It's still over a year until voters will head to the polls to elect a new president, but the election machinery is already fired up and running. One of the lessons to come out of the early clashes between candidates is the great power of a personal brand.
The mortgage industry generally tends to be very conservative about embracing new marketing techniques, and definitely slow to adopt the concept of personal branding. But maybe we should take a lesson from the politicians who have gained an upper hand this year by playing up their quirky brands.
Mortgage bankers need to embrace the concept of letting employees leverage their personal brands to benefit the overall enterprise. Of course, good loan officers have been doing this for years. But good companies need to step up and provide tools that allow their people to be both more efficient and compliant in their personal branding activities.
Unfortunately for the mortgage industry, the best examples of iconic personal brands aren't always the most flattering. You have Lewis Ranieri, who was certainly a visionary for the secondary mortgage market but whose persona didn't exactly fare well in Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker. And of course, you have former Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo, famous for his great tan and not-so-great loan performance.
On the other hand, I think that David Stevens, CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association, has done a good job building a personal brand, while representing the interests of mortgage bankers in Washington.
Before we go any farther, please understand that my commentary here is not meant to endorse any candidate, or to open up the typically partisan debate about the merits of any individual. I am merely pointing out the impact that personal brand has on the campaign trail.
Donald Trump is of course, the easiest example. Much more celebrity than politician, "The Donald" has spent his entire career crafting his personal brand. It's huge — the myriad Trump Towers dotting city skylines around the globe are a testament to the strategy behind his oversized brand.
Bernie Sanders is also a good example. Sen. Sanders is definitely an unconventional candidate, but he has a very personable way of communicating with people that cultivates a very individual brand. He is not a traditional Democrat—by far—but he still packs them in.
I have also worked to create a personal brand. I didn't originally set out to do it; it was a byproduct of my willingness to make fun of myself (and others), and to poke fun at our industry. It certainly has helped my business, as folks often say to me, "Oh, you're the guy who wrote that crazy article comparing technology to a plumber's butt," or "you wrote that article about what lenders can learn from Bruce Springsteen," and the one where I talked about taking selfies in the context of Anthony Weiner. (Maybe our industry isn't so conservative after all!)
Ultimately, with so much of our connectedness being digital, these personal brands become very powerful. Millennials, a demographic growing in importance, collect and process information through their connectedness. Information moves so quickly that a strong brand can infiltrate a huge audience almost overnight.
A few years ago, this would have seemed strange. We were trained to expect to make 27 impressions on a prospect before you could expect that person to take any action at all on your advertisement. Today, information can go viral and become a sensation almost immediately.
Evidence suggests this is the new norm—which makes having a strong personal brand just as important, or perhaps more important than, having a strong corporate brand.
This might also prove to be a problem for our industry. Compliance is a powerful driver and it pushes corporate management to put heavy controls on the personal branding activity of its employees. This might not be a big deal in your operations department, but it has a significant impact on your sales and marketing.
When the corporate brand has already been established in the minds of your prospects, the personal brands of your people are the only things you have to fall back on. We're seeing that now in the run-up to the 2016 election. The corporate brands that form the halos around the political parties themselves have been beaten up almost beyond recognition. No one knows what they stand for anymore.
Consequently, these corporate brands are not supporting the candidates running now, which may be why Trump could wind up abandoning the party if he doesn't win the nomination. He has raised the stakes by tossing his personal brand into the pot.
It all starts with a good social media strategy; we learned that in 2008, and again in 2012. If you have a happy customer, you ought to embrace the fact that they are willing to recommend you on social media. Our research shows that nearly three out of four happy customers will do just that—if they are asked.
Too often, companies create policies focused on what can't be done, and are loath to embrace a marketing solution where customers and employees can be ambassadors for your brand and product. Mortgage companies need to create policies and practices that are about what can be done, rather than what can't.
If our elected representatives can find a way to ease our regulatory compliance burden a bit, this would certainly be easier to accomplish.
On the other hand, if Trump is elected, we might have to hope he doesn't fire our entire industry for failing to finance one of his buildings.
Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group and has more than 25 years of mortgage experience.