These Customer Personas are Worth $5 Billion: Lessons from Snooping on TransferWise
Marketers…what are you doing to tailor your content and messaging to what your customers think and feel? Market disruptors like TransferWise are using deceptively simple tactics to tap into customer insights to create a moat.
Let’s get it out of the way shall we (unicorn junkies section); TransferWise is an international money transfer company that has raised $1.1 billion so far, is valued at $5 billion and is making a profit.
It launched in 2011, growing fast and stealing market share from incumbents (weird how ‘stealing’ sounds so good in this context).
This article in a nutshell
Using their (public) customer data, we’ll utilise the long lost photographer-in-the-bush technique to study how TransferWise has let their customers dictate their marketing and messaging.
PS: This approach is not limited to competitor research. It’s also for consultants and freelancers who’ve asked clients for detailed customer insight and heard, “um… do you really need that?”
While a well-written testimonial can do wonders for the conversion rate of a website, it is the perfect place for customer snoopers to hang out. TransferWise even made it easier by using video testimonials-thank you very much.
The first testimonial features an African who’s immigrated to Canada.
Testimonial 1: Leaving home
Here’s everything she revealed; I’ve generalised the insights to represent a whole segment with similar characteristics.
How is TransferWise using this info?
Any marketing message targeting Ejiro’s segment should highlight solutions to their pain points i.e. slow transactions, high costs, transaction transparency, or unique experiences like immigrant family life.
Below is one of their ads around a top of a funnel topic that taps into these insights.
Also, look closely below at how the company has captured all the pain points this persona experiences in one tweet.
TransferWise CFO testifying before congress may not stop you from scrolling, but when the copy highlights, ‘expensive’, ‘lack of transparency’ and ‘slow transactions’, this post would catch your eye if you fit this persona.
Knowing a customer’s pain points gives content creators a great skeleton to flesh out social media content that is hyper-targeted. The tweet below shows how the company uses the insights from their customer segments to form a company narrative that resonates with its audience.
A customer even quoted the tweet with a Portuguese I love you (eu amo-a) TransferWise caption… let’s pause while my buddy Jerry — he’s been wondering when his girl will say the L-word to him — takes some notes….)
Testimonial 2: Importer
The second testimonial represents b2b customers sending money to other businesses. It features a business that sources dungarees from a manufacturer in India and sells them in the UK.
Their major struggle was paying their suppliers across the borders. Here are the nuances of how TransferWise meets that need.
Insights gleaned from testimonial:
What has TransferWise done with this info?
This persona has mentioned that they care about how much of the money they send is received after transaction costs. They also compare rates.
In response, TransferWise has used the one stone for two birds approach with a price comparison tool that lets users input the amount they want to send and see the estimated received amount; right next to comparisons of what it’d look like if you opted for competitors (“no need company hop, we’ll show all of them right here,” TransferWise said.).
If you go further down this page, you’ll see that TW takes it a notch higher to not just sell, but educate the customer with a section dubbed, ‘ How to Spot Unfair Money Transfers,’ using copy that juxtaposes what banks and other money transfer providers do vs what TransferWise does.
But just in case you’re the doubting-Thomas type (like the persona we study next), they hit you with a case study call to action at the bottom (next to a picture of a smiling customer, of course).
If you click, it leads you to more social proof; a page that includes a carousel of revolving trust-building customer tweets like the one below.
Hopefully, after all this, they’ll have destroyed your secret fantasies about using competitors, but if not, then you can’t be helped; might as well tie your money to a neighbour’s pigeon and send it along.
TransferWise’s attempt to build trust and quench the persona’s desire to compare prices comes from knowing their customers well and building on that. How many companies think this way? Do you?
Here’s another attempt at this that produced one of their most shared content.
The page contains a PayPal fees calculator, PayPal fees FAQ and content that makes it the perfect anti-PayPal sales page.
At a surface level, you look at this and just see competitor positioning (nothing new, right?), but listen to their customers and you’ll hear them asking for this; they price shop and visit review sites, so why not help them?
What can businesses in similar industries learn?
This customer segment is made up of businesses that source products and raw materials internationally but grapple with paying suppliers.
Any business looking to go after this group has to build a presence in the places where this community hangs out. And it starts with asking questions.
What problems do businesses that import finished products/raw materials face, and where are they seeking help? Platforms like Quora and Answer the public are good places to discover these top of funnel conversations.
3rd Testimonial: Chasing Dreams
This segment represents individuals who’ve left their home country in pursuit of experiences; whether that’s travelling to see the world, moving to a new land to sing Opera, learn Muay Thai, etc.
How does TransferWise use these insights?
Since the persona is sceptical of companies that claim low prices (they use review sites to make buying decisions because they trust neutral parties more).
TransferWise has approached this in 3 ways:
- An affiliate program with third parties who send traffic their way at a commission (higher payouts for business customers).
- A referral program where people can refer 3 friends for £50.
- A presence in independent review sites e.g. Monito and Trust Pilot.
Though claiming to be independent, Monito appears to be on an affiliate partnership with TransferWise, as you can see in the highlighted section in the link below (I don’t think this negates their independence as they review competitors too):
Trust Pilot does not seem to be in an affiliate partnership, but TransferWise is using their paid service which allows companies to embed Trust Pilot reviews on their sites.
Like TransferWise, anyone designing products for a price-conscious audience (especially those who wouldn’t trust your claims of low prices) could benefit from similar use of customer reviews on a sales page, screenshots of a mock transaction showing every cost, or online calculators that give a sense of price transparency.
From what we’ve seen above, there’s a high likelihood that TransferWise has an active strategy (and a budget ) for getting into popular review sites on affiliate partnerships.
On the other hand, we may be wrong and the reviews sites might be the ones pursuing them. Either way, smaller/new money transfer companies (or industries with customers who compare prices and features) could benefit from being proactive about building relationships with review sites.
I’ve also noticed a variety in the type of partnerships they have: from review sites, to financial services companies like Oanda and travel agencies like Agoda, all funnelling customers to TransferWise.
Image of the top sites that refer traffic to TransferWise.
Testimonial 4: East to West
Like the 1st and 3rd persona above, this segment’s product use case is sending money back home to family but the insights gleaned are nuanced.
This group is part of the Europe-Asia corridor cited to have the highest remittance transaction value in Europe in 2018, according to a 2019 report by Ken Research, a business intelligence advisory firm and publisher.
What has TransferWise done with this info?
Key Insight: College students’ huge role in international money transfer
The above persona sends money to a brother in college. If we widen our thinking beyond regional segmentation, we’ll see that college students drive a lot of international money transfer activity across corridors-directly and indirectly.
In America for instance, the US Department of Commerce pegged the contribution of international students to the US economy at $45 billion dollars in 2018. 62% of international students’ funding comes from sources outside the US according to the 2019 Open Doors Report by the Institute of International Education (IIE).
Here’s TransferWise’s presence on the Google SERP for the search, ‘send money to your children in school’, the other 7 competitors above this are also aware of the value of college students and are putting out content.
TransferWise even has an entire blog category dedicated to this group,
For smaller startups looking for niches to get into, this might be a useful strategy to adopt; study the industry giants and see how they’ve divided their customers (their blog category section is a good place to start).
Is there a customer segment that’s not a priority for a bigger company that you could concentrate your marketing on? Think Beats by Dre headphones aligning their marketing with sports first, or early LinkedIn and salespeople (team ‘you got 15 minutes for a call…’ ).
But it’s only through observation and breaking down the actions of existing companies that you’ll be able to spot ignored niches.
We can learn a lot from the things companies don’t feature in their testimonials. It shows where their focus isn’t and can be signs of an opportunity to introduce a competing product or double down on marketing in that category.
In TransferWise’s case, I saw nothing on the home page targeting large corporate b2b clients, including the featured testimonials.
However, with 47.6% of their web traffic being direct (I assume most direct visitors type in the homepage address), this might be a missed opportunity.
On the other hand, it could also be a sign that they reach this segment through an outbound sales team that sends prospects links to the relevant pages: thus no reliance on the homepage.
If you want intimate details about a company’s customers, look at their case studies (especially, if the customer was involved in the creation).
This is where TransferWise featured the b2b corporate clients missing from the homepage and gave us a glimpse into a unique customer archetype.
Case studies featuring corporate clients are easier to expand and find similar businesses/niches because these companies often have a large enough online presence to comb through as compared to doing it with individual customers.
Alternative Airlines Case Study.
Alternative airlines is a booking platform for hard to find flights; a middleman between airlines and travellers looking for flights.
Because TransferWise’s product appealed to them, we can assume that it can fit any sector where there’s an intermediary between international customers and service providers e.g. marketplaces like Upwork, Alibaba and Wayfair or travel agencies, logistics companies, shipping lines and religious mission organisations.
In all these cases, the main pain points include slow payments and cross-border transactions fees that balloon with high-volume transactions; a staple of TransferWise’s solution.
This insight proved true as I continued through the site and kept noticing other customers in the same customer group (platforms that bring together buyers and sellers from different countries), from Legal Vision, a company that connects people with lawyers to Tiroche for buying art from international artists.
Since high international money transfer fees hurt the most when these types of companies scale, a useful marketing strategy might involve targeting them when they’re growing the most. Indicators might include companies that have recently fundraised or those ramping up hiring.
Here’s a summary of TransferWise’s corporate case studies
An active blog can also tell a lot about a company, from the tone of voice to the amount of jargon used. However, when analysing companies with hundreds of blog pages, combing through every article is not for everybody.
(Leave a comment if you know of tech that can help with this or any of the things we’ve snooped on in this article)
Alternatively, we can use blog categories, which (if a company has a good content team)are great indicators of a company’s customer segments/sub-segments.
For instance, a quick glance at TransferWise’s blog categories and you’ll know international property buyers (particularly across Europe) are an important segment.
They were among the earliest adopters of the company’s product as is evident in the screenshot below.
This a conversation from an online forum back in 2011 when the company was a year old.
Notice the scepticism about the low fees. 9 years later, because TransferWise understands this sceptical persona, they’ve addressed it with Testimonial 3 above; a customer who was also sceptical about low prices claims but eventually chose TransferWise.
That’s the value of understanding your customer.
There’s a lot more we can dig up from TransferWise’s blog but here’s a summary of the customer personas their blog caters to:
- Freelancers withdrawing, sending and receiving money from various platforms/people in multiple countries.
- Individuals/companies buying property in Europe across borders.
- Businesses expanding their operations (or sourcing) internationally.
- Travellers/free spirits travelling across the world following their dreams but send money home.
- Small scale entrepreneurs’ selling products on platforms like Shopify or marketplaces like eBay and Amazon.
For any person doing this kind of research, whether it’s a startup snooping on an incumbent or a consultant that needs to quickly understand a client’s audience, this is not enough. You’ll do better by finding and talking to people that fit these archetypes, connect with them on social and learn as much as possible.
PS: There’s probably a persona or two who’s hid well from my prying eyes. Chances are, those highlighted here might not hit the $5 billion mentioned in my clickbait headline (gotta love a good clickbait). While I hide my shame under the carpet, let’s settle on $4.9, maybe $4.89333 billion? Anyway, who’s counting…
It’d be interesting to connect on LinkedIn