Take advantage of the Internet!Chip Cummings, CMCInternet, technology, Web sites, Internet marketing, permission-based marketing, DRIP marketing campaigns, blogs, autoresponder systems, E-newsletters In the 24 years that Ive been in the mortgage lending game, almost everything has changed. I go back to the days of hand-calculated APRs, the no White Out rule on hand-typed 1003s, and remember nervously waiting hours for approvals while outside an underwriters door! Thank goodness those days are long gone, but many originators are still slow to accept change--and risk losing their business because of it. For whatever reason (spelled e-x-c-u-s-e!), many loan officers simply dont take advantage of the variety of Internet options available to them. Obviously, the Internet offers a wide range of possibilities, from the instant Fannie/Freddie approvals and doc prep to AVMs and instant pricing. Those are a given ... but what about marketing? Do you know how to really reach your prospects in this new age? With so many choices out there, are you making the most of the opportunities the Internet offers? Most originators arent, so that will be the primary focus of this special article for The Mortgage Press. Websites There are many types of Web sites out there, but they all fall into three basic categories: 1. Informational; 2. Operational; and 3. Marketing. Sites developed for marketing purposes include stealth sites, mini-site networks, blogs and community sites. All of these are designed to drive traffic to your main site (creating customers), or to drive them into a DRIP marketing campaign (as prospects). Stealth sites are nothing more than one-page Web sites, designed to deliver information (personal value), in exchange for the prospects name and e-mail address (at a minimum). Called permission-based marketing, this is how the majority of online leads are generated, many that are being sold to you right now! By having your own stealth site, at least you can generate your own leads, and have the exclusive rights to them! Does LendingTree or LowerMyBills.com ring a bell? Stealth sites are not about you or your company, but are constructed around three or four targeted keyword phrases for maximum impact and exposure through search engines and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. For example, if you are targeting first-time homebuyers, then you could develop pages around renters, wedding dresses, or baby showers ... all demographically related markets for people possibly in the market for their first home. Mini-site networks extend the reach of stealth sites, by creating a series of keyword-driven pages into a single resource site. Beginning marketers try to incorporate all of their products, services or value into one page, thereby diluting the results (such as conventional, FHA, VA, construction, ARM loans, etc.). By breaking them out into separate pages, you have a much greater likelihood of reaching the right target market, and increasing your conversion rates into your autoresponder DRIP marketing campaigns. You can develop these sites on your own (if you enjoy that type of thing), or contract it out to an international developer at a very reasonable cost. Visit www.eLance.com or www.Guru.com to find all sorts of freelance developers. Make sure to know and state specifically what you want, and monitor the site closely for conversion rates! Blogs are one of the most underused marketing mediums available today, and one of the easiest to set up. Free blogs are available at blogger.com (Google), Wordpress.com, BlogHarbor.com, TypePad and dozens of others, and can be set up in minutes! Posting articles, comments, news and information and events that are keyword driven can increase traffic from your niche markets, and drive them into the stealth sites or your main Web site. The bonus is that the search engines such as Google and Yahoo! absolutely love blog content, and your visibility will increase dramatically. Adding Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, which are automated postings and notifications back to subscribers (such as past customers, prospects, real estate agents, etc) will also allow you to reach more people without the worries of e-mail deliverability, spam filters, etc. These can be added through your blog provider, or services such as www.FeedBurner.com. Community sites such as My Space, Craigs List, Orkut, Tribe, or even MSN and Yahoo! are a great way to position yourself in front of highly target niche audiences. I have one client who is getting one closed deal per month as a result of his MySpace page! Online Leads Besides developing your own lead source through stealth sites, you can purchase leads from a variety of sources (no kidding, right!) There are five benchmarks for determining whether or not leads are profitable: 1. Price; 2. Use ratio; 3. Quality; 4. Age; and 5. Temperature! Before diving in to the world of purchasing leads from an online supplier, make sure you have developed a solid system for following up on them. There will be a lot of competition, and these people will be getting hammered from all directions. If you dont have an Ultimate Customer Experience (UCE) designed for these people, it will backfire on you, and all you will do is spend a lot of money for some useless phone calls. Go with trusted sources (such as those found through Encompass ePASS system, or NAMB partners) and talk with at least five other clients who have used their leads within the last 30 days. You will want to check their satisfaction level before diving in! Autoresponder systems An online database with the capacity to send out broadcast messages as well as themed, sequentially timed marketing e-mails is an absolute must in todays world of marketing. An autoresponder system allows you to collect information from your prospects, incorporate data from past clients, and store all that information at your fingertips in an online environment. Many originators still feel reluctant to use online database systems for fear of loss or use by unauthorized parties. Get over it. A recent study conducted by Marketing Sherpa (November 2006) indicates that 81 percent of Fortune 500 companies now have an opt in autoresponder system connected to their main website. For most, an online database communication system is their primary marketing tool! In actuality, the Internet is a safer place for your data than the laptop youre carrying around right now! While there are tons of providers out there, you want to pick carefully. Dont use a service that you feel might have a conflict-of-interest, or one of the many so-called free services. There are always strings attached, and you wont have access to many of the critical features youll need. Some of the more popular systems are www.SimpleAutoresponders.com, www.InstantInternetCommerce.com, www.ConstantContact.com, as well as many others. Start with the right one, and make sure you have the capabilities of importing/exporting leads, nice easy to use templates, comprehensive statistic reporting, as well as unlimited list and messaging capabilities. You do not want to have to redo your system a year later! E-newsletters Electronic newsletters, or e-zines are also an incredibly easy and inexpensive way to keep in touch with your clients, prospects and affiliate partners. Using the templates within an autoresponder system, you can create you own, or use a system such as www.SimpleEzines.com. There are many online newsletter or content services available as well, so look into great resources like Barry Habibs Mortgage Market Guide, Tim Braheems Loan Toolbox or the Mortgage Coach. Make sure that you deliver it regularly, and personalize the content whenever possible. People like to know that there is a real personality behind the newsletter, not just some canned content! Audio and video Have you seen all the crazy YouTUBE videos all over the place? Yeah, so have millions of other people! Thanks to fast-moving technology, it has gotten really easy to add audio and video to your Internet marketing arsenal. With the advent of You Tube and others such as Google Video, Yahoo! video, Hello World, and more, anyone can be a star. From a marketing point of view, you can now reach thousands (or millions!) of people with a simple camcorder or a simple phone-recorded message. From customer testimonials and team member introductions to audio/video newsletters and affiliate partner promotions the creative ways of using these mediums are only limited by your imagination! For an example of my audio/video newsletter, go to www.TheMarketingMinute.com. Sign up for a free subscription to receive more examples. One of the keys to successfully marketing yourself, is in developing a strong relationship with the prospect. With the tools that are available today, originators can master that relationship through the Internet. So, what are you waiting for? Start taking advantage of what the Internet has to offer today! Chip Cummings, CMC, an originator for over 24 years, is a recognized expert in the area of e-marketing, author of Stop Selling and Start Listening! Marketing Strategies That Create Top Producers and a frequent speaker around the country. He can be reached at (616) 977-7900 or at www.ChipCummings.com.