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Why Old-School Professionals Don’t Embrace Digital

This article originally appeared in National Mortgage Professional Magazine

By Tuan Pham, Senior Vice President of Marketing

In a world buzzing with trends, “old-school” professionals are often proud of holding on to their “classic” tried and true ways, and understandably so. Why go off the beaten path? Why spend time, money and effort on territory that is unknown and unproven to them? Admittedly, there is a lot of noise in the digital space and these professionals are ultimately vested in the business of people and relationships, not technology. It also doesn’t help that they occasionally witness the obsessions that a digital world can create – like the social-media-photo-crazed colleague who spends time to stage and take countless photos of a champagne glass during happy hour while everyone else is enjoying the bubbly, living in the moment and actually “socializing”. No cheers to that.

Indeed, with every new culture, there tends to be a counter-culture such as the old-school professional, that is resistant to change. For these professionals, instead of taking the effort to experiment with new trends that might just work or simply pop and fizzle, they generally opt out or wait it out. This may be especially true for the busy mortgage professional who is confined by limitations in time, resources, technical know-how as well as state and federal laws, including RESPA. On top of all this, mortgage originators are naturally more people-oriented anyhow and often prefer face-to-face interaction over the nitty gritty, behind-the-screen work that digital marketers are comfortable with. It is not their cup of tea (or any other preferred beverage for that matter).

What Can Help Them Change Their Minds?

How can old-school professionals be persuaded to try something new? It starts with a shift in mindset. Introducing change to those who naturally resist it requires asking them the right questions and offering them answers that make sense from their unique perspective. Try asking the following questions. What do originators have to gain or lose? What is holding them back?

First, In the digital age, these two factors should help motivate even the most reticent mortgage professional: the millennial potential and rapid sales growth. While it is understandable for originators to stick to their guns and use what has worked in the past, they simply cannot force old-school methodology onto a new-age audience that is fundamentally different at the core. This is their “millennial dilemma”. Millennials have different preferences and perspectives over their predecessors, including the way they communicate and the amount they have saved for down payment on a home. (Hint: It is not the traditional 20% that their parents or grandparents used to bring to the table. It is typically less, much less.) Yet, the failure to realize this and understand other Millennial behaviors, such as extensive use of technology, limits the originator from being responsive to the needs of an important and growing segment and puts them at risk of losing future business clients.

Secondly, the key reservations that originators have about digital marketing – namely time, resources and technical know-how, all circle around one premise: will the sales justify the spend? In other words, will it lead to reasonable sales growth and ROI? The answer is yes for many of those who have ventured. Originators who focused their efforts on leveraging the best digital technology has to offer have reaped remarkable results, especially while few others have ventured into the space. Many times, these initiatives do not require a high level of spend or technical skill. For example, some originators have generated several quotes a day through just 30 minutes of interaction with their referral contacts on ActiveRain and LinkedIn. Others have used Facebook targeting and retargeting tools to rapidly expand their client base and carve out unique niches while monitoring trigger events to improve conversion. From search engine optimization (SEO) to email automation to competitive research, these 5 practical tips for mortgage professionals will highlight some of the ways to navigate the digital arena and generate quality leads.

5 Practical Digital Marketing Tips for Mortgage Professionals

1. Leverage Facebook and Instagram Trigger Events

Trigger events bring change to people’s lives. Whether it is an engagement, a new job or a baby on the way, mortgage professionals are trained to look for these types of events because they can also lead to new moves and new mortgages. The best channels to find triggers are on Facebook and Instagram, where users are more likely to share their personal moments, from daily musings to large life events. Loan originators on these platforms can watch for changes in the lives of the people they follow and offer to help. They can also leverage Facebook advertising tools (which also runs on Instagram) to cast a wider net, hone in on specific events, demographics and behaviors, and uniquely market to that audience.

For example, a mortgage broker in Los Angeles can create an ad set of people with the following characteristics:

1. In the Los Angeles Region
2. Aged between 30-50
3. Newly engaged within the last 6 months

About 12,000 people matched these criteria at the time of writing. The broker can then test different types of social ads and messaging about finding and financing the ideal home after marriage. By targeting likely working couples right before they get married, the broker can enter the discussion early and stay top of mind with this audience before many of them might have made their home purchase decisions.

While early birds may catch the home buyer, they need to move quickly. Current developments with Facebook, brought about by the Cambridge Analytica data breach, may usher in new rules and regulations that will change how user data can be compiled or accessed on social media. However, until it is restricted, the abundance of data available on Facebook and Instagram allows advertisers to test different audience combinations and ad formats to see which ones are best for generating the right leads for their business. Even an old-school originator can appreciate this amount of information and the many targeting possibilities that it creates. Unlike non-digital mediums such as print or other digital platforms such as native website banners, Facebook/Instagram ads are data-driven, hyper-targeted, fully trackable and are relatively inexpensive to run with very low minimum spend and bid amounts.

2. Build a Referral Network through LinkedIn

Although LinkedIn also offers a few trigger events, its best usage is for professional business development and establishing referral partners, versus direct-to-consumer targeting like the dynamic duo of Facebook and Instagram. For example, an originator can use LinkedIn’s advanced search tool to strategically find and connect with users in their geographical area whose job title may include real estate agent, accountant, appraiser and real estate attorney, to name a few. The search can also be targeted to specific keywords such as CPA to generate even more connections.

However, the real magic is not in the ability to seek and find. It is in the capacity to develop relationships and to stay relevant with these users on a regular basis. Mortgage professionals used to do this the old-fashioned way by visiting realtors’ offices and attending mixers and open houses. LinkedIn can speed up and enhance this business development process by providing instant access to thousands of potential referral sources. Couple this with the convenience and ease of digital communication, and originators can exponentially multiply their reach.

Here are some practical tips for originators to apply on LinkedIn:

1. Sync email contacts or upload a file of your entire contact database to LinkedIn and connect with all users that exist on its system, giving your network a boost.

2. Watch for trigger events (birthdays, work anniversaries, promotions, job changes) and congratulate people in your network accordingly to strengthen relationships.

3. Engage with posts by your connections. Like, comment and share their property listings, closings, etc. to foster a reciprocal level of engagement and good will.

4. Use endorsements and recommendations as a way to encourage, support and promote one another and elaborate on the level of service provided.

5. Locate other originators or even other brokerages that you admire. Study their profile and follow their activity. Learn from their positives as well as their mistakes.

3. Elevate Your Game by Researching Your Competitors

While we may hate to admit it, competitors are often times doing something right. The digital age enables originators to research the competition like never before. Why not turn competitors into a source of business? At the least, it will help you elevate your own game. For example, if originators connect with competitors on LinkedIn, they can often see the connections and groups they are associated with and subsequently add those connections and groups to expand their own network. Even when competitors hide their connections, originators may still see the comments they are posting and the people they engage with, some of which may be potential referral sources or have recently posted loan inquiries.

It is important to remember that the digital space is an open market and that competitors may also be doing the same thing to others, so being the first to comment on a post should not be the main goal nor should you engage in aggressive competitive behavior. Think about what borrowers or referral partners would want to read. Focus on making better and better conversations and fostering relationships. It takes many iterations and constant learning to win business over your competition on social media. Those who win tend to do so because they stayed in the game and kept their eyes on the ball and nose to the grindstone. Aside from LinkedIn, there are many other sources for competitive research, including paid tools like SEMrush that offer more robust features to monitor and track your competitors at scale.

In truth, loan originators do not have to navigate much further than the Google Search bar to conduct their competitive homework. A search for “Los Angeles mortgage broker”, for example, will reveal competitors who are paying for those keywords (hint: top 3-4 results), and those who rank well organically in search and Google Places. By looking at those search results, originators can see the content that competitors use in their smallest snippets of information and Google text ads which often highlight their strongest selling points. This enables originators to either mirror these points or counter them. While it is helpful to see the competitors that are paying for the top search positions, originators should keep an eye out for those who rank well organically (hint: does not have “AD” in front of the URL) and see what type of content they are using on their website or their Google Places page. A lot can be learned, and this research is potentially limitless. Originators can expand their search for other keywords that a user may type such as “home loan in Los Angeles” to reveal more and more competitive intelligence. (Hint: Once you click on competitor pages and search specific keywords that competitors are paying for, you may begin seeing digital retargeting ads from those competitors and can learn more from those ads).

4. Boost SEO by Adding Targeted Audiences and Locations

You may ask, “I know what SEO stands for but what is it, really?” That is the million-dollar (or even billion-dollar) question. There are specialists upon specialists who make careers out of optimizing webpages for search engines in order to increase online traffic. These specialists are trying to understand the search engines. Meanwhile, the search engines are trying to better understand the mystery of “user intent”. What is the user is truly looking for? Search engines build search algorithms that are meant to deliver this end goal, but it has become a massive and complex mechanism that connects millions of webpages on the internet to a simple search. There are two facts worth noting: search algorithms often change, and specialists will never fully understand what causes a webpage to rank, no matter what they may claim. This is why the focus of the originator should be on writing and providing valuable content for their audience rather than finding ways to game the system such as simply stuffing webpages or blogs with keywords. That being said, the following two tips will help originators begin honing their keyword writing skills which is a critical component of SEO.

First, do your keyword research organically. Look back on all your sales conversations, text messages, online chats and website applications to find commonalities between words and phrases that people are using or typing. What are they looking for? What questions are they regularly asking? What is the main problem they are looking to solve? Begin jotting down a list of keyword phrases. Make sure to include long-tail keyword phrases such as “home loan for executive in Los Angeles” as well as shorter, more common keyword phrases. The better that originators are at understanding what their audience is looking for, the better they will be at serving that audience with the information they want. Next, put those keywords to use. Include them throughout your content. It may sound easy, but it takes finesse and a lot of practice to balance the ratio of relevant keywords with an article that makes sense to the end user, has an impact on the search algorithm and reads well.

For those who want to take it one step further, there are dozens of best practices as it relates to on-page SEO that collectively impact search rankings such as title tags, header tags, meta tags, image alt tags, etc. These can be reserved for another article. There are two easy, often overlooked ways to bolster your keyword treasure chest: adding audience and location. If you are targeting specific segments of the population and specific geographical areas, it makes sense to build these keywords into your SEO. Mortgage companies tend to focus on higher volume keywords in their content such as “home loan” which is generally a must-add and a catch-all. Yet, fewer companies spend time on modifiers such as home loan “for executive” or “in Los Angeles”. These keyword modifiers can often mimic how users search for information and possibly boost your organic rankings. Originators can take it one step further by including specific neighborhoods, zip codes and relevant audience types in their content. It takes time and persistence to move up in ranking for keywords like “home loan” but originators may be able to see improved results for keywords such as “home loan for young executive in West LA” by including it in their content. Overall, search engine ranking continues to be a mystery (for marketers and originators alike) but adding these keyword modifiers is a great start.

5. Save Time and Generate More Sales with Email Automation

All of these tips would go to waste if leads were generated but not converted in the end. It is important to pair leadgen with a specific plan for conversion, executed rigorously and consistently. This is where the secret sauce lies and is also where the greatest amount of work and effort needs to be invested. Luckily, there are many types of automation tools available to help originators stay on task from auto-dialers to appointment apps. One essential tool is email marketing automation. It ensures that regular email communication and touchpoints are systematically being delivered which often helps improve conversion and loyalty while saving originators valuable time. So, how does an originator launch email automation? Is it overly complex? Truth is, email automation can be an intricate undertaking with multiple pathways and logic filters, but it can also be as simple as a one-step auto-response. Regardless of its size or its scope, the following three keys will ensure automation success.

First, build a road map. Draw a map that shows the journey of a client from start to finish. Add to this journey by plotting micro journeys along the way that are centered around specific conversion goals such as scheduling a call or completing an application. Imagine the framework of a choose-your-own-adventure book where the different choices a client makes leads them on a series of pre-configured journeys and endpoints. (Hint: A good builder creates pathways that will eventually lead all clients back to where they want them to go.) Once you have drafted this client journey map, build the specific “triggers” within each micro journey. Make sure the triggers are measurable such as an email open, reply or click through. Finally, as you craft the subject line and responses to each trigger, remember that email automation is meant to replicate live email exchanges as much as possible. This means using language and content that you would normally communicate with your client. Try reading your past email conversations to help you develop ideas and capture your tone of voice and choice of words.

If you have never used email automation systems, consider testing a simple tool such as MailChimp. It allows users to create emails that will automatically send when triggered by an activity or a date such as a birthday or closing anniversary. Here are a few steps to help originators get started on building a simple micro journey that eventually sends all new prospects to the application form.

1. Intro Email. Create an Introductory email template that can be sent when a new prospect is added to your New Inquiry list based on an initial email inquiry. Make sure the email has clickable links to your Product Summary, Application Form and FAQ.

2. New Inquiry Trigger. Create a trigger based on prospects being added on the New Inquiry list

3. Follow Up Email – No Clicks. Create a Follow Up email template that can be sent to those who have not clicked on your Introductory email asking them if they would like to schedule a call to discuss your products and the application process.
4. No Click Trigger. Create a trigger based on prospects that have not clicked on your Introductory email

5. Follow Up Email – Products or FAQ Clicks. Create a different Follow Up email template that can be sent to those who have clicked on your Product Summary or FAQ that outlines the next step in the process which is the Application Form.

6. Product or FAQ Click Trigger. Create a trigger based on prospects that clicked on your Introductory Email, specifically the Product Summary or FAQ link.

7. Setup. Build this journey logic: If 2, then send 1. If 1 and 4, then send 3. If 1 and 6, then send 5.

Whether you are a die-hard old-school professional or one that is simply on the fence about digital marketing, there are many benefits to trying new tools that can save you time, expand your reach, usher in new clients and referral partners, and drive better conversion. Many of these tips are easy to execute and free or inexpensive to use. Try them and share what you think. In the end, there is not much to lose when the tradeoff is minimal investment for potentially great returns. Who knows, you may even become obsessed with digital marketing.

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