3 Strategies from Waze that Could Apply to Any Technology Marketing

The Waze Way

In September of 2015, Julie Mossler – Head of Global Communications and Policy at Waze – joined us to record an Unconventionals podcast. Mossler discussed how Waze was crowdsourcing highways to generate useful data, how they were building a 50M+ community of users who work together to outsmart traffic, and how the app was able to thrive in the competitive tech-scene before it built its large following.  

Upon re-listening to our discussion with Julie, it became apparent that Waze’s success story highlighted some of the fundamental strategies we use to help our clients build effective marketing plans. By adopting a few simple ideas, any technology company has the opportunity to create a market impact, regardless of its budget.

Commit to Your Higher Purpose

Early on, the Waze team made a key decision not to monetize by selling user-data – a bold move for an analytics-rich startup; instead Waze doubled-down on its mission to reduce traffic by increasing the connectivity around driving and maps. And that started with making their data gratis. 

It’s easy to assume this could unintentionally make it difficult to advertise the brand, both in channel selection and ad budget. The opposite occurred, however, as Waze’s commitment created unique and inexpensive marketing opportunities. 

What does this mean for other technology companies? It’s simple really: Define the brand’s higher purpose and then stick to it, dammit. Make that purpose an integral part of the marketing culture. Embed the why in the what/where/when/how of the communication plan. That rigid commitment will actually help define a campaign’s key elements (e.g., audience, goals, tactics, etc.), not limit them. 

Market Like Your Audience Lives

One of the biggest challenges facing any fledgling company is the necessity to build and nurture an audience. And when that company predicates its business model on crowdsourcing, terms like “acquisition” and “engagement” extend far beyond marketing’s domain.

However, Waze didn’t grow through conventional marketing that extended some conventional “we’re here to disrupt” startup message; rather it grew through its willingness to listen and learn from its community, and then replicate the community’s values in its marketing approach.

Waze’s marketing became a reflection of the community around it. They stopped asking what types of marketing will reach their audience, and started asking what types of marketing will provide meaning for their audience.

Modeling marketing after audience behavior doesn’t require a huge, Waze-like community to be effective either. It just requires a willingness to redefine what technology marketing looks like. This shift in mindset moves the conversation away from “How do we reach our masses?” and into blue sky thinking like, “What is our brand capable of?”

And frankly, that’s where the fun stuff is… for the company and its customers. 

Communicate from the Inside Out

While Waze’s willingness to look externally for marketing inspiration helped them grow at an exponential rate, they also understand where to look within the organization to help determine what’s next. For Mossler and team, the startup’s employee diversity and outlier status in Silicon Valley are shareable brand attributes. By communicating those aspects of Waze’s culture with its community, the startup has been able to deepen brand loyalty – as users see version of themselves within the company – and expand their influence with a new type of user.

Often times, brands overlook their own company culture as a valuable component in their marketing story. Yet the things that galvanize employees and make a company worth working for are the same things that evangelize customers. A good company culture is truly contagious for its customers. And effectively sharing culture inspires users to root for the people behind the product, not the product itself. Think of the expansion and iteration options behind people loyalty as opposed to product loyalty?

This applies to all companies, including (especially) the technology sector.

An effective exercise to help determine what cultural elements are marketable is to ask non-marketing questions:

  • What do we believe in beyond what we sell?
  • What are the benefits of our product beyond its features?

Maybe start a little simpler: Why do our people like working here?

The ability to answer that question is the first step to making a movement, not a marketing campaign.


Check out the entire conversation with Julie Mossler from Waze, as well as our discussion with David Rogers  from the Columbia Business School for a deeper look into why Waze has succeeded with crowdsourcing while so many others have failed on The Unconventionals: From Faster Commutes to Better Communities, We’re All Working for Waze