Q&A: Varo’s chief marketing officer on digital marketers’ ‘low hum of anxiety’ around digitization

Q&A: Varo’s chief marketing officer on digital marketers’ ‘low hum of anxiety’ around digitization

This Q&A is an excerpt from one of 10 interviews we conducted for our report, “The Banking CMO Report: 10 Leaders on Priorities, Challenges, and Opportunities.”

Insider Intelligence spoke with Carolyn Feinstein, Varo Bank’s chief marketing, growth, and design officer, to better understand how CMOs are redefining their roles as digital becomes the default banking channel for customers. She emphasized how fast it’s been changing, particularly during the pandemic.

“Everyone who works in this field has this low hum of anxiety that while they're sleeping, a new social network was born and they don't quite know about it yet.”

Below, we highlight excerpts from our conversation about how banking CMOs are facing their biggest challenges, operational and consumer shifts, and opportunities.

The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Insider Intelligence (II): If you were to write a job description for yourself, what would it include?

Carolyn Feinstein (CF): I think the CMO title is the most broadly defined of almost any in business. It means something very different in one company than it does in another. .

I’m responsible for:

  • Our marketing organization and all of the component pieces, from social to brand … to product marketing.
  • Our growth organization—growing our number of users. That's everything from our acquisition and engagement marketing, to our growth experimentation, and our partnership with product and engineering around that work.
  • Our design organization, which ranges from design as it impacts building our customer experiences, brand design, and creating the messages and the stories that we tell externally.
  • And communications obviously fits in there, too.

… I see my job in many ways as a seamstress. Everybody's doing brilliant work individually, and my goal is to ensure that it's stitched together so that the sum is more than the parts.

II: How does the CMO role at neobanks differ from other industries?

CF: Several viable models are in play in Silicon Valley, and that’s what you’re probably seeing in the neobanks. I’d imagine that there's not a fintech-specific organizational model right now.

What's interesting about tech marketing—and I'll put fintech in that bucket—is that, unlike many other businesses, these companies go through their life stages in 18-month, super-fast flywheels. The organizational construct and people that are ideal at one life stage might not be ideal at the next. It's why you see people moving so rapidly through these companies compared with other industries.

II: What marketing challenges did you face last year, and how did those affect your priorities?

CF: Varo has a unique competitive advantage as an all-digital bank with a bank charter. That gives us the opportunity to acquire consumers both from traditional banks and from neobanks.

We're a few years behind in aggressive brand-building and advertising. Like many companies at our life stage, we’ve concentrated our marketing investment at the bottom of the marketing funnel to tune and optimize our acquisition engine and engagement capability.

In January, we started to advertise and tell our brand story at the top of the marketing funnel. Our challenge is that we're currently at a single digit on aided awareness. Over 90% of the people we want to talk to still don't have a deep awareness and understanding of Varo. That’s also an opportunity, leaving us a lot of headroom for entering the cultural conversation.

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