How is Freddie Mac inspiring Millennials and Gen Z, to invest in homes?
Millennials seem like a unique breed, but they’re really not that different from other generations. Some research and mining of our available data suggests that the millennials actually accounted for the largest share of mortgage originations in 2018.and that they are seeking home ownership and the right opportunities for home ownership.
We also conducted research on Gen Z to understand their perceptions. And again, data suggests that a majority of them will consider home ownership when they think the time is right. Where we see the difference between the Millennials and Gen Z is their understanding of the barriers to home ownership and the requirements for home ownership. While Millennials still have some misconceptions about what it takes to be a home owner and how to become a home owner, it’s more prevalent with Gen Z. That’s probably owing to the fact that they’re younger and their financial awareness would be lower in general.
Also read: In a World of Data and AI, EQ is Still Key
But Millennials and Gen Z are digitally savvy. They want things to be easier and online. In response, Freddie Mac partners with real estate and mortgage professionals to simplify the process for buying a home and to make it more digitally accessible. For example, we have an online financial education program that can help prepare individuals for homeownership. We expect that digital trend will continue. Gen Z is thinking about what it takes to buy a house, but is not quite there yet. Our role is to help educate and also make the process easier for them.
How are you leveraging Big Data or Data Analytics for targeting customers or consumers in your sector?
Like other marketers, we are getting smarter and better at reaching our clients. Our clients range from industry partners like mortgage servicers to large lending organizations, such as banks. We also have broader audiences, including real estate professionals and their customers. Of course, like other marketers, data is critical for us. We employ well-known techniques in all addressable channels, from targeting content keywords to more sophisticated behavioral segmentation. Our goal is always to talk to the right people with the right content that is valuable to them.
Do you think the regulations and the usage of data make it challenging to reach your target customers? And if it is, then how are you overcoming this challenge?
Yes, and again, like other organizations, there are restrictions now on audience level insights especially those that you obtain through social media channels. However, we have always been very careful about how we target. It’s good business for us to do that, to spend our marketing dollars wisely and not to be invasive. We’ve been always very careful with how we target and how we message our clients.
So, would you share with us some of the strategies that Freddie Mac uses to stand out in the noise? How would you differentiate yourself in the industry today?
One is how we message, communicate and market to our target audience in general. Our audiences are averse to a hard sales approach to products. And so, we leverage good content marketing. I want to highlight one of our campaigns. It’s called the Freddie Edge. Our message is focused on being not a seller, but a partner with our client, to help them succeed growing their business and driving value. We are talking about what the results are going to be, how we can together achieve those results. We are very careful with who we target and what message we send, ensuring an appropriate, relevant engagement with our audiences. So, we try to have a dialog and a discourse with our client and our partners.
Another plan to really differentiate Freddie Mac is a campaign that we launched called #leadingtheway. This campaign is focused on advancing women in the how the industry. We saw a need in the industry and through that, a way to differentiate ourselves. The data is clear on the fact there is a need for strong support for women to become leaders in the industry. In a survey that Ernest and Young conducted, they found that only 17% of banking and insurance leaders expect to see a significant increase in the number of women in leadership roles in the next five years. We saw this as an opportunity for us to not only differentiate our brand, but to do something right and good. Our campaign is focused on helping advance women in the workplace. We raise awareness about the issue. We build networks through the campaign. This strategy does allow Freddie to stand out and differentiate itself in a very positive way.
Do you think artificial intelligence or automation or chat bots that are used for customer connect can replace the human touch? Or even if they can’t, would they affect the decision making of your customers?
Absolutely, there is a role for digital tools in general, be it AI or Machine Learning or chatbots. The next generation of homebuyers is predominantly Millennials and they’re digital natives. They expect to interact with us digitally. Freddie Mac is really on the cutting edge of a lot of these capabilities. Still, buying a home is usually the single largest purchase or financial decision that an individual will make. When it comes to such a large decision, we find that Millennials still want a face-to-face interaction. Our surveys found that even in Gen Z, as many as 80% of those we surveyed, still wanted to have that human interaction when making a purchase decision. So, while they absolutely value the digital interactions and the digital transactions, there is still a need to be face-to-face with a professional. My opinion is that the role of digital will keep expanding, but in the foreseeable future, I don’t think human interaction is going to be completely replaced. It will potentially decrease, but I’m not at that point where I can make the declaration that we don’t need humans involved in the process at all. We’re not there yet. It’s still a highly personal decision and it’s also a big decision.
You joined Freddie Mac, which is a government sponsored enterprise, choosing it over any private sector organization in the same industry, which may have been easier for you. What made you take this decision?
Yes, so I came from a slightly different industry. My background is in insurance and risk management, within financial services, but not in housing. I have to tell you, it was an easy decision for me to come to Freddie Mac. We are a purpose-driven, mission-based organization. I am proud of that. And it is a privilege to work for an organization that’s dedicated to helping people qualify for and achieve home ownership if it’s the right decision for them. Not everybody becomes a home owner, but for those that want to, we at Freddie Mac can help make that dream happen for them. I am an immigrant to this country and I do not take the opportunities afforded to me here lightly. If there is a way I could work in an organization that helps people achieve that dream of home ownership, this is a great place to do that.
I would also say, the leadership team at Freddie Mac is an outstanding group of people. You know, somebody early in my career told me, choose your boss before your job. And that is absolutely true. It is just so clear that there is such talent here, and so many interesting things going on here with using digital and automation to make processes easier. And at the end we’re doing all of that for a noble, mission-driven course. I couldn’t think of a better place.
How do you plan to use technology to mitigate the challenges inherent in that mission?
As in any marketing organization, of course we have some challenges. It’s not Nirvana; it’s still hard work. We have done some great things. There are a lot of things that we have to do. One of the things we needed to do was to build out a good marketing team, which I had the privilege of doing here. When you’re expanding the channels and the messages, you need operational efficiencies and governance. We’ve been able to bring on board a workflow management tool for the team, like those leveraged by other marketing organizations. It helped a great deal in streamlining and organizing. We are a heavily regulated entity as well, so it helps us with that element. That’s one thing where technology has proven to be very helpful in our day to day operations and in growing our marketing and communication efforts.
And then going back to how we leverage data in a way that enables us to reach the right audiences with the right messages at the right cadence, so that we’re not over burdening them. We onboarded a new martech stack. We’ve been able to enhance our analytics capabilities through all of our touch points–digital or otherwise–and then to integrate them, which is no small feat. We’re seeing some really good results with that. Again, a lot of that is our people, but also the technology that we’ve selected and onboarded for our organization.
“The role of digital will keep expanding, but in the foreseeable future, I don’t think human interaction is going to be completely replaced. It will potentially decrease, but I’m not at that point where I can make the declaration that we don’t need humans involved in the process at all. We’re not there yet.”
Riham El-lakany, Chief Marketing Officer, at Freddie Mac
Riham El-Lakany is the chief marketing and communications officer for Freddie Mac’s SingleFamily business. In her role, she is responsible for developing and leading marketing and communications strategies. She oversees marketing and communications, including brand, digital, sales enablement, and learning and development as well as external and internal communications.