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LendingClub’s Bill Walsh: ‘At its core, marketing is a data problem’

  • Lending Club's marketing is informed by data and analytics.
  • Bill Walsh runs marketing for the firm's personal loans division.
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LendingClub’s Bill Walsh: ‘At its core, marketing is a data problem’

We’re experimenting with an interesting new series on the podcast called Marketing Talk. We’re talking to top finance and fintech marketers sitting on the front lines of their business, hustling to bring in the next cohort of customers. As much as TechCrunch makes this stuff look easy, it isn’t and we want to hear from marketers — in their own words — what’s working for them, how they’re structuring their teams, and what channels are delivering.

Today’s marketer on the hot seat is Bill Walsh, LendingClub’s general manager and head of marketing for personal loans. Bill brings an engineer’s approach to marketing. The MIT grad began his tenure at Lending Club in an operations role, where rigorous problem solving was used to solve some of the biggest problems in the business. Now that he’s leading marketing on the consumer side, he brings a similar approach.

We talk about how LendingClub defines marketing and approaches channels. We pay particular attention to a recent TV campaign you might have seen over the summer of 2018. Measuring and responding to the signal is core to LendingClub’s approach and in the course of this four week broadcast campaign, Bill’s team iterated twice. This puts ad agencies on notice — this is the new data-driven fintech marketing world.

Listen to the full episode

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

How does an MIT grad get into marketing?

I started my career as a software engineer. I find that very helpful in bringing a quantitative and engineering perspective to our marketing team.

I began at LendingClub in a business operations role. There, we were focused on rigorous problem solving, using engineering and consulting approaches to some of the biggest problems in the business. I worked in various parts of the company, including operations and underwriting. When Lending Club returned back to growth mode in 2017, it’s very much in our DNA to apply a data-driven approach to the opportunities in our business. I was naturally attracted to marketing.

The work we kicked off in the beginning of year to understand the right instrumentation, the right test-and-learn approach, and figuring out how we were going to grow this business in an efficient way — it was just a natural fit for my background and interests.

At its core, marketing today is a data problem, and what we focus on is really leveraging the advantages LendingClub has as a technology company.

Can marketing be boiled down to just data science?

I would say that marketing is definitely a scientific discipline. But, you can discover and learn the art side of the business. For us, one of the biggest things that informs the delivery of our messages is not going into it with any presupposition as to what will work in advance. We’re always testing a number of different messages, channels, and approaches.  We let the data guide what signals we mine in terms of creative.

As you see some of the messages we’ve been running on television, that’s where we landed on this idea of borrower stories. One of the things that resonated with our audience is customers hearing from people like them what a loan from Lending Club did for their lives.

Where did the television campaign come from and how do you measure its success?

We began the current campaign in September. We tell a number of different stories, keeping with this idea that we’re trying to find relevant messages for our audience. There’s a story focused on a family with young children that finds budgeting a surprising challenge. A loan with LendingClub helps to simplify the process. Money left over means opportunity for them.

In another story, two young men suffer a physical setback. It’s easier to get into debt than out of debt. A personal loan from LendingClub helped clear out a lot of the debt that had accumulated while they were out of work and helped them get back on track.

Something we’ve found that has really resonated is the idea that LendingClub isn’t a bank. It’s not just a place to get money. It’s a community. It’s a club. If you remember, the origin of LendingClub was a peer to peer lender, where people helped people. This is really powerful for a lot of folks in our audience.

How do you judge success with broadcast television?

That’s why I enjoy this campaign so much — it’s a challenging engineering problem. First, you need the right instrumentation and data collection for the top of the funnel. Getting the right identity resolution and customer journey is critical — foundational– to do this well. The second piece is the right cadence of testing. The third piece is having the analytical capabilities internally to quickly ingest and respond to the signal and tune our approach.

In the four weeks we’ve been running broadcast TV, we iterated on the testing and placement strategy twice, which put pressure on our agency. That’s just how we do things here. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. We’re not going to use resources for things that don’t help us get our message out there.

How’s your team aligned?

We have channel experts responsible for execution in each of the verticals. Half of our marketing team is in an analytical role. This type of quantitative approach informs how we do everything: from channel strategies to customer interactions across channels. The average customer journey through our media before they even land on an LendingClub page is in the dozens. It’s about understanding the 20-50 touch points before I even see you for the first time.

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