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Trust + Personalisation + User Context: How to Build an App-Based Business with Bridge and Bankin’ CMO, Sophie Halliot


Mobile app marketing can be quite different from traditional product marketing. Guiding a user to your app may require little effort but unless they use it, interact with it and trust the information its providing, it won’t survive very long. Thousands of new apps enter the marketplace daily and it’s just as important to keep users engaged with your app as it is to have them find and download it in the first place. Sophie Halliot has spent most of her career creating and marketing mobile apps. We caught up with Sophie to chat about the power of customer context, localisation, and why trust is at the heart of everything that Bridge and Bankin’ do.

Sophie Halliot | Interview

Sophie has a strong background in branding, marketing, and developing app-based businesses. She began her career working as a brand consultant for Publicis Royalties, a subsidiary of media behemoth Publicis Groupe, while still studying at the renowned research university, Sciences Po. In 2012, she co-founded Bobler — an app that allowed users to record 36-second-long ‘Bobles’ (mini-podcasts) before then sharing them publicly or privately. Three years later she left Bobler to co-found LiPP, an app where users could remix and share their own videos (a precursor to TikTok).

LiPP proved to be a great success, reaching several million active users. In October 2016, Sophie founded a consultancy called SiDE Agency, and Bankin’ became one of her clients. She loved her experience so much that she decided to stay, and she’s now CMO of both Bridge (the BtoB branch) and Bankin’.

Hi Sophie, thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about your company?

We basically have two brands: Bridge and Bankin. Bridge is an open-banking platform that helps companies in the financial space to innovate. Our technology helps you to access your clients’ structured and enriched bank data within your existing products, and integrate different payment services (merchant, bills, salaries, etc.) in one place. 

Bankin’, on the other hand, is a mobile app that helps people make smarter money decisions. We have roughly 4.4 million users in Europe. Our smart algorithms and specialist team advises users on how to properly budget and save for the future. On average, our users save around €150 in their first month.

We’ve made a concerted effort to make money management as uncomplicated as possible, partnering with companies from a variety of industries to make our app as complete and accessible as possible. People don’t wake up in the morning and think “Today, I’m going to manage my money”. Our mission is to make it interesting, pleasant, and simple. We provide a lot of educational content and one-on-one coaching, and it seems to be working so far.

How specifically have you broken down the user journey?

We tend to use the AARRR framework: acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, referral. I have one person on the team that focuses on each letter and this seems to work out really well for us. Of course, the key to it all is to provide a delightful experience — you can focus too much on different frameworks and approaches, but at the end of the day, the experience you provide is what’s most important. And, if users appreciate the app, they’ll tell others about it.

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The ultimate goal for all marketers is to find ways to boost organic referrals. We put a lot of emphasis on increasing our referral rates — for example, every month we have a lottery where you can win €1,000 when you refer a new friend (and there’s obviously no limit on the number of friends that you can refer). 

Referrals are still in their infancy when it comes to the financial industry, but I took a lot of inspiration from the Robinhood Referrals Program. They basically allow users to earn stock by referring friends (with the new users also receiving some stock in return for signing up), and you then can’t sell your stock for the first 30 days — so this helps with retention rates, too. Many people are hesitant to take their first steps into investing in the stock market, so this provides them with an easy way for them to dip their toes in the water.

What advice would you give to all budding digital entrepreneurs?

My one major piece of advice is to first do things that don’t scale. Lots of entrepreneurs worry about setting up systems that will scale before they even work out if there’s a product/market fit — and that’s completely the wrong way around. You need to make sure your product is actually viable and enough people would want to buy it before you even consider scaling. 

I apply the lean product development approach to marketing. I learnt the basics of growth in my own companies where we had no money to focus on rapid scaling. Instead, we sent manual emails, we spoke to people, we asked them to try our product and to give us feedback, and we kept on tinkering and adjusting. In a startup, you need to be agile and be able to pivot quickly — if you try to scale too soon and become set in your beliefs, you’ll be more reluctant to pivot and waste a significant amount of resources on an idea that isn’t fully developed.

Massive Rocket Product Development

You should only begin to scale once you’re 100% confident that there’s a product/market fit. When it comes to user acquisition, these are the 5 main steps that I follow:

  1. Choose the channels that you believe will bring you the highest ROI
  2. Invest in them wisely — don’t go overboard, but understand that you’ll have to part with some cash if you’re going to be successful
  3. Test and measure your results
  4. Optimise if necessary or try a different channel altogether
  5. Scale once you’re confident you’ve found the right channels for your business

Do you think ‘traditional marketing’ differs all that much from app marketing?

I really think that ‘traditional marketing’ — marketing that essentially just focuses on advertising — doesn’t work for mobile apps. There are no mobile apps that scale with just advertising; app marketers need to be deeply involved in the product. In fact, I don’t believe you can even be a mobile marketer without having some input/involvement with the end product.

If your product isn’t great but you spend lots on advertising, you may drive downloads — but you’re hardly likely to keep active users. At the end of the day, the quality of the product speaks for itself, especially when you take a long-term view of your app’s performance.

I remember hearing about a study showing that app localisation led to 128% more downloads.

I think that localisation and personalisation are more important for apps. There’s something more personal about apps. Users download them onto their phone, they carry this app around with them everywhere they go, and they all have their own individual experience with it. Therefore, it’s crucial that you speak to people in their language and that your app is personalised according to their own specific context.

That’s not to say that I don’t think localisation is important in ‘traditional marketing’, but I’m not sure it’s as crucial, especially if you’re simply marketing products. With apps, however, the user and the app are constantly in some sort of digital dialogue with one another, so it’s crucial that you’re both speaking the same language.

Continuing on the topic of communication, how do you manage to give human advice at scale?

It’s a really tricky process. At first, we thought that we’d just send out push messages letting people know if they’re spending too much or are about to run out of money — however, we soon realised that this has a negative connotation, so it gives users a negative experience of using the app. 

We’ve since tried using in-app character animations that represent different situations. It’s a bit softer to see an animated character wincing when you don’t have much money, for example, than to receive a message that straight up says “You only have €8 left in your account”. There’s a fine line between telling people information that they need to know and finding a way to do this as positively as possible. We definitely haven’t mastered this yet; it requires lots of ongoing tweaking and adjusting. 

Plus, there’s another factor that we need to take into account: it’s not enough for us to simply tell people what they already know. Our main goal is to connect them with a human, a coach they can trust who can guide them through managing their finances or make sure they take actions by following the tailored advice they can access through the app. Everything we do comes down to trust. With financial matters, users need to feel like you’re a credible source of information. If they don’t, they won’t take your advice — no matter what financial situation they find themselves in. 

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So our ability to successfully communicate stems from the end-to-end consumer experience that we create. We need to build trust at every stage of the journey and to position ourselves as credible experts at all times. That’s the key to helping as many people as possible, as effectively as possible.

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