‘The universal insight of solving for financial anxiety is it’s incredibly relatable’: Brittanie Williams, EarnIn
- EarnIn recently rebranded, which impacted the firm's logo, color palette, and value proposition.
- We spoke to the firm's CMO about the challenges EarnIn users face in their daily financial lives.
I really enjoy talking to marketers, especially about rebrands. For me, the process a firm goes through when it rebrands is incredibly insightful for the team, for customers, and for partners. Successful fintechs can grow so quickly, when they rebrand or even refresh their brands, it forces them to stop, to take stock, and look at who they really want to be when they grow up.
Today’s guest on the podcast is Brittanie Williams, chief marketing officer at EarnIn. My pronunciation is purposeful – part of the rebrand the firm with earned waged access at its core just underwent meant even looking at its own name differently.
Britt and I discuss the customer research that went into the new brand and what it showed about Americans living paycheck to paycheck. We talk about the use of a brand muse and what that can do to help focus marketing and product. We also chat about how the firm expanded the aperture of its value proposition – to include helping people with financial anxiety – and what that enables the firm and brand to do going forward.
Brittanie Williams is my guest today on the Tearsheet Podcast.
The following excerpts were edited for clarity.
We are a company that is about nine years old. So we've been around for a minute. But you know, when I came in to the role a couple of years ago, I thought this is like the best kept secret in fintech because a lot of people didn't know about EarnIn. So that was really just part of the role. And me coming on board, I think that the company was ready to really make a bigger statement and jump in.
My previous role was at Uber. And while I was there, we actually did two different rebrands, one of them more successful than the other. So I think I had a lot of experience in the area.
I think that they just knew that they needed to make a bigger splash in the category. And so they were ready to take that step. I think with a lot of fintechs, you build your product and you get out there and you spend a lot of time connecting with customers. And then there's a certain point where you're like, Okay, now we need to build a brand to get to the next stage of what we want to do.
There was a ton of customer research. We had a pretty small marketing team when I joined. So the first thing we did was we went out to find a partner. We engaged Sterling Brands to help us on that journey. And then from there, the very first thing we did was some pretty extensive research.
It started just in the post COVID period. So we were doing a lot of online interviews: we did billboard interviews, you know, 6000 responses, 16 hours of video, and really dug in with some ethnographies to get inside of the customer life to understand how they lived, what was important to them, and what they needed from a financial services provider.
This was really a new area for us to really dig in. At that level, I think that we always had a pretty good instinctual understanding. But to get to some deeper insights that would drive the development of the brand, both the positioning and the strategy, and then how that manifests in the design itself, it became really important we developed what we call a ‘brand muse’. So, who is that key target customer that represents the customer overall that we want to attract and what they're looking for in life. That was like the,center mark that we wanted to hit first.
Taylor, brand muse
We named our brand muse, Taylor.
Taylor is an amazing individual. So it's interesting. I think when people think about people living paycheck to paycheck, there's a lot of misconceptions that go along with that. There's this idea that people are not as financially responsible as they could be. Or maybe they're not paying attention to their finances. We found quite the opposite. We found that Taylor was using six apps, had spreadsheets – one of our customers actually kept the most amazing whiteboard on his wall where he was tracking all of his finances, incredibly mindful, and I would say that this customer, they know down to the dollar what they have in a way that some people that have more financial resources don't. I think that was one of the really, really big things for us.
Next we found how ambitious this customer is – they are incredibly ambitious. They have big dreams. There are things that they are working towards. And they're incredibly resourceful. They are figuring out how to get it done on a smaller paycheck. I could talk about Taylor for a long time.
They're really taking calculated risks, thinking about how they're going to get ahead with their education. We had one customer who was figuring out how to build a treehouse in their backyard, so they could Airbnb it. They were balancing those finances in really interesting ways. I really have a lot of respect for how hard these people are working, how many choices that they are making on a day to day basis to make it happen.
Also, just thinking about the different types of people that Taylor embodies. There are lots of people who are living paycheck to paycheck –maybe you have a retail job. But what we found was lots of teachers, lots of bank managers, lots of adjunct professors, so many. What do they say, like 63% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. So I think that you can't really pigeonhole this customer anymore.
And when you're faced with a situation like that, you don't know if you're ever going to get the house. This is not the Dave Ramsey of finance, where you are not going to buy the latte and get ahead anymore. The situation has changed. And so this customer is really looking to live better today and tomorrow. They're working for those bigger things. Tomorrow, they have that ambition, they have those needs. But also, it matters if they can go out to dinner on their birthday. It matters if they can have a little bit of the higher internet speed – that was one of the examples that we got.
We need to make sure that people can get on that road to have more financial means and flexibility and freedom. But at the same time, they need to be able to live their lives today, in a way that's rewarding. And so I think that that's really important to Taylor.
I think what we wanted to do is make sure that we're building a product and a service that provides them with that relief from anxiety, gives them those options, so that they can take advantage of those opportunities, because they have a plan. They just need some help getting there.
Financial anxiety is real
I just think it's such a relatable insight: I know people who make a ton of money, but they have a lot of financial anxiety. And I think that is a huge part of the problem that we want to solve for folks: having access to your income actually gets you on a different path. And if we can help on those choices and give you those options, you can get there. It's a pretty universal insight.
And what that universal insight does is it allows us to expand the brand into a wider category, and to more audiences, which was a huge part when I think about what are the goals of the rebrand itself, right? You want to have a category-defining brand. And you want it to be wide enough to help you go after new folks. This is what that universal insight of solving for financial anxiety does is it's incredibly relatable, whether you're living paycheck to paycheck, or you're making millions of dollars, I think a lot of people struggle in that way.
Lifestyle brand versus practical brand
I think it's somewhere in between – we solve a really practical reality. And we never want to sort of lose the eye on the prize on that. These are people's finances, this is their money, we need to make sure that it's fast, reliable, easy to access – all of those things. But at the same time, we definitely want to play a different role in their life and create an emotional connection.
I think that brands that make emotional connections with their customers have more longevity and have that emotional resonance. Like when we do the research, we see that in the numbers. When I think about it just purely from where do we want to be in the world, if I can build a brand that actually helps and relieves people's anxiety so that they can do what they want in their life, that's a really big deal. it's a big win.
We're doing it for a lot of business reasons, but I think that we're also doing it because that’s how we want to serve the customer. Creating that connection does that. You had mentioned savings, like that's the path that we want to get people on. It's great to have access to your income today and that does let you spend your money in a different way. But it's about responsible spending so that you have those choices and that you can get on the larger path.
Expanding EarnIn’s value proposition
We have a product right now called Tip Yourself. You can actually set up automated savings every single month, but we will be introducing new products and services that really help you along that financial journey. I think about it in three steps. So one, when you have access to your income, we can help you avoid overdrafts and late fees. So like $58 a month is now, instead of going to wasted fees, it's going into savings.
We see that people who stay on the platform for over six months, their incomes go up about 8%. So all of a sudden, you're not losing money – you're starting to save more money. And also at the same time, you have more options.
And then from there, it's really okay, what are the tools and services that we can provide that get you to that bigger thing. When we launched the brand, we had an event and we had some customers come in and speak to us. And we had one customer who talked about buying a house and how being on the platform for several years, starting with that step of just avoiding those fees. But over time, it really helped him balance things to the point where he was able to buy a house.
I think that's the transition that we want to see our customers take over time. Often people think of EWA as an emergency use case product. But there's a lot of power in having access to the money that you already made.
What the rebrand touches
The first thing a customer will see is that we have an array of beautiful new app icons and logo. The logo is actually based on the name. So we changed up the name a little bit – we used to be Earnin. We have changed that to EarnIn and it's a small shift, but also a big one. It's a little bit more grown up – it brings in the idea of being in with the brand. So you know you're in for receiving your earnings on time.
I think it solves some pronunciation and grammar issues, like speaking again to that grown up a bit. And then they'll see the logo. The logo is actually a manifestation of that idea of being in – we have that beautiful bright yellow. And then we have what we call the ‘in button’, which is a fun little swipe right, that shows that you can have options and choices and also for being in.
The new logo: The in button
It's that control, and I think about how a brand can so often show up interested in the way that you develop your product. When you think about something like a credit card, and people now have the option to turn that card on or off. That's how I think about that in button – that swipe and that control that you have the choice that you have over your finances, maybe in a way that you didn't have before – that comes to life in the product in many different ways.
Community includes pricing model
We said our role is just to empower our customers. They're smart, they're very resourceful, they know what they're doing, right? Taylor is on his or her way. But we just want to empower them and be like that wind at their back. We've always been a very community focused brand. The business model itself is based on generosity – we always have a no fee option. You can use the product for free and you have the option to tip. The tips help support and make the product available for other folks.
It's always funny when people are like, Well, why would you tip if you could use it for free? But, this is a customer that knows that other people face the same need. And so they want to support it. That idea of being in really does wraparound really nicely to the idea of community that was part of our founding.
Getting the new brand out there
The change started at home. So we held an all company event where we brought the entire company together for the first time. We're about 250. So it was a big group for us, everyone from all over the globe. We held an all day event where we did brand immersion, we did customer panels, and we spent some time really talking about how the design of the brand is evidence of where we want to go in the future.
I think that the the color palette has a lot of optimism and joy in it. That we want to be a little bit more fun, a little bit more witty, have a little bit more breakthrough. So we wanted to get everybody immersed in the brand and thinking about how that comes to life in their everyday work. Because it's great to do a rebrand and my experience is that they live and die by the adoption that they get internally.
So I think we wanted to take that first step to make sure that people were really embracing the brand. And now we're working on a bunch of fun stuff. So if you look at our Instagram account, you will see a lot of changes happening there. I think the brand is coming to life in a different way. We are about to launch something on TikTok this month. We have a new brand campaign coming. So the change of the brand also represents a change in the way that we do our marketing. So we're really investing in the branding and ramping up the way that we express that on our own channels, and then in the engagement that we have with our customer. We have a lot of fun stuff coming for the summer.
Getting internal buy-in
This is actually my favorite part. We did a lot internally on this too, because I want you to love it. But if you don't, that's okay, because the brand is for Taylor – that's who we're targeting. And everyone's going to have opinions. I have been really pleasantly surprised. We have some customers tweeting at us, and we've gotten some really nice comments.
We moved to this big bright yellow, and it's very different for the category, which was incredibly intentional. We got a couple of funny comments from folks. But I would say at large, it's been incredibly positive. I was ready, because I know people always have feelings about rebrands. So I was ready.
Metrics on the uptake of new brand
I feel like we've been pretty lucky. And then from a business perspective, anytime you do a change like this, it can really make a change in the business metrics. And we were really watching that. I'm happy to say that within two weeks, we were not only back to normal, but on an upward trajectory, which I think is a signal that people are really enjoying the new brand.
We had a full team monitoring every key metric that we watched for the business. I have to say, operationally, it was just pretty incredible to see how the team came together to watch that.
We had one change that we shipped – it's always the change of a button color, which, in my experience, happens every single time. But we had one change of a button color that had a pretty significant impact just into the way that the people were interacting with the product that we shipped within about 24 hours. There's always one or two of those things. It was pretty incredible.