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Branding that differentiates: why change a strong brand that's already ruling the roost in the marketplace? Carlene du Toit spoke to mortgage broker Miranda Caird.

Rebrand and rule the roost!

This is exactly what Miranda Caird has done with her franchise business, Roost Mortgage Brokers, formerly known as Mortgage Choice. Some time after the setting of the sun on 12 March 2006, Mortgage Choice ceased to exist and in its place the next morning at'cock crow', there was Roost in all its new regalia. "All the old advertising material--right around the network of 32 franchises in ten centres throughout New Zealand--was ripped down overnight and replaced with the new branding such as signage and stationery," says Chris Taylor of Taylor Brand Partnerships, who played a pivotal role in the dramatic changeover.

Caird started her mortgage broking business after 15 years of experience at a bank. The dream first came to her while she and her husband were attending a financial planning conference in Dallas in the US.

"At that time mortgage broking was strongly established in the US," says Caird. "And the more I thought about it the more I realised that the time was right for it to be well received in New Zealand. After all, the lending industry had been steadily undergoing deregulation there since the 1980s."

Prior to that time, she says, it was a major rigmarole to buy a house with the entire industry very formally structured and rigid. Shortly after first entertaining the idea, Caird found herself pregnant and in a contemplative mood at home. Now the deep soul searching that every mother-to-be goes through, began. Did she really want to go back to the bank and lose out on the crucial bonding that takes place between mother and child in those first few months? The answer, she soon realised, was "no"--she wanted to enjoy her relationship with her child without being at the beck and call of an employer.

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"Everyone has the right to control their own destiny--make their own way in life and choose the path they want to go"--is Caird's philosophy.

In addition, her prospects for promotion at the bank were slim, she felt. Motherhood represented a golden opportunity for her to do something she was passionate about. And so, in 1993, Caird established Mortgage Advantage (Otago) Ltd.

Uncharted territory

At first it was tough and she came up against a lot of opposition from the banks that did not see any need for a broker--they were writing up enough mortgage business themselves, thank you very much. Caird persisted, however, as she had clear indications from consumers in Dunedin, where she was based, that they were entitled to choice and impartiality when choosing a home loan.

With the concept of mortgage broking still in its infancy in this country and being a female broker to boot, which was virtually unheard of, Caird was in uncharted territory and like all pioneers she felt alone at times. At that stage, she explains, very few women were attracted to the industry but with the development of appropriate software, all that has changed and the male-female ratio is very different today.

Supported by her husband and "fantastic parents", Miranda was undeterred. She learned to successfully juggle her various roles as wife, mother and businesswoman. "You simply have to step out of the one role and into the other and learn to switch off--after all when it comes to relationships it's quality and not quantity that counts," she says, referring to her relationship with her 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. Eventually her gut feel proved to be right and Caird's business became so successful that three years after it had been founded, the move to a nationwide presence became the next logical step.

So in 1996 she purchased the rights from franchisor, Mortgage Choice in Australia, to set up Mortgage Choice NZ Ltd--modelling her string of franchises on Mortgage Advantage as the flagship operation.

Today Caird's business is the second largest mortgage broking franchise in New Zealand. It works with 16 lenders and markets to more than 33,000 clients.

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Her success can be attributed to her ability to develop robust relationships with lenders as well as franchisees. She was acknowledged for this strength in 2001 when she was honoured as "Businesswoman of the Year". Caird's business has also won several franchise awards over the past few years, as well as the Regional Broker of the Year award for four years in succession.

Why rebrand?

Given that Mortgage Choice was already a powerful force in its field, what made Caird decide to rebrand?

It's all about differentiation in a crowded marketplace.

"With the emergence of specialist lenders and a change from inflexible lending criteria, it has become imperative for would-be home-buyers to weigh up their various options," explains Caird.

"Many mortgage brokers fail to tell customers about the flexibility and choice available to them in the market place. This can result in home buyers signing fixed contracts that do not fit their needs or suit their requirements," she says.

"As integrity is our core value, we wish to distance ourselves from such operators." Although the industry does engage in self-regulation, she strongly advises consumers who wish to go through brokers to protect themselves by insisting on a signed disclosure document and getting an answer to the following questions:

* How are you paid and are you paying referral fees--if so are you independent from the referrer?

* How many lenders will you be dealing with on my behalf and who are they?

* Has a lender ever cancelled your broker agreement?

* How do you know you are getting me the best deal--on what computerised systems are you basing your recommendation?

"To further enhance our business integrity," says Caird, "in 2001 we invested millions in creating LoanFinder, a fully integrated computerised customer relations management system which is completely unique in the market place.

"This powerful, yet sensitive tool enables us to deliver on our promise to find the best possible mortgage for the particular individual. It is simply not possible to carry all the relevant information in one's head and without LoanFinder it is not possible for my franchisees to look their client in the eye and promise that they are giving him or her the best possible option," says Caird.

"We also believe in complete transparency and our clients are welcome to look over our shoulders as LoanFinder sets to work finding them the right home loan for their situation."

It took several years to develop LoanFinder. The process began in 2000 when Caird drew up a wish list with her franchisees incorporating all the operations they would require of their dream computer program. This list was then submitted to the "IT guys" who went to great lengths to incorporate all the specs into a plan on which to base the architecture for the software program. As it progressed, the program drilled deeper and became more and more refined.

"It was a bit like drawing up a plan for a house that specifies brass door handles as opposed to metal door handles," she explains.

LoanFinder incorporates all the lending criteria of the various lenders.

"All our franchisees have to do is feed in the borrower's details and the program will access the bank or lender that will provide that specific borrower with a loan. The next step is for LoanFinder to compare the various options available to the borrower--and to select the best one."

The rebranding process

Having decided to rebrand in order to differentiate the franchise from its opposition, Caird set about the process with the aid of Auckland-based brand specialists, Taylor Brand Partnerships. The first thing she wanted them to establish was the public's (as represented by Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch) perception of mortgage brokers.

"It was a real eye-opener," she says, "to discover that there was very little understanding of the service and that clients were under the impression that they had to pay for it--whereas brokers' fees are actually paid by the lenders with whom they place the business."

The second thing that Caird wished to establish was why her clients had chosen to do business with her and how they saw her opposition.

Brand Partnerships was charged with the task of undertaking the market research and devising a strategy to come up with a suitable new brand for her business.

Brand strategizing in this instance, says Brand Partnership's Chris Taylor, involved identifying an existing brand's strength and weaknesses.

"Then we had to figure out how to build on those strengths while improving on the weak points. Depending on what our research revealed we would then take a decision to consolidate the brand if it was perceived to be going in the right direction from the perspective of the customers, or we would decide to recreate it from scratch.

"What we found with Mortgage Choice is that the brand had a lot of inherent strengths on which it was failing to capitalise due to several factors.

"Overall it was viewed as being competent and professional, strong and respected, with lots of expertise and easy to access. Some aspects of the brand image, however, were found to be incongruent with consumers' experience of the brand. The name in itself was a problem area due to its close association with other mortgage brokers with similar names and the logo was perceived as being quite staid and conservative--in strong contrast to the perception of the brand as being dynamic and innovative.

"The strong delivery of the business and its perceived integrity did not match up with the overall look and feel of the brand," says Taylor.

"Once we'd established where the brand was failing and devised a strategy to bring it more in line both with the image that Caird wished to project and with the public's perception of it, we had basically performed our function. Thereafter it was a question of matching our client up with an advertising agency we felt would do the brand justice.

"We presented them with a short list of three, from which they chose the agency they felt best fitted them. We then helped our client to brief the agency and to assess the subsequent creative strategy put forward according to decision points we had established."

"We feel the new branding is a perfect fit with the business," says Taylor. "A roost is literally a sleeping place and the name conjures up images of home and security. At the same time it is a name that is easy to remember and totally different to the name of any other mortgage broker in the country. I am looking forward to the rolling out of the advertising campaign over the radio and national TV over the next 12 months."

Carlene du Toit is an Auckland-based freelance writer. Email carlene250@clear.net.nz
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Title Annotation:branding
Author:du Toit, Carlene
Publication:NZ Business
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:1788
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