Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Trendwatch: Is everyone selling real estate

It's no exaggeration to say that the real estate industry (and by extension, the mortgage lending industry) has been among the most important drivers of our economy over the last few years. Some would argue that it is the largest factor on the plus side of our economic balance sheet. But the boom may be ending. According to a recent story reported by RealTrends:

Sales of new homes soared at a record pace in October in what could be a last
hurrah for the booming housing market. The Commerce Department said that sales
of new single-family homes shot up by 13 percent last month, the biggest
one-month gain in more than 12 years. The increase pushed sales to an all-time
high seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.42 million units. The increase
confounded analysts who had been predicting that new home sales would decline by
1.8 percent, reflecting continued increases in mortgage rates. It was possible
that the unexpected surge reflected a final rush by buyers to get into the
market before mortgage rates climb higher.

It might be time for those that specialize in gathering low-hanging fruit to start thinking about moving out of real estate sales. Using the National Association of Realtor's current membership as an indicator, that could be a lot of folks.

Consultant Mark Dangelo, author of Innovative Relevance, recently sent me this note:

In a sign of the times, when I was shuttling in taxis during my Chicago visit my
cabbie gave me his Realtor's card...it seems everyone is now in the business of
selling properties.

That may be changing.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Meetings: IDG show to focus on blogging

IDG World Expo will offer "Syndicated Company and Product Environments" as a conference track at its upcoming Syndicate show, December 12-14 at the Hilton San Francisco. The track will discuss how companies of all sizes (from corporate titans like GM to neighborhood book stores) are syndicating all kinds of content in pursuit of real business goals.

Syndicate conference shows how syndication and social media tools such as RSS, blogs and podcasts are transforming the way businesses do business. The "Syndicated Company and Product Environments" track is one of four tracks, and it is geared to help companies learn how to better interact with and directly inform their customers.

"It's only six months since the first Syndicate in New York, and already the whole field has grown enormously," said Doc Searls, Syndicate conference chairperson. "There are more than 20 million blogs now. Podcasting has gone mainstream. "Tagging" is a hot new topic that will grow and change just in the three days at Syndicate. Syndicated "Live Web" search is booming, and diversifying with each new service that enters the field. Publishing, broadcasting, website management, advertising, PR, corporate communications and countless other fields are being changed rapidly by syndication."

We won’t be attending this show. We’ve just come off four major trade show in the past 8 weeks. Besides, we’re already sold on these new media tools.

But if you’re planning on attending the show and would like to record a podcast with us from the event, drop us a line.

Sessions in the "Syndicated Company and Product Environments" track include:
-- "Corporate Blogging," veteran corporate bloggers from Yahoo!, Forrester Research, NewsGator Technologies and WhatCounts discuss best practices for corporate blogging.
-- "RSS, Blogs, PodCasts and the New Marketing Mix," examines where these tools fit in a company's marketing strategy. Are they brand builders, or are they direct marketing programs? If the latter, what are the metrics and where is the ROI?
-- "Advertising in Blogs & RSS," with the SVP for Interactive Marketing at Turner Broadcast (TBS), and executives from Blogads, Pheedo and Marqui. Discusses how to pick the right blogs and bloggers to advertise with; discusses demographics, reach, impressions, visitors and influence.
-- "Conversational Marketing," discusses how online mavens and influentials can kill or catapult a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign in hours or days.
-- "RSS & Brand: Winning the Trust Battle with Customers," speakers from Google, SimpleFeed and Intuit discuss how smart companies are giving up the sales lead, but gaining an evangelist.
-- "After the Search Marketing Revolution," with speakers from IBM, eLoan.com and 360i.com. This session reviews successful search engine marketing strategies and then looks at what might succeed them.

Sounds like it could be worth the time if you’re still on the fence. By this time next year, your competitors will all be heavily invested in these new tools, so if you still need more information, get to San Francisco – or give us a call.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Idea: Don't kill content for the Web

Have you noticed how some companies treat their Web-based investor relations events like big game? Their webinars are these beautiful, living things that capitalize on many of the promises of the Internet. Then, afterward, they take that presentation, kill it, gut it, mount it onto a PDF and stick it on some back-of-the-site real estate on their investor relations website where it stares out lifelessly like a trophy mountain goat on the CEO’s den wall. If you miss the event, you get to peruse the PowerPoint slides in Adobe Acrobat.

Could it be done better? Let us count the ways:

1) Someone hit the record button. Turn the resulting file into a low-bandwidth MP3 file. Have someone read the Safe Harbor statement at the beginning and end. Create a simple XML file to turn it into an RSS file and serve it up to journalists on their terms.

2) Do No. 1 above and then put the PowerPoint slides into a PDF file. Place a little sound in the sound file whenever you want the listener to go to the next slide.

3) Do Nos. 1 and 2 above but include links in the PDF to short video files where the chairman provides a bit of additional commentary on the slide – be sure to put the safe harbor information on the screen for a few seconds before the executive starts speaking to satisfy the corporate counsel.

4) Assume that all of the above are too complicated. After the event, have the CFO go through the slides, recording a very short audio commentary for each. E-mail it to the journalists you expect to make use of the PDF-based slide presentation.

As a former journalist, I can tell you that we don’t appreciate having to make ourselves available when the company decides to make its presentation, not with plenty of deadlines already imposed on us by our editors. Of course, the alternatives – having to listen to a recording without the option of asking questions or staring at the slides afterward – are not too appealing either. The companies that do a better job of using available technologies to cater to the journalists that cover them will get better (more accurate, insightful and complete) coverage than those that do not.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Expert: Mortgages tougher for call centers

An executive with a major Florida call center company exhibiting at the recent BAI Retail Banking show in Orlando says that mortgages are not as big a business as they once were for call center operators.

"With rates going up, that business is falling off," we were told. The firm was at BAI seeking other work from banks, such as credit card solicitations.

That may not be much of a surprise to mortgage lenders. Companies have found borrowers less likely to refinance low-rate loans if not forced to by a move. Home equity loan products have taken off more pressure to refinance, contributing to lower first mortgage loan volumes accross the industry.

Over the past few years, a number of lenders have built out their mortgage-specific call centers. These assets are likely to be retasked in the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Meetings: BAI host to vendors aplenty

A huge trade show floor is filled with impressive booths at the BAI's Retail Banking show here in Orlando. But most of the bankers seem to spending time in the sessions. A glance at the schedule will indicate why. An excellent program this year.

Still, most of the vendors we have spoken with in the podcast booth have been happy with the show. Many, like Texell, have uncovered partnership opportunities with other vendors.

Watch the site for podcasts from the show. They'll start hitting the site within the next few days.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Meetings: Talking media at TAVMA

I was honored to be part of a panel at the 2005 RESPA & Bundled Services Forum in Washington, DC today. Sponsored by TAVMA, the Title Appraisal Vendor Management Association, and media sponsor October Research Corporation, the event focused on the settlement services industry and the changes it will be dealing with in the future.

For our panel, we discussed the perception of the industry, on the part of both the media and the public. I was joined by Washington Post syndicated columnist Ken Harney, Brian Reiger of NorthPoint Communications and moderator Syndie Eardly of October Research.

The consensus: when there is a problem in the mortgage transaction, these are the folks that get blamed. When it's money, they turn on the title agents. When it's lost time, they talk about appraisers. When things change at the closing table, the whole settlement services industry looks bad.

Solution: get in touch with the end users. Title agents don't generally deal with borrowers, so they don't spend any time explaining to them what their industry does. That is likely to change in the future. Mr. Harney pointed out that increasing fraud is likely to push that point. Borrowers are already asking questions. Eventually, the industry is going to have to start talking back.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Meetings: TAVMA starts today

Members of the Title/Appraisal Vendor Management Association are coming together today for the first day of the TAVMA RESPA and Bundled Services Forum. I'll be there to speak on a media relations panel, which will be very fun and, I hope, informative. But there will also be more substantial issues covered:

What are title agents, escrow officers, vendor managers, and other independent settlement service providers doing, and contemplating, to remain relevant in an industry that seems to be consolidating and morphing before our very eyes?

You can still get a registration form on the organization's site.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Peter Drucker dies at 95

I was saddened to hear this news, even as I realize that 95 is a "ripe old age." When I first started reading Peter Drucker, I thought he had already left this world, based on the way those who study him revere him. I wonder who will fill his shoes? Feel free to e-mail me with your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Blogs: Be real, not cute.

CEOs from major firms are entering the blogosphere, according to a story on USNews.com. Sun, GM, Hewlett-Packard and Boeing are the firms they examine in this story, but will Blogs work for smaller businesses?

In its print edition (US News & World Report, Oct. 24, 2005), the publication brings it home to smaller businesses with an admonition not to fall into the same trap that Wrigley's did.

"Then there's the Wrigley Co.'s JuicyFruit blog, a faux online diary chronicling the misadventures of two JuicyFruit fans grappling over a pack of gum. It's just cutesy advertising copy...Note to small-business bloggers: Keep it real."
Well said. People are reading blogs (Ask Jeeves estimates over 1.2 million feeds with upwards of 600 million posts in July -- and that's just on Bloglines) because they feel like they are getting inside information that not everyone is privy to. Serving up marketing collateral is not the way to get and keep an audience.

Your Blog's (or Podcast's) subscriber base makes up what we call your "educated prospect pool." These folks will be easier to convert to customers, which will compress your sales cycle, save you time and money and add to your bottom line more quickly. All good things. So if you want to get them, you need to go beyond the "cutesy copy" and offer them some value.

Monday, November 07, 2005

BAI: Podcasting too at retail delivery

Texell Interactive Media won't be the only folks podcasting at the upcoming BAI Retail Delivery show in Orlando. The BAI itself plans to be producing a few shows of its own during the event, according to an organization staffer.

BAI has been exploring the new medium for some time and now says it's ready to begin producing content. I applaud them. Podcasts can be very powerful tools if the content is valuable and well produced. A trade organization, with its access to thought leaders from across the industry, is positioned well to provide great content. We wish them well.

Who else is podcasting? ABC Television, Whirlpool, Drexel University, IBM and hundreds of other companies across the country.

What we think will happen: More companies will dive into podcasting over the next 18 months, some to experiment, most due to competitive pressures. The vast majority of the content will be unimaginative, poorly produced and ultimately ignored. Many companies will then abandon the medium, leaving the best podcasters with a competitive advantage as they will have a loyal base of listeners to prospect from.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Expert: Don't automate by the seat

Was speaking to William Rice today. He's one of the founders of Kaleidico, a new technology development firm that made its debut at the MBA show last month. Bill was on the team at DeepGreen that developed the automated HELOC product a few years ago. He has also worked at Quicken Loans.

"Technology providers have done just what lenders have asked them to do," Rice said, "which is to just put workstations in front of the people they already have. They have missed the opportunity to actually automate those processes."

The problem with many solutions on the market today, according to Rice, is that developers are offering to sell automation solutions on a per seat basis. So, the better they are, the less they get paid. Rarely works in the real world.

We captured all of his comments for a podcast that you'll find on the site shortly.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Idea: Podcast at BAI

We've decided to podcast live at the upcoming Bank Administration Institute's (BAI's) Retail Banking show in Orlando. If you're going to be on hand, drop us a line. We would love to find out more about your business and record a podcast with you during the show. These podcasts are free and without obligation, but spaces are limited.

For more information about our podcasts, hit the site. And be sure to check out the podcasts we recorded with 33 of the mortgage industry's top executives. More of those programs will be coming online in the days ahead.