's think about where I want to do it. And I've always been afflicted with a deep passion for cars for whatever reason. I don't actually know how to explain it. Ever since I was a kid, I've been reading car magazines, and I still subscribe to multiple car magazines today. And so I figured let's just go somewhere that I'm passionate about the products and it'll hopefully work itself out.

So that's how I ended up at BMW. I was an intern. I started at the very bottom. I was doing vehicle distribution, working with about 70 dealers on the West Coast to just help make sure that they're getting their cars on time and what have you. And my first permanent job at BMW, my manager when I was an intern told me, "Just apply to every job that comes up." And so I applied for finance jobs, I applied for HR jobs, I applied for... you name it.

And the first one I happened to get was a dream job. It was running event marketing for BMW. And that was when I got the marketing bug. I was like, you know what? This is what I was meant to do. I love these products and this is my chance to tell more people about them. So I really haven't looked back. I did one operations stint when I was at BMW, but the rest of my career has always been marketing. Because I just really love the idea of how do you convince others to share the passion that you have for the products?

GS: Right. Well, let's put a little pitch out there too because my background, I don't know if you knew, is economics also. That was my undergraduate work also. And I did realize I very much wanted to be in marketing. And I found it a real benefit by the way. I mean, you and I are going to kind of get into this here, but I think marketing doesn't focus enough on the cost benefit analysis. They just tend to like things because they sound good rather than sort of, well, what's the underlying business dynamics of the investment decision that we're making?

DM: I think that's a great point. I think also economics is fundamentally around consumer behaviors. It's from an economic lens, but it's why do we do the things that we do and how do we make the purchase decisions we make and what have you. And so I think that that also implicitly has helped guide me in my careers. Thinking through the consumer first and what makes the consumer tick. And economics is very much about that, I think.

GS: Yeah, although it's funny, I do remember that I was actually taught in the age when we believed humans were rational. I think the school's moved on now and said, "Well, they're not really that rational actually."

DM: Yeah, exactly. I know a lot of the very traditional economics has proven to be not necessarily the way people actually act. It looks great on paper, but not in reality. So yeah, I think that remains something that is super interesting to me.

GS: Yeah, no, no, no. And I think a book like Freakonomics is kind of a good example of how do we really get to the underlying facts of the world and try to understand what human behavior really is and what drives some of those underpinnings... I got to meet and work with Steven Levitt. In fact, he wrote the forward for my book a number of years ago. And it was one of the greatest joys to listen to that mind work. Hey, but David, we missed the most important thing. What's in the stable today? What do you got?

DM: I drive a Tesla. And I don't want to say anything bad about Tesla because I feel very lucky to have such a nice car, and it's the perfect commuter car. It's my first electric car, and I have to say electric is very much the future. It's super clear. Just such a fantastic way to get in and out of the city, which I do quite regularly. The reason I'm laughing is it's not necessarily the height of my passion as it relates to automobile. So I am regularly looking at various automotive websites for what might be a fun little weekend car, but at the moment I make do with the perfectly lovely Tesla.

GS: Just the one. I'm surprised. I really expected to hear a whole sort of stable of cars. I'm disappointed. At least a '65 Mustang, maybe a '69 Barracuda. I mean, listen, I remember, there's a lot of fun cars I look at in this same way.

DM: I'm more of an '80s European guy. If I were to get something as a second car for me, the old 911s have a special place in my heart.

GS: Oh my god, that'd be so great. I actually own Tesla number 13,000. I was very early and I agree with you. I remember driving that car and going, "Oh my god. I'm living in the future." I mean, it was revolutionary. And still is. I mean, it still has that same feel to it.

DM: Yeah, for sure.

GS: Okay, let's get into our topic at hand today. So as we know, Building Better CMOs is very focused on trying to understand... This is not meant to just be hero worship for CMOs. There's enough awards for all you guys that you get all the time. You and other members. And David sits on the global board of the MMA. But I think it's really about what do we not exactly get right? What can we be better? Because I think that's where the opportunity for improvement for us becomes. So if I asked you the question, what do you think marketing, marketers, CMOs—however you want to approach it—don't necessarily get right about marketing, what would you put out there for that in your mind?

DM: So being that you lead the MMA, I think you're probably expecting me to say some sort of answer along the lines of, we don't measure adequately the brand impact on long-term effects or things like that. Which is probably true, but the place my mind actually goes is more around as an industry I think we're too embarrassed by what we do. Our job is to sell stuff and to grow our businesses, but as an industry, I think we tend to think that selling is a bit of a dirty word.

And so we do all this beautiful work that, as you said, wins all kinds of awards, but it's so afraid of being seen as selling that it doesn't actually sell anything. And in turn it doesn't move the needle for the business. And so I think that there's this fallacy that you can either sell something or you can do work that entertains people. And at Uber we're really thinking that selling can be entertaining and entertainment can sell. So I want to make that concrete for you. If you look at, for example, our Super Bowl campaign this year...

Speaker 3:

[Uber One Super Bowl commercial]

DM: We actually had marketing executives in the spot asking Diddy to create a hit song to sell our membership program, which was about as blatantly overt about selling as you can get. But also, that was what actually made it entertaining. And so on this one for me it's, as an industry, I think we should embrace that selling is sexy. And I think that we should be proud of the work that we do and the role that we play in growing our businesses and not be shy or embarrassed about the fact that fundamentally great advertising does sell stuff.

GS: It's funny that you would even say that we're shy or embarrassed about that we're supposed to be here to sell stuff, because if I remember in the hierarchy of professions that are respected, we're somewhere near, all due respect, used cars salesmen, I think. It would be a funny line for us to draw at some level to do that. But I agree with you, yes, we give awards based on amazing creative ideas, not always the biggest awards for success around it.

DM: And I always tell my team, I want to do amazing creative. That is absolutely the goal and the benchmark, and I think we're getting better and better every year at doing that. But fundamentally, if it doesn't move the needle, then it has failed. And similarly, if I have to choose between something that really, really is going to move the business or something that is going to be really beautiful and win a lot of awards, I'm always going to pick the thing that moves the business.

Sometimes the perfect ad is just the ad that delivers on what you're looking for in that moment and it's not necessarily the most creative ad. And so I just believe that you can have both and you should aspire to have both. But let's not lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, even though it is like you say, sort of associated with used car salesmen and what have you, fundamentally we're here to move the business and to sell things.

GS: Yeah. And I think we need to respect that as a craft and an art and a practice that we have to produce growth, is usually the term. I see a greater and greater adoption of the concept of growth. So listen, there's a couple of things that have to be done right. So let's parse some of those. One of it's going to be the messaging, the creative itself, so let's talk a little bit about that. You've also got to have pretty good measurement techniques in place to really know that you're doing the right thing. So I guess as you look at ads, as you look at the ads that Uber does or has done, how do you really know that they're really great for selling before you go out and spend a $100 million dollars or whatever behind them?

DM: If I had the answer to that, I would probably be doing a lot better than I am I suppose. I think everyone is trying to figure out how do you know that the advertising you do is working and how do you quantify, especially on the brand side, how do you quantify the impact? There's no question that is challenging. Everyone likes to quote the Wanamaker quote around, what is it? "Fifty percent of my advertising works, I just don't know which 50 percent."

I think we've gotten better at it, but I think there's still some truth in that statement. In terms of how we do it before we even run the ad, we do creative pretesting for any of our campaigns that are of a significant spend level. And we look at things like memorability, breakthrough, favorability, and what have you, to try to understand and try to predict what are going to be the ads that are most likely to work. At the same time, this is part of why we get paid to do what we do. There is a degree of intuition and just knowing good work and having a sense for what is actually going to resonate with your audience that unfortunately no data will ultimately be able to tell you fully. You can use data to inform intuition, but at the end of the day there's an element of intuition as well that has to play a role. So I think it's the combination of those two things.

GS: What is an Uber competing against? I mean, let's just take Lyft out of the... I don't know if it's just Lyft or if it's just another competitor, at least Lyft in this country, in the US. Or is it that you're competing against them taking their own car? Are you competing against them choosing to take a bike? What is advertising, marketing intended to focus people on? Change in behavior or change in a relationship to another brand?

DM: The way that I think about it and talk to my team is... If you're asking what is the job of my team, it's around changing the way people think and feel about Uber. And what I mean by that is on the feel part, there's obviously, every brand is trying to drive favorability and brand love and what have you. The reality of Uber is our history is not perfect. There was a time where there was pretty strong negative sentiment towards the brand of Uber, and so we're on a journey to basically change the way people think about us and show that we're not the company we were six or seven years ago. And on the think part, for a lot of people, Uber is still getting in that UberX ride and taking a ride at the click of a button, but we are much more than we once were.

So not only do we now have the delivery business, which we still need to build awareness for, and in many markets we are the market leader, but not in all. Including in the US, we're not the market leader. And so how do we get people to think of Uber as more than just taking a ride but also as delivery. As well as how do we expand that perception among users as well? So to your point, there's all kinds of different ways that people can move from A to B. We want to be the solution for basically all of them. So everything from micro mobility and scooters all the way up to, we have boats, we have luxury cars, we have EV cars. In London, we're experimenting with you can actually book flights.

Basically every form of mobility we want to be a solution for. And so we need to get people to think beyond just that UberX experience when they think about mobility. And then on the delivery side, many places around the world we're delivering groceries and we're delivering other things beyond just restaurant food delivery. So it's really about expanding the way people think of us and the goal of the company is to reimagine the way the world moves for the better. And so any kind of movement, whether it's moving goods and services or it's moving people, we want to be the best solution for.

GS: You have a real complexity to a business like yours. Which is that the delivery is done by somebody who's not necessarily an employee of the company all the time. I am not trying to get the complexity of that political question, stay out of that. But you don't control what a driver does. You don't control the cars themselves and that. And yet I bet so much of Uber perception is predicated on the last ride I had or the worst ride I had, I guess, I don't know. Retail has the same problem. I've always said, major retailers are brought to their knees by 16-year-olds working in the summer. I mean, that's a real problem. How do you look at that in your role and capacity?

DM: I see a core part of my role and my team's role to make sure that we are helping to build that relationship with our earner base. So there's drivers, there's couriers, there's a group of people that makes up over 5 million earners that use Uber to earn. And so I think that there is at times a perception that Uber doesn't care enough about that group. We actually care deeply about that group.

And so part of my team's role is to figure out how do we communicate with them better and show them that we really do think about things very deeply and that we care a lot about their experience earning with Uber. And so that's at the heart of a lot of what we do. Because to your point, at the end of the day, the discussion you have in that car ride to the airport is going to influence your thought about our brand as much as my beautiful Super Bowl spot.

GS: A hundred percent. When Kellyn Smith Kenny, who now is the CMO of AT&T and the chair of the MMA board, when she was there, she was on the board with us. I remember her saying... there was a couple of things. One is that the business was a lot about making sure that there was a car on a corner when a person is there in a need. The complexity of that operations I can hardly imagine. And two—and this adds to that complexity—I think Uber's the largest employer in the world. Is that right? In terms of numbers of people?

DM: Yeah, I mean depending on how you define employer. We have, like I say, over 5 million people earning with Uber, which does make it the largest workforce in the world.

GS: Crazy.

DM: Which is a huge responsibility. And to your point, really complex from an operational standpoint. I think we have some of the best operational teams in the world at Uber and they're figuring out that balance. It's a very delicate balance between supply and demand. We're back to economics again, Greg. The reality is if we get either side of that equation wrong, it's a bad experience for the other side. If you have more demand than you have supply, that results in higher prices for people, it results in long wait times, it's not a good experience. Similarly, if you have too much supply and not enough demand, it's not a good experience for our earners because the fares go down and they don't earn as much on an hourly basis and what have you.

And so the thing that we're always trying to do is figure out how do we reach basically the equilibrium between supply and demand. And so my team plays an active role in that as well, thinking through, okay, is this now a time where marketing should step in and really grow supply, or is it a time where we should really grow demand? And during COVID, that's really changed a lot depending on which year it is, right? There was this period where I think lots and lots of industries were seeing that it was actually hard to get people back to working again.

And so we started to do a lot of marketing to get earners back on the platform. Now we're starting to see that in many parts of the world that balance is getting better. Demand is now the thing that we need to increase again. So we're always balancing between those two, which makes for quite a bit of complexity, especially when you think about it across 70 different countries around the world.

GS: Boy, as much as any business then, your effect on what is in essence a supply chain is pretty complicated. Do you have to build the systems to be able to dial up and dial down marketing on a weekly or daily basis? Is that what that kind of could mean? Monthly basis? How far have you gone on that?

DM: We don't do it on a daily so much, but we are constantly evaluating where we are spending and how we were spending. This is not, unfortunately, the kind of company where you can come in, set a beautiful annual plan or maybe a five-year plan, and then just stick to it. That is not the world that I live in. We are always looking at what are the dynamics of the marketplace and then adjusting marketing spend based on it.

GS: Oh, a hundred percent. I mean, this is about a far from a CPG, Tide marketing business as you can imagine. Which is, come up with a new point of view and push that out into the marketplace and then kind of clap your hands together and say, "Job well done. We've done it again." Yours is like, "Well, we did it yesterday. Doesn't mean it's going to work today."

DM: Correct. And actually if you do it too well then you break the other side. So it's always this back and forth.

GS: There's a monster balance in this. You're right. Because my inability to get... I was on the board of a company with Menlo Ventures, who was one of your original investors. And they were telling me about the business. It was just revolutionary in its thinking. But what's happened is that Uber now has changed the customer experience for many businesses having nothing to do with mobility. I want to know where the car is, I want to know how fast you're going to be there and whatever that might mean for any other business. I want to know when my hotel room is going to be ready, and I'm not here to sit around and wait.

I want to know, in the case of delivery, for extended delivery, I want to know what's going to happen. I have an expectation now that you're going to be really responsive and I'm going to be able to see where you are in performance. I don't think any business was held to that kind of accountability until Uber.

DM: I mean, I think for good or bad, we've kind of created the instant gratification expectations of the whole society, I think. It used to be literally a miracle that you could push a button and within five minutes have a ride. That was such a surprise and delight moment. It was truly incredible. If you remember the first couple times you took an Uber.

GS: I remember.

DM: Now you look at it, it says five minutes. Like, "Why isn't it three? Why am I having to wait five?" Our expectations have really changed in terms of that instant gratification.

GS: Let’s take a quick break. We’ll be back right after this with David Mogensen.

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