5 Ways Your Agency Fails You and Your Brand

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Most CEO’s in the mortgage industry know the importance of having a strong brand. They understand having a strong brand is key to differentiating themselves in a highly competitive environment. This is especially true for mortgage bankers, title companies, appraisal firms and many others that know they have similar product and service offerings and really need that point of differentiation in order to thrive.

So how is this brand differentiation built, especially for companies who provide remarkably similar products and services?

This is a really great question…and definitely a tall and complex order to fill. So, they may look to their marketing or public relations firm or even to their internal departments to drive this effort. Frequently, the outcome is a new campaign with unique selling points speaking to the same products and services everyone else offers, some awards, etc. just framed in a different way. What they don’t do is build a solid foundation for this renewed effort that goes deeper to connect with their audience’s beliefs and values systems.


Developing a brand that connects with people on a deeper, more sustainable level requires a completely different skill set than that required to develop a great communications campaign. It can’t be done by conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, a competitive review or a superficial discussion with management or the marketing department that doesn’t dig deeper.

Here’s why. A brand is your claim of distinction reinforced by evidence of performance. A claim of distinction is not a product, a service, your technology or closing times. Rather your brand encompasses  the values your company is founded upon that drives why people should want to do business with you if they have a need for what you offer. This “why” builds trust and a following based upon shared values. You don’t need to look far to see proof of this.

Here’s an example:

  • Nike: “Just do it.” Many companies are eminently qualified to produce a great athletic shoe, but Nike owns the market because it’s clear what they stand for and why they do what they do. They stand for action, and against laziness or inaction. They rally all those that think the same as they do and lead active lives.

What Nike has done to develop such a strong following is communicate their belief system. This belief system comes from deep within the company and leadership. This is called communicating from the inside out. As Simon Sinek once stated… “When we can communicate from the inside out, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior, and then we allow people to rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do. This is where gut decisions come from.”

Therefore, developing true brand differentiation is a science and requires a very different skill set than that needed for developing a marketing or PR strategy. Your brand is the foundation upon which all future communications are built. It provides a basis for how you hire, who you hire, future growth plans, business mergers/acquisitions, how you communicate, vendors you select and much more. All of these considerations are determined by your corporate brand and how you differentiate yourself at a deeper level than business tactics.

This type of differentiation has become increasingly important given the rise in the number of Millennials coming into the market as home-buyers, job seekers and decision makers. It’s not just Millennials as defined by an age range, but those also with a Millennial mindset. Because there are so many competing products and services out there with little difference between them, people and businesses are now looking for something more, something deeper to connect with.

Here are the top 5 misconceptions many marketing and public relations firms have about developing your brand differentiation…

1)    Assuming your brand differentiation can be accomplished vis a vis a good marketing and/or public relations strategy.

Developing your brand differentiation is a process by which a company defines who they are, how they’re different and why they exist. Then they define they’re unique selling points and the very essence of the company, beyond tactical items. It defines what drives you and why people should care about you and pay attention to you, not just because of a new campaign, enhanced product mix or service…but because of the emotional value you bring to them.

For example, emotions could include “satisfaction” or “trust”…they feel trust that conducting business with you will yield a favorable outcome. Another example may be “pride”…a sense of pride knowing that when they do business with you, they can count on certain things to happen that make them look good in the eyes of their colleagues, spouse, family, etc.

These and other emotions are the basis upon which all future marketing and public relations strategies are launched.

Establishing your brand differentiation must therefore precede marketing and public relations.

Marketing driven by differentiation beyond tactical items is the only kind of marketing that drives long-term sustainability and exponentially better ROI.

2)    Referring to your logo as a brand.

A logo is nothing more than an icon; a visual representation of a brand. It is not the brand itself.

When you see the logos of Rolex, John Deere, Ritz Carlton, Crest or any other brand for that matter, each makes you think of something based on experiences and perceptions. It’s because of experiences (brand touch points), reviews, word-of-mouth, etc. that these thoughts are generated. That’s brand driven marketing!

3)    Confusing or conflating your brand position and market positioning.

A brand position takes into account the emotional benefits a product/service provides to its target audience…like “satisfaction” or “trust” as mentioned earlier or any number of emotions that can be mixed and matched. Therefore, brand positioning, done well, is sustainable over the long haul and can withstand the ups and downs experienced in the mortgage industry.

Market positioning, on the other hand, is always in a state of flux due to the influence of outside factors whether they be political, economic, technological advances, competitive issues and so on.

Here’s a simple way to think about brand positioning…before the Mac, there were just computers.

4)    Believing that refreshing your logo refreshes your brand.

A logo refresh is nothing more than a visual face lift. Refreshing a logo without a matching refresh in the culture of your company and the offering of something new that is deemed to be desirable to your target audience does nothing more than confuse them. It makes them wonder what’s going on with your company that you now have a new logo. “What else is new?” they ask. If you don’t have a meaningful answer to this question, then refreshing your logo will be an exercise in futility.

For example, take Pepsi. They’ve been competing with Coca-Cola for market share as far back as we can remember. Coca-Cola’s logo has changed ever so slightly over the years since its inception 1886. Pepsi, on the other hand, has changed their logo nearly a dozen times. Except for small blips in increased market share due to short-lived Coca-Cola brand blunders, they’ve never managed to overtake Coca-Cola. This is perfect evidence of the fact that a logo refresh of and by itself doesn’t do much of anything to refresh or change the perception of your brand, except possibly add in a bit of confusion.

And then there are those cases where changing a logo can actually upset customers. This is precisely what happened when the Gap made a logo change – customers relentlessly voiced their strong disapproval of the new logo and the Gap had no choice but to apologize and go back to their original design. (I think Gap was pleasantly surprised that so many people were so passionate about the Gap brand.)

5)    Believing your brand is developed by gathering intelligence from your target audience, about your competitors or anywhere else outside your company.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a confusing and ineffective way to create a brand. It’s especially dangerous if you’re a mortgage company because of the intense competition that exists and how easy it is to sound like all of your competitors. It relies on the voices of those who have no knowledge of your companies’ intellectual or creative assets – the only assets that a brand can be built upon.

For example, the Mac would never have happened and we may not have iPhones if Steve Jobs looked to everyone else to tell him what his brand would become and what kind of a company and product he should build.

Building solid brand differentiation that connects with your audience is critical in today’s market. Remember, people make decisions with their emotions…it comes down to a gut instinct that tells them whether or not they can trust you and you will satisfy their needs. Great technology, fast closings, competitive rates/fees, knowledgeable appraisers, etc. are all expected items if you’re in business…but these are not items on which decisions are ultimately based. Decisions are made at a deeper level.