125: Kim Wijkstrom believes brand is key in the strategic growth of a company

(upbeat jazz tune) – [Man] For all of us,
it’s about predicting where the consumer’s going, and
getting half of it right. – [Woman] One of the things you wanna do is create ads that don’t suck. – [Man] Embracing change
creates great possibility. – [Alan Hart] I’m Alan Hart,
and this is Marketing Today. Today on the show I’ve got Kim Wijkstrom, Chief Marketing Officer
at OneMain Financial. Kim’s responsible for the development and execution of the brand marketing at OneMain Financial and
he’s successfully launched a new brand campaign
called Lending Done Human. And we get into that campaign with the success that they’ve seen and the spark if you will, or how that campaign came about to begin with. We also touch on his
prior career starting in advertising and working with some iconic brands like
Apple and Absolut Vodka. And we end as usual with getting to know Kim more on a personal level: his Swedish background,
growing up in West Africa. You’re not gonna wanna miss
this episode with Kim Wijkstrom. Well, Kim, welcome to the show! – [Kim] Thanks very much
Alan, pleasure to be here. – [Alan] We’ve got a lot to talk about, but I thought we could start with your background and where
you started your career, and kind of any twist
or turns along the way. – [Kim] Sure, yeah I
started in marketing at the TBWA Chiat Day back in ’96 after finishing business school at NYU, and I was incredibly lucky to start at a time with TBWA Chiat Day had both Absolut Vodka and Apple as clients. And because of the
fortuitous timing, I had the opportunity to work
on Apple Computer when Apple Came back to Chiat Day
when Steve Jobs came back to Apple and brought it back to Chiat Day. And started there as an Account Supervisor slash Strategic Planner,
a strange hybrid job, to help participate and figuring out the ‘Think Different’ launch, which was obviously a pivotal moment
for me and my career, and learning a lot in
terms of brand strategy and brand positioning and so and so forth. I also had the good fortune of working on what was already a very successful, one of the most successful
campaigns probably in history, which was the Absolut
Vodka account, where I was resident suite if you
will on the agency side. So, to me those were
incredibly exciting times and both of them taught me some
very significant lessons in terms of the importance
of a brand and a role the brand plays in the strategic
growth of a business. That was obviously
something that was core to Steve Jobs coming back to Apple, sorting out a new platform, where Apple was no longer Apple Computer, it is now about digital
tools for creative minds, which eventually resulted in the kind of earth shattering developments like the iPhone, the iPod, so on and so forth. Changing the entire
direction of the company. It launched obviously with the
‘Think Different’ campaign, which was a way of trying
to create reappraisal for what Apple stood for, and ultimately paid off in the product and the product experience end branch in retail. – [Alan] Got it, well that’s, working on Apple when Steve Jobs came back, that’s an amazing experience
just in and of itself. Were there any major takeaways
from that experience, you know the team that
you got to work with, I’m assuming Lee Clow was in full swing, in full force at that
moment of time as well. – [Kim] I don’t think at
the time I realized how lucky I was to be thrown
into that situation. It was more trying to absorb
as much as possible from the moment, and roll with
it and make sure that we could deliver on the relationship. So, we did have a kick off meeting with Steve Jobs that I will never forget. He was quite an intimidating figure, but again I mean to me it was one of the most fundamental learning episodes of my career in seeing how again the story telling that comes with brand is key to a business strategy
essentially, right? Determining what the strategy is has everything to do with brand, and then brand comes the story that explains it to the consumer, becomes
the consumer interface. That was something that was
made abundantly clear in that process and one other
thing that I learned there was, the reason I was brought on board was the Apple contract was
a global contract, but TWBA Chiat Day didn’t have a
TWBA Latin America for example. So although we were responsible for doing the advertising there, we didn’t actually have infrastructure
to support it. So part of my job was to then figure out, okay how do we take this campaign and apply it to foreign markets like those in Latin America, which became part of my job also for
Absolut Vodka later on in that basically I became the person who, Absolut was so well established
as a print campaign and probably was the most
famous print campaign at the time, truly iconic campaign, but it also was looking for opportunities in new markets and in new media. This was the beginning of the
dot com bubble if you will, so that became my role for
Absolute Vodka as well. – [Alan] Interesting, well I think when we previously talked you
mentioned this notion of being a translator of sorts, especially on the Absolut account, because of your heritage, and being
Swedish by descent, correct? – [Kim] Correct, yes, I’m a Swedish citizen as well as U.S. citizen. – [Alan] Okay, and so I don’t
hear an accent, why is that? Your English is impeccable. – [Kim] It’s a good question. I moved to the U.S. in high school, and I had a strong accent then. Somewhere, at some point during college, it I think just faded away. It may have something to
do with being a parent. I don’t know, maybe I just sort of copied the environment somehow
or another subconsciously. – [Alan] Right, I know I grew
up in the south in the U.S., and most people say I don’t
have a southern accent, but if I drink a little too much, it’s definitely gonna come back out. Or if I’m around other people. – [Kim] There you go. – [Alan] So maybe if I was Swedish, your Swedish would come out. – [Kim] If we had some Absolut Vodka and used some bourbon, maybe
we could make this work. – [Alan] There we go, I like that! New show episode, coming soon. Well, kind of getting back
to translator component, you talked about on Apple
actually helping them into other markets, as well and I know it was the case on Absolut. Is there anything you learned
in that kind of unique, if you will, middle role of
being a translator between cultures or between
different constituents. – [Kim] Yeah, I think
so, I think when you have lived a life like I had, I was born and raised in Liberia and West Africa. I moved to Sweden which is my heritage in basically junior high
school, then I moved to the U.S. and became and American, then I worked in advertising eventually. And I worked with, in Absolut’s case, a brand from Sweden
where in some sense I was a cultural translator, in that I understood not just
what our clients were actually saying to each other in meetings, but I could interpret really
what they meant by it, or what their actions or
lack of actions may imply, because I understood the culture. The way that translated, I
mean I think it comes from being sort of culturally
curious, which probably has something to do with having lived in many places, right, and
many different environments. And the way that that
eventually translated into what happened in my
career, was when it came to this notion of new
markets and new channels, I was very curious about the promises of the interactive world wide web, all brand new, everything that everyone was talking about at the time. I was also culturally very curious about, well Latin America for example. And in the combination of helping try to build TBWA Latin America
country by country in order to support both the Apple
‘Think Different’ campaign and the Absolut Vodka campaign, I got to do a lot of
cultural deep dives into those countries and learn very specifically how they
differ from each other. It’s sort of a little bit
of a truism I think in advertising that whenever
you go to a new country, everyone will tell you
that it’s all different, and nothing that you’ve done
in the U.S. will really apply. You know, that’s a
truth with modification, but in order to test it, you actually have to go deep and figure out
what is underlying here, what is universal in our
brand proposition versus what needs to be adapted or
solved for in a local market? And that is a very intriguing kind of cultural interrogation
that I really enjoyed. – [Alan] Right, right,
to learn something that, I guess early or pivotal in your career I think is a great opportunity too. Something you can carry on to each role you were in after that for sure. If we think about, you know your career, and we’re gonna get to your real job now, I promise, in another
question, but if we think about your career kind of leading
up to OneMain Financial. Has there been any main
takeaways about the job as a marketer or as an
advertiser so to speak? – [Kim] Yeah, to me I
mean I think I’m very much shaped by those early
experiences with Absolut and with Apple, in that I really believe, and I think this is where
I feel very strongly that the distractions of sort
of the daily news cycle of whatever’s the new shiny toy
in marketing and advertising, whether it’s AI or block chain or virtual reality or programmatic, they tend to distract
from the fundamental, which is if you don’t
have a story to tell, it doesn’t really matter
where you would tell it. You know those items are channels or levers in the overall marketing mix and they’re important and they’re exciting and they’re interesting. They don’t change the fundamental though. You need to have a brand,
an articulated brand story, that you can continue to evolve and extrapolate to those various channels. And that to me is the most
fundamental thing that seems to get lost in a lot of the sort of stromingen in the marketing world. – [Alan] Yeah, I 100% agree with you. I think we’ve got the
function as an industry maybe a little ADD or
Attention Deficit Disorder. Let’s talk about OneMain Financial. – [Kim] Sure. – [Alan] Can you, I guess
first describe the company for those that are listening
that may not be in a market, ’cause we do have
listeners outside the U.S., what OneMain Financial is and what you’ve learned so far when you joined and what journey you’ve been on so-to-speak. – [Kim] Absolutely, when I first got the opportunity to engage
with OneMain Financial, I will admit I had my hesitations, because I did learn very quickly that it was about personal loans, and it really targeted the sub-prime population. Having survived the financial crisis of 2008 myself, that left me with some pause. However, what was really interesting, what compelled me eventually both from the perspective as a human being, as well as a marketer, was that what I learned was that the state of the American middle class is really quite bad. While we again tend to
focus on certain news items, such as the DOW Jones, or the GDP, or unemployment, the reality is that the vast majority of the
middle class basically lost and have never recovered a significant part of their earning relative to
their expenses since 2008. There have been all sorts of studies by the Federal Reserve showing
that something like 60% of the American public
would not have $1000 in cash to access in an emergency, and given everything else we know about what’s going on in our country with the cost of health care and everything else, that could be potentially quite catastrophic. And since the financial
crisis, the banks have actually un-banked those customers that they do not feel so good about, which tends to be characterized as sub-prime, which by the way is a terrible pejorative to dismiss people
as: Sub-prime, or sub anything. But the banks have basically
un-banked something like 60 million people since
the financial crisis, so where do these folks turn
when they’re in need of a loan? They go through the path of
turning to friends and family, they go to a bank, they go to credit unions, they go to a credit card, and along the way they get turned down. The options that remain
to them are not the best. And OneMain Financial is the largest consumer financial services
company in the U.S. that you’ve never heard of, because
they’ve never really tried to build a brand before this,
I think partly because of the category that they were in, which wasn’t one that was highly respected. But in my view, what
OneMain Financial takes very seriously and takes great pride in is being the one responsible
lender in this category. So you can go to a payday
lender or a title lender, and basically we’re talking
about usury rates there. What OneMain Financial does
is something very different. They will create an installment
loan that’s based on your income and your
expenses to make sure that it’s something that you can afford. To me this felt like something that I felt very strongly about, it felt like someone who’s doing the
responsible thing that is actually severely needed
in our country right now. And from a marketing perspective what was exciting about it was the fact
that no one’s ever heard of the company, because since 1912,
really the only way they’ve reached out to customers
was through direct mail. So no awareness building had been done and there was an opportunity here to actually create a brand for a company, whose retail footprint is almost
the size of Target’s. That seemed like an
exciting proposition to me. – [Alan] Yeah, yeah, well I
know that you mentioned before I think that 1700 branches, I think Target has something like 1800 stores. Don’t quote me on that, but
that’s crazy, you’re everywhere! – [Kim] It’s kind of amazing, right? I mean something close to
90% of Americans live within 25 miles of a OneMain Financial branch. – [Alan] That’s wild, that’s wild. You know, when we were
gearing up for this interview, I had the same thoughts
about the industry or the sector of the industry that you’re in, but the more I’ve heard you talk about it, it seems like one, it’s a dire need for people that need access to cash, and it seems like OneMain
Financial is taking the appropriate approach to it, right? Versus the payday loan folks that get such a bad rep in the industry. – [Kim] And I think that that’s something really important, Alan. I mean I am very passionate about marketing and advertising, but I also don’t think I could be doing it for a company that I wouldn’t
feel passionate about, and I do feel that OneMain Financial is actually doing a necessary and responsible service to the customers out there. So, I do feel passionate
about helping that customer and making sure that that
customer understands that there is an option, a
responsible option for them, and that they can turn to some place that can help them explain
what they’re getting into, which is the whole promise
behind Lending Done Human. – [Alan] Got it, so you just illuminated I guess the tagline, Lending Done Human, and you’ve recently launched the company’s first ever brand campaign. Was that part of your remit
when you took the job, and how did you approach that? – [Kim] So yes, that was
part of the remit when I took the job, and the
way we went about it was a lot of the same way I went about trying to understand for example how Apple ‘Think Different’ should be different in Brazil from Columbia, or how Absolut Vodka’s strategy in Mexico should differ from the U.S. Taking a deep dive into the
consumer and the culture and trying to understand
the dynamics in the space. What we’ve seen since
the financial crisis is a significant growth in online lenders, the fintech companies as
they’re more commonly known as. That space has grown a lot, but when we did research with our customers and customers in our target group as well, what we understood there was there’s a lot of fear involved in
this, which is not surprising. I mean if you’re in dire
straights and need access to credit and everyone’s rejecting
you, where do you turn to? You wanna turn to someone that you’ve heard of and that you
believe is reputable. Without any awareness out there, basically what ends up happening is, when they stumble upon us or one of our direct mail pieces arrives in the mailbox, they may seize the
opportunity, but they’re not necessarily that
excited about it or not necessarily that reassured
because they haven’t heard of us. So, one thing we learned was that the awareness was important
to the customers that they would have heard of the company that they’d believe that it was reputable. The other thing that we learned in the research is that this is kind of a high touch category, believe it or not. Consumers were expressing fear because of the concern of making any mistakes if they go online and book a loan, or if they go to someone who doesn’t really particularly help them in terms of finding the right loan for
their particular needs. So they really expressed a deep desire to have someone to help
them, to speak to them so they could ask questions
and figure out what are, how to understand the loan
and the loan process itself. So it turned out that the
major differentiator we have built into the company which
is the 1600 or 1700 branches, is actually a real asset
with regards to what consumers were asking
for, what they wanted. – [Alan] Interesting, you
know Lending Done Human, I do really love that line by the way. How did you, and you talked about it being a high touch category,
how did you work with quote unquote the humans
inside the company to help you launch this effort? – [Kim] Very closely, because
one thing we discovered also in doing internal surveys, is there’s a great pride in doing what we do. The team members at OneMain Financial feel very strongly about being sort of responsible members of the community. They have long standing relationships with a lot of their customers,
so they felt that the spotlight was essentially put on them in terms of recognizing what they are already trying to do in their communities. Trying to help those who have
been somewhat disenfranchised, and providing the kind of human
shoulder or ear if you will, for customers that are
looking for a solution. And we found that there’s great pride in the feeling of being able to help, so the previous tagline if you wanna call it that the company had was
Lending Made Personal, which was trying to be
a little of a pun on the notion of personal loans,
but the problem with it was we found out again through research that consumers don’t really know what a personal loan is, so
the pun is kind of lost. And twisting it and turning it to Lending Done Human actually captured both the way our team members feel about what they do provide to their communities, but also provides kind of
a promise to consumers of what to expect when they
come into the store. – [Alan] Okay, so really
it’s an interesting, with so many branches
and so many people out, like you said, out in
their personal communities, that they have this attachment
to the communities and that the people that
they’re trying to serve. I can’t help but think they probably had at times similar connotations, I believe I’m helping somebody, but our industry gets a bad
rep, and maybe this also helps them bring out their human-ness. I don’t know, that sounds really odd to say out loud, but
hopefully that makes sense. – [Kim] It does, and I think we’ve seen it very much internally. We do have every now and then, and this probably isn’t something
I should broadcast, because we don’t want to advertise it, but we do have requests from branches for a particular customer who had a particular situation happen to them. You know, a particularly dire situation, and they wanna figure out a way to help. And every now and then, we do that simply because we think
it’s the right thing to do, and we actually video tape when the branch invites the customer in and either provides something
that will be helpful to them like a wheelchair let’s
say, or a check for whatever medical emergency happened, or something along those lines. And we don’t share it out externally, we only share it internally
within our intranet, but it is the kind of
thing that builds a lot of pride internally with our team members. – [Alan] That’s awesome, that’s awesome. You know as you think about pushing this campaign externally, how
are you getting it out into the world and how are you planning, or are you reaching your target audiences? – [Kim] So yes we are,
we have started small. We started in five markets with
a fully integrated campaign, meaning led by TV, but also
using drive time radio, digital advertising, social
media, and billboards. And what we’re seeing
is the awareness spiked, but most importantly the
perception in those markets changed significantly, so now there’s a trust factor involved
with OneMain Financial, which is really, really encouraging. On top of which of course
there are the KPIs such as direct traffic to the
website, and searches and so and so forth that
are spiking as well, but to me what’s really
rewarding is to see that the awareness is paid off in terms of shifting perceptions in those markets. – [Alan] That’s awesome, well congrats. I mean that’s only five markets
in and good success so far. – [Kim] We’re very excited, and can’t wait to see where this goes. And it’s one of those things too, I think it’s a little bit, to me it’s a little bit akin to
the insurance category before GEICO started advertising. This is a category that really is kind of a low interest category,
let’s be honest, right? No one is really out Googling for loans unless they need one, right? Also it’s kind of one of those infrequent and unpredictable needs, you don’t know when
you’re gonna need a loan. So the direct mail part of it is popularly a critical piece
from a business perspective, but it’s a little bit of a crap shoot, because you’re trying
to find the customer at the time that they need a loan, but doing this we’re
shifting the dynamic the way the insurance agency has
done it to an awareness one. So when you’re in that situation, hopefully you’ll think of
OneMain Financial first. – [Alan] That’s awesome,
is there anything else you wanna share about the, because I think the campaign itself is
story driven, is that right? – [Kim] Very much so, yeah. – [Alan] Yeah, anything you could elaborate in terms of
the types of stories that you’re telling through the campaign? – [Kim] So, I think to me
again this goes back to us, the earlier conversation of
what the fundamentals that I learned form Absolut and from Apple, that it really boils down
to brand regardless, right? The brand is the heart of what it is the story you’re trying to tell, and marketing is ultimately
story telling, right? It’s story telling in multiple channels, in multiple ways, but
you need to know what your story is before you
can start telling it, regardless of whatever channel you have. And that’s what we’re trying to do, whether it be in social media, whether it be on TV or in radio, we’re trying to find those sort of individual relatable
stories that we can tell. – [Alan] Great, great, well
Kim it’s a great campaign, I wanna switch gears a little bit, and we’ve gotten to know you
a little bit at the beginning, because I thought it was
great context in terms of how you built this campaign,
but we always like to go a little deeper here
on Marketing Today with the folks that come on the show. And you know, I’d love to
ask you this question that I ask everyone that comes on the show. Is there an experience of your past that defines or makes
up who you are today? – [Kim] Yeah, I think
that the answer to that is simply the life experience,
and I’m sorry for not picking a very specific one, but I think the fact that I’ve grew up in West Africa as a Swede,
then moved to Sweden, then moved to the U.S.,
it’s kind of made me into a little bit of a cultural omnivore. Always passionate for exploring and understanding and learning more, and that to me shaped also
why I got into advertising. I think that that’s, it’s a space where you’re inevitably searching for paths through culture to communicate
a particular story. And that to me is what is so exciting and so intriguing to me. – [Alan] That’s interesting,
I mean when you were growing up in West Africa,
were you cognizant that you were of Swedish heritage,
or did you just think of yourselves as someone from West Africa? – [Kim] It’s a good question, you know I think I was never really cognizant, I think I always knew I was
a Swede in a Swedish family, and since I didn’t know any different, I just happened to be in Africa. It’s strange to look at it that way, but there are a lot of
people who always say that they always felt like an outsider. I don’t think I ever felt
really like an outsider. I think I always felt like I was just like a kid from outer space who landed in a particular place or something like that. – [Alan] Right, right, right,
you’re just different from … – [Kim] You’re just different, yeah. – [Alan] Yeah, but probably
still very acculturated to your surroundings, ’cause you didn’t know anything else at that point. – [Kim] That’s a great way of putting it, and I think that that’s
exactly what happened, because I didn’t know
any different I became acculturated to whatever
environment I was in. – [Alan] That’s interesting,
that’s really interesting. Well, what fuels you,
what drives you today? – [Kim] Passion for creativity. I mean, I majored in art
history for a reason, I love the liberal arts
and the humanities, and I particularly enjoy
the various expressions of them creatively, whether
it be music or visual. And I think that the exciting thing about being in a space like
marketing or advertising is, you get to leverage that on
behalf of the story telling, for whatever cause or brand that you’re trying to tell a story for. That for me is like the
constant in all this, and the reward also in all this. – [Alan] Got it, well
most marketers tend to be students of the business and you’ve illustrated that already
in our conversation, but in that notion are there brands or companies or causes that you follow or you think others should
be taking notice of? – [Kim] I mean there’s so
many great brands out there, and like many others I
will say that you know, you learn about brands very
early on in an intuitive level, I think Sweden as a brand
is a very interesting brand. People have very strong opinions or perceptions of what Sweden is when you say that you’re Swedish. The first band that I fell in love with, my heroes when I was a kid, was KISS. KISS is a great brand, you learn a lot from looking at things like that. I think today, you know one of the things I’m really fascinated with
is the discussion around corporate social responsibility that’s been going on for quite a while. And the debate whether it
should be sort of an add on, sort of a philanthropic part
when a company gives money or if it should be something that’s integral to how the company does its business, I think is a really interesting one. For me, I’ve become very passionate about the environmental issues that
we’re confronted with today, so I very much enjoy seeing
what companies like SalesForce and Unilever and 4Ocean if you know them, the startup that’s trying to
collect trash out of the ocean. I think of those as really,
really interesting things, and I want to spend
some time at some point, figuring out how we can do that in a way that’s more integrated as opposed to giving money to another organization. – [Alan] That’s great, that’s great. Well, last question for you, and you’ll have to get out your crystal ball. What do you see as the
future of marketing? – [Kim] I think that, and at the risk of sounding like a fuddy duddy, or loreit, I think that all these
tools that we talked about in the very beginning,
the AI, virtual reality, block chain, all these
things are very exciting and there’s definitely
going to be impact on that, it’s gonna change the
consumer purchase funnel, the awareness building,
so on and so forth. It definitely has an
impact, I do think though it doesn’t change the fundamental, you still need to know what your story is before you venture into
them and figure out how you actually leverage
them to tell your story. So as the more things change the more they stay the same to some degree. What I do worry about is, I
think that when you look at AI, it’s sort of on a path of
enabling so much personalization that I think we’re probably
approaching kind of a dangerous crossroads, where all this personalization leads to individual silos, which I think we see reflected
in culture right now as well. And I think that that, down the path, that and the combination
of all the data that companies are collecting
can come to kind of a critical crossroads in
the not too distant future. – [Alan] All right, no
that’s, not to get too morbid or creepy, but
I mean this notion of alternative realities and that
people at the end of the day are still having to
interact in the real world, but if they’re completely immersed in their own alternative realities, you know their beliefs, stances, etc, it’s troubling to many … – [Kim] And they’re reinforced in their individual echo chambers, and
that’s what’s really scary. – [Alan] Yeah. – [Kim] I mean, I think in the past there could be kooks out there of course, but now with these types of individualized and personalized sort of spaces, it’s a little bit of a
dangerous path I think. – [Alan] Yeah, no, I agree, I agree 100%. Well, thank you so much
for coming on the show, it’s been fascinating. – [Kim] I’ve really enjoyed it, Alan. Thank you for having me. – [Alan] Hi, it’s Alan again. Marketing Today was
created and produced by me, with writing and editing by Kevin Greely, social media support by Megan Woods, art and graphic design by Sarah Dell. If you’re new to Marketing Today, please feel free to write
us a review on iTunes, or your favorite listening platform. Don’t forget to subscribe and tell your friends and colleagues about the show. I’d love to hear from listeners, and you can contact me at
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about on any episode. You can also search our archives. I’m Alan Hart, and this
is Marketing Today.

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