A brand can be just as powerful for small brokerages as it can for big players, as FirstPoint NB proves with its structured approach to marketing
SOME OF Australia’s largest brokerages have become household names thanks to effective branding but the same degree of success can be replicated on a smaller scale for brokerages that adopt effective local area marketing.
Brands such as Aussie and Mortgage Choice are recognised by consumers across the board after a decade or more of extensive marketing.
With a national footprint, the biggest brokerages need to ensure that their brokers and franchisees are supported across the company’s entire network.
As you’d imagine this doesn’t come cheap.
But while smaller brokerages don’t have access to the marketing war chest held by the big players, there is no reason why the success of the biggest groups can’t be replicated on a smaller scale.
FirstPoint NB is one brokerage that is thinking big about its boutique business.
The Cronulla-based company opened its doors in 2008 and has since been capitalising on its Sutherland Shire heritage.
Most recently it has been implementing a community-focused marketing strategy in the hope of becoming the first choice for borrowers in South Sydney.
“I think the days of saying ‘I’ll shop around for you and get the cheapest rate’ are long gone,” FirstPoint NB director Troy Phillips says.
“If people don’t know what you stand for and that you’re there for the long term I don’t think you’re going to be around for long.”
FirstPoint has a number of pillars in its marketing mix and one of those is high visibility local advertising.
The brokerage recently launched an ad campaign with the property section of their local newspaper, the Sutherland Shire Domain.
The campaign includes two full page ads featuring company director Troy Phillips and a number of half-page advertorials, each one giving an example of how FirstPoint helped reduce an existing customer’s repayments.
“We featured Troy in the campaign because he’s a local Shire boy and we are really using that as an opportunity for us to be a part of the Shire and to sell to people in that local area,” FirstPoint NB marketing manager Alexandra Luffman says.
The self-confessed “people person” says he sees the campaign as an opportunity to get closer to the clients.
“I’ve always enjoyed getting out in public,” Mr Phillips says.
“If you are going to market yourself you’ve got to be prepared to put the effort in yourself and be the one to follow up with leads.”
As well as advertising in local publications, FirstPoint has developed a real estate referral program, “FirstPoint Experience”, which actively encourages the relationship between brokers and agents as referral partners.
In conjunction with its referral program and in keeping with the message of its print ads, the company has used its RP Data subscription to send weekly letters to people who have recently listed their property in the local area.
“The message in those letters is consistent with our advertising campaign in the hope that people might see the ad, glimpse over it, receive a letter and think ‘Let’s give these guys a go’,” Mr Phillips says.
The various arms of the strategy are consistent with delivering the same message and building the FirstPoint brand.
The message is simple: “to lower your repayments and increase your options”.
Their major point of difference is the offering of a ‘high touch’ service, which looks at the home loan as part of a client’s bigger picture and takes into account their financial goals.
At the beginning of this year, Ms Luffman developed a marketing plan and a basic media and activity program to help steer FirstPoint towards its goals.
By mapping out the objectives for the business, the strategy can be re-visited on a monthly basis and current tactics can be adjusted as required, Ms Luffman says.
“Marketing needs to be structured so that everything you do supports the marketing strategy and to ensure you get maximum impact from your effort and spend.”
Every new enquiry is asked how they heard about FirstPoint – a way of measuring the success of the strategy on a campaign basis.
Feedback from sales people, clients and local businesses is all part of the reviewing process.
Ms Luffman says measuring the success of the brand is difficult because, although it is constantly building awareness, it may not deliver a lead directly into your hands.
“It might not be an advertisement a person responds to but the letter they receive or a recommendation from someone they know.
“When they hear ‘FirstPoint’ they will think ‘I’ve heard of them, I saw their ad’.
“This recall adds credibility and increases our chances of doing business with them,” she says.
Around 75 per cent of FirstPoint’s business comes through referrals from existing customers, the remaining 25 per cent from direct advertising.
Mr Phillips believes the marketing strategy supports much of the referral business.
“As I see it, the 75 per cent that took a loan through us see us in the paper, and when someone else asks them who they should deal with they recommend us,” he says. “So I reckon the marketing reinforces that 75 per cent as well.”
Planning and managing a marketing budget takes time so FirstPoint decided to engage an experienced marketing manager to take care of the entire process.
FirstPoint’s annual marketing budget of in excess of $130,000 is managed by Ms Luffman.
“You want to make sure you get bang for your buck,” Mr Phillips says.
“You don’t want the directors of the business handling the marketing budget; you want someone like Alex who can put her touch and feel over that marketing side of the business.”
Having a single point of responsibility for the strategy was important for FirstPoint.
The decision to bring Ms Luffman on board was driven by her professionalism and experience with second-tier lenders.
Ms Luffman had previously held a position as national marketing manager of Homeloans Ltd where she worked alongside Mr Phillips.
“Alex is the person who keeps the business on track and ultimately has the final sign off,” Mr Phillips says.
“You need to have someone who’s an expert. You must have a budget to start with and it must be a budget that’s realistic.”
Having ticked all these boxes, Mr Phillips believes the current state of the industry creates the perfect environment to start building a brand name.
With increased competition amongst the big banks there is a massive opportunity for brokerages of a reasonable size to start taking control of their future, Mr Phillips says.
“I think the exit fee ban is going to prompt the good brokerages to build a brand.”
Mr Phillips admits he has made some marketing mistakes in the past, but insists a belief in the proposition and the brand goes a long way.
With FirstPoint’s biggest lender being parent company MAS Funder, branding has the added value of promoting their product.
MAS Funder was established as a wholesale funding business by directors Troy Phillips and Brett Hartley in response to the constant squeeze of broker margins and back books not delivering what they used to.
Phillips and Hartley saw the opportunity to return profitability and business value to brokers, setting up MAS Funder in July 2003.
FirstPoint has since become a retail channel to distribute the product of MAS Funder.
“These days you’ve just got to be out there marketing your own product,” Mr Phillips says.
“If you’re not selling your own product where you can take one per cent up front and actually own the client experience, you’re mad.”
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