Brand (new) thinking: you've come a long way ... but has your brand? Creating an effective brand strategy is important for mortgage companies of all sizes.

Author:Seroka, John

WHAT MAKES A CONSUMER CHOOSE TOSHIBA over Sony? Why does a person decide to drive a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, or buy Nike versus Adidas? [??] Every year, corporations spend millions of dollars trying to convince people that the companies' products will be "M'm! M'm! Good!" enough to influence consumers' buying decisions. [??] Through such marketing endeavors, these corporations have become well-known for specific characteristics consistently portrayed in their advertising and marketing. The ultimate goal: to combine these efforts with all other synchronized "touch points" for customers and potential customers, establishing a memorable image that automatically links the consumer to your company, product or service and turns the viewer or reader into a purchaser when the time is right. [??] That's effective branding. Whether it's a car, a pair of shoes or a mortgage, consumers are deluged with media messages every day--but which ones influence us? Which ones sell more products and increase the bottom line for the companies that create them? And more to the point in the mortgage industry, is branding truly important--or even possible to accomplish in what many refer to as a largely commoditized industry? [??] You bet it is, and we'll tell you why and how. But first, let's consider what a brand is--and what it is not.

A Kodak moment

There are too many nuances and permutations to the branding process to be covered in one article; however, we can offer some insights and tips on how your mortgage company can make--or strengthen--its own image and identity.

Successful brands speak directly to a target audience, focusing on the specific needs and desires of a select group. The goal is to evoke instant recognition with a "snapshot" of the benefits of conducting business with you as a result of the attributes and positive qualities the target audience equates with your company name, logo, product or service.

In this competitive marketplace, it's no exaggeration to say that your brand is who you are. Sometimes small and midsized lenders think it isn't necessary, or may think it's not possible to define a brand in a sea of competitors offering essentially the same thing. However, whether you like it or not, your mortgage company has a brand.

The marketplace will have a perception of you. It derives either from your own efforts or by default--and trust us, the default brand is rarely what you want it to be. You can take a passive/defensive stance and let the market control your image or you can be proactive/offensive. We recommend being in control.

Think about it: With all the lenders out there, why should a homebuyer or broker choose to come to you for a loan?

If there were specific steps you could take to influence the decision to choose your organization, products and services, wouldn't you like to find out what they are? This is where branding plays a major role--and why creating your own brand is just as important as it is to Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and to the individual products that comprise these entities (e.g., the diet, caffeine-free, low-carb and other brand extensions that round out their product lines).

Admittedly it can be a difficult task to build a brand in our industry, because a mortgage company is very different from a soft-drink company due to the homogeneous nature of the product lines. However, it can be done, both by large national firms and by smaller lenders establishing a brand in their own region, community or niche market.

We have witnessed it--or been a part of it--over and over. When developed and implemented correctly, a solid brand strategy provides the impetus to differentiate a mortgage company of any size.

Your name can become instantly recognizable as you build consumer and/or broker trust. If you've really done your homework, you can create an emotional bond that "pre-sells" your products and services to that audience. This can be very advantageous, whether your goal is to increase sales or to move your company into a position for acquisition. Many financial companies, which will remain unnamed for this article, have embarked on extensive branding initiatives in preparation for an initial public offering (IPO) or private sale and have realized huge gains.

Be all you can be

It's important to remember that developing a brand involves more than simply finding a spokesperson and producing a cool logo, a snappy tag line or a clever ad. Each of these elements contributes to a solid, successful effort, but a strategy that only focuses on one of them--no matter how on-target that one may be--is likely to fall short of the mark.

An enduring image and identity is the result of a variety of individual components that all come...

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