Whether you're a start-up or a thriving company in the mortgage industry, there's a laundry list of items associated with a typical marketing plan that dominate discussions. These items can include website updates, specific campaigns, public relations activities, your social media presence, event sponsorships and the list goes on and on.

Company stakeholders directly associate tactics like these with driving business and meeting financial goals. But, the success of these tactics in driving mortgage origination volume or sales of other mortgage-related products and services relies heavily upon your brand…the consistency and quality of interactions between your target audience and all of the touch points within your company like salespeople/mortgage originators, your receptionist, underwriters, website, social media venues and much more. This consistency builds trust. 

If the quality and consistency are not there, it won't matter how cheap or how great your product is. You will lose a good percentage of opportunity because the overall trust in your company to perform is lacking. Worse yet, as competitors discover your weaknesses and directly or indirectly exploit them, this will further exacerbate the problem. 

Therefore your corporate brand has to be front and center at all times. It must be understood, lived and communicated by all in every way which builds consistency and trust. 

Too often, discussions around the brand include visual items, your name, tagline or creating a marketing/public relations plan due to a misunderstanding of what a "brand" really is and how it's developed. Some even view a brand as something unattainable, a luxury for only very large companies who have crazy marketing budgets. Yet others view it as something "soft" wherein the return on investment is non-existent or cannot really be quantified. None of this is true!

Why the lack of understanding? It is partially driven by so many definitions of "branding" or "brand" that it has become hard for many to discern exactly what it's all about. Many of these definitions are created by marketers who lack the credentials to have a deep conversation about the brand.

Evaluation of or development of a brand requires a different skill set altogether from that of developing a marketing or PR strategy. This is because your brand is the underpinning of your communications strategy. Stated another way, it's the foundation upon which your communications activities are built and launched. Like a house, if the foundation has cracks, the structure will be unstable and could even collapse.

Understand what your brand is and what it is not. A brand is most appropriately defined as "a claim of distinction reinforced by the evidence of performance." This means that if you say "excellent service" is your claim of distinction, then your evidence of performance on this claim must be apparent through every interaction you have with your target audience through every touch point within your company. It spreads through social media venues and old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Now you understand how the definition is applied.

Your marketing and PR strategy focuses on communicating your claim(s) of distinction and promoting your products and services. Your brand, however, focuses on what your claim(s) of distinction is/are, what your evidence of performance is and whether any of it is compelling enough to drive your audience to want to do business with you. See the difference? Now you can understand why a brand is your foundation.

Following is some insight into the financial benefits of having a strong brand and how it will more than offset the expense associated with its development.

Four Facts that Tie Higher Marketing ROI to a Great Brand

1. A great brand commands a higher price and/or market share for your loan origination system system, collateral valuation technology, mortgage company, title company, credit reporting company, etc. Don't believe me? Take a look at any sector of the industry, ask yourself who's doing most of the business and why. The answers come down to the emotional benefit people perceive they can expect from doing business with that company which is directly tied to their brand, assuming your pricing is commensurate with what you offer. 

This also holds true for much smaller scale companies. If you're a small or medium size business, the only hope you have in competing and thriving through the good and bad times runs deeper than simply what you offer.

2. If your audience sees that you can command a price premium or higher market share, then this furthers the perception that the benefits you offer must be superior. If the top five originators, for example, consistently command most of the origination volume, they're winning for a reason, much of which comes down to the intangible benefits as many companies can provide the same tangible products. 

If this were not true, then people would determine with whom to do business by drawing a name from a hat. We know this isn’t how business is done. People have their preferences based on past experience, experience of their peers, what they hear, read and much more, all of which drive them to one lender over another even without having had direct experience with that lender.

3. The positive perception of a product or service leads to its natural selection as pointed out above. In a competitive marketplace, this leads to higher usage and brand loyalty.

This positive perception logically is the biggest driver of a company's ROI. According to a research study conducted by David Aaker in his book "Building Strong Brands", "perceived quality is the single most-important contributor to a company's ROI, having more impact than market share, R&D [research and development], or marketing expenditures…Improve perceived quality and the organization's ROI will improve."

4. Perceived quality is therefore a point of differentiation that a brand can leverage to its advantage. If you leverage this perceived quality to your advantage, then you can command a price premium or higher market share, which goes back to the first point.

Developing a unique brand is a very introspective process. It requires your mortgage company or other industry entity to dig deep for answers to the key questions of who you are, why you’re different and why you exist. Done well, the answers to these questions form the basis for your true brand essence and your brand positioning.