How Pepper Money drives performance gains with brand investment

The challenger lending business is finding a way to take on the financial giants by leading with brand awareness to drive performance returns

As a non-bank lender, Pepper Money doesn’t want to compete on generic search terms in the financial services category because it’s just too expensive and not worth the investment to go head-to-head with the dominant players.

Generic search terms like ‘home loans’ can be at least ten times more costly than branded search terms such as ‘Pepper home loans’.

“The biggest ongoing challenge we have is cutting through the noise in a market where we’re up against extremely large budgets, and meeting market standards in products, technology and experience,” said Pepper Money GM, marketing and brand, Sarah Pikardt.  

But what’s enabling the brand to gain in search is not investing strictly in performance, but rather going deep into building awareness.  

“The economics stack up, but the only way to get those efficiencies in your performance channels is to create that branded demand,” Pikardt told CMO.  

Pikardt is often challenged by her peers on why the business should invest in brand when it’s critical to build the business pipeline and generate as many customer opportunities as possible. “I get it, it seems logical to invest more in highly targeted, lower funnel performance channels,” she said.  

“While this serves a purpose and provides short-term sales uplifts, without building our brand we’re not allowing for sustained growth over time. It’s an important balance between permanence and performance.  

“We’re often told: ‘Don’t invest in brand, we want the lower funnel performance, show me the lead, send me the application'. It’s getting back to saying: ‘No, investing in brand matters’.”  

In 2022, Pikardt has found brand investment a demand driver, delivering significant lift in Web traffic and lead volumes. “The presence of brand advertising has resulted in a 25 per cent increase in users to the website year-on-year,” she said.  

Brand activity has also helped deliver a 30 per cent lift in incremental home loan lead volumes. And brand response also provides critical support to the performance activity in search, which is one of the brand’s biggest lead channels.  

“When people search ‘Pepper Money home loans’ it reduces our cost per lead by over 90 per cent. Branded intent helps our performance channel scale efficient leads,” Pikardt said.  

Brand investment through customer narratives

During 2022, Pepper Money hatched a new initiative, creating the ‘Pepper Money Shout Out Awards. The aim was to drive awareness while being a unique way to live its brand values. But there was one major caveat: It had to be funded straight from the year’s marketing product budget.

Led by Pikardt, the idea was grounded in the brand’s core value of helping people. Working with agency partners, String Theory and Customedia, Pepper Money created a campaign that delivered high-performance marketing assets to support the growing, award-winning non-bank brand while remaining within budget constraints.  

The Shout Out Awards recognise and help further the efforts of people making a real-life difference to others across Australia. They were 100 per cent employee run, with nominations reviewed and selected by a panel of Pepper Money employees, who then participate in contacting the award winners and supporting them to continue their inspiring work. To date, over 200 nominations have been made and 46 awards have been given out, based on people nominated by others in their community.  

“Each award has been designed specifically to meet the needs of the person and the situation. We wanted the Shout Out campaign to express what we do every day with our customers: Treat each person as an individual, rather than a loan, and help with their unique situation,” continued Pikardt.  

Award recipients included Dubbo-based Rhonda Towney, a proud First Nations Wiradjuri woman who helped source spare fresh food from large corporations, collecting and delivering to people in need in rural areas. Her work has been made a little easier, receiving a new hybrid car worth over $20,000 and $1000 a petrol voucher to help her do what she does.  

Melbourne-based Shannon Jones, who is partially blind and captain of the St Kilda Football Club Blind AFL team, received funding for his unique interactive clinics. These offer children with partial or no vision the opportunity to try football in a safe environment with AFL Blind Football. Jones now runs his blind Auskick clinics to help these children develop motor skills and enhance their confidence and social connectivity.  

The campaign has also provided special equipment for a gym for people with disabilities, supported wildlife sanctuaries, helped with the distribution of food and supplies into communities, to volunteers, caregivers and community good angels. And it has given the people doing the hard work some personal love, with a bit of time out or a ‘special something’ they needed.  

The campaign utilised key broadcast channels and digital partnerships, including free-to-air TV, Foxtel, digital video and radio, which was used as a brand response channel. There was also an integrated partnership with News Corp across print, audio and digital display, while specific out-of-home advertising targeted major markets along with key local areas assisting overall awareness of the Pepper Money brand. The brand also leveraged its co-principal partnership with St Kilda Football Club in the AFL to promote Jones’ story.  

The brand adopted a stripped back, on-brand creative style for this campaign, using real customers and internal teams to give it an authentic look and tell the Pepper Money story in a variety of ways. Pikardt described it as an example of the importance of staying true to the brand.   

“We can all be really attracted to the new bright, shiny concept or idea, and everyone's looking to do something different, but if an idea or campaign is fundamentally at odds with the culture and the values of the organisation, it's just never going to land,” she said.  

The approach means working from the inside and from the core values to develop the message and hone the execution. “If you can start reflecting from the inside out, that's where you have the opportunity to really make an impact. And if you have that vision and you get it right, people will follow you,” she said.    

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