Market like a fintech: How much customer research should you do?
Updated: Apr 27
Hosted by Araminta Robertson, 'Market like a fintech' is the new podcast for fintech marketing professionals and enthusiasts who want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in the industry, and level up their marketing knowledge. Subscribe here to never miss an episode.
In today’s episode, Araminta’s speaking to Romney Taylor, VP of Marketing at Habito. Romney’s been with Habito for nearly 4 years and his current role spans advertising, brand strategy, CRM, growth, partnerships, product marketing and more.
Habito is a UK-based online mortgage broker. But it’s not just any mortgage broker: they’re user-friendly, tech-savvy and are a B corp. Since 2015, they’ve received over £63M in total funding, sorted £4 bn worth of mortgages and have over 4000 excellent client ratings on Trustpilot.
Why is Habito hyper-focussed on customer-centricity, what are some of the best practices for doing customer research, and how important are human emotions to the success of Habito’s branding efforts? To find out the answers, listen to the show and check out the summary notes below.
Before working for Habito, you were working for a highly successful management consulting company, Albion. Working with some of the top brands including Giffgaff, Skype, Zoopla, Zopa (which I am a huge fan of) and King, helping transform their brands. What’s one thing you learnt during your work there, that you didn’t expect?
So, I spent almost seven years at Albion and as you said, I had a very, very broad set of clients that I worked within a consulting role. And it was obviously amazing to get exposure to all of those businesses at a young age. I mean, the thing I learned in my consulting role as a kind of on the agency side, was just how much a founder’s personality comes through the startup’s brand. I kind of got to know that a startup’s brand in the first few years of its existence is very much a reflection of the founder’s personality and an expression of the mission of that business.
So, you mentioned a couple of businesses that I worked with, you know, Zoopla was founded by Alex Chesterman. His personality is really strong and has shown through the brand in the early years. Similarly, I worked on the Wonga business when it was still a young business, and Errol Damelin again a very instrumental and inspirational founder of Wonga. I think that helped me when I joined Habito. It was still a young business to understand that in those early years, it's really about harnessing the founder’s energy and ambition and personality and channeling that through the brand. So, Dan, the founder of Habito, really embodied that for me, and I needed to learn how to channel that for the first couple of years until the brand could establish its own personality. So that was one of the best lessons I learned while I was at Albion, and had that sort of broad exposure to different businesses.
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Habito is a B Corp. organisation. Can you share what was your approach with this? And you personally, what is the initiative that you're most excited about?
Becoming a B Corp was a long journey at Habito. I think it took us about a year and guy called Gareth, our Chief Impact Officer., led the effort on Be corp. I sit on Habito’s impact committee. So, I'm pretty close to the work that we do. For being a B Corp. means that we put people and planet on the same level as profit. And I feel very privileged to work in a business that has that attitude.
I think if businesses can be a force for good in the communities that they exist, and then it just makes working there a much more pleasant thing.
It does flow through everything that we do. And I think there's a real direct connection between hammertoes mission of helping people find home and the impact that we can have as a business because the residential housing market in the UK is one of the areas where historically, we've not been great at cutting emissions. I think housing is responsible for about 25% of the UK emissions. That's because the housing stock is so old and Victorian housing is so inefficient, and there's no double glazing. We try to tie it as close to what we do as a business. And one of the things that we are looking at doing is how we can make homes more sustainable and home heating being one of the biggest issues that we can tackle.
You touched on some of the other things that we're doing around financial literacy. We worked with an organisation called Fair Finance, to ensure that our mortgage terms and conditions were certified by them as jargon-free. So, it's not something that we just say, but we make sure that we have the accreditation, and we take that very, very seriously. Thus, in terms of standing out as a business as well, and giving customers something different to choose when they're kind of researching how and where they should do their mortgage.
Being a B Corp, I think it's something that resonates with a larger and I guess an increasingly large proportion of our customer base as well.
Do you think this is something that we're going to see more? More FinTech companies turning into B corp.?
Yeah, definitely. A lot of people are putting this into the work that they do and are talking a lot about it. There is unfortunately a lot of greenwashing and people sort of jumping on the bandwagon. And as you touched on becoming a B Corp. is difficult. You get audited very heavily and there’s the need to be a committed to environmental, social, social and government governance, like practices across the business and across functions.
I'd also love to talk about Habito’s recent marketing play - an erotic novel to put the bones back into your mortgage. What’s the story behind that, where did it come from? And what is your objective maybe with this erotic novel?
Yes, we've just published an erotic novel, it's called The Road to Completion. And it's five chapters that align very closely to a first-time buyer’s journey through the house purchasing process. This was some marketing activity that we ran over Valentine's Day this year.
To kind of take a step back. Last year, we ran a campaign called the mortgage Kama Sutra, which was a campaign on the back of some customer research that we did, I guess, the thing to say is, all of our marketing campaigns are rooted in deep customer insight. So, we do a lot of customer research, we speak to customers regularly, whether that be on live chat, through focus groups, or quantitative research. And what we found in our research last year was that one in 10 couples find getting a mortgage so stressful, that it interferes with their sex life. And they stopped being intimate with each other. So, last year, we thought there was something we could do to help with that. And the mortgage Kama Sutra was born. It was a set of illustrations that were inspired by mortgage jargon but were kind of puns on sex positions, and mortgage terminology. And we've got those illustrations done by this incredible Israeli illustrator called Norma Bar. We also made some tea towels with those, and we sent them out to journalists, and it was a little bit kind of stunting last year.
So on Valentine's Day 2020, we shut the website down. And instead of you hitting Habito’s homepage, and being able to get a mortgage, we blocked it off. And we said, this Valentine's Day, we want you to focus on getting the most back into your mortgage. And here's the mortgage Kama Sutra.
And this year, we looked at Valentine's Day coming up and as a marketing team wondered what we could do this year to top last year. I guess we're starting to be known for marketing activity based on specific dates in the calendar.
So, we do a lot around Halloween. And we're starting to get known for what we might do around Valentine's Day too. So again, this year, we focused on that customer insight, the fact that one in 10 couples have their sex life interrupted by the stressful process of a mortgage. And again, we thought what, could we do to help with that? So, we wrote an erotic novel.
We have a fantastic creative agency who we work with on all our big campaign ideas called Uncommon studio. This was something that we came up with working very closely with them, and they brought it to life. Amazingly, again, it's like a really highly crafted piece of work.
This year, we worked with Rocky Flintstone and an illustrator called Sebastian Swan who brought the book to life. We actually printed copies of the book, and we put it on the Kindle store, and it reached number two on the erotic fiction charts in the Kindle Store.
It's just very much about picking a customer insight that resonates with people and finding the most creative way that we can bring that to life. And this year, it was an erotic novel.
What customer research does Habito focus on? Why customer research is key?
I think it's really about building an emotional connection through your marketing. So, you really need to dig deep to find out what those problems are that you can solve for them.
I've been at Habito for more than four years now. We were a much smaller business when I joined. And for a while, I was the only marketing person there. And what's incredible about joining a business of that size, and that stage is how close you can get to customers. Because you almost want to find out how every single customer's experience was with you.
And when there are relatively so few customers with who you feel you can do this, you can reach out to them almost on a one-to-one basis. And something that we did like a really young business was that every employee at Habito would take turns on customer experience shifts. So usually evenings and weekends, because we would have, a customer experience team during the working day. But there would be a rotor where we would spend time, literally as the kind of front door of the business, funnelling customers through to mortgage experts for advice, or if we were out of hours, just kind of chatting to them, and answering their own questions.
But at some point, you reach a certain size and maturity where you want professional customer experience people at the end of the line and not someone who's secretly trying to understand your, your consumer behaviour, or your psychology as a customer of the business. So that was something that I guess I would recommend to any small business that wants to learn more about their customers.
We run a lot of surveys, our communications team finds those really valuable. But for me, I think focus groups and depth interviews one on ones are still the best way to get really rich customer insights. And it's how we built the basis of our whole creative platform and communications and messaging strategy through our advertising.
What do you think is the best way to market to people who are scared?
We don't shy away from the fact that mortgages are scary and difficult. We tackle that head-on and we show that we understand that this is a big process and that it is scary, I think it would be a mistake to pretend that everything was absolutely serene. We don't shy away from the fact that it's difficult, we acknowledge it, and we over-exert ourselves on the customer service front.
If you go through our Trustpilot page and look at all the five-star reviews, I think the thing that customers comment on most is actually the service and the people who kind of hold their hand through the process. And we're a digital-first broker and a digital-first lender. You know, we're a technology-enabled business, but we have an incredible operations team of real humans who talk to customers every day and help them through the process. So, I think it's a combination of being relatable at the upfront part of the experience - acknowledging that this is scary, but then showing them that there is a way to do this. That is easy. So, our digital products should have a friendly and easy-to-use interface, and then lead you into an advice process that feels very, very human. Like you've got someone on your side.
How does Habito keep the balance between intuition and data-driven marketing? And what is the one thing that fintech marketers should do more? Listen to Romney’s complete story below.