Behind every brand delivering simpler experiences for customers is a leader who recognizes the inherent value in keeping things simple. In Simplifiers, I interview business leaders who put simplicity to work. 

Here I speak with Riham El-Lakany, Chief Marketing Officer, Single-Family at Freddie Mac.

MM: What is Freddie Mac?

RE: Operating in the secondary mortgage market, Freddie Mac keeps mortgage capital flowing by purchasing mortgage loans from lenders so they, in turn, can provide more loans to qualified borrowers.

MM: What does Freddie Mac stand for?

RE: Freddie Mac is a mission-driven organization helping empower Americans. Many people don’t realize the critical role we play in achieving the American Dream of homeownership. We aim to bring homeownership to those who are ready for it. Our tagline, “We make home possible,” is indicative of that.

MM: How do you deliver on that promise every day?

RE: We are continually thinking about the needs of homebuyers and homeowners, and how we can meet their needs by fine-tuning our policies, products, and offerings. For most people, their home is the largest purchase they’ll make.

We also offer several programs dedicated to financial literacy and education, where we deal directly with potential homebuyers seeking preparation for the milestone of buying a home.

MM: What role does simplicity play on that promise?

RE: Simplicity plays a huge role. It’s something we think about in relation to the entire housing finance system. The system is built on a lot of rules, steps, and processes. However, today’s consumer doesn’t want to deal with all of these things; they’re not used to it, and quite frankly, it doesn’t add much value. We continue to ask ourselves at Freddie Mac, how can we simplify our processes without compromising it? How can we deliver the knowledge homebuyers need, in a simple, understandable manner? It’s not only a big challenge for us but the entire industry. However, as a leader in the space, Freddie Mac has embraced the philosophy of simplicity.

MM: What benefits has Freddie Mac experienced from simplifying?

RE: Most of the benefits are tangible, such as reducing costs, reducing times and speed to market. By simplifying, we can ultimately pass on benefits to the end consumer. Having a simple, understandable message, for our lenders or our consumers, means people have a higher level of engagement with the Freddie Mac brand.

MM: How do you keep things “simple” for your team as a marketing leader?

RE: It’s a challenge because of the subject matter we deal with. However, as marketers, it’s our job to make it digestible and straightforward for audiences. Challenging my team to think differently about how we communicate with clients has helped us work more efficiently. Moreover, redesigning our soon-to-be-launched website has inspired the entire organization to reflect on how we handle complicated projects internally and how can we simplify the way we work.

MM: Personally speaking, what’s the most recent, simple customer experience that inspired you?

RE: I’m going to go with a brand that everybody knows: Apple. It’s simple, and the interactions are terrific. With the first generation of devices, there was a lot of jargon, as if Apple took pride in the lack of simplicity. However, over the years, they’ve done an excellent job of democratizing their language and their experiences.

Recently, I had some issues with text messaging on my iPhone. I called Apple’s 800 number—and I typically dread calling 800 numbers because it means I’ve given up and chances are, I’m going to get someone on the phone who is not going to be helpful. However, my experience was quite the contrary. The representative spoke plain English and easily guided me through the process. It only took three minutes to resolve the issue. The call was followed up with a simple, check-in e-mail from Apple. The whole brand experience was short, sweet, simple and got me where I needed to go.

MM: What are the biggest mistake brands make with regards to simplifying?

RE: Simplifying internally is critical. For a brand to successfully simplify, they need to embody the philosophy internally. If your internal processes do not embrace simplicity, there will be a disconnect externally. And if your employees aren’t living and breathing that, the brand will fall flat, and won’t be successful in the market.

MM: What does “simplicity” mean to you? 

RE: Simplicity is being able to provide clarity and purpose with elegance. It’s engaging but not overwhelming.

MM: What advice would you give to other brands trying to simplify?

RE: Bring the rest of the organization along, not just the marketing team. For simplification to be successful, it has to work across the entire organization.

MM: Anything else?

RE: It’s an antiquated notion, but there is a misperception that simplifying jargon and translating it into plain English somehow devalues a product. Brands have to realize that audiences won’t necessarily all be experts in the field, so while they may think jargon adds credibility and depth to their language, it’s only making their product confusing and complicated.

MM: Thank you, Riham.