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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   January 2005

Brand Your Brokerage

Lately there has been a lot of talk about the importance of branding in the lending industry, but many mortgage brokerages have been reluctant to jump on the branding bandwagon. Unless your company had in-house, dedicated marketing services, it probably didn’t spend a lot of energy or money on branding over the past few years. With record-breaking volumes in mortgage applications, who had the time?

But we’re not in that mortgage environment anymore. The threat of rising interest rates has begun to discourage many potential buyers from investing in home ownership, slowing mortgage sales. Now that there are fewer home loan applications coming in the door, your brokerage must work harder to compete for business. So, how do you make sure that borrowers come to your brokerage? Brand your brokerage.

You may not be convinced that brands make a difference in your business. Many brokers feel that customer relationships are what make or break their volume. However, whether you are aware of it or not, every interaction you have with a customer is a reflection of your brand. A brand is the link formed by repeated communications between your company and the outside world. It is the outward projection of who you are, how you look, what you say and how you say it. It encompasses your entire company and every relationship you have.

A brand is one of the most valuable assets your company has at its disposal. Traditionally, brand building is relegated to a marketing function. Yet time and again, companies have learned (usually the hard way) that the promises marketers make must be delivered throughout the organization. Unless your brokerage is brand-spanking new, you already have a brand identity, built on the sum of your customers’ experiences with your company. But, is it the brand you want your customers to associate with your brokerage?

Marketing puts a public face on a brand, yet the telephone support, sales people and service departments all play critical roles in the experience customers have with the brand. Companies often say one thing through marketing messages while a customer’s experience is quite different. If that experience does not live up to the promises in promotional messages due to poor service or quality, the customer grows frustrated and is more likely to consider alternatives.

Brand to Become Indispensable

As mortgage brokers, you satisfy an important need among consumers—helping them to secure the funding and other services that they require to buy or to refinance a home. But what is it that you really do? What it is about you and your company that sets you apart from the competition? You probably provide excellent customer service. I’m sure you also have a dedicated team of professionals on staff that can get the job done quickly. Those are great attributes, but they’re not enough. Every competitor will tell your potential customers exactly the same thing.

Who are you? What simple statement about your business or brand—just a quick, clear sentence or two at most—tells your prospects that you are the only choice for them? It sounds easy, but most businesses cannot provide this answer.

What you need to set your company apart from the rest is a unique selling proposition, the first step in brand-making. A unique selling proposition is more than just a slogan or catch phrase, although it will probably drive that and your marketing efforts. It is a concise statement that answers your customers’ ultimate question: “Why should I do business with you and no one else?”

Why do you need a unique selling proposition for your company? People are bombarded with advertising and sales messages all the time. If you can’t immediately cut through the clutter to offer them something with value for them, they will either tune out or choose to do business with someone who can make this connection to them.

A mortgage is a commodity product. Consumers can get them anywhere. If you want customers to come to you—their mortgage experts—you must turn your “nice-to-have” business into an “absolutely-must-have” necessity among your customers. In creating your unique selling proposition, you need to make an indispensable connection between your company and your customers’ needs.

Give Them What They Want

Take a lesson from retailers. They’re experts in creating must-have brands out of commodity products. For example, soap is the ultimate commodity product. So, why do some soaps cost more than others? They have a brand name that creates an association in consumers’ minds. One’s ingredients are so pure—99% pure, to be exact—that the bar of soap literally floats. Another is a deodorant soap that leaves you feeling fresh as an Irish spring all day. And another has an eye-opening scent to get you going in the morning.

They all do the same thing, but each one of these brands found a different niche that transcends consumers’ desires to be clean. Each brand created new, appealing ways to give customers what they really want: high quality, durability and energy.

The lesson learned here is to give your customers what they want in new, innovative ways. Begin by writing down every possible reason why someone should want to do business with you. To strengthen this exercise, involve as many people from your company as possible to brainstorm ideas, especially those who have the most frequent interaction with your existing customers. What is unique about your company and your services versus your competitors? Which of these are the most important to your prospects? Which are the least important? What factors are the most difficult for your competitors to imitate? Which can you honestly and exclusively own? And finally, which factors are the most easily understood by your potential customers?

From the answers to these questions, develop messages that speak to the needs of your prospective customer. Avoid “self-centered” jargon about you and your company. Your prospects want to know what’s in it for them!

Quality service, good selection, honest dealing and fair prices are not relevant factors for creating a unique selling proposition. These are factors your prospects already have in mind and will expect and demand from you and everyone else. So, telling them to your prospects will do little to change their minds about you. Communicating sameness is a waste of valuable resources. Communicating meaningful distinctiveness is a catalyst for growth.

Understanding the perception barriers will help you change the way your audiences think and get them to respond to your pitch. Audiences move through a process of progressive involvement with a brand as they develop a loyal relationship. In that process, perceptions may develop that hinder their ability to respond to your unique value-proposition. To convey your messages, these perception barriers need to be overcome. Some barriers are more difficult to surmount than others. If your barriers are awareness-related, greater exposure to your message via increased advertising may be all that is needed. If you face questions of credibility, however, you must actually change the way your prospects think about you.

Integrate Your Individuality

Once you have identified your unique selling proposition and created your needs-based messages, pick the media best suited for the communications task. Broad exposure media (such as print ads or press releases) are powerful awareness-building tools. They also instill a sense of relevance.

High-touch media (such as collateral, direct mail, Web pages and e-mail) are more powerful tools for confirming relevance and instilling a clear sense of differential value. These are also the best methods for targeted messages that appeal to specific types of customers. Are they prime or non-prime? Do they want to cash-out equity or lower their monthly payments? Are they first-time homebuyers or self-employed homeowners? Remember: Your brand is built on satisfying your customers’ collective needs, one at a time.

The brand must be consistently reinforced through every single touch point of your customers’ brand experience. Your Web site, marketing collateral, application process and even your customer service experience must all work in tandem. The integration of your brand’s image is just as important as the integration of your message. The message, design, look and feel you employ for a direct mail piece should be exactly the same in a newspaper ad, an outbound e-mail and the signage for a promotional seminar. This uniformity will reinforce and strengthen your message to your prospects.

Your customers’ brand experience shouldn’t end with the close of the loan. Follow-through is one of the most important pieces of a good brand. Return business and referral business are key elements of a thriving brokerage. Direct interaction is the most effective tool for shaping satisfaction and ongoing customer loyalty.

You won’t be the only broker soliciting your prospects, so ensure that all marketing materials are integrated and leave little doubt in the minds of your prospects that the communication is coming from you and you alone. Do this enough and with consistency, and you will have begun to reinforce a brand for yourself and your company.

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