Do You Have a Marketing Problem or a Branding Problem?
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Do You Have a Marketing Problem or a Branding Problem?

March 26, 2012

There is a traditional and unchallenged approach to brand development that, for quite some time, seemed airtight and struck all the senses of logic, yet is flawed and has lost its effectiveness.
Before we begin, take a few minutes to jot down the names of four or five lenders you compete with, and make sure to include your own. Next, visit your competitors’ Web sites and your own through the eyes and minds of your customers. Read through the “About Us” pages and peruse through loan programs and services. Question … after looking through three or four sites, did you happen to detect any messages on any of the sites you visited that differentiated one mortgage company from another? Or, did most sites pretty much say the same things, just in different ways? If you found this exercise underwhelming, confusing and maybe even exhausting, you can understand how customers feel when trying to select a lender.
The fact is, most people will not take the time to dig and unearth the differences between competing mortgage companies as they navigate through their decision-making process. A company’s failure to communicate a clear, meaningful and relevant distinction leaves “could-be customers” with little choice but to base their decisions on variables such as rate, price and location. Word-of-mouth may influence some, but nowhere near enough to build a strong company and propel sustainable year-over-year growth.
Given the competitive landscape within the mortgage industry (and in any industry for that matter), most companies don’t suffer from a marketing, advertising or public relations problem—they suffer from a branding problem.
The traditional method of brand development
Brand development is typically initiated at the C-Level when a company is suffering from diminishing returns on marketing investments, when a competitor builds a better mousetrap, or when corporate initiatives (such as a merger or acquisition) require a branding effort.
The process usually starts with the marketing director who drafts and submits a Request for Proposal (RFP) to branding companies, consultants and ad agencies. When brand development proposals start rolling in, they typically include a heavy emphasis on the need for the company to invest in external qualitative and quantitative research to measure brand equity, brand awareness and the process by which customers search for and select mortgage companies.
Once the external research is complete, the chief executive officer and other key executives get together to analyze the findings and begin to think in terms of becoming the mortgage company people are asking for. It seems to be the most intelligent and logical approach. After all, everything the CEO needs to know is in his or her hands, and it’s simply a matter of changing a few things internally to meet the wants and desires of the customers who participated in the survey. The next step? Building an aggressive and robust marketing plan centered around the new brand.
The problem with this method is that too many competitive companies approach brand development in similar ways; they also acquire intelligence from external research and subsequently change their brand and messaging to resonate with their customers.
Is it any wonder why so many competitive companies say the same things, just in different ways?
Your brand must be built from within
Ask any CEO what their most valuable asset is, and they will most likely tell you that it’s their employees or their brand. They are the same—a company’s brand is its employees. Therefore, employees must learn the brand, live the brand, become the brand and deliver the brand before marketing can be employed to communicate the brand.
Three brand development clarifications
►Clarification number one: The definition of a brand
If you look up the word “brand” in a dictionary, you’ll see definitions synonymous with identifying and claiming. While this may be an appropriate definition for marking cattle and identifying property, it is insufficient for branding a company or organization.
The reason is because any company can claim to be anything it wants, and many do in the spirit of retaining and attracting customers. But how many of those companies can prove their claims to be true? Next time you are on hold for 20 min. with a company that boasts stellar customer service, you’ll understand exactly where I’m coming from.
So, for your purposes, the definition of a brand must be “evidence of distinction.” In other words, if you say it, you must be able to prove it. Do you tout (fill in unique selling point) ? You’ll need to prove it. Do you claim (fill in unique selling point) ? You’ll need to prove it. You can prove claims through certifications, testimonials, reviews and other factual supporting references, and highlight them on your Web site and in sales collateral.
►Clarification number two: The definition of brand development
Brand development is the process by which a company’s evidence of distinction is unearthed and communicated internally and externally. Again, employees must “be” the brand before marketing can launch the brand.
►Clarification number three: Brand development must be discovered and adopted at the very top echelons of a company or organization
Brand development is not and cannot be a marketing initiative—it must be aligned with your business strategy. Brands are the reason companies exist. Therefore, brand development must start at the top.
The three most important brand development questions
As we have already established, brand development must start from within, you’ll note that the answers to the three most important brand development questions cannot be found through external research. Answering these questions will require a meeting with key people in your company (C-Suite, senior management, human resources, sales and operations). You’ll need their perspectives as you answer these questions:
1) Who are we? What type of lender are you? What type of loans do you offer? Do you specialize in any loan programs?
2) How are we different? There is a reason why your company was started—you had something to offer that was better and/or different from your competitors.
3) What are we capable of becoming? If you’re stuck in a situation where your original unique selling proposition is no longer relevant or has been diffused by competitors, you must identify what your brand is capable of becoming. Of the three questions, this may be the most important, as it will determine how you will grow and emerge with new, improved and enhanced unique selling points.
How to avoid the biggest brand development mistake
Going through a brand development process will require a significant amount of time, thought and energy. The biggest mistake a company can make is to allow that momentum to coast to a crawl once the new brand has been defined. It is critical that the CEO drive the internal brand adoption while the enthusiasm is still boiling and see to it that progress is made every day. This can best be accomplished by creating “momentum groups,” assigning them tasks and deadlines, and establishing expectations.
Internal brand adoption requires much more than a meeting and supporting e-mail to communicate the new brand. Employees—all employees—will need to be engaged in a fun, interactive way to encourage bonding and collaboration. This will not only build their enthusiasm for the new brand, but also boost morale. Again, brand development must start from within.
Once your brand has been thoroughly adopted by everyone in your company, it will be time to identify all of your brand touch points (sales, human resources, operations, customer service, etc.) and promote your brand with relentless enthusiasm.
Now go and crush your competition!
Patrick H. Seroka is president and chief executive officer of Seroka, the only Certified Brand Strategists in North America specializing in the mortgage industry. With Seroka, you'll experience unique, second-to-none client service and benefit from compelling marketing communications. Plus, we guarantee your growth. For more information, call (262) 523-3740 or e-mail pat@seroka.com.

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