This piece originally appeared in the January 2023 edition of MReport magazine, online now.
In any market, a downturn shines the spotlight on innovators who manage to stay ahead of market conditions and make the pivot. In fact, some of those adaptations eventually change the way we do business completely. Take, for example, the urban restaurants faced with disaster during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020. Some, sadly, were forced to close their doors for good. After all, revenue had declined to a trickle. And yet, others innovated, quickly revamping to offer take-home cocktails, takeout options, or take-and-bake meals.
Now, it may be time to ask what the mortgage industry’s version of “takeout” is. In past down cycles, the major priority for lenders and service providers naturally became the mobilization of their sales and marketing efforts. That remains the case as we enter 2023. However, the way the mortgage industry ramps up its marketing and sales efforts will be a little different this time around.
Many lenders and service providers, in fact, will have to start by dusting off their previous marketing strategies. The historic rush of origination volume in 2020–2021 could be compared to a restaurant that’s suddenly swamped beyond its normal dinner service levels—dirty dishes are left piled in sinks and the kitchen floors might go without being mopped because the priority is simply serving the influx of customers. If anything, many mortgage businesses complained of production and throughput challenges during the heart of the last refinance surge. Who needs to scrutinize a marketing plan when there are already too many orders to fill? Now, however, as mortgage firms return to their marketing plans, more than a few are realizing that what worked in 2019 probably won’t work today. It’s time to update.
In that seemingly short period, however, something changed dramatically among those who did continue to update their marketing.
Ad sales began to decline—even on modern platforms like Meta (Facebook) or Instagram. TikTok became a bona fide platform for promotion—even at the B2B level. Above all, mortgage marketing began to demonstrate a genuine human connection and authenticity. It turns out that pure repetition and bombardment by logos no longer sells. Rather, it is content and compelling information of value—regardless of the product or service being sold—that does.
The End of Interruption Messaging
The mortgage origination industry has long relied on relationship building and consultative techniques in its sales strategies, if not its marketing. The worn-out joke about the “box of donuts strategy” is just that. It’s a relic of a past era. For successful sales organizations, building relationships and serving as a consultative seller have led many to success. And yet, for others, sales is just a numbers game driven by call centers and ad buyers. The presumption was that if we just knock on enough proverbial doors or make enough cold calls, we’ll get results. However, the returns on that approach are declining. It’s time to work smarter, not harder.
Mass bombardment barely counts as a strategy, anyway. While successful mortgage sales strategies might have embraced relationship building, mortgage marketing, for whatever reason, hasn’t always prioritized relationships with the same rigor. The “interruption approach” has too often passed for good marketing strategy.
Essentially, the advertiser or marketer simply needed to get the prospect’s attention—usually with a catchy turn of phrase, but again via sheer volume of bombardment (read: harassment)—in order to get the firm’s key message across. All too often, this became a shotgun approach by which the sheer repetition of a message (true, credible, or otherwise) brought results.
The main problem here is that these (allegedly) tried-and-true approaches don’t require you to get to know your prospects and provide them with real value.
As a not-so-surprising result, today’s executives and decision-makers have become allergic to being pitched. After all, we’re bombarded in every phase of our life with unsolicited texts, emails, robocalls, or pop-up ads. Most of the time, that messaging isn’t even relevant to our wants or needs.
Prospective mortgage borrowers or consumers of mortgage-related products are far less likely to care about old-school direct marketing or advertising campaigns. They feel harassed instead of being listened to and known.
Relationships are critical. To say that’s an understatement is itself an understatement. Most sales efforts continue to include some level of rekindling old relationships with key real estate brokerages as well as widespread marketing and advertising aimed at consumers. But now, marketing is beginning to align much more closely with the network-building efforts of a good sales team.
While the use of advertising and traditional direct marketing still has valid applications, these are no longer the most effective way to spread a brand’s message.
Because of this growing resilience to blind marketing and mass campaigns, other industries have adapted by embracing marketing strategies only now being adopted in our own industry. At the core of this new approach is self-generated content.
The Transformation of the Audience Has Changed. Now, Marketing Must Change Too.
Long before the internet was considered as vital a utility as fresh water or electricity, consumers (whether B2B or B2C) had to work a little harder than they do now to learn about the products being pitched to them or the providers that were marketing them.
Not surprisingly, direct marketing often was the primary means of educating oneself about the features and benefits of the services being sold. Thus, there was less need to win over the target market and more need to educate said market on the characteristics of the goods being sold and how they could help that market. Needless to say, that has changed.
Today, consumers or purchasers at any level (and that includes mortgage lenders being pitched technology, Realtors being pitched by a particular lender, and the like) are much more educated and skeptical than their predecessors.
An old-fashioned advertisement, although it has some place in the marketer’s toolkit, is no longer accepted on its face. It’s simply too easy to Google a brand, a product, or a batch of reviews about that product’s performance.
Instead, today, the marketing materials are expected to deliver value in and of themselves. In a throwback to the consultative sales model, the brand creating the marketing needs to prove its relevance with content that delivers some level of value to the prospect—regardless of whether that prospect ends up purchasing from that marketer. As a result, web banners or marketing postcards have significantly given way to podcasts, blogs, and video production. Successful mortgage marketers are building their own unique spaces (social media events, webinars, event-related dinners, and networking opportunities) that deliver value to prospects and clients alike.
Finally, sales and marketing—all-too-often at odds with each other in the branding process—are becoming intertwined. Our relationship-based industry is finally adopting marketing techniques that help foster business relationships.
Ahead of the Game
Just as mortgage operations continue to march toward nearly total automation, the transformation to marketing in the mortgage industry is accelerating, too. If one sought a podcast or video on mortgage-related topics seven or eight years ago, the results would mostly be limited to content produced (usually for a price) by trade associations or trade media. Conferences, seminars, and webinars, in addition to trade publications and websites, were a key means for taking in industry updates. While that remains the case, content is no longer solely created and owned by the trades.
Today, in fact, it’s difficult to come across a mortgage-related business’ website that doesn’t contain some kind of blog or white paper. The mortgage industry itself is beginning to churn out content.
In fact, it’s often small businesses leading the way with innovative marketing. Necessity is the mother of invention. Many large businesses have, for years, been happy to throw massive budgets into major sponsorships and advertising. Today’s consumers, however, are no longer impressed by large brands that seem omnipresent.
As a result, many of the most creative new approaches in mortgage marketing have been created by firms and individuals lacking the luxury of a big budget.
The marketers themselves, using content marketing, have begun to change the way we learn about them or their brands.
Someone seeking relevant mortgage-related content is as likely to frequent Spotify, Apple, or Google Podcasts from their iPhone today as they were to check their trade association website years ago.
LinkedIn, once a place reserved for recruiters and professionals seeking new opportunities, has become a portal to a myriad of self-generated content. Josh Pitts of Shred Media was among the first to show the mortgage industry that meaningful video content didn’t require cinema-caliber production or even people in suits and ties. As a bonus, it could even be entertaining and fun without losing its relevance.
The next wave of content marketing groundbreakers is already making themselves known. Next-generation content marketers like Dalia Ramos, Founder of Love + Tacos media and the hostess of Taco Tuesday Talks, are blazing new trails by combining once-dry mortgage content with fun concepts and important advocacy.
This next generation of mortgage content marketers isn’t just limiting itself to LinkedIn or Facebook either. Increasingly, TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms are becoming mainstream points of distribution for effective new content.
Of course, there’s much more to successful content marketing than grabbing an iPhone and hitting the “record” button. As with any approach to marketing, effective strategy and sustainable execution are critical. It’s also important to realize that content marketing, like consultative selling, is rarely an overnight success. Your first podcast episode is not going to triple sales. Neither is your first entire season, for that matter. But content marketing, much like mortgage technology, isn’t just a fad that came and went with the travel bans and lockdowns of the pandemic. Content marketing is the new mainstream of mortgage marketing. It will likely be a critical component of any successful growth strategy in this competitive purchase market and after.