In yesteryear, your customers had a much easier time of shopping for a mortgage because the options were fewer and there weren’t as many programs to review. Now, there are thousands of mortgage companies and hundreds of different programs to choose from. The task has become quite daunting for those who are not lucky enough to be cash buyers. So, the question becomes, how do you make sure your mortgage company stands out? For this reason, I feel compelled to make sure a digital content strategy is part of your overall 2013 integrated communications strategy. I’m focusing specifically on the digital content aspect of your plan because of the importance it plays in generating awareness of your mortgage company among both consumers and business referrers. Let’s start with a definition. A content strategy is a framework within which lenders can manage the content being published about their brand and products/services online in order to ensure that they are seen as authorities in their industries and that their content is easily searchable. Digital content development has never been more important. Your audience is in full consumption mode now more than ever due to hand-held devices like the iPad and smartphones which they go to bed with and wake up with and make it easy for them to consume information anywhere and anytime. Your audience wants to learn. They look for reasons to come to you instead of your competition … or go to your competition instead of you! Consider these statistics: ►Sixty-one percent of consumers say they feel better about a company that delivers custom content and they are also more likely to buy from or work with that company. (Custom Content Council) ►Social media sites and blogs reach eight out of 10 of all U.S. Internet users and account for 23 percent of all time spent online. (Content Marketing Institute) ►Ninety percent of consumers find custom content useful and 78 percent believe that companies providing custom content are interested in building good relationships with them. (TMG Custom Media) ►Blogs give Web sites 434 percent more indexed pages and 97 percent more indexed links. (Content+) ►B2B blogging generates 67 percent more leads per month on average than non-blogging companies. (Social Media B2B) Given these statistics, it’s safe to say that having a digital content strategy in place for your mortgage company is important for your brand and profitability. Recently, however, an in-depth study was released by Outbrain in partnership with Econsultancy. According to this study, only 34 percent of companies have dedicated budgets and only 46 percent have dedicated individuals for content marketing. I’ll bet the stats are worse in our industry. This study was conducted during the months of July and August of 2012. What the stats should tell you is that right now is a great time to integrate a digital content marketing strategy into your overall strategic plan for 2013. It will give you a significant competitive advantage while others try to play catch-up. Here’s an overview of how to develop your digital content strategy: 1) Make sure your brand promise and positioning statement are clearly defined. Ensure that when prospects and business referrers are driven to visit your Web site, they understand exactly why you’re in business and what your company stands for. Do you stand for world-class service? Experience? Quick and easy? Or do you provide a specific area of specialization, such as reverse mortgages or FHA financing? Assistance for those who’ve gone through foreclosure or have poor credit? The goal is to make sure that people who visit your website know what you’re all about. 2) Set the objectives for your content marketing strategy. The obvious objective is increasing originations. Of course, that’s the goal at the end of the day, but as we all know, nothing happens overnight and before you increase originations, you need to get people to see you, follow you and recognize you have something of value for them. So, it’s a good idea to set interim objectives that are measurable and attainable that will then drive interaction and ultimately originations. For example, an interim objective could be to start a following on Facebook with a 1st quarter goal of obtaining “X” number of likes. Or, it could be to increase the number of subscribers to your YouTube channel by 30 percent. Also identify what the mix will be of business referrers, those who’ve closed a mortgage with you (who can provide referrals to their network) and those who have yet to do business with you will be. Determining this mix will play a role in the type of content you disseminate to your respective audiences and how you find them. 3) Conduct a competitive review of the companies you find to be your top three to five competitors. I find many mortgage companies I work with have a hard time defining this group because there are so many. So, here’s an idea … conduct a Google search for mortgage companies using keywords that your target audience would likely use to find a company that “looks like” yours. Once you’ve identified these companies, your job is to identify all of their social online destinations where content is published (Twitter, Facebook, blog, YouTube, Vimeo, Google +, etc.). These are the destinations that you should rank and consider to be your online destinations as well. 4) Develop a list of topics of interest to your target audience. There are several good ways to do this. One is to review your competitors’ social media destinations to discover what topics are driving the most interaction. For example, from a quick search I discovered a blog post by Quicken Loans entitled “Is an FHA Loan Right for You?” received a lot of action. Another way is to set up Google Alerts for various topics having to do with mortgage lending so that you’re constantly alerted to the latest news that you can then share. For example, a recent news item identified that Ogden, Utah is one of the top 10 most affordable cities for homebuying according to a recent report on CNN Money. Accordingly, if you’re a mortgage lender in Utah, you might want to let your audience know this with an update on your Twitter stream or Facebook page and provide a link to the full article. 5) Organize your hot topic list into a publishing schedule spanning the next three months, identifying both the frequency of publishing and what venues you will focus on. Develop this schedule on a quarterly basis and keep it flexible. This flexibility will allow for new hot topics that come on your radar to be incorporated into your schedule. 6) Drive business referrers, past clients, prospective clients and prospective business referrers to your content. This can be accomplished with a creative combination of tactics including direct mail, email blasts, lobby signage, handouts, Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, banner ads on relevant sites, contests and more. Your signage, blasts, ads and other communications activities should be organized to allow for A/B testing so that you can determine what works for your company and what doesn’t to ensure the best possible ROI. The heart and soul of your content strategy is consumer focus. This means delivering high quality content in the right venues that is designed to engage and motivate your audience to build a relationship with your mortgage company and consider you as a financing alternative. What you should stay away from is any blatant self-promotional activity in your content marketing strategy as this will turn people off. You want your audience to view you as a trusted expert in the field of mortgage lending, so alert them to and give them information designed to assist them. They will come to see you as a trusted expert which ultimately translates to higher origination volumes. John Seroka is a brand strategist and principal in the Los Angeles office of Seroka, a full-service brand development, marketing, public relations and social media firm that serves a nationwide client base. He can be reached at [email protected] and linkedin.com/in/johnseroka. Pat Seroka is president of Seroka and works out of it’s Waukesha, Wis. office. Pat can be reached at [email protected] and linkedin.com/in/patseroka.