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The Most Commonly Used Four-Letter Word in the Mortgage Business: FICO

National Mortgage Professional
Dec 07, 2004

Got branding?Tim Bryantbranding, trade media, advertisements One minute everyone's trade ads look like a room full of Jimmy Stewart. Then somebody paints a milk mustachio onto the marketing plan and, next-thing-you-know, the entire mortgage industry wants to kick off its shoes and get tattooed. There you have it, the abridged "History of Branding in the Mortgage Industry" as spoken during a Friday afternoon session around our agency's pool table. It may sound a little off the wall, but there is truth there. Let's get an Exacto blade from the art department and dissect its many layers. It's a wonderful life! There are towns I know where you could be shot for not best remembering-for not respecting-MISTER Stewart in this one. Who could forget the clean-cut banker in his simpler times of black and white, and varying shades of gray, wearing his same suit, tie and white shirt? In fact, when you envision Jimmy Stewart, aren't you inclined nine times out of ten to remember him this way? Think about it, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington...Call Northside 777...Harvey. Gray suits in those films. My father, also a banker, had 30 pairs of shoes, but all of them were wing tips. He had a closet full of suits but all of them were black or varying shades of gray. It was the look of the times; the look your industry began with, adopted, and handed off to the marketing department. You wanted your ads to stand out, but you also wanted them to look like bankers. However, as your competition continued heating up, you've developed a serious thirst for change. We noticed early in our relationship with Unicor Mortgage, a national wholesale lender, that the mortgage industry, in person, looks nothing like its photographs in the trade media. You people are a lot of fun! Much more fun than your advertising. We realized that there was an opportunity to break from the pack, and we came up with the pepper sauce bottle "Hot & Spicy" guy, brightly colored like a Saturday cartoon show. The "Hot & Spicy" concept stood way out and had a look that was the opposite of a room full of Jimmy Stewart. We created a brand that surged awareness levels off the chart, increased market share, and was a slam dunk for Unicor in the fragmented market. It enabled Unicor to kick off its shoes and get tattooed. Big bucks in them thar brands! The potential impact of branding on your industry is huge. Recent studies say that brand equity (the established recognition of a brand identity) can impact stock prices as much as, and sometimes more than, return on investment. Though at the present, there is no commonly accepted approach to determining the dollar value of a brand, undoubtedly value is there to be found. When Phillip Morris bought the Kraft Foods brands, they paid 600% more than book value, and when KKR acquired RJR/Nabisco brands, they paid nearly $20 billion above the balance sheet equity. Makes you want to run out and build a brand, doesn't it? Before you do, let's grab that Exacto blade again... Back to the future on branding I read somewhere that: "A brand is a symbol, sound, statement, or other element (or combination of such elements) used to communicate a message which, in turn, inspires a desired reaction, such as usage or loyalty." Around the pool table, we just say a brand is, "A nano-second communique that prompts customers to buy and continue buying." A brand "says" something about a company, a product, or service in an instant that makes it unique and appealing enough to be desired over all others. Any of these definitions will work and, regardless which one you choose, the basic concept is nothing new. Long before cowpokes were branding cattle, craftsmen of ancient times were placing their unique "marks" on pottery, stoneware, and metal work. There are documented examples of this, dating back to 1300 B.C. Though initially the marks may have been to insure getting paid, they eventually came to signify superiority of one person's work over another's. The same as today. I promise you, the whole history of branding is pretty interesting stuff and well worth looking into, but since I promised The Mortgage Press not to write a book, we'd better scoot along. Our Cliff's Notes overview on how to brand Branding, like skydiving, requires knowledge of only a few essentials to get you out of the cargo door. But, like skydiving, those few essentials make a real difference in how the rest of your day is going to turn out. Chapter One: Find a critical point of differentiation Think of an attribute that you can communicate about your company, product or service to set it aside from the pack. Start at your core competencies. Are you the first, the only, the most experienced, the quickest, or the one with the most choices? Imagine having less than 10 seconds to convince a prospect you are The One. What would you say? Pretend your life depends on it. Chapter Two: Test it After you've found that special nugget, check to make sure it's not Fool's Gold. Is it believable given your track record-it needs to be palatable and easy to digest. Will it go where your company is headed, and, better yet, will it go where your market is headed? Pass it around the office and challenge your people to shoot holes in it. Dare them, and then test it out on a few friends in the industry or, if you really want to go the distance, run it through a brand audit (a comprehensive survey that can be conducted over the phone, through the mail, or in focus groups). Chapter Three: Give it a personality Your marketing message, as strong as it may be, will go nowhere unless your audience is receptive to it. An understanding must be established between them and you. A relationship is needed, and all relationships begin with a decision-making process that takes place somewhere deep in the brain where we cubbyhole our entire inventory of past experiences. Right off the bat, people need to compare you with something that they are familiar with in those cubbyholes. They need to know where you fit in. They need to categorize you. It's a survival mechanism inherited from our days back in the cave. Basically, we're not much different from dogs that must give a quick sniff before wagging tails or baring teeth. The bottom line is that all relationships begin at being put in your place-your personality type scanned, sorted, and filed for future reference. In his book Building strong brands, author David Aaker notes that the brand personality for Hallmark and Kodak can be categorized as old fashioned, down-to-earth, and family-oriented, all of which convey sincerity. BMW's pretentious, wealthy, and even condescending persona spells sophistication, and Nike's personality, described as athletic and outdoorsy, translates to rugged. These are just a few examples demonstrating how brand personality support the product. Chapter Four: Now create it This is where the fun begins. This is when you put on a big shirt backwards and start finger-painting. By now, you know what your brand is supposed to mean (the message) and what it sort of feels like (the personality) and that's better than starting with nothing. All that's left is to see what it looks like. All that's left you say? Well, okay, this can take a little doing. Our approach, and maybe it'll work for you too, is to send a Word Guy and a Picture Guy into separate cages at opposite ends of the building. We lock them in and put them on a strict diet of stale beer, raw meat, Corn Nuts and M&M's until they come out claiming to have "The Big Idea." After that, we throw them in another room together and wait around to see what Big Idea walks out. Good hunting and have a nice day. Chapter Five: Wear body armor during creative development This is really Phase II of the Chapter Four above. I've set it aside only to call your attention to the fur flying. Creative is usually tested as it develops. This is a nice way of saying most of us don't come out with The Big Idea the first time out of the cage. This is also a nice way of saying there are sometimes a thousand pencils hanging from the acoustic tile and sticking out of people's foreheads as the Word Guy and the Picture Guy duke it out over whether or not a concept: a) readily communicates the message b) readily communicates the personality c) has longevity (can run forever without wearing out) d) will be understood by less superior minds Then, just as the Word Guy and the Picture Guy are speaking to one another again, we test the creative on outsiders and, if needed, send it back to the cages for spit-shining. Chapter Six: Spread it out After you nailed The Big Idea, the next step is to line it out across all fronts on the game board so as to completely overwhelm your enemies. In this phase, a plan is created for implementing the concept across the various components of your marketing plan: direct mail, PR, trade show program, etc. You know the drill. Don't leave the dock until you've plotted a course. Chapter Seven: Give it a big launch We are firm believers that first impressions are the most powerful ones and that you should go into them with everything the budget will bear, and then some. In the mortgage industry, placement of ads in print media is very important to branding. Negotiate premium positioning for your ads or create unusual placement to correspond with, and call attention to, the look of your ads. Run your ads as often as you can, in as many targeted publications as possible. (Incidentally, in reader surveys we conducted, The Mortgage Press scored among the most read.) In addition to print advertising, blow open doors with a great direct mail piece and go to trade shows with a "take no prisoners" attitude. Keep the ball rolling and the plates spinning. Juggle a few chainsaws if you have to. Chapter Eight: Follow through After you've built up some steam, don't lose it. Repetition means everything to building your presence. Repetition means everything to building your presence. Repetition means everything to building your presence. Repetition means everything to building your presence. Repetition means everything to building your presence. Whatever you do, don't come out of the gate with a big splash during your launch phase and then suddenly disappear. People will wonder why. Be consistent both in your message and in its presence in the market. Chapter Nine: Our black powder litmus test for overkill If your child played Backstreet Boys songs repeatedly, you know that too much of a good thing, and especially too much Backstreet Boys, can do a body harm. One of our guys has an extra bone in his inner ear that tells him the precise moment when a concept needs refreshing. He can predict this like a dog can predict a fire truck even before the rest of us hear the siren. He says that if you're in on it from the beginning, about the time you are becoming tired of your concept is when others start to take notice. He says that about the time you're seeing it on the windshield of your car during a fit of road rage, the concept is "setting in" with your audience. When we see him cleaning his great grandfather's old musket, we know it's time to go digging for new ideas. It should be pointed out that refreshing a campaign is not about a total overhaul and not about trading it in for something younger. All we are talking about is a little nip and tuck around the crow's feet and jowls: Outpatient surgery. Chapter Ten: Be prepared to evolve The Lowenbrau brand has been around since 1383. Baker's Chocolate, Lipton, and Ivory Soap are all old timers too. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But then again, one must stay on top of the market. RCA is a good example of a brand that has changed with the times via its introduction of new products reflecting technology far beyond anything imagined by the original founders of "Radio Corporation of America." Of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat (and at the office pool table we've come up with lots of them), and one won't learn every nook and cranny of branding from an article of less than 2,500 words. Still, these basic essentials will get you out of your shoes and into the neighborhood of a good tattoo. Tim Bryant is vice president and director of Public Relations for full-service ad agency, The Creative Edge. He may be reached at (800) 583-3343 ext.111 or on the Internet at
Dec 07, 2004
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