Eye on the prize

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When Don Stoddart re-entered the mortgage brokering scene in 2004 - after helping launch Mortgage Intelligence and serving as the company's regional vice-president in Ontario - he needed a way to reconnect with his client base, especially because he had been out of touch with his former Realtor referrals for so long.

Stoddart reviewed his marketing options and decided to run a contest where everyone who provided him with a funded referral was entered into a draw to win a trip for two to the Caribbean. He consulted his head office (he is now with Mortgage Architects) to review contest rules and advertised the promotion through client newsletters and word of mouth.

"The contest allowed me to reach out to my existing client base and thank them for their referrals," he says. "It also gave me a way to contact my database more often without bugging them too much."

As Stoddart's case demonstrates, contests can serve as an effective promotional tool for mortgage professionals and are a great way to give back to clients, create follow-up opportunities and boost branding. Both small and large brokerages can also partner with media or sponsor a contest as a way to enhance advertising efforts and get a company name and identity out  to consumers.

Choosing a purpose
When Louie Bettio, brand champion at Mortgage Alliance, helped launch the company's annual "minimize your mortgage" contest in 2007, the purpose of the promotion was to help the company stand out against banks, which is why the size of the prize is relatively large.

Any client who gets a mortgage through Mortgage Alliance is entered into a draw to win the balance of their mortgage, up to $100,000. Bettio says the company decided on a purchase-based contest so that it would serve as an "added value" for customers who support the brand.

"The contest is engaging consumers at the level of transaction, so after they've done business with us they're automatically entered into a sweepstakes," he says. "The primary objective is making it relevant to the consumer and relevant to the brand."

For the smaller, independent brokerage YourMortgageStore - which has offices in Barrie, Wasaga Beach, Collingwood and Elmvale, Ont. - the goal of the contest they're currently running is to get people in the door of the business. Anyone who comes in for a free mortgage consultation is put into a draw to win $1,000, regardless of whether they end up with a mortgage or not.

"Our philosophy is about educating the client and we can only educate them if they take the time to get into our office, so we don't use funding as a qualifying factor for the draw," says Heather Cox, YourMortgageStore's corporate marketing manager, adding the contest also allows the business to collect mailing list information for future initiatives.

A contest can serve as an annual marketing tool (as in Mortgage Alliance's case) or a one-time strategy to reach a certain objective. After running his Caribbean trip contest, Don Stoddart decided to start giving away gift cards and donating to charities as a way to thank clients for referrals, something John Bourassa and Debbie Belair (who run a Mortgage Architects office in Ottawa) also adopted following a contest initiative last year.

"Last year we wanted the bang factor of a more expensive prize and because we got hammered with two pretty serious winters, that was the stimulus for picking a cruise," says Bourassa, who also gave away a trip for two to the Caribbean. "This year we've changed our strategy and we're doing the gift cards, which give people more instant gratification."

Media partnerships
Since promoting a contest can be a lot of work, partnering with a media outlet can be an effective way to get more advertising support.

For example, along with its in-house promotion, YourMortgageStore recently partnered with a local radio station, Rock 95, which was running a contest called the "win a house party." Listeners had to call in or enter draws to win a ticket to the party, where the grand prize - a house - would be given away.

Because YourMortgageStore was already an advertiser on Rock 95, the station approached them to host a "live on location" event for the contest. People had to come to the store and fill out ballots to win tickets and they were also eligible to win door prizes (mostly branded products) provided by sponsors like Merix, Home Trust and Rogers.

"The door prizes created value to draw people in and it also created a point of contact because people had to return to the office to pick up the prizes," says Cox.

On a larger scale, Invis chose to go the media partnership route last year when it sponsored a contest for Chatelaine's Money Mavens Club, which gave online entrants the chance to win $15,000 off a mortgage funded through Invis. Anna Hewstan, marketing manager for the national brokerage, says the contest was an opportunity to raise awareness of the brand in a consumer magazine.

"The contest basically promoted Invis and the association of Invis with mortgages and homes," she says. "People responded well to it, and from the calls we received, we were able to retain contact with people who expressed interest in our company and refer them to our brokers."

Hewstan says partnering with a major media company like Rogers (who owns Chatelaine) was beneficial because full-page ads for the sponsored contest ran in a national publication, something that would be very expensive on its own. A post-contest blurb also appeared in the magazine.

"A media partner - if they see a benefit for their readers - will usually provide you with additional exposure at no extra cost," she says. "It would be very expensive to run a contest on our own, so if we were to do it again, it would definitely be with a partner."

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