With the amount of data that’s out there for brands to digest and analyze, it’s no surprise that some companies are looking to nuclear scientists for guidance. A nuclear engineer by training, Gabe Dalporto, the CMO of Tree.com, was brought on board the financial services company last year when it was clear no one else could make sense of the numbers. He immediately got to work building out his analytics team, guiding them to focus on performance marketing.
Dalporto spoke to Digiday about just how much brand matters and why Tree.com has brought the bulk of its marketing in-house.
What is LendingTree’s strategy when it comes to data?
The amount of data that is available today is just insane to what it was 10 years ago. The focus on digital advertising and driving analytics is becoming the norm, where before it was much less sophisticated. I have been here for 15 months, and it’s really interesting how the business has transformed over the last year.
Why did you make the transition from a traditional web marketer to a data-driven performance marketer?
LendingTree had 79 percent brand awareness — that’s neck-in-neck with Bank of America and Wells Fargo, ahead of Chase and Citibank. That’s fascinating, but does it matter? The lifeblood of our business is marketing. People give us their personal information when they are looking for a mortgage and we match them up with up to four lenders. The question is, does brand matter? We’ve done tests of LendingTree-branded ads versus GetSmart (a Tree.com service) and everything being equal — it’s the same creative but with a different name — LendingTree just crushed GetSmart. So brand does matter. It gives us a competitive advantage over other mortgage-comparison bands.
So we have this competitive advantage; our competitors shouldn’t be able to compete with us. The reality is, they are. So I went out and hired some truly exceptional analytical marketers, very smart people who know the space. We instituted a culture of analytics.
What advice do you have to other brand marketers who are engulfed in data and are completely overwhelmed?
I don’t know if our current organizational structure works for everyone. It probably doesn’t, but because our lifeblood is ROI marketing, we have senior-level people and teams responsible for paid search, so you don’t have a director of digital marketing; you have a team managing metrics and keywords. The paid search guys know every metric and acts on it, and we have someone running display and they have media buyers who look at data every day. It really is about having focused resources and not having one guy looking at all analysis.
What does your creative strategy look like?
In our testing in display, we’ve run beautiful, dynamic ads and we’ve run really straight-forward messaging ads that are not nearly as gorgeous, and the straight-forward ads win. Think of any financial services marketing company and this is true. Anywhere you have a site and conversion funnel, this should be the model that wins. We don’t use agencies; we have creative, paid search, display and media buying in-house. The only thing we use an agency for is offline media buying, so that’s why we have been successful. The speed at which we operate and crank out conversion — I don’t think you can do that with a typical external agency.
Our bread and butter, with one exception, is standard digital marketing channels: paid search, display and email marketing. Where we have had success beyond that is social advertising, on Facebook. I think you need to be part of the conversation or otherwise it will be about you. I like that we have a Facebook presence, and when people post something, we respond. We post stuff about home-buying. We Tweet out interesting marketing news on Twitter. Do I think this is a make-or-break factor? No. It’s more about being part of the dialog. Mobile is where we are gearing up next. We’re doing well with paid search, and now we are going to do broader-based ad campaigns.
Would you advise all brands to bring their marketing in-house?
If you’re in a hardcore performance marketing sector, there is a lot of benefit to bringing the resources in-house. If you’re in a large organization — think of a big bank, where there’s 1,000 people in marketing — it’s very difficult to get anything done with all the layers of approval. There it makes sense to have an agency. Where you are smaller and need to make real-time decisions, it can be very challenging.
We do work with outside agencies to come up with some sort of breakthrough creative or interaction model or video series. The challenge of having an in-house team is they get sucked into performance modeling and it’s hard to pull up and think about marketing. On the creative side, we do see value in having an external agency.
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