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How to Market Subscriptions During a Down Economy: 6 Strategies That Will Bring Double-Digit Growth

January 13, 2008

Marketing in boom times has its own challenges, but when your customers do business in an industry experiencing a steep downturn, you face a new set of problems.

See how a company that markets online subscriptions to mortgage loan originators is weathering the impact of the home loan industry meltdown. Includes six tactics that resulted in double-digit revenue growth and an 87.5% lift in email response rates and registrations.

Marketing online subscriptions can be challenging in the best of economic conditions. When you market to an industry that goes into a steep downturn, you confront a different set of issues to attract customers.

Few industries have suffered the setback experienced by the US mortgage market in recent months. The impact has been felt by companies like LoanToolbox, which provides subscription-based online training and e-marketing services for mortgage brokers.

“As you can imagine, this whole mortgage meltdown was a marketing condition we hadn’t predicted. Year to date, we’ve lost an enormous number of brokers who’ve gone out of business,” says Torry Burdick, VP Marketing. “There’s a lot of flux and a lot of change. Our members and prospects have had to deal with that change, and as a result, so have we.”

Responding to this new economic landscape, Burdick and her team spent the past year developing new campaigns, adding and improving features for subscribers, and concentrating on cross-sell and upsell opportunities to attract and retain subscribers. LoanToolbox’s efforts resulted in revenue growth of 10% last year despite the tough market conditions.

Here are the top six tactics Burdick’s team used to weather the economic downturn:

Tactic #1. Develop new lead-generation campaign

Burdick’s team works from a marketing plan, but they recognized the need to “jump and jive” in the face of the industry crisis. “In a situation when the market is so rapidly changing, we looked at it as an opportunity. We asked ourselves: ‘How can we continue to service this market?’ ”

Last fall, they created an audio conference outlining what loan brokers need to do to continue funding their loans, building referral relationships and staying ahead of the competition during the credit crunch. The lead-generation steps they took:

Step #1: They contacted three industry experts to participate in the panel, asking them to offer specific tips and tools brokers could put to use right away.

Step #2: They recorded the teleconference and packaged it as a complimentary 60- minute audio presentation that loan brokers could access from the LoanToolbox website.

Step #3: They promoted the conference to their house member and prospect list with an email outlining the details:

  • Experts participating in the call
  • Key takeaways to expect
  • Hotlink to register to access the audio conference

The campaign took seven days to create and launch, and got an overwhelmingly positive response from members and prospects, Burdick says. More than 2,800 people registered to listen to the audio conference, and though she does not have a precise conversion rate, the campaign resulted in “many, many leads” for the company’s direct sales team.

“It was fast. We didn’t wait to write a new white paper, we just went right out and did it.”

Tactic #2. Develop new resources for members

Burdick’s team also focused on helping current members deal with changing market conditions. “Loan originators are looking for solutions, and we need to be there to provide them and say: ‘This is a beacon in the storm. It’s quite a situation we’re all in, and we’re going to ride it out with you.’ ”

Burdick’s content team put in a lot of overtime in the third quarter last year to deliver one of LoanToolbox’s most productive quarters ever. In 63 days, the team created 88 new tools, tips, resources and other pieces of content focused on the credit crunch, including:

  • Hot News page - featuring regulatory and industry news updates and links to new tools and resources from LoanToolbox.
  • FHA Resource Center - providing guidelines and tips and suggestions for mortgage brokers entering the Federal Housing Administration loan program.

Tactic #3. Redesign website to improve user experience

Retaining subscribers took on more importance for Burdick in 2007, when economic conditions threatened her customer-acquisition rate. So, her team completed a major redesign of their member site to make it more user-friendly.

Significant changes included:

  • New look and feel, with all content organized around the company’s “Pyramid of a complete loan officer” training philosophy.
  • Upgraded search function to make information easier to find.
  • New media center to centralize all audio and video content.
  • New loan officer assessment test, which walked members through 123 questions that evaluated their expertise in key areas, such as essential industry knowledge, sales and presentation skills, marketing acumen and business infrastructure and operational systems.

The assessment test also included links to relevant tools and content to help subscribers address their biggest weaknesses.

Tactic #4. Focus on integrated marketing

Burdick and her team concentrated on an integrated marketing approach that promoted specific campaigns in multiple channels.

For example, in a recent campaign promoting the Loan Officer Assessment Test, they piggybacked a voicemail broadcast on an email message to members who’d taken the test.

  • A voicemail message told members to watch their email inbox for a special offer.
  • The email was sent the same day and offered a personal evaluation of members’ test results from the company’s coaching division.

Burdick said the integrated voicemail/email campaign generated a 641% increase in response rate compared to an earlier, email-only promotion to the broader membership list that had introduced the assessment test.

Tactic #5. Look for cross-sell and upsell opportunities

Burdick’s team sought to stabilize their business by focusing on cross-sell and upsell opportunities with existing members.

One of their most successful campaigns, which was created in late 2006 just as the mortgage market began to struggle, featured a personalized, plastic “member rewards” card mailed to all existing subscribers.

The card entitled members to discounts on three LoanToolbox events and products:

  • Ticket to the company’s annual Business Plan conference
  • DVD recording of the Business Plan conference
  • Upgrade to the Platinum Plus membership level

The membership program was promoted through a five-week integrated campaign:

  • When the packages were sent out, Burdick’s team used a voicemail broadcast to tell members to be on the lookout for a special package from LoanToolbox.
  • A week after mailing the package, they sent an email with an embedded online video showing of the company’s founder, encouraging them to cash in their discounts.
  • Several HTML emails followed, reiterating the benefits offered by the card and highlighting the deadline for making discounted purchases.
  • As the deadline approached, a telemarketing team also followed up with members, encouraging them to use their discounts.

The campaign generated more than $550,000 in new revenue and delivered more than a 9x return on investment.

Tactic #6. Test and measure more than usual

Underlying all of Burdick’s efforts was an understanding that in tough market conditions, the fundamentals of sound marketing matter more than ever. That meant boosting their commitment to testing and measuring results. “It’s totally taken a front seat. We’re testing much more and really doing what we can to make sure what we do is most productive.”

Some of those tests have delivered breakthrough results. For example, the team usually uses HTML emails in its promotional messages, to retain the complete look and feel and branding of the LoanToolbox site. They wondered whether they could speed their time to market and reduce the amount of resources required to develop campaign if they went to an HTML-lite format instead.

They tested HTML vs. HTML-lite messages for a prospecting campaign that offered non-members a free marketing kit and a tour of LoanToolbox. Results: They saw an 87.5% boost in response rates, registration and lead generation.

Encouraged by the results, Burdick is conducting the test again to determine whether HTML-lite will offer them better results with less time and resources needed to produce. “The buckle down concept is right on. You don’t want to cut back on your marketing efforts, you just need to be smart about what you are doing.”



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