Bridging finance and emotion in lending
Despite being an important part of our world today, the financial services industry often has subpar marketing strategies. Perhaps that is why these companies feel very similar and even lack that human connection. If you are part of this side of the world, how can you create that differentiation? For Alec Hanson, the Chief Marketing Officer at loanDepot, the opportunity for differentiation comes in branding. In this episode, he joins Gabriel Cohen to dive deep into this important part of business, bridging finance and emotion in lending. More specifically, Alec talks about serving home buyers from diverse minority communities. He highlights the need for education on mortgages now more than ever before. With the help of an incredibly diverse group of salespeople telling their stories and experiences in the industry both digitally and locally, we can make a greater impact for those coming in to avail our services and more. Tune in to this important conversation and learn the power of branding that gets your message and soul front and center to your audience.
About Alec Hanson
Alec Hanson is a contemporary leader within the Mortgage Industry. Constantly striving to improve, he began his career in origination in 2004 funding over $85M and was named Rookie of the Year by Scotsman’s Guide. Every subsequent year, Hanson landed on Scotsman’s Top 200 Originator list finishing his best year at $185M. From there, Hanson be
gan coaching and growing a successful branch network in Orange County with his peak year in 2010 funding over $1B at the branch level. Hanson has received Housing Wire’s Rising Star award both in 2017 and 2019, Senior Vice President of Production for loanDepot for the West Division, overseeing approximately $8B in annual production. Currently, he serves as the Chief Marketing Officer. A dynamic coach and thought leader, Hanson believes in leading and coaching within the trenches of the mortgage business.
He is the author of loanDepot’s Modern Lending Playbook: a strategic and tactical tool designed to equip, train, and evolve the traditional mortgage professional’s skill sets into the modern era. Alec is also the author of “Bypassed: A Modern Guide for Local Mortgage Pros Left Behind by the Digital Customer,” which details a systemic approach to help Mortgage Professionals succeed in the digital world.
Alec is married to his beautiful wife of 17 years, Erica, and is the proud dad of Phoenix (11 years old) and Scarlett (9 years old). He can be found at @alecthehanson on all social platforms.
It’s great to have Alec Hanson on the show, Chief Marketing Officer of loanDepot. I’m wondering, Alec, if you are one of the most unique CMOS in the world because I’ve not yet met a CMO who is also a Founder and Owner of a CrossFit brand.
I had a CrossFit gym for several years. I started in my garage. It’s pretty wild back in the very early days of CrossFit.
CrossFit and mortgages are a very natural fit.
Sales and fitness have a blend somewhere in there.
You mentioned sales. Maybe we can start with this point because it’s interesting. You’re the Chief Marketing Officer. Maybe this is the other unique point. Your first marketing role is CMO. Most people who we talked to at a CMO level were like, “I started in brand management at P&G. I went to Director and then VP in SCP.” You’re like, “Screw that part. I’m going to go straight to the marketing C-Suite.” How did that happen?
My path here is very interesting. I’ve been in mortgage sales and sales leadership for many years. I started at the street level like a receptionist, $90 alone. I’m doing HELOC in a strip mall up through being at my self-originate mortgage guy into leadership. I’ve always viewed that sales and marketing are almost two sides of the same coin. They’re very different things but very connected.
As an originator and a leader, marketing became a second language for things that I’m very passionate about. It opens the door. Without it, sales are hard. Marketing helps sales. I’ve been very passionate about it for a long time. A few years into my career when I was running the Western United States for our sales organization, a lot of my focus was detent into marketing. That’s why I started my podcast. We were chatting about that.
That’s when I wrote my book and started getting active on social media as a tool for human connection. That pushed me forward. I was very motivated in that space to the point that my CEO grabbed me and was like, “We want you to consider being the CMO.” I was like, “What are you talking about? I’m a sales guy.” I bring a unique perspective to the role. I feel like sales and marketing are very interconnected. I’m hoping that my influence there can drive the needle for us.
The CEO tapped you for the role. It wasn’t this part of your ambition or master plan to take over the role.
This was a very left-field moment for me in my career. You can tell I’m passionate about it so we can dive into that. I had been on the sidelines. I was putting my passion front and center for everybody to hear about things like thought we should be doing or angles I thought we should be covering. As it turns out, he opened up the opportunity and said, “I think you can make an impact here,” and pushed me into considering it so here I am.
Talk about that transition. What was that transition like for you? You’re like, “I’m taking over all these new skillsets. I’m coming at this with a sales mentality but not having been part of the market organization?” Maybe talk about what you were replacing. Was it a new role in the organization or were you replacing an outgoing CMO?
We’ve had several different strategies over the years at loanDepot around marketing. Our organization has multiple origination avenues. We have a very large successful joint venture group. We have a direct-to-consumer. People would equate it to a call center group. We have our distributed retail or in-market sales professionals group where I come from.
Under Frank’s leadership, bringing all that together under one marketing organization, it was a little bit fragmented over the years. A certain part of the marketing group was supporting the direct side and JV side. For a long time, we had wholesale and then our retail side. There wasn’t an overarching strategy combining all of that.
When I got tapped on the shoulder, it was more than bringing that all under one roof. You talked about the transition. It was probably rougher for the team freaking out that the sales guy was showing up one day and they were like, “What is he going to do here?” It’s been incredibly enjoyable. We’ve all meshed well. They understand my viewpoint. I’m hardcore but I’m a likable guy so we’re making good progress.
With that, what was your philosophy in the first 90 days of establishing a plan? What are you going to do differently? Sometimes, people are like, “We’re going to go from this to this.” What was your approach?
I have several things that are high on my priority list and I call them my North Stars. I’ve been at loanDepot for several years so I live and breathe this company’s culture. I’ve been part of building it for so many years. One of the things that a lot of organizations can do well but we can do better is explain who we are and show our heartbeat to the community that we’re serving. I don’t think they know us the way I know us.
I come from a long line of storytellers. My father and grandfather are all big storytellers. When I look at our opportunity to tell our story, that turns into that brand development conversation. One of my main priorities is I don’t think everyone knows some people the way I do and they should because it’s an incredible organization with incredible people with incredible purpose. The more that our community and customers can understand that, the more that they’re going to be drawn to potentially working with us for giving us a chance to serve them in their time of financing need.
How well understood is that story, even internally? Was that part of it?
The opportunity is both. Both are to continue to tell it internally and externally. We’re a young organization. We’re only thirteen years old. We’re still barely like a teenager. We’re also writing our story, as every company, I believe, should be. You should continually be writing your story. It doesn’t end. It’s always an evolution. Part of the excitement that you’re maybe feeling or I have is I get to help retell that, re-explain, and showcase not just externally, which is going to be fun but internally too.
Mortgages and other aspects of the financial services industry are so undifferentiated because everyone’s essentially selling the same thing. What is that story? How do you distill that story in a way that is authentic to who you are? How do you look at it? Is it about them being differentiated or salience? What is that story? How do you tell that in a differentiated way?
There are some parts of the mortgage industry that do have differentiation. An example would be technology. A lot of companies are renting their mortgage tech from these giant conglomerates. They do look and feel very similar because they’re all operating on similar tech platforms. Large organizations such as loanDepot or Rocket were strategic.
I know loanDepot did about $100 million years ago building its tech platform. There are some points of differentiation there where, all of a sudden, the customer experience is going to be a little bit more streamlined or different than another organization. We can tell that story. We can showcase, “Here’s how these things are different.”
To your original point, a 30-year conventional mortgage that we’re selling to Fannie Mae is the same product somebody else is selling to Fannie Mae. The opportunity for differentiation does come in a brand, human connection, relationship, and experience. That’s where we get a chance to start showcasing what makes us different and tick. I hate to say this so simplistically but have you ever been the guy at a party where you say the joke not very loud but then somebody else says it louder and everyone laughs?
Sometimes, it’s telling your story the right way to make that connection and that’s where the opportunity lies. Sometimes too, it’s meeting the customers where they’re at. There are a lot of mortgage companies that their social media strategy is extremely lacking. Some of that is they’re not contemporarily meeting the customer where they’re at. That’s another point for differentiation.
Talk a bit about what that story for loanDepot is. If you can take us under the hood on how you get there. What’s at the top of the penthouse? What’s your brand? What’s the narrative that goes with that? If you can take us through what the product was like. Is that codified, in a presentation, or used for all onboarding? Was that something that you came up with internally? Did you work with partners to get there? What was the buy-in to get there?
You can’t tell one person’s story without talking about Anthony Hsieh, our Founder. He’s the guy who came here and built this thing from nothing. His story is incredible. He’s like the epitome of the American dream. He built an amazing company. For a long time, Anthony Hsieh and loanDepot were synonymous because it was just his presence. As we become a teenager and we’re starting to walk on our own so to speak, loanDepot has been rewriting its story, coming back to market, and explaining who we are.
From an entrepreneurial base and tech center pioneer organization into a more mature company, our stories evolve. When you carve deeper into that and say, “What do we exist to do,” we have three core functions. Go back in time. Non-bank mortgage companies were built and designed to serve first-time homebuyers. It’s what they were designed to do. Fannie, Freddie, and FHA, that’s the game.
Some of this has been a little bit of a reawakening. We want to do loans for people who are buying vacation homes or investment properties but the first-time homebuyers are an underserved community. It’s a huge opportunity and in our DNA. Anthony Hsieh was the original loan officer for his parents because they didn’t speak English. He had to translate for them. That’s in our soul.
The secondary component underneath that is serving the diverse communities. We were number three in the country for serving diverse communities but we want to be number one. I’m going to say this because it needs to be said. My dad’s been in this industry for many years. I’ve watched his career and it’s been inspiring. I went right out of college, graduated in December, started January in the mortgage industry, and spent several years there.
The amount of times I’ve watched my father and myself experience the mortgage lender being one tier above a used car rip-off artist has been brutal. You talk about some of these underserved communities, first-time homebuyers, and the diverse minority communities. A lot of these have been underserved. They’ve been manipulated and abused. It is a chance for us to come in and put our flag down and say, “We’re going to be known for serving first-time homebuyers and the diverse community. On a third pillar, we’re going to be known for serving our veteran community.”
loanDepot pioneered the VA renovation loan for veterans years ago. It’s available to everybody because it’s a VA product but we worked with them to build this whole thing. Our purpose comes down to those core areas. It gets a little bit more nuanced because you can tell that we want to serve the underserved and be in that position. You get into niche products that are like renovation lending or reverse mortgage financing, which is another very stigmatized product on misunderstood product. Those are the areas where we want to shine for the consumer.
Talk a bit about the challenges for first-time homebuyers. From everything I’ve been reading, the odds are pretty stacked against them across so many dynamics. Not just the market dynamic and the supply and demand factors but also there’s a lot of entrenchment around the opportunities in favor of current homeowners at the expense of first-time homebuyers, which makes it harder for first-time homebuyers. Can you maybe talk about what’s happening in the industry at the moment? How things have evolved? What can you do about it?
From a historical perspective, at this moment in time, we have an inventory problem in the United States. With that problem, it’s very hard for people to get into any homes at all, whether they’re moving up or finding their first one. That will start to ease and be solid from two things. The new construction community is doing everything it can to build as many houses as possible. I do think we’re going to see a reprieve in rates to a degree that will get some people to move. No one wants to move from a 3% rate to 7%.
You’re going to downsize and be paying the same mortgage.
In my opinion, somebody will move to 3% to 5%. They’ll look at the payment and be like, “That’s not that much different.” Optically, 3 or 5 but payment-wise, people go, “That makes sense.” We’ll see some of that open up but historically, what’s fascinating is there are more options for first-time homebuyers than ever before. There are lower down payment options that never existed historically before. You get 3% or 3.5% down for FHA. For VA, there’s no down payment required. There are bonds, down payment assistance programs, and lots of localized things that people need to get educated on that are available to them.
We have a loan officer in New Jersey that year-to-date has helped up to $280,000 in down payment assistance to people in New Jersey. It’s incredible. That’s a very localized solution. Unless you’re working with somebody there in the market, who knows? They’re not going to be able to help you navigate that stuff. There are more solutions now than ever before for first-time homebuyers. There’s more need for education now than ever before.
We launched an educational video about how you don’t need 20% down. Everyone in the mortgage is like, “Duh.” It’s not duh. I watch comments going, “Why am I saving them for this much?” That’s a real thing. There’s never been a bigger need for education than now. That’s going to help first-time homebuyers navigate this tough market because the more they’re equipped, the more they can go out and figure out creative solutions to things that exist to help them get their first house. There are headwinds. Inventory is inventory. It’s a problem.
The training and education piece sounds like a core aspect of the brand, content, and com strategy. You took a bit about that but also, I’d love to hear what else is in the remit. What is your focus on?
Let’s unpack education for a minute. Mortgage is one of those things that isn’t taught in school. I’ve been in the industry a long time, even people who are exceptionally financially savvy in their lives. You bring mortgage in and they’re still going, “I don’t know what this means.” Even people that you’d think would get this, it’s still new because people don’t use it very often. It’s maybe every 5 to 7 years, once in their life, or a couple of refinances. That’s it.
Education has always been a lack in our industry for several reasons. People want to gatekeep. It’s like, “I don’t want to tell you the answer until you start working with me. I get that but apply with me first and then I’ll help you.” There’s been a little scarcity mindset in mortgages. Where the opportunity lies, in my opinion, is the abundance mindset and open hand. Here’s the information to use as you should. Whether you use us or not, at least somebody taught you how to do this stuff.
That stems back to my early days originating loans. I will never forget my early career. Let’s say you and I were working together and you got a better deal somewhere else. I don’t know how they did it but somebody got you a better deal than I could. I remember telling customers as much as it burned me on the inside because I’m so competitive and I wanted to win every deal, “Go with them. I don’t know how they did that deal but it’s the best on the market that I could ever see.”
You trusted me at that point. Customers that I told to go somewhere else because it was better for them became some of my most referral-centric side. I didn’t even work with them and they still sent me their family members because they knew that I was going to be honest and trustworthy as a provider. That’s the same approach we’re taking at loanDepot. “You need to know the facts. Here’s the truth about how this world works. Here’s what no one’s teaching you. Take this information. Go be equipped and make great decisions. We’re here if you need us.”
Education and authenticity are key in many of what you do but talk about some of the other key initiatives that relate to marketing and the brand that you’re focused on.
We have an incredibly diversified decentralized group of salespeople who are in the market and are some of the best in class. One of my unique opportunities is to help them tell their story, both digitally and locally. The traditional localized mortgage pro, who I was, built my whole business never played in the digital landscape. Social media didn’t exist back then in the glory days. As YouTube, TikTok, and all these platforms have exploded, these localized professionals have this humongous opportunity to become more digital, build a personal brand, and scale themselves in their personalities.
I have a huge opportunity to help put that megaphone in their hands and get them out in the world. You and I talked a little bit about the podcast that I started. I started it because I felt like I couldn’t coach and mentor people about podcasting if I didn’t have a clue what it was. I’ve never played in it. One of the reasons I launched my own was to help other people decide if it’s best to launch there. I have a huge opportunity with our group that I was leading on the Western side of the United States to scale across and help them all learn how to tell their story digitally.
I don’t know if we’ll talk more about the brand too but this concept or analogy of a coin always sticks with me. Personal brands and corporate brands should play together. You, an individual, have your world views, skillsets, consultative values, wisdom, and experience that complement a national brand. We should play off each other. I need you and you need me if I can help you in the right ways. That’s a unique and fun opportunity that I get to play with, which is how we get to superpower our localized heroes and let their stories make an impact.
In any decentralized and channel-based approach where you have an individual, whether it’s financial services, retirement life, or reality probably even more, that component, have you been able to, in some ways, codify that to say, “Our brand stands for this. If we get people who stand for these values, have these attributes, or believe these sorts of things, is the alchemy of both where the sparks start to fly, or is that part of the equation of more gut or instinctual to be interested, like how you can codify and scale that in some ways?
We’re at a convergence point in lending, which is very interesting and unique for me. When I talk digital, I’m talking social media. These have become the forefront of humanity’s existence. Everybody’s staring at their phones and deep in these platforms. This has become a convergence point between brand and personal brand. There’s a belief that I hold that people work with people that they like, know, and trust.
Let’s go up another level for a second and then we’ll come back down to this. For forever, certain players in our industry have tried to commodify getting a mortgage. It’s a commodity. You get the best deal and move on. The reason that’s failed is because it’s not totally true. Totally is the right word. If you wanted to get a refinance and lower your payment, you’re looking at the rates on Google, and you’re trying to go, “What can I get here,” there’s a little bit of commodity nation in that.
Even in that situation, there are still some core questions that you should answer that somebody should consult with you about to make sure that you’re making the right decision for yourself. A great example is somebody in that situation looking to get a simple rate in term refinance and lower their payment but they have high-interest credit card debt.
Nobody says, “Have you ever thought about rolling this into this new payment and getting rid of these credit cards?” Sometimes, a consumer might hold those in two different places in their mind, “My credit card debt and auto loan live over here. I want to talk about my mortgage.” A savvy professional would oppose the question. You can’t simply commodify it because everyone’s life journeys and experiences are radically different. That’s where it’s been this tension of like, “This is a commodity.” It’s not. This is where we’re seeing the convergence of large national brands.
Here’s the thing. Humans love brands. We wear Nike’s. We love Amazon. At the same time, when it comes to brain surgery, it’s like, “I want a human. I want the best. This is a big deal.” In there somewhere are mortgages. It’s not a brain surgery level but it’s in there. We’re saying, “People do business with people they like, know, and trust. They love brands. Let’s watch as these two things come together.”
Another example of this is that loanDepot is one of the most prolific interceptors or engagers of digital clients. The digital customer who’s pushing buttons on the internet is talking to loanDepot at a national level. The amount of lead-by sophistication and telephony that is going on in that world, an individual can’t do. Our contact centers make a million calls a day.
An individual can’t scale. They can’t do that but what happens in these contexts is when someone says, “I live in Utah. I want to buy a house in Utah.” We go, “Great. We got a loan guy down the street in Utah. Would you like to talk to them?” They go, “That sounds great.” This digital-to-local thing is converging as we speak. The more we empower our localized people to showcase who they are and get their professionalism on the digital stage, the higher our conversion is for the digital customer. We’re coming to a place where both are intersecting.
How are you seeing this difference in behavior across even different generational consumer segments?
Let’s talk about the trend for a minute. The trend is people are becoming more digital every day. They’re living on their screens every day. Even if you go up to the Boomers, they’re still on screens all the time. They are acting differently and using the resources differently. They’re not on TikTok as much as they’re on Facebook but they’re still on these platforms.
What we’re finding from the large trend is people tend to start online and end locally but it’s a personal preference. Anthony had this comment back in the day. He said, “You have to serve a customer the way they want to be served.” We’re launching our AI-based chatbot. We’re in this whole world, which is very interesting.
The amount of people that want to chat on the internet don’t want to call or be on the phone with you. It is growing at astronomical numbers. We have people who push a button on the internet and say, “I would love to talk to a mortgage professional.” When we call them, they never answer the phone. They told us to call them. They said, “Please, I want information. Call me,” and then they’re like, “Nah,” but it’s, “Please, don’t do that.”
How do you deal with that? Are you trying different things? I can relate to that.
We’ve stood up text solutions. We’re texting directly to customers. We’re asking questions like I’ve mentioned on the chatbot. We’re getting more sophisticated in that on the website because people want information. You have to serve the customer the way they want to be served.
What I’m saying is if they ask you to call them, are you still doing that or are you trying something different?
We broke a meeting on this. They tell us they want us to call them so we call them and they don’t answer. We built out three text cadences to follow up with them with different styles, language choices, and formality versus informality emojis. We’ve pushed that into existence because they want something. They just don’t want to be harassed on the phone with a sales guy, which I get. I’m surprised they’re responding by text and then it warms up.
We’re finding that introductory video texts go the farthest because of a personalized message from me to you saying, “Alec Hanson of loanDepot, we got your information. I love a chance to talk to you and see if you need anything. Text me back or call me.” It humanizes even further than just a text message. I’m not necessarily some annoying sales guy, which maybe I am but at least you saw my face or heard my voice. You got a taste of who I am and those convert the highest in response.
Immediately, you start to imagine that creates a lot more opportunities as a way to bring that brand idea to life. Beyond the brand, it’s identity and messaging. As you think about the voice and the personality, even the backdrop of what the person says and what they’re wearing, there are a lot of things you can start to think about. What does that look like coming from loanDepot in a way that’s ownable? Even if you turned off the subject and you didn’t know it was loanDepot, is there a way to do that? You’re like, “It feels like no one else would be able to do this. This couldn’t be any other brand.” Do you think about it like that?
We’re in the very early innings of this strategy. It’s a lot about learning and trying new things by different age groups and demographics and seeing how they want to respond. Also, learning the customer. It is fun and exciting too because it is so new and we are figuring it out but you have to because they’re not answering their phones anymore. You have to evolve.
When you think about brand performance and measurement, how do you combine the real-time data with maybe the traditional brand word? You would do your brand perception study once a year to understand how well we are doing around awareness and funnel metrics against the competitors. We’re trying things out at the moment because more data doesn’t necessarily mean more insights. Talk about how you think about brand measurement at that high level and micro level as well.
Let me answer this way, and we can maybe open this conversation up. We’re in a down cycle in the mortgage industry. Every 10 to 15 years, there’s a down cycle. Those cycles are very violent. Mortgage companies flex, grow, and shrink depending on the waves that come. Facing a down cycle, you have to be very thoughtful about where you spend your money, what you do, and how you do it. The decisions we would have made in a normal market or even a market that’s swinging up would be different than now.
Our priority from this brand exposure is what I would call guerrilla warfare-centric. Some of our major competitors are the rockets of the world. These guys are massive branding monsters. They’re Super Bowl commercials and sponsoring jockeys. They’re putting their brand front and center in all these major platforms and positions. Our strategy as we navigate this down cycle is going straight on through social media.
To me, that’s the guerrilla warfare opportunity in this market. It’s not who can spend the most money and make the biggest bang on a Super Bowl commercial. It’s who can get their message and soul front and center to their audience. If you go back to where we’re focused on these first-time homebuyers, they’re on social. They’re the 30 and 35-year-olds. They’re the people who are messing around with TikTok, have been on Instagram for a long time, and don’t go to Facebook anymore.
That’s our audience and community. When we talk about where we want to go with our brand and where we want to make the impact, it’s in those areas. We’re the major league baseball sponsor. We have a long contract. We have loanDepot Park in Miami but as we look at this cycle at this moment, our opportunity is to play in the streets and on people’s phones where they’re at.
Give me an example of how to do that in a way that works if I’m on Instagram, scrolling on TikTok, or even on LinkedIn. How do you make that work? It’s like, “I’ve got something from loanDepot.” Especially to your point where there might be 5 to 8 years in between me thinking about my mortgages or refinance. How do you make that work in a combination of the category and the episodic nature of the actual decisions?
It’s going to sound simplistic in the beginning and there’s a lot of nuance to it. Let’s start with education. If we’re talking about first-time homebuyers, we all come from a position of they just don’t know what they don’t know. There are people who could buy operating under bad assumptions who aren’t buying or putting themselves into the market because of bad information. If we can inspire those people to get educated, get on a plan, and be informed about some options, we’ll help inspire them to start now instead of waiting two years.
At the same time, we’re also building goodwill for the next cycle. It might not be that you’re not buying this second because you feel like home prices are too inflated. You may have a personal view that might come down, which people do but who’s in your life giving you options, sharing insights, talking about what’s going on in lending and real estate? Our opportunity is both short-term and long-term in those spaces.
It’s interesting your point about first-time homebuyers because you’ve got both trying to find those people who are in those buy moments and also building a brand in the long-term. What are the predictors or how do you target someone who is a first-time homebuyer? Is it based on a set of other actions that indicate or increase the probability that they are first-time homebuyers? It helps you allocate your dollars to reaching as many right people as possible.
There’s some pretty fun stuff we can do with paid advertising on Meta, TikTok, and these brands where it looks like audiences are very powerful. We are closing a lot of loans for first-time homebuyers. We have a data set. We can create very clean-look-like audiences of people who bought and go after that group. We can target our past customers and look for their referral networks and personal target networks.
There’s some creepy stuff that we can do where if people are going into open houses, we can pay attention and find out who’s going into where. There’s some wild next-gen marketing stuff. It’s a little stalker-y. It’s in line with Siri and Alexa are listening to your stuff but we can also learn and listen. As we put out pieces of content, you almost get instantaneous feedback of, “Is this right, wrong, or indifferent?”
My favorite was a good friend of mine who put out a piece of content that went pretty viral. He’s a mortgage professional and trying to sell loans. His piece of content was, “How much can you afford if you make $100,000 a year in buying a house?” It’s fascinating because the content was math. It was, “Here’s how the guidelines work and what the government’s Fannie Mae guidelines say you can afford if you make this much money.”
The outrage that came at him online for people who felt that it was financially irresponsible to buy a house at that level even though the guidelines qualified you was fascinating to me. The government and the loan say, “You could go now and get this loan for this level of house.” The people on the internet were like, “This is a bad financial decision. You should never buy that house. You’ll be house-poor.”
My comment is you get this instantaneous feedback on these platforms that show you where people’s passions are, where the need for education is, where you can play more aggressively, and where you can double down. We’re talking down cycle strategy where we get every penny matters. If I’m going to spend $0.1, I have to make sure that I have the highest chance of getting in front of the right person than if I’m putting out a piece of paid content on the internet like a display ad or going on to commercial or radio ads.
What if you had to adjust? What does your upcycle playback have that your downcycle playback doesn’t? How’s that changed?
In an upcycle, you could experiment a lot more because you get a chance to try out some strategies that you might not normally do. You also have the ability to play a lot of higher-level branding plays. That is like the Major League Baseball stuff and Super Bowl commercials. You can play up there. I also think we’re in that land in between too like, “When was the last commercial you watched?” I don’t know how much humans are doing that much anymore. They’re picking their phone up fast if they’re forced to watch a commercial. We’re at a convergent point too. There the world is changing. The people are done with certain traditional marketing tools.
How do you keep the spirits and morale up? It’s an industry thing. You know it’s going to happen at some point. You think about your role as a CMO, that connection to culture and morale, especially having been an organization for so long.
It starts with a purpose. We get very transactional in lending accidentally because we’re doing a repetitive task every month over and over again. It’s Groundhog Day. It feels that way sometimes but when you pull back, you realize that you helped this first-time homebuyer buy a house they never thought they could afford and they changed their life or we did a deal for a special operations SEAL who flew back at Christmas time.
He signed his deal, closed his deal, went back, and was deployed again. We had a lot of people wrapping around this because it was a very small window to get this guy’s paperwork ready and everything done. Those are the things that you center on that can help you through the down cycle. You also have to realize that perspective plays such a huge role in maintaining morale. I’ll say this poorly. Some salespeople and organizations also came through some of the best years they’ve ever had in their life.
If you blow all your money, we try to coach people. If you went out and bought a new house or car, you elevated your lifestyle. A lot of people are very smart and they don’t. They can weather a down cycle. We try to preach this in lending. You have to average out the years. You’ll probably be doing pretty good. If you don’t, it can be tough to do this. Perspective and purpose are the ways. As a storyteller, that’s our opportunity. We can keep sharing that over and over again and that’s where the morale latches onto.
You try to communicate. Do you use an internal com channel to tell those stories as well to be able to scale them?
Absolutely. Besides the internet and emails, we leverage our social media. We tell stories there all the time and what’s happening. We encourage our people to follow and connect with that world as well so that they can see the stories there too.
I want to touch on a couple of things related to your principles. When you think about your guiding principles in leading and managing people, what are the things that guide you?
First, the breach has always been a concept that I’ve latched onto as a leader in my core purpose. I watch my dad do it. I feel like if you’re going to tell people things they should do or encourage them in certain ways, I hope you’ve done it. I have that respect when people say, “Come along with me. I’ll do it with you and be alongside you.” When I was leading salespeople at a local level, like a branch, I’d love to go on the street in the field with them and make sales calls. You have to be in the breach with people.
The other piece that I compliment that with is this radical empathy. Everyone’s going through crap. Everyone’s under the water. There’s always stuff going on. We come into work and put on the work face but something’s happening underneath everybody’s life. If you do your best to have a level of awareness and empathy that something else could be going on that you don’t know and you treat every interaction with a little bit of that, you’re a better leader. You can help inspire people better. Those two things are a core to what I try to live my life by.
Alec, thanks for being on the show. It’s been wonderful to have you.
Thanks. It’s been a blast.