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Facebook Ads Case Study Nepal: How Pathao established a tertiary industry with social media

It has been quite a while since my last post and this time I wanted to roll out some ‘non-generic’ content. I mean value-based content is one thing but I feel like this approach to the blog is much more entertaining as well as valuable to you, our valued readers.

So, today I wanted to explore a branding master-stroke in our very recent past, Pathao. In 2018, a Bangladeshi digital transportation network cum on-demand platform expanded its services to Nepal. It was the second one to come to market though. Tootle, a Nepali ride-sharing app already operating for a year found a competitor in the market it was trying to take over.

Now comes the integral question, what was this branding masterstroke. If it was the 60’s, a powerful slogan crafted by some fancy advertising agency would probably have been it. But, we live in a modern world with modern technology and what ultimately won over the Nepali population to the idea was Pathao’s digital marketing. No, not ads on TV or published in newspapers. Pathao used platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Messenger to sell our population on the idea of ride-sharing. Pathao used the wide reach of this platform to sell the idea of freelancing to a lot of the Nepali populations. It used social media marketing to sell their brand to Nepal.

How the Nepali populous accepted ride-sharing?

‘Pioneers are the ones who get the arrows in their backs’

Even though Tootle had more than a year of opportunity to establish itself in the market. As one of the very early adopters of Tootle, I can vouch for and applaud the effort of the company and the success they had in organically creating a following. (Note the use of the word ‘organically’ as Tootle never relied much on marketing for growth) As youths slowly started spreading the word of ride-sharing to their elders, Tootle for a while seemed a golden egg in Nepal’s entrepreneurial space. However, after nearly a year of dominating the market solo, Pathao came in guns-blazing with its online marketing campaign. Reassuring video ads targeted to skeptics. Ads about a freelancing career to the working class. Just an overall comprehensive and wide reaching marketing strategy that constantly advertised how it was the better, cheaper and quicker mean of transport. To the customers, Pathao went head to head with Tootle and for those unaware about Tootle, it went head to head with the flawed transportation system. Pathao's ability to conduct such a wide reaching marketing campaign may be attributed to deeper pockets for the Bangladesi app in regards to funding. However, it can also be attributed to misplaced priorities on Tootle’s part. Prioritizing the marketing of the business from the revenue generated from the business may have allowed the company to gain larger market share but the failure to do so has resulted in the market leader being overtaken by the late comer. Turns out the early bird doesn’t always get the worm.

Pathao over Tootle?

Though some may claim people adopted Pathao because of a better user experience or accessibility and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But, it was primarily because of Pathao’s visibility to the user over Tootle’s. The marginally better user experience may have given Pathao the advantage, but that doesn’t mean people had a reason to switch over from an app they were already using such as Tootle and adopt a newer app. Let us be clear about this, the larger market share Pathao commands is not solely attributed to introducing new customers to the platform but also to the migration of existing Tootle users to Pathao.

So, what did Pathao do to gather market share in an industry, even as a late comer? They employed the classic digital marketing technique. Pathao used an enticing offer to lure customers away. This is the most commonly used digital marketing tactic to bring in leads. As an app, the initial download is all that is required to count as a sale. Hence, Pathao used ad campaigns of special offers and discount offers, it added incentives to refer the app to a friend or colleague and it reinforced the referral through more digital marketing, all to convince the individual to download the app. Even as a newcomer in a market that Tootle was slowly taking over, Pathao managed to overtake the pioneer very quickly in terms of users as well as service providers.

On the topic of service providers, Pathao again did not rely merely on word of mouth to sign up ride sharers to its platform. This again highlights the strengths of marketing through social media platforms in regards to being able to target the exact demographic and need of the business. Pathao again utilized social media to serve ads to a desired demographic (by my estimate 18-35 year olds who owned a bike, was not employed and was interested in some form of freelancing or ridesharing) [I have estimated this audience based on the people that I know were served these ads and tried to estimate the commonality between their interests]. These ads presented an enticing opportunity to the Nepali population who were mostly unemployed and looking for a source of income. The use of this form of targeted marketing made available by Facebook again significantly increased the number of people signing up as captains for the platform and allowed Pathao to provide quicker and more accessible service to the Nepali audience. This focus on marketing its platform in all aspects allowed Pathao to not only gather market share in terms of customers but also by amassing a larger fleet of riders (or captains) which allowed the service to provide better service to its users through digital marketing.

We can credit the number of signees for riders to Pathao’s platform completely to their amazing digital marketing because observing the two platforms objectively, Tootle provides a much simpler and more user-oriented experience to partners along with significantly better incentives. Even though at the time Tootle paid its riders more compared to Pathao and had provisions to earn bonuses too, Pathao still commanded a larger fleet of riders primarily because of its visibility to the people that wanted a freelancing opportunity.

Social Media Marketing in the Nepali market

Pathao’s use of online ad campaigns and targeted advertising allowed by the Facebook Ads platform to grow its business, both on customer service and to improve its service was the reason behind its success over Tootle and overall. This has allowed the business to become an industry leader in the ridesharing space with plans for expansion on various fronts of the vehicle freelancing industry. This is the successful execution of a branding master stroke, leaving all competitors behind in the dust.

As you can see, social media marketing especially in Nepal’s context is highly effective. With little to no competition on these platforms, it is no longer a means to only promote one time events (like the way most companies use it) or to sell online products (like Daraz, which in my opinion commands the largest presence in social media in Nepal and is one of the very few organizations utilizing the platform to its full capability). It can be to promote and sell a wide range of products and services very effectively. The revolution in marketing in the West has occurred already. It is time to abandon the expensive, ineffective mass marketing strategies that have become obsolete and counter-productive. It is time to change the landscape of Nepali marketing and grow your business by putting it out where all the attention is, social media. If you want to take your business to the next level, sign up for a free 10 minute discovery call to discuss how Digital Mercari can help your business.

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