In Britain we are continually bombarded by advertisements and promotions that scream website addresses at us, through media such as billboards, TV, newspapers, and magazines down to the packaging on our food. And, with the majority of businesses now relying heavily on the internet, it is now uncommon for office workers not to have email and internet access. The internet is all around us and has become an integral part of our culture. It is in this context that internet marketing has become such a powerful tool and a major player in the business world. Therefore, while it may seem logical to assume that few companies do not have a website ‘ especially in the financial sector ‘ it is worrying to note that around 40% of all financial brokers do not.
This is an area that cannot be ignored, and the benefits speak for themselves (see box on page 24). The internet has become one of the most powerful forms of media that exists today. But why should mortgage advisers spend time and energy investing in a website when their business is already doing well?
Essentially, the internet is a medium advisers can easily tap into; it is instantly accessible to all without discrimination. Anyone can set up a website with minimal cost either by using an internet programme, or by outsourcing the work to a website designer, although the latter would give the website a more professional look.
The essential selection
So what should a mortgage adviser’s website include? To begin with, a common misconception is that websites have to be expensive and complicated; this is not true. The more simple the website, the more people will use it. Likewise, setting up and running a website does not have to be expensive. If a state-of-the-art web publisher incorporates unique features within the site, which are constantly updated and changed then, yes, a site might be expensive. However, with the market as it is, it has never been more cost-effective to set up a standard website. Standard sites take no more than a few hours to set up with the initial costs being for the web publisher (if one is used), the internet service provider (ISP) and the domain name (the name by which the site is referred to).
A website should be easy to use, useful to clients, and function correctly. As the host, the broker will need to ensure the most easily recognisable information on the site is that which browsers or potential customers view the most. For example, contact details need to be prominent on the homepage, if it is to work at all. Remember, most enquirers are looking for convenience, something to make their life easier, and that a person of average ability and experience should be able to use the website for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.
As an advertising medium a website is a form of advertising in its own right, and a cheap alternative to advertising in the press, or on the TV or radio. It is a format that allows advisers to convey key business messages without interruption, alteration or other ‘media noise’ and is guaranteed to attract more clients than the typical adviser would realistically come into contact with in day-to-day business. It is easily accessible 24-hours a day and provides instant information, in real time, making it a 24-hour advert, however, to date responses are still fairly low.
Nevertheless, one of the fundamental selling points of a website is that it is a mechanism for building relationships. Not only does it enable advisers to communicate with potential customers at their leisure and in their personal space, it is an opportunity to catch their attention and draw them into a business proposition, potentially increasing business levels by raising the profile and accessibility of the business.
A website can also help improve customer service levels as it can provide answers to the more general enquiries and act as a first point of contact for those wanting more information. Providing the contact details are prominent and automatic email facilities are activated, an enquirer could email for more information, thereby building up a database for further contact and e-marketing campaigns.
An e-marketing campaign is usually found in the form of email campaigns. By carefully targeting clients an adviser can send personalised standard emails to clients to raise awareness of their business advertising, the business’ unique selling points and the services on offer. A campaign can be sent to a database of existing customers or enquirers, made up of compiled information received from the website. However, it is common to buy a list of email addresses specifically targeting the intended customer base. However, advisers choosing this route must remain mindful of the Data Protection Act and the Telecommunications Regulations. Some customers will have requested not to be contacted via email, and if they are subsequently contacted they can prosecute. This is irrelevant if a customer offers their email address, but check against any ‘bought in’ lists.
Any email campaign should be personalised. For example, each email should be addressed to the customer by name, not friend, sir, madam and so on. This is not only impersonal, but also out of date: today’s direct marketing is so sophisticated customers expect nothing less. It needs to be short and simple, using real English ‘ not trade jargon ‘ and preferably using bullet points and sub-headings. In the first few lines the reason for the email must be stated, for example:
• You visited on x date.
• You bought x product.
• Explain the new offer.
It is worth highlighting that there needs to be someone who can reply to the electronic responses. There is nothing worse than sending out a great email, attracting interest via email, but not having the facilities to respond in a relatively fast time. This is something to be aware of, the internet is instant but users often expect response times to be instant too.
Sometimes, email campaigns are unsuccessful due to a number of factors. If this is the case, do not give up, it may simply be a case of changing frequency, the heading, the length, or the time of day the email has been sent.
If success is still not forthcoming, then an affiliate e-marketing campaign might be the solution. By the end of 2002, e-commerce specialist, Jupiter Research, estimated 25% of the expected US$37.5bn in global internet retail sales, not including automotives, will have originated on affiliate websites.
Under an affiliate scheme the details of one company are published under another’s website and visa versa. For example, an adviser’s logo, a brief description of the business and a link to the website could be placed on an estate agent’s site. Theoretically, customers looking to buy a property will look at an adviser’s services if they are interested in getting a good mortgage deal or insurance. Obviously there will need to be a pre-agreement clarifying that a fee for the amount of traffic, or every person that visits the site from the estate agent, will be paid. Likewise their details will be on the adviser’s website. Affiliate schemes are one of the most effective methods of online marketing. It is a way of matching the proposition to the target audience, raising the profile of the brand and adding value to customers without interrupting them. It can also give companies credibility, especially if the affiliate partner is a well-known, highly-respected business.
A website can be the new star sales person, and new office premises ‘ whether the business is small or large is irrelevant. If the website is useful, easy to use, and well structured, the business’ brand profile will rise, customer service standards will be increased and ultimately sales could escalate. Can anyone afford not to venture into the world of websites?
Internet facts and figures:
• 600 million people worldwide are online, of which 97% use email.
• In the US and Europe, consumers are subjected to 200 messages per day either through phone, voice mail, mail and faxes (this is often referred to as ˜noise’).
• 360,000 emails are sent in the UK every second.
• 42% of all UK households are online.
• 58% or 34.3 million of the UK population is online.
• 78% of users access the web at home.
• 15% of users use it to access financial services.