The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the game in a number of ways, and the ways in which the industry is marketing has shifted as well. One’s proven marketing method may be another’s nightmare scenario, but one thing is for certain, the current pandemic has not slowed the industry down.
And while there is no single proven method to market one’s goods and services, many have come down the pipeline over the years proclaiming their method as the tried and true path to drive customers through the door.
In conjunction with our Special Focus on “It’s All About Marketing” this month, National Mortgage Professional magazine was able to get some of the industry’s top marketing minds together to share their ideas on a number of marketing concepts and ideas that impact the ever-shifting mortgage industry.
Let’s meet our panel as they share their words of wisdom and advice, imparting their years of industry experience in the field of marketing, and sharing their knowledge with our readership.
In light of the current state of affairs with the COVID-19 pandemic, what marketing tactics have you resorted to in this new era of doing business?
Erica LaCentra: I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a marketing tactic, but we have started to communicate with our customers much more frequently than we normally would by e-mail, social media and by phone during the COVID pandemic. We have also shifted our messaging to avoid being overtly promotional, and we are focusing on educating customers. People don’t want to be sold to right now, people are looking for information, on our business, on the state of the market, about how to cope with how this is all affecting our industry, etc. We have definitely had to adjust to not being able to attend events and started to utilize online platforms like Zoom and GoToWebinar much more frequently than we ever had in the past. It allows us to still have face-to-face interaction, even if we aren’t able to be together at a conference.
Ralph LoVuolo: Here, it is necessary to involve fintech to contact a database. I’ve pushed my coaching clients that even if they have not been in the business for a very long time, they have a database at their fingertips and should be using it extensively, i.e. their smartphone address book. By texting, individually, their entire database on a regular basis with information about the interest rate market, they will continue to do business when others are wondering how to act. Real estate is still being sold, virtually in some areas, and in others, nothing has changed. We all know how much the numbers of sales have decreased, but if a mortgage broker has done their homework in the past, they will always generate business. A short call just to inquire about the well-being of your real estate agents is an absolute.
Matthew Lucas: With endless technology at our disposal and a market that is currently advantageous for homebuyers, navigating the current waters isn’t as challenging for us as it might be for other industries. On the referral partner side of business, many of our loan officers are utilizing video conference platforms to host and/or attend “Lunch and Learns” or other classes. On the consumer side, this has been an opportunity for LOs to engage their social media audiences like never before. Leveraging technology and marketing strategies with social media, our loan officers are maintaining and growing their business in this current environment.
Michael Oddi: Most experts agree that once treatments to COVID-19 are available, the market will advance at an elevated pace because of the economic stimulus efforts of the Federal Reserve and Treasury. Our current strategy is to build a war chest of marketing materials (e-mail campaigns, fliers, social media posts, search engine marketing guides and creative) for our brokers to use that will help them kick-start their business when some sense of normalcy returns. Our advice to brokers is to spend time now to build your advertising capabilities so you can unleash them at the opportune time.
Steven Winokur: A large part of our marketing efforts were structured in speaking and exhibiting at events. Even when they come back, it will likely be at a lesser level. So, like everyone else, we’ve had to adapt.One of the ways is though technology. A big one we’ve begun using is video—not corporate produced ones—but allowing our account executives to use video as away to connect with their originators. It feels more personal than an e-mail and allows you to better express emotions. It has already been a focus for 2020, but it’s become even more important with this pandemic.
What can mortgage brokers share to help craft their company and personal brand?
Ralph LoVuolo: The most important “thing” is not a “thing”at all. It is that mortgage brokers can and should share an idea (or series of ideas) that will help their referral source accomplish their own goals. This is not a new concept. If you give your referral source what they need, they will give you what you need. The mortgage broker first needs to have a deep understanding of the inner workings of the real estate business. With that knowledge, they are perfectly positioned to understand the challenges faced by their real estate agent/referral source. The broker can say to the agent: “I have an idea that will help you produce more business.” This approach immediately and unequivocally separates the mortgage broker from their competition.
Matthew Lucas: It’s important that a mortgage broker share authentic, relevant and consistent content with their borrowers and partners alike. Authenticity tells our audience that we value the human element of business over the transaction. Relevancy keeps agents and consumers looking to us for the most timely and accurate industry information. Consistency is the key to earning the trust necessary to handle the largest financial investment in one’s life. Our story is the same, whether it’s being told to a homebuyer, real estate agent or potential employee, and that goes a long way for any company’s brand–no matter the industry.
Michael Oddi: My advice to brokers is to stop focusing on the details of your mortgage programs. When you do, you become a commodity. Try to elevate your brand above others by having a better reason for people to choose your brand over another.
Steven Winokur: Authenticity–that’s the most important thing to help craft a company and personal brand. The brand comes from you–your story, your background, your empathy, your language and your personality. It can’t be forced or faked. So to build your brand, share who you are and what you stand for. Then, your clients and colleagues will feel confident in the value of your brand because it’s an extension of who you are.
What marketing methods have you found to yield the highest conversion rate?
Erica LaCentra: We find that targeted publication advertising with both a digital and traditional component (print ad, printed directory plus an online directory, online advertising and retargeting) yields a very high conversion rate. Of course, this isn’t true for all publications, but having one platform that allows for multiple touch points across multiple types of media has yielded success for RCN. Also, events continue to yield high conversion rates for RCN, although we find there is a significant lead time between meeting someone at an event and actually converting them. We factor follow-up efforts, as well as client nurturing efforts, into our overall marketing plan for events though.
Ralph LoVuolo: First the mortgage broker needs to find the type of person they want to do business with and definitely be discriminatory as to professional Realtors as a source of business. It is that relationship I seek for my coaching clients. It is the most lasting. When a loan officer is able to have someone use the following words “Mr. and Mrs. Buyer, you’ve told me that you need a mortgage to purchase this home and I tell you without qualification of any thoughts you might have, call this person who has the knowledge, understanding, and personality along with professional skills that you need to buy this home. You’ll not match their skills anywhere.” I have taught countless people in any business the following: “People do business with people they trust.” For the mortgage broker, this is the pot of gold they attempt to place at the desk of every professional real estate salespersons desk.
Michael Oddi: Few marketing “methods” work in a vacuum. They need the support of other methods. For example, search engine optimization, often referred to as “organic search,” revolves around building a website with useful content that drives visitors to your site through Internet search engines. If you identify the top searched keywords that potential customers use to find the products you offer, search engines will drive highly qualified traffic to your site. Since people searching for a specific term often have an immediate need, they typically convert to qualified leads at a much higher rate. Plus, there is no media cost for an organic search.
Steven Winokur: I’ve always found measuring conversion rates to be an interesting challenge in the wholesale mortgage business. But what we’ve seen work well in getting leads and attention is search engine optimization. Focusing on small niches has allowed us to rank high in the organic search results, which in turn, has led to more website visitors. And that has led to more leads and contacts from our site. It’s harder to measure SEO activities, but we’ve seen an increase in website visitors the more we focused on it.
Have you gone to 100% digital marketing efforts, or do you still use standard old school techniques? Do you see a drastic difference between the two?
Erica LaCentra: While we continue to increase our digital marketing efforts, it never fails to amaze me how much we still rely on more traditional marketing techniques, such as print advertising. As we continue to expand our digital marketing efforts, we have gotten much smarter with the areas that we are spending money and we are placing an emphasis on virtual client education and providing clients with content and digital resources. I find now that we are utilizing our traditional marketing media like print ads for purely promotional purposes, whereas our digital efforts need to have significantly more substance to them to stand out. However, we still need a healthy mix of both traditional and digital marketing and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Ralph LoVuolo: Not one person I coach or have coached would dare to depend on fintech only as a source of business. It cannot yet replace the professional person-to-per- son referral. We know that the public is more and more inclined to seek the “best deal” through technology, but there is nothing that yet replaces people doing business with people. The real estate finance business is too important to the borrower to completely be able to understand the intricacies of the mortgage industry. A professional person is still required.
Matthew Lucas: We don’t believe a company can or should dedicate 100% of their efforts into one type of marketing. That being said, digital obviously tends to have a deeper potential for analytics, delivery of a message to a new audience and the ability to be fluid in marketing efforts.We’re a full-service marketing department, so we still offer traditional print materials, like flyers and postcards. Digital marketing might have the edge when it comes to gaining new clients but keeping your pulse on something as simple as a personalized birthday card to a past client still has significant value in maintaining existing relationships.