In this episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, Esther Shatz is joined by Adam Hadi, VP of Marketing at Current to discuss balancing performance with brand marketing, how to measure the success of brand marketing, and how Current run influencer marketing campaigns.
During his tenure at Current, a fintech company in New York City, Adam, and his team have generated more than one and a half million US users… and they’re still growing.
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00:32 An introduction to Adam and Current
00:57 The scope of Adam’s role
05:46 His most important KPI
07:00 Merging performance and brand marketing
12:00 Measuring the success of brand marketing
14:05 Performance marketing as a subset of brand marketing
15:11 Nurturing and educating users
17:40 Shifts in the industry
21:35 Influencer marketing done right
28:05 Going back in time and changing strategies
28:49 Quick-fire questions
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Key takeaways from the episode:
- Current launched five years ago, the reason behind their unprecedented growth is that most banks focus on people who have better finances, like having a high income, deposits, and better credit scores. Adam also highlights that the best-earning potential for banks lies in mortgages; it makes money by loaning and upselling existing customers to credit cards. Adam believes that most people located in the USA don’t fall into this category.
- Current’s addressable market is half of the US population, which is around 130 million people.
- Adam labels “direct depositing customers” as his most important KPI. The objective Adam considers an achievement is that Current becomes the primary bank of a customer. He states that when a person is asked which bank they use, the answer would likely be a singular one, while the person may have different accounts and cards. These banks are likely where their salary is credited. Since Current is faster in crediting deposits, the core value proposition is lucrative for the individual.
- Instead of having different teams for performance and brand marketing, Adam leads a unified team. He states that startups often have a performance marketing team, and upon growth, a brand marketing team is hired with a larger budget. This can cause problems of synchronization between the two teams.
- Adam makes a comparison of fintech apps to dating apps. People often use applications that seem “cool”. His goal with brand marketing is to ensure that when a potential customer gets frustrated with a competitor and thinks of making a switch, he should know about Current… that is his goal.
- Adam sees performance marketing as a subset of brand marketing. Users of the app are educated before downloading, and this process continues even after installation. This builds trust, playing a key part in the journey that a customer must move through in order to share their personal finances with the business.
- Adam says that while last-click attribution is the perfect measure for consumer behavior, incrementality is probably the way to go in the future as channels that don’t show immediate response are not considered in last-click attribution, whereas incrementality can lead to their conversions being found over time.
- Influencer marketing is a big channel for Adam. Adam experiences “a drag effect” with these campaigns; the response may come to a short while after the campaign ends.
- Influencer marketing has become a vague term; knowing the right channel and strategy is necessary to stand a chance of getting a good ROI.
- From Adam’s experience, Facebook provides much more accurate demographics than Youtube.
- Adam would prefer to have started with bigger budgets faster if given a chance to revisit his early days at Current again.
“Choosing your channel is more art than science.”Adam Hadi
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Esther: I’m joined today by Adam Hadi who is joining us from actually the Current offices. Adam, do you want to introduce yourself a little bit?
Adam: Yes, certainly. I’m Adam. I’m VP of Marketing here at Current. We’re a Fintech in New York City. Banking people who are overlooked by traditional banks.
Esther: Can you give us a bit of a sense of the scope of Current? About how many downloads are we looking at? How many users? Can you share any of that data?
Adam: Yes, certainly. The company really first started about five years ago, and we really came into our own a couple years ago as we launched our individual checking accounts. We launched those in early 2019, and now have over 1.5 million customers, a million members. It’s been a really exciting ride. The entire product is an app and a debit card.
We’re really aimed at banking people who really been overlooked by traditional banks. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean, traditional banks in the United States, and really, across the world have been focused on people who are higher income, who carry deposits with higher credit scores, because that’s what their entire business model revolves around.
To give you a bit of context there, the ways in which a traditional bank makes money. Number one is by loaning out your deposits. That’s been a pretty, pretty simple one. Number two is, upselling you into a credit card where they can make money. Number three is really getting you into a mortgage. That’s the big one that they try to get.
The problem with that business model is that most of America doesn’t fall into that bucket. Most of America doesn’t have a high enough credit score to get a premium credit card, or to get a mortgage. About half of this country is paycheck to paycheck. By definition, even if you make a decent wage, you don’t have any money in your account to loan out.
If you’re here in the United States, and you’ve been in a position where you’re paycheck to paycheck, or maybe you’re being paid hourly, for a lot of people who, again, really nobody listening to this podcast is probably in this bucket now, or maybe at different points in their life have been. It’s not necessarily people who are low income. There’s a lot of people who maybe freelance, maybe gig economy workers, maybe creatives.
We’ve worked with a lot of influencers whose money is just inconsistent. If you’re not a standard 9:00 to 5:00, annually salaried person, your experience with the bank is very different than somebody who’s is. You’re getting charged overdraft fees because you’re near-zero balance. You’re getting charged of maintenance fees because you’re not maintaining a minimum threshold of direct deposits or a minimum balance.
Rather than getting paid to hold your money, you’re paying the bank. The US is interesting in that way and that it’s very expensive to be poor here. It’s quite cheap and lucrative to be rich.
Esther: It’s a very sad, sad but true [unintelligible 00:04:08]. I’ve never heard it put so succinctly and that’s pretty depressing. We’re going to move on from that thought.
Adam: Well, again, on the positive side, enter in Current, we’re far more cost-effective than a traditional bank. We don’t have any of the old legacy costs that would come with that. It’s crazy. If I were to tell you today, “Hey, you know what, I’m going to start a bank.” The first thing I’m going to do, put up 10,000 brick and mortar locations.
It’s absolute insanity, but that’s the active decision that traditional banks are still making by maintaining those branches in many ways. We don’t have any of those costs. We’re far more efficient, even actually compared to other Fintechs where we built our own banking infrastructure. I won’t get into the technical side of that quite yet, but what that means is that our cost efficiencies, we can pass on to our customers and we can bank a customer who others can’t profitably. Since we can bank that customer, we can build products that are way more relevant to them.
Esther: If we’re looking at basically, it sounds like you have a pretty broad-reaching audience. It’s something that could be relevant for a very, very significant percentage of the country.
Adam: Our addressable market is about half of the population in the United States. Around 130 million people or so.
Esther: I’d love to understand when you’re looking at growth, and it sounds like you’ve been going through growth, especially in this past year at a pretty rapid scale. What are the KPIs that are most interesting for you?
Adam: For us, we really care about direct depositing customers, and capturing the customer’s direct deposit. That’s what it really means to switch your bank. If you ask anybody, like, “Hey,” and you ask them, “Who’s your bank?” They’ll probably give you one answer. That answer is basically where their paycheck goes to.
Now, they might have 10 financial apps on their phone, and a bunch of different cards and accounts here and there, but to be your primary bank, that’s our KPI. That’s really getting somebody’s direct deposit.
A lot of our core values are tied to that. One of our big value props is that we get people paid faster. Well, you can only get paid faster with your direct deposit, if of course, you’re receiving your direct deposit. It’s a relatively down funnel event that we care about but that’s the one.
Esther: I’d love to understand now talking about the marketing side of things. I’d imagine that a lot of the strategies are based on this, maybe harder, a little bit harder to reach, harder to measure KPI. I’d love to hear a little bit. I know one of the things that you’ve been doing that’s different than a lot of other companies that we’ve been speaking to, is the idea of performance marketing and brand marketing generally live separate worlds, separate teams. Sometimes they go quite far out. It’s not exactly how you guys do it at Current, right?
Adam: Yes, exactly. You see as brands grow, especially in the direct to consumer space, that tends to be this pattern of, “Okay, you’re really performance-oriented early on.” That’s necessary because a brand when you’re tiny isn’t quite as impactful. You’re still even trying to find out who are your customers, who your demographic is, and all that.
Then as you scale, what will happen is like, “Oh, okay. Now we need to focus on brand marketing as well.” There’ll be a brand marketing team, and a brand marketing budget, and it operates separately from your performance marketing, which it doesn’t really make sense that structure in my opinion. Now, it could depend on the individual products.
I’ve been in mobile marketing for years, and our space with mobile marketing, it used to be really dominated by mobile gaming. You go back seven, eight years ago, and the most sophisticated mobile companies were mobile games. You can go to the App Store and look at the top-grossing, all that. I always find the distinction that we make in the mobile of gaming and non gaming to be hilarious, because if you talk to anybody outside of mobile, that’s nobody ever describes companies like that in businesses like that.
One of the things about mobile gaming is that brand is not generally as important. The ways in which a consumer behaves, and responds to mobile game advertising, it’s typically pretty immediate. It’s the most direct response seeing category there is. I see a game, “Oh, that looks fun. [unintelligible 00:09:04] play it.” Nobody’s ever seen an ad from a mobile game, and then decided three weeks later, “Hey, you know what, I’m going to download that jumping game.”
It’s just, that’s not how it works. On the polar and opposite end of that might be CPG marketing. Where nobody’s ever seen an ad for soap. Then like, “Oh, I got to rush to the grocery store right now and pick up this Dial soap.” The only way to be clean. Again, in the world of mobile today, vastly more companies are somewhere on that spectrum. Somewhere, maybe in the middle where we have behavior that’s super direct response.
Still, you talk about something like FinTech, when you’re talking about people’s banking, people’s money, people’s lives. Not just finance. You think about a category. I think there’s actually a lot of comparables to dating in that direct responses in those as a really important with dating, but so much of what determines whether somebody signs up for a dating app happens outside of their interacting with an ad. It’s like, “Oh, I want to join the dating app. That feels cool. That feels like it’s, for me, that feels appropriate.” That’s all with the brand. Then when the time comes, maybe I break up in my relationship or a friend convinces me to finally join or whatever it may be, something that happens with external of that. I then decide, “Oh, okay, I’m going to sign up for a Bumble, or [unintelligible 00:10:38], or Tinder. Whichever one I feel like in that moment is right.
As a mobile bank, it’s actually pretty similar. We might have a customer who’s been with Wells Fargo for years, and it’s getting screwed over by Wells Fargo and has a terrible relationship with the Wells Fargo. At least they trust Wells Fargo. They’re around the corner. They know that if they need their money, they can physically go get it. It’s right there. It’s right there in-person. It’s the devil you know, but then some, one day it’s like, “I’ve had the final straw, I’ve got hit with another $35 overdraft fee.” Then at that moment, what do you think of? That’s where we want to be. We want to be top of mind in the consumer’s head. He’s like, “Yes, I know Crrent solves for this. I’ve heard about it. I understand and now I’m going to take that action.” That’s the real consumer behavior we see as much as I would love for it to be super direct response because that’s way easier to measure. The reality is a little bit different.
Esther: Exactly what I was going to ask, which is when we come to the measurement side obviously performance marketing. What you’re saying is also quite true in the sense of your performance marketing is impacted by the success of your brand marketing beforehand. Somebody who sees an ad after having those positive feelings at the right time is going to be that much more likely to click. How do you measure what brand efforts are more successful and less successful? It’s a bit more of a long game. Do you have a structure of how to do that?
Adam: Yes. It’s why it’s not so much that, “Oh hey, we ran this brand campaign. Let’s measure the success of this brand campaign.” It’s more so integrating the brand into all of our performance marketing. That means if not performance at all costs. We can have an ad that maybe can perform really well based on top of funnel KPIs, but if it hurts our brand, if it sends the wrong message, it’s not worth running. That’s why again, it’s not a separate brand team with their own agenda and their own campaigns.
No, we’re one marketing team and we have our fair share debates and arguments and compromises internally, but ultimately what we have is that all of our ads encompass the company the way we want it to, and the way we want our customers to feel about and build our brand over time. Too often you find a company who way too late, comes to this realization.
If they’ve already spent millions and millions and millions of dollars and can’t really go back and change their brand I think of a company like maybe a company like Wish is maybe easy to pick on here. Wish has been super successful. As business, I’m not picking on them, but as a brand I wouldn’t say they have a great brand. They spent an insane amount of money but haven’t really built that at all. I started maybe being on the Lakers Jersey. That was a great buy at that time. Whoever made that decision spoken from a perspective of a Knicks fan. My point is that they’ve already spent all that money on all that performance marketing, and they’ve pigeon-holed themselves as a brand that’s not really very aspirational.
Esther: It sounds like you also look at performance marketing in a way as a subset of your brand marketing, meaning that’s another area where you’re distributing your brand, where you’re building your brand is specifically in the ads that you’re running it into campaigns that you’re running.
Adam: Exactly. Yes. We see. We see with our own consumer behavior, we have the various touch points before you install the app, but certainly it’s very easy to measure the touch points after you installed the app. The behavior isn’t that, hey you installed the app and immediately the first thing you go do is take off your money and put it into Current. No, there’s a level of trust that we build with customers that they sign. Again, in finance, it’s so related to other parts of your life, but it can be lots of factors that determine when you decided to make that switch. There’s a curve and we see the curve clearly once you first installed it and signed up, but there’s a curve that starts well before that. It starts with the first time you’ve even heard of Current.
Esther: Just because you mentioned also the idea that you’re really looking at nurturing your users when they go further downstream, and I’m sure there’s a lot of work that’s happening within the app that’s continuing that nurturing process and continuing that the likelihood for success. It’s half the battle to get the user in and then the next half is to actually get them to do what you want them to do.
Have you guys been speaking at all about the changes in IDFA and how that’s going to affect the marketing funnel from the higher up side? How can we pull in those users and make sure that our marketing campaigns were successful if we can’t keep that parameter going all the way through?
Adam: It’s this monumental impact on mobile marketing that’s happening across the board. In some ways I actually think it’s going to have a long-term positive impact. It’s going to force companies and companies operating mobile to be less dependent last pick attribution. Now, we all know that last click attribution is perfect measure of what’s actually happening in the world and how customers behave with our apps. Despite knowing that it’s just really tempting to fall into the trap of that actually is the reality. You forget that, well, there’s all types of flaws with this form of measurement.
What’s this is going to force a lot of companies to do is focus on incrementality and it really weeds out a lot of bad practices that people can fall into today. Talk about, let’s go with ad fraud. I don’t think as mobile ad fraud is a big problem for most ad companies, but in a world in which you’re just focusing on incrementality, it can’t even exist. I shouldn’t say not in any of the ways that it’s historically. Again, when we talk about channels that may not contribute to an immediate direct response behavior in a world of last click attribution, it’s just very easy to give them no credit. It’s a lot more work to give those channels credits and in this post IDFA deprecated world. Our hand will be forced to pay a little bit more attention to that incremental behavior. This is going to affect all, I can’t imagine a mobile company that’s not going to be affected by these changes.
Esther: Yes, also for me, when I look at I’ve spent a lot of time also analyzing the organic side and there you’ve never had IDFA. Organics never had that ability to keep somebody completely tracked and decide what that you haven’t had it. It’s been the process it’s been being established on that side. Even for obviously the impact, all of your marketing efforts are having a significant impact of your organics. Those don’t fall out of nowhere.
Companies even that have a heavier are mostly reliant on those organics are still going to be effected by this concept of everybody’s entire structure is shifting now, everybody’s the way they approach marketing is shifting because of this. Yes, I don’t think there’s a company that won’t be affected, but I do think there’s an interesting, a lot of UAE people will be very angry with the idea, but there’s an opportunity to make things better, to operate at a, just a different sort of scale, different way of continuing.
Adam: Yes. Certainly there’s some businesses that are going to be hit particularly hard. Number one, if you’re dependent on ad monetization that causes a lot of problems, but I think in particularly, and again, I’ll use the term non-gaming here. It’ll force a lot of non-gaming advertisers to actually adopt some better practices and from a more macro view, I think it’s a positive change on the consumer side and that’s important in our space. We’ve gotten away with maybe a little bit more than we should have over the last few years,
Esther: It’s been a bit wild, wild west the mobile world right now if you think about how much you’ve been able to track and changes that have been going on in the rest of the world, there’s definitely that concept of we’ve been getting away with a lot. Do you maybe have an example you can share of a specific time that you were tying, you know, you had a really close tie in between something you were doing on the brand end and something that followed through on the performance side?
Adam: This problem of a lack of attribution, we see it with our influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is a really big channel for us. It’s a space that’s I’ve worked in for a really long time and the idea of imperfect attribution there has existed for a really, really long time. Influencers as a whole if where we were to– I hate the term, but if we’re talking about a brand effect, essentially somebody really getting to understand your business and understand your product, but not necessarily taking the action right then and there.
I think that certainly exists on influencers as a channel, particularly a channel like YouTube, where you may not leave your YouTube video right then and there, but you have just listened to a 60 second pitch on a product, maybe similar to almost watching an infomercial. That’s a space where, this all blends a little bit together. We take a signal that we get from what is attributed and what is easily measured and then we look at overall effect on un-organic during that time.
There’s a drag effect. Again, YouTube, certainly as those videos are evergreen and live on forever, but when we run and we’ve run local campaigns and looked at, “Okay, we started the campaign here. We ended the campaign here on a local level, in the period after we run this campaign, do we see an elevated lift in performance among our other channels?” The answer has been yes. Again, that’s makes sense for a company like ours in a business like ours, but I don’t think it would make sense or maybe an ecommerce brand or mobile gaming brand that’s far more dependent on direct response.
Esther: I think influencer marketing is one of those things where depending on who you ask, it’s either been one of the powerful tools that somebody has been able to access, or the biggest waste of money that we’ve done in the last who knows what. You hear both sides a lot, maybe a little bit more on the second one, how do you approach influencer marketing? Do you have a process by how you can understand, “This will be a valuable source for me, this is something I want to run with, ” verse, “This is not something that’s going to take users to where I need them to go.”?
Adam: The interpretation of it in all those different forms. I don’t think any are disingenuous. One, influencer marketing has become a very vague term that can describe everything from, again, a direct response ad, whether it be on YouTube or Instagram or TikTok or Snapchat of an influencer telling their audience, “Hey, go do this.”
It can also describe a creative, it could also describe brand and PR where the goal is not direct response. It can also describe affiliate marketing. These are all different areas that have co-opted to the term influencer marketing, they come and describe it. That’s one reason why you see lots of different opinions on it. The other, it depends on your vertical and where your audience is.
If you have, let’s say a teen audience, teen boys and girls, or Gen Z, or even a young millennial, your audience is certainly interacting with influencers, at least here in the United States, that’s where they are. Especially that space in what you’re working in is compelling or interesting or entertaining.
It really lends itself well to influencer marketing. Maybe if you are a B2B with an audience that’s mostly 40+, then maybe influencer marketing really isn’t for you. If you’re home improvement, let’s say there might be a few small channels that might make sense, but on the whole, your audience is probably watching HGTV and are that age. That’s where you find your audience. It totally makes sense to me that you have this wide spectrum of results.
Esther: I think your point also about, do you need a direct response verse are you building towards the long game? Are you trying to make sure that you’re staying top of mind for the situations where there’s a trigger, where there’s something that you actually need to come up to versus in gaming, for example, you need somebody, like you said, “I’m measuring my success, not by somebody having positive feelings about Clash of Clans, but by somebody actually going in and playing clash of clans right now.”
I think that might also be one of the big differentiators is are you using it as a way of distilling your brand among the audience that you’re looking for, and giving it that time to, you mentioned the drift effect as while, are you giving it that time to stimulate user behavior at a certain point, if it’s not that moment. I think that that also could be one of the reasons we’re used to the performance marketing side, we’re all used to instant feedback. This campaign is working now I can increase my budgets.
Adam: Again, don’t get me wrong because you can certainly and really the primary way in which we work with influencers is just that, it is through this strict lens of performance marketing in which we measure it like we measure any other performance channel, that’s just our approach but I think every business maybe takes it a little bit differently.
Esther: Do you have any examples of campaigns that you’ve tried that have been a miserable failures that you’d never do again?
Adam: For us, a lot of it’s about knowing your audience and knowing where they are. When we first launched our individual products that was part of a learning process for us as well. I always knew, I’ll say this about YouTube. I always knew that it’s skewed pretty young, and that the demographic information that we were getting from YouTube wasn’t always accurate, but I never knew exactly how true that was until working here at Current, at a bank where we verify people’s identity, and their ages, and their addresses, et cetera.
This actually happens across the board, across networks and everything where I used to feel far more confident in when I would target let’s say an 18+ audience on Facebook, that they would indeed be 18+ or if they say they’re 24 years old, that they’re 24 years old. What you actually find is again, now that we’re actually verifying this stuff, that that’s not always the case.
On YouTube in particular, the platform skews far younger than the demographics tell you. Again, when I say far younger, I mean far, far younger. It might tell you that it’s 80% over 18 and it’s 80% under 18. There’s all types of nuances within those numbers, but they basically mean nothing.
Esther: I can tell you my year-and-a-half-year-olds can manage to get on YouTube from pretty much any device you find. I definitely believe that.
Adam: That year-and-a-half-year-old is using your device which certainly identifies her as an adult. That explained some of those changes [crosstalk].
Esther: That makes a lot of sense what young kids are using.
Adam: When your YouTube algorithm, it’s all sorts of messed up it’s–
Esther: Thanks to the kid. [laughs]
Adam: Yes, you can reason how maybe looking at the demographic data that’s provided to you is not really the best indicator.
Esther: Oh yes, I never thought of that, but that’s completely true. That makes a huge amount of sense.
Adam: There’s little bit of, in deciding what a channel demographics are, it’s a little bit more art than science.
Esther: All right. I’ve got one last question for you before we move into the quick fire round, which is if you could, let’s go back in time a couple years, few years, you’re about to start your role at Current again, is there anything that you’d do differently?
Adam: That’s a good question. This is a little bit ambitious, but I would probably demand bigger budgets faster. Now we’ve certainly grown up budgets and everything as we have developed more confidence. Again, when I joined, it was really just as we launched this new product, and so our confidence, and it in the early days was not nearly as strong as it is today.
Esther: It’s a happy way of looking back, knowing for sure that you had a winner on your hands that you could have just started pushing earlier. We’re going to move into a quick fire. I ask all our guests these questions and you can just go with the first thing that comes to mind. First of all, if you could give one tip to an aspiring mobile growth marketer, what would that be?
Adam: I would say to really try to get a wide range of experience, if this was five years ago, if this was seven years ago, that tip of mine might be the really like learn Python, really learn SQL, really get into the data, some of the best mobile marketers seven years ago were really data scientists first.
I think that’s becoming less and less the case. Today I think the pendulum’s swung to the other side where being a broader marketer, understanding people’s behavior, understanding messaging, understanding creative, that’s far more important I think. Now again, the data tools so it’s still important of course and being able to interpret that, but so much of that work is being done by virtue of machine learning algorithms, the biggest companies in the world so we don’t need to do them essentially.
Esther: What’s your favorite ad growth resource?
Adam: Mobile Dev Memo, it’s by Eric Seufert, I love you Eric. Eric, whether he knows it or not is indirectly responsible for my entire career actually going back from the very beginning. He’s been running that for about a decade now, and it’s a great resource for anybody.
Esther: Who’s the person in the mobile growth world that you’d most want to take for lunch, assuming social distancing was over and why?
Adam: This is a little bit of a cheat answer. I’d probably go with Mark Zuckerberg, he counts.
Esther: He definitely counts. Yes, Facebook ads, come on.
Adam: Yes, I think it’d be pretty fascinating to get an idea of what really he has as his vision for the future. I think he’s probably the most powerful person in that space.
Adam: It’s the first time I’ve gotten that answer, but now I’m surprised that it’s the first time after you’ve given it. Lastly and most importantly, what is your favorite flavor of pancake?
Adam: I’m a chocolate chip and peanut butter. If you’ve never had chocolate chip with peanut butter pancakes, you’re missing out, but that is a flavor still that counts.
Esther: 100% counts. If I go way back in time to my New York days, there was this restaurant peanut butter and CO. in the village and they had an insane insane peanut butter chocolate pancake explosion.
Adam: Well, we’re only the greatest city in the world. What can you expect?
Esther: Super true. Adam, thank you so so much for the time and everything. Is there anywhere that people can find you if they want to learn more?
Adam: The first place would be current.com/careers. Self pushing, I’d like to plug that, you can certainly find me on on Twitter, or LinkedIn that are all fallen and Current, it’s more entertaining and that’s all.
Esther: All right, Adam, thank you so so much.