Optimizing the Sales Cycle for Maximum Response and Efficiency:
The media strategy that grew a mortgage 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 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 looking 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 Wingman’s president, Steve Dubane, because of his success in marketing considered purchases. 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
1. Build Credibility
As radio advertising 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. Steve was familiar with the universal rule in mortgage marketing – use the CEO as the spokesperson. 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 she sounds trustworthy. So, Brown became the “face” of the company on radio.
2. Focus on Metrics that Matter
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.
3. Optimize Creative
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 Media
During the heady years of the mid ’00s new mortgage brands that expanded to broadcast media 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 search and Bankrate.com. In the mortgage business credibility is key.
As a direct lender, Crestline’s 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 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.
Wingman expanded its strategy to lower Crestline Funding’s cost per funded loan 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 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 would be accessible from every device.
A Website Built for Conversions
Consumers needed to be easily brought into the sales funnel. A quick quote tool for customers 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 the Velocify integration. Velocify is a lead tracking and management system for the mortgage business. When integrated with Crestline’s website it can track the sales funnel down to cost per funded loan, including tracking phone calls and web visits from their source. Overall, the digital upgrade accounted for a 35% uptick in digital lead generation and a 15% increase in overall call volume.
Staying Ahead of the Competition
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.
“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.”
– Scott Brown, CEO of Crestline Funding
With the help of Wingman, Crestline Funding has funded over one billion dollars to Southern California families. Mrs. Brown should be proud.
Wingman Media is an award winning Media Buying and Media Planning Agency in Los Angeles, California. We plan data-driven media campaigns for companies that sell niche products and services and drive maximum response from all channels - including television, digital, programatic display and video, social media, radio and OOH.
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