Innovator Interviews: LendingTree's Joshua Palau

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Joshua Palau joined online lending marketplace LendingTree, as SVP, growth marketing and media, in June. After years in consumer health working for brands including Bayer and Johnson & Johnson, as well as a year on the agency side at PHD, he was looking for a client-side role in a new industry that was ripe for innovation.

Joshua Palau joined online lending marketplace LendingTree, as SVP, growth marketing and media, in June. After years in consumer health working for brands including Bayer and Johnson & Johnson, as well as a year on the agency side at PHD, he was looking for a client-side role in a new industry that was ripe for innovation.

LendingTree is a platform that allows borrowers to connect with multiple loan operators to search for optimal terms for loans, credit cards, deposit accounts and insurance. Under the leadership of marketing veteran Shiv Singh, who joined the brand in January as chief marketing officer, LendingTree has rebranded and redesigned its consumer experience. The objective has been to position the brand’s money saving services for American consumers with easy-to-use interfaces and tools to use. This opportunity was perfect for Palau.

“Shiv and I worked together years and years ago at Razorfish, we actually shared an office,” says Palau. “He reached out to me asking me if I knew someone for a search role, asked how agency life was going and said he had a role that might be really interesting for me.” 

Palau wanted to get back to the client side and was attracted to the idea of working with Singh, who he calls “a known quantity” in the marketing industry. “In my world if you're fortunate to get to a point in your career where you get to make some decisions based on who you work with,” says Palau. “He’s got a good vision for what he wants to do. He's a good operator and just honestly a nice human being. Those were big pluses.”

In his new role, Palau is leading in-house media and growth marketing. In this role, he is helping bring the new brand positioning and customer experience to consumers across all of the media channels they interact with the brand. 

Brand Innovators caught up with Palau from his home office in the New York area to discuss this new role, collaborating with Molly Shannon and the evolving media landscape. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Can you talk about your new role?

My role, in essence, comes in and says we've got these growth marketing channels, how can my background with the hands on experience of the media marketing growth team compliment someone like Shiv? My role is leading those teams whether it's search, display, media partnerships or performance marketing.  

LendingTree was founded when the founder had a bad experience trying to buy a home. He thought if you can give consumers the ability to be more in control of who they choose, that would give them a more desirable opportunity than just going to a local bank and taking what they give you. My role really is in support of that brand positioning and that experience and the channels we find consumers. What are we putting out there from a messaging standpoint? How are we using our media and our data to actually attract the right consumers who were interested in the category or in our products? 

In the media space, the world is always changing. Whether it's identity or it’s mobile or recessions or brand marketing issues, all these things that are out there. How do we position the company for the longer term piece of getting out there and getting to that consumer? When you're in a downturn people are still going to buy their allergy medicines, pain relievers and vitamins. They might buy private label if money is tight, but they're not going to completely leave the category. Everybody wants to have a lower payment, a better credit card, better terms. 

The reality is that the answer is sometimes dictated by what the federal government does with rate hikes. I might be in a prime position to say, ‘Gosh, I really do need to refinance.’ But if rates go up, then all of a sudden, you should probably wait for a little while. No matter how good our media targeting and planning and experience is, it just financially might not make sense.

What are your goals for the next six months?

First, it is taking a look at our overall approach to media across creative and across targeting, looking at where we have been historically and figuring out how we continue to increase the quality of the consumers that we're going after or that we're bringing in so that our lending partners can actually see true value in the people. The reality is that you have people who will come in and out an application but they might not have a good credit score. They might not be eligible for a particular credit card. The question for us, is how can we refine our approach to find that good mix of consumers who may not qualify initially for the credit card they want, but there's other options for that. So how do we get consumers that are eligible across the broad services that we offer? 

We're a marketplace. So the idea is how do we refine the premium quality people who are eligible, either for a small business loan or who are for growing their business. For people who are upgrading their homes, how do we make sure we connect with those people when they are looking?

The second part is really around what we are doing from a platform standpoint. Who are our trading partners? Who are the platforms that we're using? What kind of analytics are in place? We're looking at measurement and specifically multi-touch attribution. We certainly serve a lot of ads, because we have such a broad audience. But the question always becomes, how much are those ads impacting our actual sales? 

Molly Shannon stars in a campaign that LendingTree created just before you started. Can you talk about how this partnership helps you connect to consumers in an entertaining way?

It was just finding a recognizable, authentic spokesperson who really actually likes what we are doing. And she has said, she believes in this, it makes sense to her. And I don't know anybody that doesn't like Molly Shannon. It was finding someone that people would connect with in that way with the messaging having the lenders come to you and sell you on why you should work with them. I think that's really the biggest takeaway message.

Can you talk about how your past job experiences are helping your current role?

Before LendingTree, I spent five or six years in consumer health. It’s an interesting category and there's lots of things that can apply here. That view of looking at consumers in a deeper way. When I add the PhD experience of working with clients in all of these different industries and categories, whether it was auto or travel or wine and spirits, there's so much that other companies are doing that could apply here. 

I am looking at what are we missing? Because we see ourselves all day, and we stare at our products all day in our category in our industry. One of the things we did quite well was actively going to our partners and asking what's different? What's changing, trying to meet up with other companies that were not in our category, whether it's The Trade Desk or Google or Facebook. The second part becomes our partners, and how well are we using them? Well, we've got great partners. I know that we can only go as far as we can go. But we have good partners. So how are they delivering against our needs and tracking changes? 

The last thing is I'm very mindful of organizational design. And I don't mean that in a massive reorg way but just a focus on what are people's priorities, and where are we focusing everybody and what's missing? Whether that's an operations layer, whether that's using more contract resources to take non-strategic hacks off people's plates. It's those kinds of little optimizations that start to add up and become a big impactful thing. 

I enjoy leading teams. I bring a lot of like leadership to the organization from both a career development and leadership level, but also a tactical level. I'll never pretend to be the subject matter expert on programmatic and search, but I spent a lot of time in it, to understand it to a point where I think there's a good mutual respect with everybody that reports to me because they know that I have at least a knowledge of what they're doing and what goes into it, versus sometimes you get someone at a SVP level who has ideas but doesn't understand that no, that's not how Google works. I do like to push and ask people to look for opportunities, but also understanding what's at their disposal and what's not? 

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