The search for new business can sometimes take lenders into fairly unlikely environments. Case in point: a number of mortgage lenders have staked a claim on MySpace, the online site that was originally designed to help self-promoting bands before it evolved into the social networking phenomenon for the youth market.
In concept, the pairing of mortgage banking and MySpace might seem on the far side of bizarre. But consider the number of people hooked up on MySpace – a reported 106 million as of September 2006 and a daily registration average of 230,000, and Alexa Internet has named it to the top 10 web sites in the world. While the site is not exclusively designed for the youth market, a disproportionate number of users are in their twenties.
Factor that in with the philosophy of the no-stone-unturned school of marketing, and the presence of mortgage banking on MySpace begins to make sense.
As of this writing, the major mortgage banking players are not currently on MySpace. But there are a good number of smaller, regional-specific lenders planting stakes. These lenders literally have nothing to lose by promoting themselves on MySpace, since it is a free service to join. But what have they gained for being there?
For Motor City Community Credit Union (MCCCU), headquartered in Windsor, Ontario, MySpace has provided a connection with an elusive demographic.
‘We needed to start targeting a younger market,’ explains Melissa McCarty, business development/sales representative at MCCCU. ‘Among our members, the average age was around 52. We figured the best way to reach the younger demographic was to go directly to them – a lot of younger people don't know who we are and what we're about. Lots of younger people don't even know what a credit union is.’
Keeping the Net spirit of interactivity alive, the MCCCU MySpace page is rich in conversation rather than monologues. ‘We've had great interaction with our friends,’ explains McCarty. (MySpace people who are linked to each other's pages are ‘friends.’) ‘They've asked questions about credit scores. Credit scores were not something we thought about covering, so we posted information on that on our blog.’
Another lender taking this marketing avenue is State Street Mortgage of Illinois. As with MCCCU, the company is using MySpace to introduce itself to a younger customer demographic.
‘It's amazing how many young people are buying homes,’ says Bill Clanton, manager at State Street Mortgage. ‘Even 18-year-olds are buying homes.’
Clanton also uses MySpace to clearly show how much State Street Mortgage has in common with its desired target market: the company's MySpace page features a music video of Shakira performing ‘Hips Don't Lie.’ For Clanton, the sultry singer's presence makes perfect sense in the middle of a page devoted to mortgage banking topics.
‘We're just trying to be fun and show that we're real people,’ he explains. ‘We want to bond with people at more than one level and show that we're not just a suit.’
But Clanton, who beefs up his hipster cred by volunteering that he rides a Harley-Davidson and wears a tie only for formal business meetings, nonetheless acknowledges he relied on an expert consultant for the Shakira video selection.
‘I asked my 16-year-old daughter about that,’ he says with a laugh. ‘She hangs out with the 22-year-olds, and they're the ones buying the homes.’
Brewery Credit Union also relied on a member of the youth brigade to set up shop on MySpace.
‘I have a MySpace account for myself, and I was showing it to my boss,’ recalls Kristin Zalewski, a 21-year-old member service representative at the Milwaukee-based credit union. ‘He thought it would be a good idea for us to have a MySpace account.’
Zalewski is in charge of updating Brewery Credit Union's MySpace page, which will enable people to make direct inquiries for loan applications, including mortgages and home equity products.
None of the MySpace-active lenders can trace specific mortgage applications to MySpace, but all acknowledge that being a part of their target market's cyber-environment helps keep them relevant.
‘All of the kids are on MySpace,’ says Clanton. ‘We want to be on any avenue that gets us their attention.’
‘No one asked specifically about that,’ says McCarty about MCCCU's MySpace audience. ‘But we're providing them with information to think about it – until such time they are ready to do so, then they'll think about us.’
Indeed, the absence of the major mortgage banking companies from MySpace has been viewed as a blessing – particularly when it comes to leveling the marketing playing field without making a heavy financial investment.
‘The big guys have the financial tools to advertise on radio and TV – they don't think of MySpace as a tool,’ says Zalewski. ‘We have 6,000 members and we don't have the funds to advertise that way. This is the advantage for using MySpace as a tool.’