Getting Ahead of the Game: Branding During a Downturn

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In this webinar, marketing experts discussed the importance of marketing and branding in the private lending industry, and how you can get ahead during the downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our panelists have created a brand from scratch and implemented creative campaigns that have increased brand awareness and lead generation. If you’re in the private lending industry and are wondering if and how to move forward with a marketing plan, this webinar is for you.


Ruby Boulanger (00:00):

All right. Good morning everyone. Welcome to Geraci's COVID Getting Ahead of the Game webinar. Today we're going to be talking about branding during a downturn. My name is Ruby, VP here with Geraci Media, and with me today I have Ruben Izgelov, he is the CEO at We Lend, and I also have their general marketing officer, Jenny Rhodes Haluka, who you'll be hearing from today. Today we're going to be talking about how to really create a brand from scratch and implement creative campaigns that have increased brand awareness. I chose to highlight We Lend today because they've done an amazing job really showcasing their brand through different creative strategies that I think are really relevant and a great example for those to look at in our industry. So we're going to hear from them. I'm going to pick their brain a little bit, and if any of you have any questions throughout the presentation, please put them into the Q&A chat box up top and we will do our best to get to them at the end. If for some reason we don't have time to get to them or can't follow up with you individually. So please note that all questions will get answered by end of day today, whether live or in a follow up email.


So starting off, I really want to touch on the value of marketing, and I think it's important to know about the marketing background of the We Lend team. So starting off with Ruben, what made you value marketing and brand awareness as a whole?

Ruben Izgelov (01:33):

Yeah, well, I appreciate it and it's a pleasure to be here. So a lot of our business today comes from returning or clients who are referring business. This is initially due to the original marketing that we've put into place, and then of course being able to build on that brand as we go. So the value in marketing and brand awareness for me are the benefits that come after the marketing and the original brand building, which is of course the current returning well the current borrowers and the returning borrowers and of course the referrals that come with it, which is very important to any business moving forward.

Ruby Boulanger (02:13):

Awesome. And Jenny, I know you've been super crucial in helping the We Lend team get their brand to the next level, and I know you obviously can't share everything you do on a day-to-day basis, but what would you say in advising everyone and how you really took We Lend to that next level?

Jenny-Rose Halupka (02:30):

Well, I think how we started was basically focusing in on one platform, which was Instagram and kind of building awareness for the brand and what we do and our message out to the public so people could refer somewhere. And then from there we expanded to Facebook where we realized our client base was also being held and we wanted to reach them, and it just expanded from there as well down to email and trying to reach people via our events and bring them back to our website even. So I think it just kind of evolved over time and there's more demands as you grow and yeah, it's pretty much it.

Ruby Boulanger (03:16):

And I think kind piggybacking off what you said, it's really crucial to be looking for basically all over one platform. So if you're only going to post once a month to Instagram and then once a month to LinkedIn, I'd put all of your efforts on one platform to really help boost the engagement and focus on it, even if you have to break it down by quarter or even half a year, however you want to break that up. But I think that's definitely good feedback and what I've seen made the We Lend team successful.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (03:49):

Yeah, exactly. Consistency has definitely been another thing that's important for us, constantly posting every day and getting a piece of information out there so people know that they can look to our Instagram and something new will be there or a piece of advice would be there for them.

Ruby Boulanger (04:06):

Exactly. So I guess next, we're in a very interesting time right now with all of the Coronavirus news and updates, and I think a question that I've been getting a lot is, is there ever an ideal time to begin marketing your brand? And I wanted to hear from you guys on how you knew it was the right time for you to really take your brand to the next level.

Ruben Izgelov (04:29):

Yeah, so I mean for me personally, it was the point of view I have on that is from day one, the day that you establish the business and that it's time to move along with the business, you need to start marketing yourself. You need to start building your brand, but also you have to keep in mind that if done effectively and correctly, you will have an influx of business. And with that you need to be able to to service that new business. So although again, I stress that from day one you should be marketing, you should also be careful with the fact that you need to be able to have the processes in place to be able to then sustain and manage the workload that comes with it.

Ruby Boulanger (05:16):

Awesome. And I know one piece of advice that I would say that I've seen to be really effective is having that person to really manage and own the marketing. So Ruben, and I think you could probably attest to this a little bit. I know you started off doing a lot of it, and then could you tell us a little bit on how things changed from when you did have that in person or that in-person marketing member or outsourcing it, how that really helped improve your work?

Ruben Izgelov (05:45):

Huge. It was huge. So you're right, and in the beginning it was my brother Moses and myself who were kind of taking pictures and trying to post it, putting the right filters on it, the right hashtags on it. But then going back to what I was saying, although you're going to start marketing from day one, which is what we've done there is going to be an influx of business. So we got inundated with the business, the incoming business. So we had to hand it off to someone who is able to do a job just not only as good as us, but better. We knew Jenny for a very long time and we felt comfortable with her just based on that. But what was also very important to us was knowing that whoever it is that we're hiring to be able to handle our social media and our marketing efforts had to be familiar with the market that we're in. I see this very common mistake made all the time from my friends or competitors where they hire marketing companies that these marketing companies, although they might be amazing or what have you, but they don't specialize in the specific space that they're in. So that's very important is to be able to have someone like Jenny or Geraci Media who specialize in the space that we're in to be able to take your business to the next level.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (07:07):

Yeah, I completely agree with that. And I think that being passionate about real estate for me was something that really helped me tailor the messages that we were trying to communicate to our audience. And once we figured out who exactly our audience was and we were able to hone in on that, it really helped us bring valuable messages as opposed to just words and pictures.

Ruby Boulanger (07:34):

So I think that kind of brings me into the next part I want to talk about is the strategies and process. So tell me, do you guys have an in-depth marketing plan?

Ruben Izgelov (07:46):

We kind of left at this earlier, but we don't. And the reason why is because your marketing plan should always be evolving with the current conditions of the market, the news that are happening, the new programs that are coming into place. So to answer the question is we don't have a concrete in-depth marketing plan. It always evolves. So does the technology revolving what we do today? It's always evolving and it's always growing and so is our marketing plan.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (08:19):

Yeah, one example of that would be just in Instagram in general, how that's changed. More and more people are posting videos and that means that Instagram's algorithm is optimizing for that. So we slowly drifted towards filming more video content in order to post that and it's been doing well for us. So yeah, we've been just evolving as the social media and other marketing platforms evolve as well.

Ruby Boulanger (08:47):

Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. I think videos are really, really effective. You see them all over LinkedIn, but they get great engagement and I think people really do genuinely listen in and watch. So if you're not doing videos yet, I think now is definitely a great start. And so let's talk about marketing at your company. Jenny, I know you handle a lot of the backend work, but tell me about the team engagement and how did you really get your team on board to push the We Lend brand?

Jenny-Rose Halupka (09:17):

Yeah, so I mean it's kind of truly a team effort. When the loan officers are rolling out a new program or really want to push a rental program because it's new and it's in demand, I have to communicate with them to see what their needs are and they have to be on board with the message that we're getting out there. So they're helping push that and they're giving me the insight to help them out. And in turn, it's to help the greater good of the company. And I think it even goes down to our marketing materials, our handheld pieces, so that it's integrated across the board all the same and we're all putting out the same message.

Ruby Boulanger (10:02):

And so if someone were to walk away from this webinar today, what would you say is one single most important step for a company to take to really begin a marketing campaign or just to having a plan in place?

Jenny-Rose Halupka (10:15):

I would say to just start with one platform and master it. And in that one platform, know who your audience is, know who your marketing to build a customer profile or reverse engineer it, who are we trying to speak to? And that would be the best method to get you off the ground. And from there you'll expand to other platforms, but focus in on one.

Ruby Boulanger (10:44):

I would agree with that. I would also add as we're talking here today, I think you'd either need to have an in-person or in-house marketing team member to really adjust with setting up this plan or you need to outsource it to a marketing agency, preferably who does know the real estate space. So I think those are both really important steps. I've seen a lot of lenders who have a loan processor who also handles marketing, who's also an admin assistant. And at the end of the day, you can only do so many things really effectively. So I would take this time to evaluate what are their key strengths, what are they really good at? And if it's not marketing, I think you should focus on filling that gap with someone who is passionate about it and who can really help take you to that next level.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (11:31):


Ruben Izgelov (11:31):

I totally agree. I would agree with that. And I would just want to add one more thing and kind of going based on what Jenny was saying, you really knowing who your target marketing customers are is crucial because whatever platform you go on, unless you know who your target audience is, it would be hard to be effective. So educating yourself on who your clients are. For us it was who are our borrowers, where are they, what do they do, who do they follow, what hashtags do they follow and so on was very crucial and important and that's what also helped us a lot. So that's one of the most important things that I think is for your effectiveness in marketing, is to be able to know who your client base is

Jenny-Rose Halupka (12:11):

And also to blend both of those things. Having a dedicated person to deal with this kind of keeps it channeled to them while everyone else on the team can do their jobs, which is selling and closing deals and the point of We Lend. What makes us very different is that we are also customer service base. So in order to upkeep that customer service, you have to kind of separate and allow the salespeople to tend to their customers and keep up that referral basis. That happens with marketing as you market more, you get more business in. So how do you retain the business and get reoccurring business by having a solid team?

Ruby Boulanger (12:53):

Yeah, that's a great point. You don't want to put all this effort on marketing where deals fall through and they're not in good hands on the sales side. So definitely marketing and still they're very comp to one another. So jumping into marketing during COVID-19, let's talk about some obstacles and changes that obviously the whole world is experiencing, but specifically let's dive into the lending space. Has your brand been affected and have you had to make any changes to your current marketing strategies?

Ruben Izgelov (13:25):

Yeah, so I think anyone's business has been affected, not so much the brand. I think the brand is more of a reputational feature or factor, but I think there has been a shift in how we're marketing and what we're marketing. Prior to covid, we were marketing more or less our services and programs and the way in which to improve on your bottom line as a borrower. But now we've shifted that to talk about what everyone is experiencing and what resources are out there and what we can do to help our borrowers to be able to get past all of this. We're always looking more or less at the borrower's perspective versus our own perspective. So that is very, very important to us is just being able to be able to provide the resources and the education and the help that the borrowers need at times like this. And that's kind of been our shift in what changes we've implemented.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (14:29):

Yeah, I totally agree with that too. And we've really taken an empathetic kind of direction approach. So we know everybody is struggling and feeling this pain right now, and some people may be able to move beyond this feeling right now while others are still experiencing the heart of it. So we really had to be careful about how we're marketing as well. So in some of the things that we've done, which is donating lunch to nurses, we've kind of brought a positivity note to what could be a very troubling time for many people and kind of wanted everybody else to know there is a piece of good out there too. So we're relatable to the little positive stories that are happening out there as well.

Ruby Boulanger (15:19):

I think you touched on a great point is having the content you're putting out be very empathetic and now more than ever is a time that if you're putting out any email, it should have some type of value add there. I'd really advise against putting out recently funded articles and basically more salesy type emails out. You need to have some substance to it, something that's going to engage your readers in your audience. Otherwise it is just seen as very not empathetic and that's not what we want to exhibit right now, especially in the days that a lot of businesses and companies are in.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (15:56):

Totally agree.

Ruby Boulanger (15:59):

So I guess drilling in on this point, has the way you guys have done business changed dramatically? Talk to us a little bit about that.

Ruben Izgelov (16:07):

Oh, absolutely. I think a lot has slowed down and we are New Yorkers, we can't operate in a slow manner. I think that's a very big pain point at this point. But other than that, business has changed. We are having issues with our appraisers going into a property to inspect. We're having issues with the closing and the logistics of it, being able to pull title and time or being able to record the title documents and our instruments and being able to execute on the construction holdbacks and the drawers that come with it. So there has been a change in the way in which we're doing business, but I think overall this will improve especially hopefully as soon as a vaccine or anything to that effect comes out, I think things will get back to normal. But also I think technology is going to play a very big role in the next couple of years, months, what have you, because I think a lot of us have realized that the way in which we were doing business, there are other options moving forward. Look at Zoom, look at what's happening there, look at a lot of how closings are happening. We're doing a lot of closings through Zoom as well, notaries that are done electronically. So I think moving forward there will be a lot of changes coming to the space and they're already here at this point.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (17:44):

Yeah, I agree with that. And I think something we've been doing is just marketing wise with that is communicating that we are still lending and we're here and you can reach out to us because some people don't even know that. Can I call them? Are they available? Yes, we are. And that simple message is important to get out to our borrowers.

Ruby Boulanger (18:08):

Exactly. Yeah, no, definitely. Great point. So going into the importance of getting ahead and how to really be proactive, what has your team discussed doing internally to get ahead during this time?

Ruben Izgelov (18:23):

So rather than offering our services and programs, like we said earlier, we're trying to educate our borrowers with the market conditions and their options and how to navigate through this new world that we live in. We want to help our borrowers in making educated decisions moving forward. It doesn't matter if you're in a B2B, business, B2C, B2B two C, what have you. The brands who are winning the marketing game right now are thinking, saying and acting H to H, human to human across all their strategics strategies and tactics. So that's really kind of what our target is, what are our borrowers thinking? What are they going through and what it is that we can do to help them get ahead, which in turn will help us get ahead as well.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (19:18):

Yeah, I totally agree with that as well. Oh, go ahead.

Ruby Boulanger (19:25):

Oh no, go ahead.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (19:27):

Oh, I totally agree with that as well. It's kind of marketing on a human basis and just staying engaged with our current clients and current borrowers to see what they're up to and let them know that we're here still. I think that's also been part of our tactic right now and to get ahead for when we're on the other side of this, what are our borrowers currently thinking now?

Ruby Boulanger (19:53):

Yeah, no, those are all really great points. And I think even taking it back a step, if you're currently not doing anything, I think now is a really good time to start looking into different strategies and how you can really utilize your brand to come out of this stronger. And if that means if budgets obviously permit, I would look into hiring an individual person to come in after all of this or looking into different companies that can help. If you've been putting off that website redesign or anything from having content created or getting SCO implemented, I think now is a really good time to really look and analyze what you want to come in doing. Things do come a little bit more back to normal. Yeah,

Ruben Izgelov (20:39):

Yeah, absolutely.

Ruby Boulanger (20:41):

And so what if you have for a company who is looking to start marketing and brand building, so I know I kind of just gave my 2 cents, but what would you want a company to walk away knowing today, especially for those who may not have anything?

Ruben Izgelov (20:57):

Yeah, so I would first and foremost tell you educate yourself about who your target client is, who are they, where are they, what do they search and who do they follow and so on. And then secondly, take what was learned and take it to social media. If you don't have the expertise with the social media, like you said, hire someone who does. But the key is, like we said earlier, is to hire someone who has the savviness and the social media expertise in the space that you're in. They need to be able to know the space that you're in to be able to actually go ahead and maximize on those social media platforms.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (21:40):

Yeah, I would also say I totally agree with making sure that you have someone that specializes, but also educate yourself and just know that it's better to get marketing out there, actually do it. Just start rather than perfecting every little piece of your message because if you do that, then you're going to end up hoarding everything. So it's about getting it out there waiting for feedback or if you don't get any feedback, it means you've got to make adjustments, but that's how things get started and how things change and you improve on things you start.

Ruben Izgelov (22:20):


Ruby Boulanger (22:22):

That's great. Okay, well let's get into, or actually I wanted to show some examples of what Whelen does. These are all taken directly from their social media, but if you have a chance, go look at their Instagram, you'll see a lot more. But these were some of my favorites and they're really big on organic posting. And you can see this was just an example of a meeting they were hosting and I love the We Lend branded car and Times Square. So again, I know you guys do a great job getting engagement on your social platforms and these are just some really good examples.

Ruben Izgelov (23:00):


Jenny-Rose Halupka (23:01):

Yeah, I mean our photos and our organic content kind of just prompts people to want to engage and ask questions and take part in it. We got this picture of our car in Times Square and it was just like a passerby who follows us that was able to take a shot of it so they feel involved and educating people by what does OPM stand for? We don't get as much likes on those, but still anybody can scroll through our page and learn a little bit about the industry if they want.

Ruby Boulanger (23:39):

Yeah, no, definitely great points. And I think you guys are definitely, I think winning the game as lender doing their Instagram, so great job on that. So now we'll jump into a few questions. Again, if you do have any, please put them into the Q&A box up top, not the chat box, the Q&A. You'll see all of our contact information here as well. So if you do have any questions for one of us specifically and we're not able to get to it today, please feel free to email one of us or all of us. I know we'd all be happy to take the time to get back to you. So looks like we do have a couple questions. First one, and I'll let the We Lend team kind of take a stab at this first, but what is your favorite social media platform for private lenders?

Ruben Izgelov (24:27):

What is the, I'm sorry, I missed the question. What is the favorite social media platform?

Ruby Boulanger (24:32):

Yes, what is your favorite social media platform?

Jenny-Rose Halupka (24:36):

I mean ours is Instagram.

Ruben Izgelov (24:37):

Yeah, go ahead Jenny. Sorry,

Jenny-Rose Halupka (24:39):

Sorry. Yeah, I would say ours is Instagram and that started because it's easy to syndicate from Instagram to other platforms. So when you are super busy and you're trying to get a bunch of organic at the moment content out, it's better to be able to post it in one place and send it out to multiple places. And we were finding that a lot of our audience was there as well. People ranging from ages of 25 to 40 were a large part of our client base. And then that also extended to Facebook, so we kind of posted in two places at one shot. And Facebook also covered the older generation of our client base, which is from 35 to 65. Alright,

Ruby Boulanger (25:32):

Looks like we have another one. Oh, sorry, go ahead.

Ruben Izgelov (25:34):

Yeah, there are of many other platforms out there other than just Instagram and Facebook that are also very valuable. And I would always recommend whatever space you're in, especially if you're in the private lending space, I mean all the other platforms out there learn how to use them, learn how to market there. It does require, it's not free as in social on Instagram and Facebook for example, but there are a lot of benefits that come out from those platforms as well.

Ruby Boulanger (26:09):

And I know for us we are really big on LinkedIn. I think just one, having a good presence on LinkedIn and being very well connected is important. But also I know a lot of our clients go there to find content, so if you can post articles and things that you find really valuable, I think you'll get a lot of engagement as well.

Ruben Izgelov (26:27):


Ruby Boulanger (26:29):

All right, so next question. How important are sales affiliates to, how do you control the image they convey about your company?

Ruben Izgelov (26:38):

So I guess I'll take that. I mean, sales affiliates are crucial, right? Because if you're in the business to be able to scale the business, there's no way that you can handle all the business coming in. So we have about, I want to say 10 to 12 sales associates who are in essence our loan officers. And prior to the onboarding or during the onboarding, there is a training period. We train each and every one of them. We do roll calls, we make sure that they have all the frequently asked questions. And a lot of our sales associates prior to even starting at We Lend, they did not have any experience in real estate. So it is our responsibility to be able to teach them everything they need to know to be able to be a loan officer with We Lend. And that's kind of what helped us control the image and the message that they're conveying is that we're in the infancy of their start is that we are hands-on, but eventually we let them move on and do what they need to do.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (27:50):

Yeah, I can add to that as well, the importance of the sales affiliates in our marketing. I'll go to them and I'll ask questions about what they're experiencing from common questions coming in when they get on a phone call with a borrower that's inquiring about a new program, what's the common question they're getting that they want to be able to explain? So I try and educate the mass of our audience on that topic so that they have something to refer to on their phone call or it's already been answered.

Ruby Boulanger (28:26):

And I think from my perspective, anyone who does any type of business development within your company needs to be on board with marketing because it's one thing to have an internal marketing arm, but it's so much more effective if those people who are the face of your company and who are out there really client facing are marketing themselves as well because it's just like a two punched process. Alright. It looks like we have a couple more we'll try to get to. How do you evaluate whether your brand needs a revamp? I'll kind of start with this one. So I would honestly start with asking your family, friends and colleagues. I think getting input from those you like and trust in the space is really important. Some people really like their traditional logo and brand and I don't necessarily think every company needs to take a more modern approach, but how can you make sure those logos and websites are high resolution, that they function properly, that they have those attention grabbers. I think that's more of what you need to evaluate, but definitely asking those that you really value their input from and having some people in the space as well would be a great place to start.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (29:42):

Yeah, I totally agree with that. And then also, I mean it's good to get opinions from people that aren't totally immersed into the product that you see every single day to get an outside opinion. So it kind of just kind of all blurs to the same when you continuously see the same thing. So you want to run it past random people as well and kind of see what their feedback is to something you're trying to put out there. Even just your friends who have nothing to do with lending, it's kind of something I do as well. Are you getting the message I'm trying to put out there and then kind of scale it down and hone in with somebody that's more specialized, that's outside of your brand as well?

Ruby Boulanger (30:26):

Yeah, no, definitely great points. Awesome. Anything else that either of you would like to add to the attendees who are listening in today?

Ruben Izgelov (30:37):

I think that was it, but I can tell you, I mean a lot of what we have done today at We Lend, of course prior to Jenny starting, it all started with you Ruby. You helped us kind of get ourselves up off the ground and run with what we need. You gave us all the information that we need, so we are very, very appreciative of that and I don't know where we will be without that initial help from you. So thank you.

Ruby Boulanger (31:04):

Thank you. Appreciate that.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (31:08):

And thank you Ruby so much for having us here today. We really appreciate it.

Ruby Boulanger (31:13):

Yeah, likewise. Thank you guys for contributing your thoughts and I know I'm sure it's definitely valued in the time that we're in. Again to all the attendees. If you have any questions for any of us, the emails are listed below. One thing I'd like to note as well that I'm sure many of you have seen, but Geraci Media is hosting a conference. It's a virtual event, so it is called Lender Connect. Very different from a webinar or something like this. We will have a lot of educational topics, but there will also be a full on networking portion. So if any of you are missing that human interaction right now or really need to help find deals or meet new people in the space, there'll be a separate chat area and you can schedule one-on-one video meetings as well as an exhibit hall where you can go in and network with sponsors. So that will be taking place on May 20th. Feel free to email myself or go to our website for more info. We'd really love to get everyone in the lending space involved with this one. So that's it for today guys. Thank you all so much for joining in and we hope to hopefully see you guys sometime soon. Take care.

Ruben Izgelov (32:23):

Thanks guys.

Jenny-Rose Halupka (32:24):

Thanks guys. Bye.


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