Differentiating your product or brand in a crowded and highly competitive industry can be a monumental challenge. But by focusing on your most prized asset and tailoring your marketing to their wants and needs, you can carve out a unique identity that wins customers over and keeps them coming back.
Britt Erler, Quartz Network Executive Correspondent, was joined by Dustin Cohn, Head of Brand and Marketing for the Consumer and Wealth Management Division at Goldman Sachs, to discuss how a significant investment in consumer-based marketing is yielding great returns.
Dustin reveals insight into:
- Putting the consumer at the center of everything
- Gaining, interpreting, and leveraging consumer research
- Paying the short-term cost to win long-term customers
Quartz Network: For those who aren’t familiar, can you please explain what Marcus by Goldman Sachs is and what services you provide consumers.
Dustin Cohn: Marcus by Goldman Sachs launched about four years ago. It was a startup within this 150-year-old institution. It was our first step into the consumer landscape where we were offering products and services to what we would consider Main Street sort of consumers who would really appreciate the value our products would bring to them. The range of portfolios has grown a lot since our initial launch. We launched with personal loans and unsecured personal loans, then expanded into online savings and CDs. We launched our savings product in the UK.
We also launched an app where you can connect all your different financial services accounts, get more information on how you’re spending, as well as better ways of budgeting and spending. We also announced our product called Marcus Invest, which are managed portfolios for investing. Last but certainly not least, we are launching our checking platform, which is really exciting because when you think about checking, it doesn’t seem exciting, but it is. I can’t share too many details with you, but it’s something that’s very differentiated. All of these products are integrated in a way that we are providing more value for your money and helping regular consumers make their money work harder.
Quartz Network: How do you decide what to build next and what your consumers are going to be looking for? On top of that, what features do you decide to highlight?
Dustin Cohn: What we do is put the consumer at the center of everything. We are always listening to our consumers, whether that’s through ongoing panels, social listening, or even more formal research where we’re testing different product ideas and features and benefits. It really is coming from the consumer. That has been our approach from day one. In fact, before we even launched Marcus, we talked to more than 10,000 different consumers to understand their pain points within the financial services industry, what their experiences were with other financial services providers, and their experience with individual products. We let the consumer help drive our product roadmap moving forward.
Consumers had such a great experience with us that they said, “We want you to be our primary, full-service bank.” That really led us down the path of the checking product because when we launched checking, we had everything covered from savings to investing to your common way of paying your bills. But what we are so vigilant about is making sure that whatever we go to market with solves pain points and adds true value.
For example, our savings business. When we launched, we wanted to make sure we had a very competitive rate. We had a claim where you can earn more interest with Marcus in one month than you can in one year with the largest banks. So, if we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it right. We’re really going to err on the side of the customer and provide true value, even with simple things like savings accounts.
Quartz Network: This consumer-based approach really sounds like it’s having a major effect. Based on what you’ve seen recently, what do consumers want now? How are we seeing shifts in the industry?
Dustin Cohn: Convenience. Given the pandemic where consumers weren’t able to physically walk into their bank branch, they have now realized you can really do almost anything on your phone that you can do in a branch. That’s really what we tried to do—make it very simple and convenient.
When you’re longing for a live conversation with someone, even though we are a digital platform, not a brick and mortar, we make it very convenient to talk to us live. In fact, if you call our personal loan call center, it’s based here in the United States. We don’t have IVRs—the machines where you have to press two and five and four to get to somebody then be put on hold—we don’t do that. When we did research early on, the number one thing people said they wanted was to be able to talk to a live person. It’s more expensive for us to do it that way, especially in the United States, but it makes it easier to do banking and build trust and relationships with people.
You also mentioned personal, which is an important part of our go-to-market strategies and the way we service our accounts. That’s one of the reasons we call ourselves Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Marcus was the founder of Goldman Sachs 150 years ago—Marcus Bolden. Yet another way of us really trying to start a person-to-person conversation.
Quartz Network: So, even though you’re saying it’s costing a little bit more money, I think the loyalty for your consumers in the end sounds like it’s having a significant impact. Taking that extra effort for them, right?
Dustin Cohn: That’s exactly right. If you build that relationship over time, everybody wins. The consumer is more satisfied. That’s good for growth ultimately. So, we invest in things like that. We have no-fee personal loans, which is very unique in the personal lending space. So, no fees for originating your loan or signing up, which a lot of our competitors have. No fees for paying down your loan early. We don’t even have fees for paying late. Again, it costs us more, and is a revenue stream for many others. But ultimately, we build that loyalty and we’re in it for the long haul. If we do right by our customers, they will do the right thing for us, too.
Quartz Network: In addition to convenience, treating them like family, and this consumer-based approach, what are some of the other ways you really develop your brand loyalty and ensure it’s not just an in-the-moment idea, but a lasting relationship?
Dustin Cohn: One of the things we take a lot of pride in is our content: the tools, and education we provide to consumers. It’s free. You don’t even have to be a Marcus customer to access the Marcus Content Hub. We have great tools, calculators, videos, and articles to really help demystify your personal finances. What we’ve found is there’s a real intimidation people feel with personal finance. They’re afraid of the asterisks and the fine print.
There’s also this inertia that people go through where they’ve been banking with the same people forever, and they think it’s going to be too big of a hassle to make a change. Often, they’re settling for lower interest rates on their savings account or higher interest rates on personal loans. So, this information and content we develop is intended to demystify, simplify, and be more transparent than our competitors. That way, people know their options and can make the right choices. And again, it’s all completely free.
I previously mentioned the free app we launched. You can connect all of your different financial accounts. It starts to connect dots for people that they may not connect on their own. Simple tools like those on the app make it easier for people to understand how they’re spending, how there’s a bar, and how they’re saving. So those are the value-adds we provide—not just to our customers, but to everyone.
Quartz Network: How are you measuring your consumers’ happiness level?
Dustin Cohn: We do that in several ways. We, of course, have NPS—Net Promoter Score. I’m happy to say we’re well above the industry average for financial services. That’s the ongoing study we have—to really understand how satisfied you are with us and whether you’d recommend us to a friend, family member, or colleague. So, high marks on NPS are one way of tracking.
We also have an ongoing panel. We want to understand, over time, how people’s perceptions are changing and evolving, and what new needs arise over the lifetime of our working relationship with them. So that’s another way.
Of course, we do a lot of project-based work with consumers, as well as your typical quantitative and qualitative studies to also check in with consumers and test different products, features, and benefits.
The last way we really measure our success, and how well we’re dealing with customers is third-party data. We look to people like JD Power, who did a survey two years ago and awarded us “best personal loan.” We listened to the third parties who are also doing research with consumers. We continue to do very well across all those measures, but we’re never satisfied.
When we won the JD Power personal loan award, we were 99% focused on all the things we could do better. I think that’s how we continue to raise the bar. We listen to consumers, and we don’t rest on our laurels. We’re certainly not going to pat ourselves on the back, we’re going to look for the negative stuff so we can address that.
Quartz Network: This is a very competitive market. Aside from the services you offer, what really sets you apart from the rest of the crowd and keeps your customers coming back?
Dustin Cohn: Quite frankly, there’s enough business to go around for all of us. Ultimately, this notion of consumer inertia is really our biggest competitor. And that’s why we want to make sure we’re educating you on your options. Sometimes, the best option for you may not be a Marcus product from Goldman Sachs. We have personal loans that some people use for home improvement as an example. That is appropriate for a lot of people. But some people actually would be better off with a home equity line of credit (HELOC), and we don’t do that. So, in some cases, we’re educating people on the fact that you should go elsewhere and explore that as an option because that may be a better fit for you based on your needs.
I think, ultimately, what sets us apart is transparency, education, providing value, and knowing, in certain cases, that we may or may not be appropriate for someone. I think that’s the part that really stands out and differentiates us. I think, from a tone standpoint, that’s also a differentiator for us. We have a wink and a smile. We don’t take ourselves so seriously. It’s a fun brand. That’s important because personal finance is so intimidating to so many people, especially on the lending side. There’s such a stigma of carrying debt, trying to manage that debt, and getting out of debt. So, the more we can convey that we’re on your side, and do it in a warm, friendly, personal, and fun way, the more we can break down the barriers that people put up in terms of their personal finances. I think that’s another major differentiator for us.
Quartz Network: With all of these great services you have, what are some of the best ways you’ve found to market them?
Dustin Cohn: We take a full funnel approach to our marketing efforts. I hope you’ve seen some of our above-the-line advertising to create awareness. We have a fun campaign out there right now called “You Can Money,” which really touches on a lot of the things we’re discussing here. It’s sort of our way of creating a rallying cry for people like, “You can do this! You can money. There’s a better way.” So, we have this notion of you can money in TV, radio, and print.
We also have a lot of acquisitions-based media. So, it’s full-funnel marketing. We’re very active on social media. We’ve got a lot of great PR activities to gain awareness. Most recently, we hired a professional golfer named Patrick Cantlay. He’s in the top 10 on the PGA Tour and doing quite well right now. Our audience tends to love golf, so it was a natural fit for us. But getting into sports activations has been a way for us to reach consumers and gain awareness because we are still a relatively early-stage business. We only launched a little over four years ago.
Quartz Network: If they’re just coming into this market, or into this space, what final pieces of advice do you have for leaders during this time, especially those whose roles have expanded or have acquired new team members? How do you believe they can make it through this time and be successful for the company as a whole?
Dustin Cohn: I think listening to the consumer is what should drive the prioritizations of a business in terms of the product roadmap. It seems obvious, but most people really don’t do that. They put things into the market that they think people will like, or that meets their own agenda, as opposed to really listening to consumers’ pain points, finding ways to make their lives easier, or creating more value or transparency. If you make decisions for the long haul and not the short term, they may cost you a little more in the beginning, but the lifetime value from that consumer will more than pay off in the end.
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