How Wingman grew our client from $50k to over $1 Billion in funded loans throughout Southern California
BROAD STEPS THROUGH THE BUBBLE
The late ’90s were a simpler time for the mortgage business. Successful companies were built on relationships with local realtors and most marketing was done from within the industry. For outbound marketing, direct mail ruled the day. It’s trackable right down to the exact loan funded and companies could directly target specific homeowners and desirable neighborhoods.
Few mortgage companies even touched broad-based mediums for advertising – it wasn’t worth the spend and it was difficult to target specific types of homebuyers. Interest rates had consistently remained in the sevens for the past eight years, so the refinance market was tiny enough to ignore altogether.
Things were, in a word, stable.
THE FED DROPS RATES
After the dot-com bust and terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to the lowest level in over four decades. This action was taken to help spur investment in a sluggish, weary economy. This drove home loan rates on a traditional 30-year fixed down to the sixes, kicking off a historic decline where they’d eventually fall to the mid-threes. Lower rates opened up the market to homeowners that looked to buy larger properties as well as those who wanted to capitalize on the rate drop by refinancing. Home equity lines also saw a huge jump in popularity.
As money got cheaper, the mortgage business became more competitive as more lenders popped up out of thin air. Mortgage marketing strategies evolved over night. The expanded marketplace opened the door for companies to begin advertising in mass media outlets such as radio and TV. Expansion into mass media drove up cost per lead in the industry substantially.
In mid 2001, Crestline Funding had been in business for five years and served Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. The company was started by Scott Brown and his college roommate after Scott’s mother provided them with a small loan to get the company off the ground. As Brown would later joke in a radio ad, “Mom is our not-so-silent partner.” The company had grown from an initial $50,000 investment to funding over 15 million a year in loans and was known as “Your friend in the mortgage business.”
At the onset of the big rate drop, Crestline Funding came to Steve Dubane, the soon-to-be principal of Wingman advertising, because of his success in marketing considered purchases for the home. Scott knew he needed to abandon his cozy, 100k-a-year direct-mail strategy and move Crestline to a larger stage through broadcast media.
TAKING CRESTLINE TO MASS MEDIA
As radio veteran with years in the talk format, Steve Dubane knew that given the free-for-all the lending business had become – credibility was key when it came to creative (and of course, a great interest rate). Steve was familiar with the universal rule in mortgage marketing ‘you’ll always get the lowest cost-per-lead when the president of the mortgage company does the radio spots’ – as long as he or shesounds trustworthy. So, Brown became the “face” of the company on radio and still is 13 years later.
The turning point in the young campaign came when Wingman and Crestline looked at which media drove actual loans, instead of just leads. According to Steve Dubane, “At the onset of our campaign we quickly realized that not all leads are created equal.” So Wingman developed a strategy based on cost per funded loan, moving away from the cost-per-lead metric popular among most agencies.
Next, Wingman optimized radio creative by station. When it comes to running mortgage commercials greater lead volume doesn’t always translate to more funded loans. A specific spot may drive more leads on an adult contemporary music channel than it did when ran on an AM news station. But, even though the news station delivered fewer leads, the station may still deliver a higher percentage of funded loans.
Given the time it takes for a lead to mature into a funded loan, optimizing by radio station takes patience. It could take up to two months to realize you’ve put all your eggs in the wrong media basket. According to Scott Brown, “The success of our business is driving leads to loans. Driving leads is the easy part. Everybody with an adjustable loan wants to refi into a 30-year fixed rate. Because Wingman’s systems can optimize our media buys based on leads that ultimately lead to closed loans made all the difference on the world.” By managing cost per funded loan, Wingman was able to rapidly expand advertising spend without compromising profitability.
This radio strategy gave Crestline Funding a big advantage over its competition. Most mortgage companies – especially the guys who just showed up to the party – optimized by cost-per-lead, instead of cost per loan. According to Scott Brown, “Seeing how much a call costs is one thing. Being able to monitor the efficiencies throughout the sales cycle was a game-changer for us.”
FROM BROADCAST TO DIGITAL
During the heady years of the mid ’00s new mortgage brands that expanded to broadcast marketing also moved to digital. Most of these new companies had low brand awareness so they used low-quality lead aggregators from online form fills to generate leads. Crestline Funding’s half decade of pre-boom brand awareness allowed it to generate higher-quality leads from Google searches and Bankrate.com. In the mortgage business, especially during the real estate bubble, credibility is key. Plus, Crestline is a direct lender so their lack of overhead allowed them to keep rates low; that paired with brand awareness made them a hit on rate tables. Although these leads were generally more expensive, Crestline’s brand awareness drive drove a lower cost per loan in the end. Many of the smaller companies that eschewed brand-building for the quick hits provided by low-cost lead aggregators wouldn’t make it past the market crash of 2008.
Wingman expanded its strategy to lower Crestline Funding’s cost per loan funded by creating an entirely new website. The original CrestlineFunding.com was built by the mortgage company and was informative about their product offerings, but lacked any user-interface design. Crestline Funding was known for their easy and quick application process and their friendly personalized customer care. To capture this mood and bring it to the Web, Wingman worked with the Crestline team to refresh their online brand and delivered a visual approach that is as straight forward and uncomplicated as their services. And because Wingman discovered that their mobile traffic was growing by leaps and bounds it designed a responsive solution so their site is accessible from anywhere their users might be.
WINGMAN REBUILT THE SITE WITH A STRICT FOCUS ON CONVERSION
Consumers needed to be easily brought into the sales funnel. A quick quote tool for costumers to share their information in exchange for a free rate quote was added as well as a live chat option. The final piece in the digital strategy was Velocify integration. Velocify is a lead tracking and management system for the mortgage business. When integrated with Crestline’s website it can track down to cost per loans and phone calls and web visits could be easily broken down to source. Overall, the digital upgrade accounted for a 35% uptick in digital lead generation and a 15% increase in overall call volume.
AFTER THE BUBBLE BURST
When the bottom dropped out of the mortgage industry in 2008, Wingman built a media strategy that focused on Crestline Funding’s brand credibility, broadcast marketing optimization, and digital expansion. As a result, Crestline Funding remained profitable while less-optimized competition fell by the wayside.
According to Scott Brown, “When we started doing business with Wingman we were doing 15 million a month. Now we’re doing 50 million a month. With Wingman’s help we managed through a difficult time in our industry and continue to grow our business today.”
With the help of Wingman, Crestline Funding has funded over a billion dollars to Southern California families. Mrs. Brown should be proud.
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