The company introduced homeowners to equity finance, but they had a branding problem. Under their previous name, FirstRex had executed hundreds of deals with homeowners, the attractive product filling an unmet need in a market of rising home prices and stagnant incomes. With a home co-investment from the company, homeowners could get cash today in exchange for a share in the appreciation or depreciation of their home. There’s no extra debt, no interest and no monthly payments. Sustained declining home values after the global financial crash of 2009 put the company on hiatus. As the US housing market returned to normalcy, FirstRex was ready to reenter with a new, improved offering. Was FirstRex positioned to relaunch in this new economic environment?
Market research yields homeowner insights
Interviews of customers acquired before the hiatus gave insights into how homeowners thought about FirstREX. We followed up with surveys of potential customers to uncover the attitudes and beliefs that governed their purchase decisions. Key insights from this research were:
- A substantial portion of the market is interested in equity finance.
- They need a compelling reason to consider sharing potential appreciation on their home.
Analyzing the sales process for generating deals, it also became obvious that a large amount of consumer education was required to fully inform and convince customers of the potential benefits for the program.
Direct mail testing to homeowners
Utilizing these insights to develop messaging and positioning that addressed the target markets needs, we developed several direct mail programs reaching out to audiences with the financial characteristics that we predicted would be most amenable to the offer. These early test campaigns were unsuccessful. Retooling our messaging, we tried again working with a leading direct mail marketing firm to ensure that all parts of our campaign were operating to the best practices of the industry. These efforts also delivered marginal results but pointed the way to the communications and channels that would work with customers.
Rebranding FirstRex as Unison.com
Anecdotal evidence from the market research was that FirstRex was not a very good name. It conjured up images of dinosaurs for some people and at best neutral emotions in the rest. To turn a possible deficit into an asset, My team hired Marshall Strategy to conduct a positioning, strategy and naming exercise. Over the course of three months, we worked with Marshall Strategy to clarify our value propositions, messaging and brand architecture and create a new name for the company and products that best aligned with our values and character. We then worked with the exceptional Jerry Kuyper to translate that idea into a graphic design. The end result was the Unison brand logo.
Acting on the insights from our marketing tests and research, Unison developed a content marketing and consumer education strategy that helped put Unison’s equity co-investment product in context for homeowners and buyers nurtured sales efforts.
Unison capitalized on its early category leadership to grow from less than $100MM in investments to $4.2B. It has spawned competitors in the space like Point, Unlock, Haus, HomeTap and Noah.