Cheryl Goh | The Innovator 25 Asia Pacific 2018
Innovator 25 AP Cheryl Goh

Cheryl Goh

Group VP of Marketing


“Being comfortable in taking calculated risks is what drives innovation”

As VP of Marketing at one of the world’s fastest-growing startups, Cheryl Goh has played a pivotal role in driving Grab’s remarkable user growth, country expansion and service diversification. Goh’s deep experience in digital engagement has helped to underpin this approach, helping Grab see off the challenge from Uber and consolidate its new positioning that includes offering far more services than just rides. Goh has spent a decade in leadership roles in the digital space, mostly in technology companies such as MOL Global and Friendster. She also headed The New Straits Times Press Group’s digital arm and served as group digital GM at Nissan Malaysia. 

How do you define innovation?
Innovation is about moving the needle on what really matters to you. It is about finding a new or different way to solve a problem or do something. For example, we wanted to ensure top-of-mind recall in Vietnam but instead of buying billboards, we decided to turn dilapidated buildings into Grab-branded murals which was not just great for our brand but made the city better as well.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Innovation in marketing isn’t just about creating ads, selling to customers, and brand-building. Marketers represent the voice of the customer and is a core business and growth driver. To help customers avoid decorating mishaps, IKEA launched the IKEA Place app that uses augmented reality technology to enable customers to virtually try and fit IKEA furniture in their spaces. A truly witty reinvention of one-dimensional product catalogues using technology.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
IKEA is one of the frontrunners for me. From spoofing Apple’s product video for the IKEA 2015 catalogue to using augmented reality to bring IKEA furniture to life in homes, IKEA has demonstrated versatility in blending creative storytelling, humour, relevance and technology in their communications and marketing efforts.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
I joined Grab in its early days when we were a team of 16 and operated out of a tiny storeroom in Petaling Jaya. Working in a startup stretches you in so many ways – you face different sets of challenges as the company grows and matures. It is important to have an innovation mindset and a dose of fierce optimism to experiment, take risks and problem-solve, and to make the best out of whatever resources you have. For example, when we first started in Malaysia, marketing had one goal and that was to get people to use Grab. We needed to generate mass awareness and incite a behavioural change in the way people commute. Instead of purchasing billboards that would have gotten us the brand awareness but not necessarily convert to rides, we spent a month’s worth of marketing budget on an airport ride campaign. The typical fare in a taxi to the Kuala Lumpur airport was about RM72. We decided to run a RM9.90 promotion for airport rides that was only applicable on Wednesday. The huge price difference meant a lot of people were talking about it but very few people travelled on Wednesdays so we didn’t have to subsidise that many rides. We saw a 70% increase for bookings on Wednesdays and an average of 20% increase of bookings for all other days of the week (the usual price of an airport ride from Klang Valley is RM65 today).

Fast forward to today, our business has become more complex as we now serve four segments of customers through our multi-sided platform: 1) consumers, 2) driver- and delivery-partners, 3) agent-partners and 4) merchants. They each have different needs so it’s about constantly finding a balance that’s fair for all. As marketers, we can contribute to product and process innovations by helping teams better understand customers’ needs and preferences and translating marketing insights into actual business outcomes. For
example, the marketing function at Grab has led product development for GrabFamily, our family-friendly transport service and GrabRewards, our customer loyalty programme; has created efficiency with the development of marketing tools to optimise promos and customer message delivery; has ownership of product marketing to ensure product features are built with customers’ interests in mind.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Steve Jobs. Innovation is closely tied with customer-obsession and Steve Jobs was the epitome of both. 

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
I go on diving trips. It’s important to find time to recharge – it’s better for your mental well-being. On a regular basis, I hike and dragonboat. Being outdoors and in the vast expanse of nature have really helped me to decompress mentally and physically.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Change is the only constant today and being innovative will require us all to have an open mind, to always be humble and ready to learn. Innovation is an organisation-wide effort. At Grab, we encourage teams to take risks as long as they show intellectual rigour when making decisions - being comfortable in taking calculated risks is what drives innovation.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Probably something outdoorsy - dive instructor or underwater photographer.

Favorite book/movie/podcast/article that's not related to PR/marketing/business?
I enjoy self-improvement books and have always believed that anyone can learn anything through reading. My recent favourite is “When” by Daniel H. Pink, where he discusses the science behind the perfect timing. It’s helped me to better plan my day and be more productive throughout the day.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
I am a night owl. I feel most creative and relaxed.