Updated: Apr 14
How can you convert a boring financial product like mortgages into a compelling and engaging offering? With empathy and bravery, as proved by UK fintech Habito.
Founded in 2015, the company has quickly gained fame, after launching one of the most controversial branding campaigns in the sector, “Hell or Habito”. Disturbing metal tunes, outrageous animations and humour, and a major focus on traditional media like TV, helped Habito triple its brand awareness and reduce its acquisition costs by 75%.
But, how has Habito’s branding strategy adapted and navigated through the COVID-19 crisis? Romney Taylor, VP of Marketing at Habito, answers this and a series of other questions about the importance of “impact” in fintech marketing, why marketing a fintech is a unique experience, and what will shape the industry in 2021.
“Hell or Habito”: Make a statement
Habito is an online mortgage broker based in the UK that provides a cost-efficient and user-friendly alternative to traditional mortgage lender services. The fintech startup was launched in 2015 and since then it has received over £63mn in total funding, sorted £4 bn worth of mortgages and marked 4,000+ excellent client ratings on Trustpilot.
A major reason behind the company’s immense success has certainly been its outstanding branding strategy. In a competitive and dull sector like mortgages and lending, positioning a new product and creating a distinct brand is a tough business.
But, Habito found a way to tackle this. Learning from its past mistake with its early-day branding efforts that focused primarily on the product instead of the end-user, for its second major branding push at the end of 2018, Habito decided to look for ideas and inspiration from its customers’ actual emotions and experience with mortgages.
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That’s how the “Hell or Habito” idea was born. Following the “peak end rule” theory according to which people tend to remember the worst and last things during an experience, “Hell or Habito” was intended to invoke the emotion of how horrible it was getting a mortgage and show how Habito can solve the issue.
With a big idea in place, the company then looked at the creative side of the project. Having a tight budget meant that creativity was fundamental for the successful implementation of the “Hell or Habito” campaign. Knowing this, Habito’s team decided to take some risks and chose a rather unconventional creative concept that included animated characters being ingested by piranhas, having their intestines ripped out and souls stolen.
Thus, according to Romney, Habito’s key brand differentiators can be summed up in two words: empathy and bravery.
“Everything we do stems from real customer insight about the inertia, fear and boredom people face with their mortgage. And we act bravely on those insights. We've made huge bets on our ability to transform not only mortgage broking but the entire housing market.”
“We were the first-ever broker to get a lending license. We've built a digital-first brokerage, a home buying service and our own lending products. Our ambition to solve mortgages knows no bounds and sets us miles apart from any would-be competitors.”
“And I mean, mortgages are boring! It's one of the most boring categories out there. We've built an outrageous brand that customers love in a space where everyone else is still stuck on stock images of happy families. Our brand universe features skateboard imagery, outrageous humour and even sex.”
Habito’s response to COVID-19
Having an outrageous brand can sometimes be a double-edged sword, especially in times of crisis. So, how has Habito managed to adapt its bold and controversial brand during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Coronavirus changed everything for us, like it did for everyone. Its effect on the UK housing market left people scared and confused. We adopted a new mantra in marketing: ‘Be helpful, don’t sell’. We stopped advertising. Instead, we focused on helping people through our customer service, informative content and tools.”
“Marketing at Habito doesn't stop at above the line. We have a strong set of company values that are shared by all departments and influence everything the company does. So what we tell customers in our marketing and communications actually matches what we're doing. We stayed open 7 days a week, launched a new help centre, and built the UK's first mortgage holiday calculator.”
The role of “impact”
Recently, Habito also became a certified B Corp. Certified B companies are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
In response to the question about the importance of “impact” in Habito’s overall marketing strategy, Romney commented:
“Becoming a B Corp was one of my proudest days at Habito. It took commitment, sacrifice and support from the whole organisation.“
“We're now part of a group “using business as a force for good”. We put people and planet on the same level as profit and impact is a consideration in every decision we make.”
“Impact is baked into our marketing strategy. Our mortgage terms and conditions have a reading age of 11 - part of our drive to improve financial literacy. We're developing a range of community-focused initiatives to help end homelessness. And we're planning a programme to make homes more sustainable and help cut carbon emissions.”
What’s next for Habito?
According to Romney, Habito is on a strong growth path as it continues to build a product and service that solve the whole homeownership experience.
“We're going to launch new mortgages for a new generation, based on changing customer needs. And we're going to build the most awesome fintech brand in the world.”
What's it like to be a fintech marketer?
Romney has been with Habito for nearly 4 years and says that the best part of his job is how diverse his role is.
“I love how varied my role is. As VP Marketing my job spans advertising, brand strategy, growth, partnerships, product marketing and more. Last year I led a cross-functional team that built and launched our home buying service. And I'm currently setting up our creative studio. I also get to work with a group of incredibly smart, empathetic and driven people.”
When it comes to challenges, Romney considers focus and prioritisation as his biggest obstacles.
“There are so many exciting opportunities that it can be difficult to focus on just a few. There are also always more things to do than time to do them in.“
Overall, he believes that “marketing a fintech is great because we’re building a product that makes peoples’ lives better. Habito saves people money and time, while reducing stress. I get to highlight a hellish problem and show how we're solving it.”
What will fintech marketing look like in 2021?
With regards to the future of fintech marketing, Romney expects to see better marketing from fintech businesses next year.
“Habito has been a trailblazer in taking a brand-led approach to fintech marketing and others will follow suit. We've already heard about fintechs approaching advertising agencies asking them to 'do a Habito'! There will be more customer-insight driven ideas and a higher appetite for risk-taking in execution. Less features, more benefits.”
“The media landscape has changed a lot this year. The way people live, work and move now makes media planning harder. Scalable channels like outdoor, including fintech go-to formats like tube car panels, don't make sense right now. Fintechs will need to be smarter in how they reach new customers, without getting addicted to paid marketing.”
About Romney Taylor: Romney has spent the last 12+ years working at the intersection of brand, product and communications. As VP Marketing at Habito his role spans advertising, brand strategy, growth and product marketing. He also runs the Habito Creative Studio.
Before Habito, he fuelled hyper-growth periods at Wonga and Zoopla; and helped build and launch Ada, the number one medical app in 140 countries.