Q&A: Wise CMO Cian Weeresinghe on rebranding from TransferWise, PR stunts and authenticity

Alex Sword

Alex Sword

Editor

The Financial Services Forum

Earlier this year, Cian Weeresinghe became CMO of Wise, formerly TransferWise, as the company continues to expand beyond its original mission to offer low cost overseas money transfers. In this exclusive Q&A he provides an update on the rebrand and talks about why he thinks transparency is so key to marketing.

 

TransferWise changed its name to “Wise” earlier this year – what have been the main activities around this and how has progress gone on the rebrand?

We had a few main goals when we changed our name. Mainly, to rebrand our service successfully by bringing our customers onboard without losing or confusing them. all the while landing the message that Wise is more than money transfers.

Our customers always come first, so our priority was to make this as smooth a process for them as possible.

On a technical level, this process was a gradual rollout, made up of several phases. We went live with the news that TransferWise was becoming Wise, which also meant launching a new domain. We let our existing customers know about this first, giving them access to check out the new domain. We then began redirecting customers to the new domain, before bringing SEO onboard to redirect all cookie-less users, including bots and search engines. From then on, users were redirected straight to the new site, meaning the end of transferwise.com.

A rebrand is a significant piece of work, both technically and reputationally, and that was front of mind for the team right from the start. We successfully brought our customers onboard, updated our paid marketing activities, and solidified our message that Wise is more than just money transfers.

 

When rebranding many companies face a challenge retaining their brand equity – what do you think is the most effective way of doing this?

An effective way of retaining brand equity is staying faithful to what your brand is at its core. We’re a mission driven business, with strong values that we’re proud of, and that our customers know and identify with. Losing this during the rebrand simply wasn’t an option for us, and ten years of heritage meant that messaging was ingrained in who we are. In that sense, it was all the work we’d done before that meant this was an easy transition.

On top of that, we changed our name, but not radically. Dropping the “transfer” meant not letting go completely of who we were. Putting it simply, it was a chance to update and modify the name to match who we are today. We’re much more than just transfers.

 

You have been in the role for around 6 months – alongside the rebrand, what else has been on your to-do list?

It’s been a pleasure to land in a role with such a high performing marketing organisation across so many disciplines, and the rebrand was well underway before I arrived. In the last 6 months I’ve been getting close to the teams, getting a better understanding of our product, customers and proposition. I spend a lot of time thinking about how we solve some of the most pressing marketing challenges we are facing, including how we think about regional opportunities, marketing measurement and new channel opportunities within digital and across offline. I’ve also worked closely with our Marketing Diversity team who have put in the processes and goals around improving representation – not just across the whole team, but also in senior marketing leadership roles. I’ve also had a chance to hire and bring in Claire Grinton to lead our Brand and Creative team.

 

You have worked in very diverse roles, from the Guardian to Secret Escapes. What could financial services learn from these different sectors?

I worked in a number of financial services organisations before joining Wise; I learnt there that it’s easy to say you listen to your customers, and that you’re customer-centric, but it’s quite a different thing to design an organisation and mission about making your product eventually free.

My non-fintech background taught me that the creative you produce makes a huge difference. It’s really hard to make truly game-changing creative; something that’s relevant, compelling and memorable and that builds both your brand and business, while being something you can confidently invest against. While it’s possible to make bad creative, the real risk is that it’s really easy to make something utterly mediocre and vanilla that you waste millions of dollars of advertising budget on.

 

Wise has become an icon for “fintech” brands – how useful do you find that positioning? How would you define the overall Wise brand?

It’s always flattering to be seen as an icon! I think one of the things that makes us so relatable is that we focus on problems, and how to solve them. We’re not looking for flashy ways to deliver products and services our customers don’t need. Our customers guide and define everything we do, and this keeps us focused on real issues that we can help with.

We want to solve complex problems as simply as possible for our customers. After all, our mission is money without borders; instant, convenient, transparent and eventually free.

It’s fair to say that transparency is the core element that drives our marketing strategy. It seems simple, but it’s actually really hard to be authentic on transparency – it needs to run through everything you do, and you need to build that ethos into the business right from the beginning. One way we do this is by publishing our product roadmap on a quarterly basis, listing what the teams are working on, and how this contributes to our mission. We regularly share these updates internally, but releasing these publicly enables us to work with the garage door open, setting up a richer dialogue with our customers, and getting their feedback on what we’re building.

We’ve moved from a young disruptive start-up to a global company of more than 10 million customers, and that affects how we market ourselves, but our brand focus on transparency and working towards the mission has stayed the same.

 

One of the most famous campaigns by Wise was the ‘nothing to hide’ campaign (where the founders led a 100-person “naked” protest against murky financial practices in New York)  – in an age of digital marketing and data, do you think brands should look more at bold PR stunts?

In an industry as crowded as ours, it’s important to stand out, to make sure that your message hits home for your customers. However, there are some things to think about first – does a bold stunt add value for your customers? Is it the most effective way to communicate your message? If the answer is yes, then this is a great way to achieve your marketing goals.

But it’s important to remember that these aren’t one-size-fits-all, and there isn’t a need for a big stunt for every campaign. When scaling, it’s important to step back and identify which marketing activities will actually add the most value and where.

Nowadays, we often go about things a little differently. Currently, 67% of customers find us via ‘Word of Mouth’, and we’re proud of that.  A lot of that is down to the fact our product is  considerably better in terms of price, speed and convenience, compared to our competitors – and this drives our NPS and our viral loop. When people experience Wise, they tell their friends, but that experience also covers our marketing and comms.  We make our language  simple, straightforward  but also compelling and friendly –  so people can understand what we do, why they should use us, why they should love us and why they should tell their friends.

We’re a service, but we’re also a revolution, and we want people to join us on that journey. In order to do that, they need to understand our goals. We need to be informative, and inclusive, and the customer HAS to be at the centre of everything we do. If we do that, our customers will be our biggest advocates, and for all the right reasons.

 

The company reached a new level of visibility with its IPO in July. Has this had any impact on marketing?

It has in some ways, but mostly our approach has stayed the same. Marketing at Wise has always been about communicating how we’re working towards money without borders in a transparent way, and this hasn’t changed at all. Our listing back in July has given us a bigger spotlight, and we now have an exciting new opportunity to tell more people about our work, and what we’re building at Wise.

We’re still dedicated to doing this in a fun and creative way, but it’s only natural that our marketing strategy grows as we do. We’re 11 years old now, and as a business we are more mature, with a more developed customer proposition across more markets. Our marketing needs to reflect that progress, and help tell the right story to new and existing audiences.

 

What initiatives are you most excited about over the next year?

I’m really excited about continuing to expand our footprint across the globe; to evolve and scale the Wise brand deliberately across all our marketing channels and creative output that’s tailored to those markets. I’m also excited to keep building out the team to drive further growth.  We’re also developing some really interesting data and measurement solutions to ensure we are investing our time and energy correctly.

On the product side, I think we’re only at the beginning of our journey in terms of spreading the word about the Wise Account, and our debit card to new audiences, and making it part of their international lives.

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