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In April, online investment management firm Wealthsimple released Investing Master Class, a unique video series hosted by Nicholas Braun (AKA ”Cousin Greg” from HBO’s Succession).
Described as “10 short videos that will change your financial future,” Investing Master Class provides a foundation of investing knowledge, with an overview of the tools available to investors, and real-world advice from financial experts.
To find out more about the conception and creation of this inventive series, as well as Wealthsimple’s approach to marketing and branding, we spoke to Mike Giepert, the company’s Executive Creative Director.
BrainStation: As the Executive Creative Director at Wealthsimple, what does a typical day look like for you?
Giepert: I count myself very lucky to be able to help shape a wide range of creative work for our brand. We make so much with very few people, so a typical day is rarely typical. Commercial edit sessions, website copy reviews, or strategy sessions for upcoming product launches.
It’s a lot of jumping between macro and micro views of the brand. Reviewing an email design might not feel as sexy as locking a Super Bowl edit. But I try and constantly remind myself that every interaction with our brand is a reflection of Wealthsimple, no matter the scale.
Would you say there’s a common trait among Creative Directors? Do you think you have that trait?
Good Creative Directors need to have three things:
- Insatiable curiosity
- Willingness to kill your darlings.
- Ability to move between macro and micro.
- You have to be able to become immediately fascinated by a new topic. In the financial world, that might mean geeking out on savings account perks or management fees in order to find something that will make your audience have an emotional connection to your product. Everything can be interesting if you look hard enough.
- Your ideas probably aren’t as good as you think they are. Be willing to quickly kill something that isn’t working and come up with something new without ego. If your original idea was truly good, it will resurface.
- You have to care about the kerning on a banner ad as much as you care about a big brand commercial. Know when to commit your time and energy to each, but the entire spectrum of how people interact with your brand matters.
You spent eight years working at renowned advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy. What sort of impact did the advertising and agency world have on you when it comes to a creative approach?
This can sound very cliche, but find the human truth in whatever you’re trying to communicate. Even digital passive automated investing has a human truth. For us, it’s the human relationship to money — anxiety, hope, fear, guilt…whatever. If you can find the truth and connect to your audience in a no-bullshit way that makes them feel something, then you can actually help them get better with money. Oh, and don’t make anything that somebody has already made. The world doesn’t need replicants. Be original.
What are some of your favorite marketing campaigns?
I’ll keep it in the financial world. I really love the Barclays series from the early 2000s with Samuel L. Jackson, directed by Jonathan Glazer. If you haven’t seen the spots, stop reading my words and go and watch them. They’re brilliantly written, acted (obviously), and simply executed.
What would you say are the core elements of Wealthsimple’s marketing strategy?
Humanity is at the core of everything we do. That’s not window dressing. Our product differentiates itself from our competitors is by providing access to real, human financial advisors anytime, free-of-charge.
So we feature real, human stories in our Magazine. Our films feature real humans talking openly about money. Our commercials dramatize real, human moments where money affects us. And our copy feels like you’re having a beer with a friend who happens to know a lot about personal finance, not a pompous derivatives trader using financial jargon.
Wealthsimple has a dynamic blog that reads like a high-quality magazine. How important was content marketing when it came to brand building?
We want to create the best financial content in the world, not the best branded content in the world. The more we’ve invested in telling interesting human stories connected to money, the more people have wanted to find out about our product.
Counterintuitively, French Montana sharing his financial theories about the strip club economy in Atlanta will probably earn your brand more trust in the long run than a list of your top ten features.
Your Money Diaries profile series has been wildly popular and got attention for treating the subject of personal finance in a new way. What was the thinking behind blending personal stories and experiences with high-profile names?
I’ll try and speak for Devin Friedman, who runs our editorial content, but only because I think it’s the same way we approach all of the content we make. Whether you were born rich or poor, whether you’re a celebrity or a minimum wage fast food worker, everybody has a money story. And if we can convince people that it’s okay to talk openly about money — the good, the bad, and the ugly — then we can help them take steps to get better with money.
How did the idea for Investing Master Class come about? What was the intention behind the project?
One of the earliest pieces of communication that Wealthsimple ever produced was a presentation called The Five Simple Rules given by our CEO Mike Katchen. It was an incredibly effective tool for teaching people what we believe is the best way to invest (boring, long term, low fee, passive). But because it was a live presentation, it wasn’t very scalable.
We wanted to create a concise, entertaining, truly valuable online course that someone could watch on a Sunday morning eating cereal in their pajamas.
What challenges were involved with the project? How did you go about overcoming them?
We worked on the scripts for probably two months leading up to the shoot, making sure that everything was accurate and legally compliant. The foundation of all of the content is time-tested, mass-researched, old school investing wisdom.
The challenge is making that content entertaining and — if you like corny dad jokes — funny. A spoonful of sugar to go with the medicine. Nicholas proved to be an amazing writing partner and added so much to the humor.
What was behind the decision to go with an actor instead of a financial expert?
If you think about personal finance personalities like Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey, they’ve taken years to develop their brand and cultivate an audience. And it’s rare to find the combination of entertaining on-screen charisma and financial chops.
Because we’d done so much research into the content, we thought developing a character would be more fun. We all fell in love with Nicholas Braun on HBO’s Succession. So we swung for the fences and luckily he was excited about the project.
Has the reaction to Master Class been what you are expecting?
A few weeks ago, we got to sit in the crowd of a Master Class screening at The Royal Cinema in Toronto. It’s a surreal experience to hear real-time audience reactions, which were thankfully very positive. The online campaign has been one of our most effective to date in terms of performance. But YouTube likes and comments are no replacement for hearing people laugh out loud next to you.
What’s the next step for Master Class?
In every aspect, this course was a big experiment. We’re very data-driven, and everything we make is a learning opportunity. We’re continuing to look for new ways to distribute the course with partners and screen it at live events. But because the content is evergreen, we know the course will live online for years to come. If we continue to see it resonate with an audience and bring in new Wealthsimple users, we’d love to create more courses in the series.
Do you see video playing a more central role in your marketing strategy going forward?
Video has always been central to our advertising strategy. We’ve created hundreds of videos over the last three years. But long-form, educational video is a very different beast than commercials or short films. I would love to develop our YouTube channel as the go-to financial resource. So I think the video content we create will continue to grow.
What roles/skills do you believe to be most important going forward for the marketing strategy to continue to be effective?
There’s a Wieden+Kennedy idiom that I’ve tried to carry with me to Wealthsimple: “Walk in stupid every day.” Our brand is essentially three and a half years old. And I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to create in that time. But there is so much that we haven’t figured out yet. So many new problems to solve. So much we don’t know. I believe that we can create one of the world’s great brands, but we’ve just scratched the surface.