NerdWallet Pivots To Help Customers Weather A Financial Crisis

MediaPost's Steve Smith is top left, NerdWallet CMO Kelly Gillease is top right, and MediaPost's Lisa Singer is at bottom. At right is the ongoing chat window for attendees and panelists to share thoughts.

The COVID-19 crisis is certainly a health crisis but also a financial crisis, so it was appropriate that our first keynote speaker at Monday's Search & Performance Marketing Insider Summit was the CMO at NerdWallet, a contemporary D2C financial services platform.

Kelly Gillease told those assembled virtually that the company's big driver metric is ROAS, since it is looking for the right content for its performance campaigns. In particular, strategists want to know whether their audience is "clicking off to our partners or are they in shopping mode. We want a good quality metric to figure out intent."

About a month after the crisis hit in March, "Google shared data that showed searches for financial health were up 200%, like a bat signal to come in and help people," she said.

First, the brand delivered on a promise to answer all its customers' many questions. Then, as time went on, it took action.

An in-house content team updated articles on its website so that, for example, people could understand the fine print of things like the CARES Act."We focus on this a lot, distilling it into simple language." The staff of 80 people leaned into content, offering answers on student loan refinancing, mortgages, insurances."

"A lot of people were suddenly interested in investing," said Gillease. Millennials had been reticent to invest but now saw it as a good time to get into investing. "Travel rewards cards, not so much. That was one area we saw decline in, not credit cards generally." 

The company put out its first national campaign in Q1, which did well, she said, so it considered increasing spend for Q2, but when COVID-19 hit, "we didn't pull back, but we didn't increase it either." The company sees the brand campaign as aiding awareness and making NerdWallet the consumer choice in the financial space.

That spot is a 30-second, cinematic ad, and there is OOH as well. Themed "Money Questions," the vignettes feature people asking about finances. In Q2, Gillease said, the brand will run vignettes that are appropriate to the current situation, and delete the more frivolous questions. "We made a few pivots there."

Since OTT streaming video skyrocketed early on, Gillease said the company had planned to jump on that as part of its brand campaign as well as a performance strategy. Now it is pivoting into figuring out how to capture good, accurate demand. Its TV buy did well by the number of impressions, despite some softness. Now, it is also leaning into social and CRM programs as well as email, going from business as usual to helpful content.

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