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Residential Department: Backspace: September 2014

 

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Marketing in a new mortgage-lending world

A recent tweet from the online mortgage lender Quicken Loans sounds more like a Martha Stewart tip than a sales pitch.

“Give your year a midsummer refresher with these greenery elements,” it read.

The tweet included a link to Zing!, a Quicken blog that contains articles on everything from design mistakes you could make while staging a house to backyard activities for kids.

Navigate over to Lending Tree’s Facebook page and you can see similar posts, like a Nelson Mandela quote or a quiz asking, “What’s your motivation for house hunting?”

Why would Quicken and Lending Tree spend time promoting things like a blog or inspirational quotes?

Is that not a big waste of a marketing opportunity? Where are the offers for excellent low-interest home loans, or a guaranteed decision today?

As anyone working in the mortgage space knows — especially the marketing space within the mortgage space — new federal regulations strictly regulate what you can say on the Internet, which extends to social media. The Mortgage Acts and Practices (MAP) rule prevents mortgage marketers from disseminating “[C]laims [that] directly represent the fact at issue, while implied claims do so in an oblique or indirect way.”

Marketing in the digital age

The marketing landscape for originators has changed considerably over the past six years or so. Not only has the housing crash changed the rules by which originators operate, the crash also changed the image of the mortgage industry.

Add to that tremendous advances in technology — from smartphones to social media to searchengine advertisements — and marketers have more outlets now than ever to reach consumers, albeit constrained, ironically, by new regulations that resulted from the crash.

“Marketing in the current lending environment requires an exceptional level of accountability for marketing compliance – a term that has taken on its own life form since the pre-2011 days,” says Richard S. Donine, senior vice president and national marketing director for First Guaranty Mortgage Corp.

So, in a world changed by social media and technology like smartphones and tablets, what are originators doing to market themselves?

How are originators operating in the space between new technology and government regulations?

Grassroots vs. digital roots

Some are embracing new technology while being extremely careful to follow regulations. They also are keeping a foot firmly in a world ruled by old-school marketing — you know, like human-to-human contact.

“There is no question that marketing strategies have changed over the past five years, with the advent of technology such as social media and smartphones,” says Fredrick Zerilli, head of e-commerce for American Financial Resources Inc. in Parsippany, New Jersey. “Social networking provides the advantage to measure key performance indicators and metrics that tell us what information is most valuable to our consumers and clients; through this open forum of social communication we can then provide relevant content that our customers truly find valuable and resourceful.”

Zerilli also says that while venturing into the e-commerce space, American Financial Resources does its fair share of word-of-mouth marketing. The key to success, he says, is to use both together to create lasting relationships with customers.

“We are strong advocates of growth marketing, and as the name implies everyone works with one common philosophy to grow our organization and business. What does this mean? It means that our acquisition and referral marketing endeavors work in conjunction with a common goal.

By acquiring new customers and fostering strong relationships with them, we increase our referral rate and build customer relationships for life.

“In a competitive market, the need to grow marketing channels like acquisition and referral marketing in unison is becoming increasingly prevalent. The ability to leverage knowledge via key performance indicators, development optimization and analytic metrics is paramount to stay ahead of our industry’s marketing pack.”

Rick Floyd, executive vice president at HomeBridge Financial Resources Inc., describes his company, which generates $7 billion in production, as a “grassroots operation” when it comes to marketing. That is, their lending force thrives off referrals and retains them with follow-up contact.

Contrasting Floyd’s “grassroots” approach is Abbie Ethun, HomeBridge’s marketing director.

“Our guys take a little bit more of a local and relationship-building approach. If you want to call it old school, it certainly is. We also stay in touch with past customers via direct mail, e-mail, and also to get referrals from those sources,” Ethun says. “We’ve also combined that with knowing that we have to be involved with the new school, via social media, via a regular blog or video series. We are kind of teaching [our originators] to use the new and the old.”

Results

When it comes to maneuvering the MAP rule, Ethun says the company treats social media posts the same as its print advertisement.

The company does not advertise rates or estimated monthly payments, keeping content “fun and educational.”

“We’re very conscious that on the Web, a regulator can find something all day and night. If anything, we have more of a finger on the pulse of what our people are doing online. We treat social media like any advertisement and follow the same business rules that would apply to, say, a print advertisement in a newspaper,” Ethun says.

That seems to be the strategy of many mortgage-origination companies. They get around the MAP rule by drawing people to their websites with rich, interesting content. Once you’re on the site, there are ample pitches for you to apply for a loan.

Having a soft marketing section of your website, like a blog, can often work just as well or better than straightforward sales pitches. In the new marketing space, drawing customers to your website with quality content — like a quote from Nelson Mandela or a list of home décor tips — can lead to new referrals, and your visitors may even share your content organically on their own social networks.

At the end of the day, however, marketing is about results. So, how do new marketing channels compare to the time-tested “grassroots” style?

“The bottom line is, especially on the true mortgage bank side, guys like us, we don’t do checking accounts and car loans, it’s about relationship building and finding the relationship between that and branding. There are no magic formulas,” Floyd says.


 

Neal McNamara was a chief reporter with Scotsman Guide Media. For questions about this article, call (800) 297-6061 or e-mail articles@scotsmanguide.com.

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