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Best Practices

Online Marketing Strategies for Loan Products
Volume 2 / Best Practices
Online Marketing Strategies
for Loan Products

Sherri Neasham, CEO
FinanCenter, Inc.
Capture and Cultivate Online Leads
Jim Sterne, President
Target Marketing
Internet Marketing Strategy
Volume 2 / Best Practices

Online Marketing Strategies for Loan Products

By designing a suitable Web path, understanding
the typical online consumer’s buying behavior, and
incorporating the actionable steps outlined in this report,
financial Web sites will capture more online visitors who
are interested in obtaining a loan product.

Table of Contents:
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY......................................... 2




FIRST BANK’S SUCCESS STORY ...................... 12

FOR ALL LOAN PRODUCTS................................ 17

Executive Summary

By designing a suitable Web path, understanding
the typical online consumer’s buying behavior, and
incorporating the actionable steps outlined in this report,
financial Web sites will capture more online visitors who
are interested in obtaining a loan product.

Random Versus
Deliberate Web Paths
For the visitor, the process of applying for a credit
product sometimes seems an endless, perhaps even
random, path. When frustrated with the online process
or when reaching a dead end in a clickstream, visitors
make a quick exit to another Web site. Webmasters
try to improve the process by focusing on Web logs
to decipher the abandonment rate of their Web site
visitors. Subsequent clickstream trends are defined
based on collected metrics with the goal of converting
visitors into buyers. It is the objective of this report to
provide the financial marketing professional new ways
of looking at selling financial products online and only
relying in part on the company’s Webmaster.

In his book, Getting Into Your Customer’s Head,
Kevin Davis makes this observation, “The
traditional self-focused selling approach is no
longer effective because today’s new buyers are
unwilling to follow you. They don’t want to be ‘sold.’
They want to make educated buying decisions. To
make a sale, you must join them on their buying

Researching a credit product for the visitor is a very
personal matter and typically not an impulse buy. In
anticipation of the visitor’s experience, the following
attributes that result in an easier buying decision for
the visitor should be thoughtfully considered by the
financial marketing professional:

• Life Event Information
• Product Information
• Decision Assurance

Random Versus
Deliberate Web Paths

Whether the financial marketing professional is creating
an online campaign, refreshing the existing product
content of Web pages, or undergoing a complete Web
redesign, it is critical to address the visitor’s buying
questions along the Web paths. At each critical decision
point, the visitor can be systematically profiled and
segmented based on their actions or entries. For
example, depending on how qualified they are, visitors
can be driven to or away from call centers, saving
valuable time and resources.

These deliberate clickstreams are referred to as
“pathways” in this document. A pathway may reside
both in front of the password protected account area
and behind it as a cross-sell opportunity. It may be
presented to any visitor that appears to have the
qualities to be an ideal credit applicant. The pathway
may even start on a different Web site such as a
portal, aggregator, or other advertising opportunity
different from the final destination. By offering a
pathway without easy exit points during the application
process, conversion rates of qualified loan applicants
increase. To accomplish this, a pathway should not
include distracting animation or navigation to ensure
the visitor self-initiates - continues clicking - through
the credit application process.

Web Call to Action

Web Call to
Page Purchase

Random Versus
Deliberate Web Paths

As in the above illustration, key characteristics of a
pathway include descriptions of product attributes,
specific calls to action, and lastly a strategically
placed call to purchase to ask the visitor for the
sale. The pathway addresses the visitor’s need for
life event information (“Should I Rent or Buy?”),
product information (“How much will I qualify for?”),
and decision assurance (“Am I applying for the right
type of loan? Will I get my application fee back if I
don’t qualify?”). These informational needs must be
fulfilled in order for your customer to make a purchase
commitment, and your Web site should be designed to
provide answers either immediately online or invite the
visitor to begin a dialogue with advisors at the branch,
loan office, or call center.

Converting Researchers
into Buyers - Online and Offline

Pathways which provide information are critical
because of the high percentage of your customers
who research online, as illustrated below. Note that
for most credit products, the actual purchase decision
- an application - does not occur online. Hence, the
pathways you create must provide calls to action which
initiate dialogue offline.

Converting Researchers
into Buyers - Online and Offline

Given that a predominance of visitors research loan
products on their financial institution’s Web site, the
most effective means to convert researchers into
buyers is to create lead capture pathways originating
from the research tools they use. As illustrated below,
calculators, rate, and product information pages are
ranked by bank site visitors as the most frequently
used and most helpful in a recent survey conducted
by Forrester:

Best practice principles of lead capture for loan
products can be easily illustrated with one of the tools
mentioned above, calculators. Calculators are common
features of Web sites, and they can easily be included
in highly effective pathways. Here’s why:

• The input and output data from calculators
can be collected into user profiles and utilized
in real-time segmentation.
• Based on the business rules in place for
segmentation, financial institutions can make
individualized offers or calls to action to their
online visitors.
• Visitors who respond to calls to action
represent customer-initiated leads which
convert to a much higher rate (40%) than
leads generated from company-initiated
contact through direct mail, etc.*

* Gareth Herschel, Research Director at Gartner

Converting Researchers
into Buyers - Online and Offline

• Eight of the top ten most popular calculators
on bank sites are related to loan decisions.
1. How much will my mortgage
payments be?
2. Should I consolidate my debts?
3. How much can I borrow?
4. How much will my vehicle
payments be?
5. What home can I afford?
6. Am I better off refinancing?
7. How large a line of credit can I
8. What will it take to become a
9. Am I saving enough to retire?
10. How much will my home
equity loan payments be?
Source: FinanCenter traffic statistics drawn from over 200 financial sites

Effective Lead Capture Pathways

Converting a calculator, other tool, or series of pages
on your site into an effective lead capture pathway is
similar to writing a sales script. Forrester* suggests
in How Consumers Buy Financial Products “Design
Online Sales Scripts: Good salespeople develop sales
scripts, and bank sites should have one as well. Design
a flow of Web pages that takes shoppers through a
series of steps designed to move them through the
sales process.” The series of steps for online lead
capture would be as follows:
Illustration of a Pathway:

Attract Profile Segment Activate


High Value

The pathway illustrated uses an interactive tool, such
as a calculator or selector, which attracts users by
offering the personalized, specific answers they seek.
The steps can be described as follows:

* How Consumers Buy Financial Products, Forrester Research, Inc., January 2004

Effective Lead Capture Pathways

1. Attract: Attract visitors seeking information or
answers about products or life events

The best attraction tool for loan products are those
which promise information and invite interaction. The
goal is to entice the visitor to begin exploring a lending
option. The tools most commonly used are minimized
calculator input screens, comparison surveys, or static
or animated banner advertisements which fit into a
small content zone on a high traffic page. Because
their goal is to attract and funnel the maximum number
of visitors into a lead capture pathway, these tools are
often referred to as “Traffic Drivers.” For example, the
most popular calculator “How much will my mortgage
payments be?” may use the following traffic driver at
the pathway’s origination point:

See examples in Appendix A and
the case study within this report.

The best practice in driving traffic is simple: The more
information promised, the better the enticement to
investigate. Many institutions will place a banner
advertisement on a home page spotlighting an
advantageously low rate. The advertisement usually
includes the rate and an opportunity to “Apply Now!”
Such an advertisement provides some product
information, the rate, and a call to action, but it does
not provide a key element required to make a purchase
decision, the payment. To a visitor, the rate indicates a
benchmark price to be used for comparison shopping,
but it is his or her monthly payment which must be
known to make a purchase decision. Hence, the
response rate and conversion rate on an advertisement
which markets a loan rate combined with the ability to
compute a payment along the pathway will be much

Effective Lead Capture Pathways

The attraction point can be offline, as direct mail with
an online fulfillment component, or online, at your site
or within another site in the form of a banner ad. The
key requirement for success is high traffic in order to
maximize the number of leads you capture. The most
successful online traffic drivers intrigue customers with
money or time saving answers or the ability to learn in a
convenient, non-embarrasing, self-serve environment,
such as the Web.

2. Profile: Profile visitors to obtain key qualifying

Perhaps you have utilized an advertisement for a great
rate and incorporated the ability to begin computing
a payment or selecting a loan program within the ad.
In real-time you can capture immediate, fresh data:
anticipated loan amount. If your advertisement included
the ability to compute the loan amount the visitor
qualifies for, then you can capture current income,
expenses, and an indication of credit worthiness as

Using this data, you can build rich customer profiles
made of demographic, product preference, and financial
profile data. You can utilize the data immediately to
segment visitors during their present session at your
site and, based on those segments, customize calls
to action according to their preferences.

3. Segment: Segment visitors according to their
interests and qualifications

Best practices in segmentation achieve two goals:

1. Maximize qualified leads by quoting
customized rates and making compelling
calls to action, and
2. Minimize use of staff-assisted channels
by unqualified visitors.

Effective Lead Capture Pathways

For example, if an online visitor requests a loan amount
above $25,000 in a calculator (a figure which, in this
hypothetical example, has been determined to meet a
special loan promotion), then the visitor is presented
options specific to that product. If the visitor’s zip
code is requested during the use of the calculator, the
appropriate rates for his/her region can be supplied.

If segmentation is used, three or more segment
groupings are usually utilized in order to provide
different options for fulfillment or continued product
research are provided. The three segment groups
below; Unqualified, Qualified, and Highly Qualified,
outline a typical segmentation:

Unqualified Visitor Profile
Goal - Reduce inquiry and fulfillment costs. Educate to
enable future qualification. Provide answers to increase
satisfaction with the Web experience.

Possible Online Response (Self-service
options offered):
• Route the visitor to a link with helpful hints
for improving their chance to get a loan.
• Invite them to inquire about other, more
appropriate, services.

Qualified Visitor Profile
Goal - Acquire a loan application online or offline.

Possible Online Response:
• Provide a unique toll-free telephone number.
Vary the toll-free number based on the loan
amount computed in order to alert the call
center to the level of qualification.
• Provide link to an online application.
• Provide link to a branch locator.
• Offer a printable coupon to take to a
• Offer a chat session.
• Offer the ability to ask a question or
contact a loan specialist via email.

Effective Lead Capture Pathways

Highly Qualified Visitor Profile
Goal - Acquire a loan application online or offline.
Establish a relationship with a private banker or
specialty loan officer. Cross-sell additional products.

Possible Online Responses in Addition to the
Above Examples:
• Trigger a unique toll-free number directly to
a loan officer.
• Provide an email request form with a
guarantee of timely, personal service.
• Offer a special rate or loan program.

4. Activate: Activate visitors to begin a self-serve
transaction, request a dialogue, or
request further information

Once the visitors have been segmented, create
customized calls to action in order to increase leads
captured. The key to success is to place these call to
action links in the immediate line of sight as the visitor
reviews the answer being researched. Make sure the
calls to action are relevant - that they are associated
with the topic under investigation, and the answer
computed. For example, offers of rate information
typically receive the highest click through rates in
loan calculators.

One best practice is presenting the calls to action
as helpful “Next Steps” as illustrated in the example

Effective Lead Capture Pathways

Although many financial institutions are using some
of these recommended pathway steps (attract, profile,
segment, activate), they may fail to provide a clear,
actionable Next Step when the online visitor receives
the results of his/her entries. Based on the calculation
received, the online visitor will make a decision. Ensure
that the content the online visitor is reading asks for the
sale. A store owner would never rush a money-in-hand
customer away from the register and out the door, and
neither should the Web site abandon a sure sale. A
better response would be to provide the online visitor
with clearly-defined Next Step options. The results are
proven and impressive:

“Delivering calls to action within the [LeadFusion]
calculators are a great way to reach qualified
customers closest to the purchase funnel. By
incorportaing these Next Steps that complement
the primary task of the calculators, we’ve been
able to achieve double-digit click through rates and
a 16% increase in product conversion.”

Simon Ng
Vice President Online Advertising
Bank of America

For a sample list of “Next Steps” and “Helpful Tips” for
various credit products, please see Appendix B.

By implementing the four steps along a pathway,
lending product applications will yield more qualified
Web leads. Additionally, Webmasters should see a
significant decrease in abandonment rate through a
contained pathway. The following case study illustrates
a pathway campaign implemented by First Banks.

First Bank’s Success Story

Financial Institution: First Banks
Asset Size: $7 Billion
Line of Business: Home Equity
Campaign: Lead Capture
Web Site Address:

Client Overview
First Banks, Inc. is one of the largest family-owned
bank holding companies in the country. Through their
single bank charter, First Banks (a.k.a First Bank and
Trust), has over 150 offices in Illinois, Missouri, Texas
and California.

Business Objectives
First Banks’ primary goal with their lead capture
campaign was to increase the number of new home
equity accounts for their organization.

The Challenge
Because no online applications are available on their
Web site at this time, First Banks needed to seamlessly
drive online traffic to an offline channel. Traffic would
be driven to the following three channels:
1. Branches
2. Call centers
3. Mail

The Solution
Implement a pathway tailored to the needs of First
Banks’ home equity product. Of the recommended four-
step pathway process, for this campaign First Banks
chose to use only three of the four steps: attract,
profile, activate.

First Bank’s Success Story

The attract stage was accomplished by creating a
custom traffic driver for the home page. By combining
both an advertisement for the product’s rate and offering
input fields, the traffic driver enticed visitors to interact
with the tool. This action from the visitor is extremely
valuable to both the visitor and to the bank. The
visitor is anticipating an answer and expects relevant
information to help in their decision making process.
For the financial institution, the visitor is initiating their
own action and providing valuable input data. This type
of customer-initiated lead yields the best conversion.
According to Gareth Herschel, Research Director at
Gartner, “Customer-initiated leads produce the highest
conversion rate of 40% over customer triggered (20%)
and intrusive leads (3%).”

First Banks captures the visitor inputs and outputs
of their online calculators. The aggregate data is
reported in order to determine visitor trends with this

First Bank’s Success Story

The online visitor reaches the results page to review
their calculated answer. As the screenshot illustrates
below, the visitor is provided with three calls to
1. Calculate loan payments
2. Call or visit First Banks (unique toll-free
number and branch locator)
3. Request a loan application (by mail)

The Visitor Experience
The following flowchart illustrates the visitor’s
experience of First Banks’ home equity lead capture

First Bank’s Success Story

Results Achieved
The data for this campaign indicates a 53% response
rate from visitors reaching the “Next Steps” section
of the pathway. Response rate is calculated by the
number of clicks divided by the number of sessions
received. By drilling down on the response rate, First
Banks was able to determine that most of their visitor
traffic requested a calculation of their loan payments.
As predicted, responding to a visitor with relevant
information in real-time improves the chances a visitor
will remain on a designated pathway.

Here are the click-through response rates for each
call to action:
• Calculate loan payments = 89%
• Call or visit First Banks (toll-free number
and branch locator) = 2.6%
• Request a loan application (by mail) = 8.7%

Lessons Learned
Business rules for this original campaign anticipated
clients’ loan amount below $100k. However, other data
captured from the profile step provided First Banks
valuable insight into the fact that the majority of the
incoming applications qualified for $100k or more.
For their next campaign, First Banks is considering
using this valuable profiling information to incorporate
segmentation, the third step in the pathway process.
This will provide them with the ability to further qualify,
cross-sell, and customize their calls to action which are
given to visitors in a real-time manner.

They may also add online applications as well as
printable coupons to the Web site for the qualified
visitor to take into the branch when applying for the
home equity loan; thus enabling First Banks to more
effectively measure conversion rate.

The following flowchart illustrates the improvements
under consideration.

First Bank’s Success Story

“We implemented the LeadFusion Pathway
strategy for our Home Equity Loan lead capture
campaign. The 53% response rate we received
from ‘Next Steps’ exceeded our expectations.”

Mary Kelly
Internet Banking Manager
First Banks

Enacting Lead
Capture for All Loan Products

To summarize the process of successfully capturing
qualified, customer-initiated leads, the flow chart
below provides a sample road map of a pathway
strategy. This flowchart can be utilized to define an
online pathway strategy for each lending product in
an organization. Financial marketing professionals
concentrating on each step will be successful in
turning interested visitors into qualified buyers. (See
Appendix C for a blank flowchart to use when drafting
pathway strategy.)

Enacting Lead
Capture for All Loan Products

Both online campaigns and ongoing research
areas of your Web site will be more effective when
integrating pathways consisting of the four-step
process of attract, profile, segment, and activate.
As seen in the aforementioned case study with First
Banks, even applying three of the four components
proved highly successful. When the best practices
of all four principles are applied, financial Web sites
show substantial conversion rates of online visitor
applications. Already, many financial institutions have
profited through increasing online loan originations by
analyzing the pathway of each lending product featured
on the organization’s Web site. Financial marketing
professionals empowered with online pathway strategy
have optimized their existing online channel to convert
credit-related researchers into buyers.

Next Steps:

• For qualified business customers, FinanCenter, Inc.
offers complimentary lead capture workshops for
you and four of your colleagues. For reservations
at a time convenient for you, please call toll-free
at 1-866-322-2863 or register on the Web at

• For a product demonstration of how LeadFusion
can provide lending product solutions to form a
complete and integrated pathway, please call

• To simply and easily calculate the revenue you
can obtain from online lead capture for each
of your loan products, input your marketing
data into the revenue calculator found on

Appendix A:
Traffic Driver Examples

1. How much will my mortgage payments be?

2. Should I consolidate my debts?

3. How much can I borrow?

Appendix A:
Traffic Driver Examples

4. How much will my vehicle payments be?

5. What home can I afford?

6. Am I better off refinancing?

Appendix A:
Traffic Driver Examples
7. How large a line of credit can I obtain?

8. What will it take to become a millionaire?

9. Am I saving enough to retire?

Appendix A:
Traffic Driver Examples

10. How much will my home equity loan payments

Appendix B:
Next Steps / Helpful Tips

Next Steps:
• Fine tune this calculation
• Apply online
• See loan types and rates
• Ask a question: 800-xxx-xxxx
• Use other calculators

Helpful Tips:
• Compare loan choices
• Refinance other auto loans
• Ask a question
• Find better auto insurance
• Consolidate loans with tax deductible home

Credit Card
Next Steps:
• Fine tune this calculation
• See cards and rates
• Apply online
• Consolidate with low-rate loans
• Call 800-xxx-xxxx for info
• Apply by phone at 800-xxx-xxxx
• Use other calculators

Helpful Tips:
• Make payments online
• Check your credit
• Check out credit insurance
• Refinance with a tax-deductible home loan
• Plan with a Financial Advisor
• See your balance 24 hours a day

Appendix B:
Next Steps / Helpful Tips

Next Steps:
• Fine tune this calculation
• See loan options and rates
• Apply online
• Apply by phone at 800-xxx-xxxx
• Check branch locations and hours
• Use other calculators, especially:
What will my tax savings be?
Should I consolidate debts?

Helpful Tips:
• Consolidate debts to lower costs
• Check your credit
• Make payments online – save time and money
• See your balance 24 hours a day
• Plan with a Financial Advisor
• Check your insurance
• See special services for our high net worth customers
like you

Home Loans
Next Steps:
• Fine tune this calculation
• See loan options and rates
• Apply online 60 second approval
• Apply by phone at 800-xxx-xxxx
• Check branch locations and hours
• Ask questions: 800-xxx-xxxx
• Use other calculators

Helpful Tips:
• Open a savings account and build a larger
down payment
• Make payments online
• Make payments by direct deposit
• See your balance 24 hours a day
• See estate planning services
• Plan with a Financial Advisor
• See special rates & services due to your high
net worth

Appendix C: Deliberate
Pathway Strategy Worksheet

Author Biographies

Sherri Neasham, CEO

Sherri Neasham is the founder and CEO of
FinanCenter, a software firm which provides online
marketing tools to capture and cultivate online leads for
the financial services industry. As a financial marketing
expert, Ms. Neasham’s articles on affinity marketing,
cross-selling, and asset liquidation strategies have
been published in financial journals such as the “ABA
Journal” and “American Banker.” She has spoken
at national and international conferences on topics
such as Web site usability, online selling of consumer
lending products, online lead generation, and online
marketing of financial services. Ranking in the top
10% of Internet World Speakers, she established and
moderated Internet World’s Financial Services Summit,
which featured major financial institutions as well as
AOL, Microsoft, Intuit, Reuters, and Bloomberg. Ms.
Neasham’s online marketing expertise is drawn from
the hands-on experience of founding
in 1995, a consumer Web site which became profitable
within nine months from selling leads to financial
institutions such as Household Finance, Chase, and

Jim Sterne, President
Target Marketing

Jim Sterne produced the world’s first “Marketing on the
Internet” seminar series in 1994. Today, Mr. Sterne is an
internationally known speaker on electronic marketing
and customer interaction. As a consultant of Fortune
500 companies and Internet entrepreneurs, Mr. Sterne
focuses his twenty years in sales and marketing on
measuring the value of a Web site as a medium for
creating and strengthening customer relationships. Mr.
Sterne has written five books including World Wide
Web Marketing, 3rd Edition, Customer Service on
the Internet, 2nd Edition, What Makes People Click:
Advertising on the Internet, and Email Marketing.
His most recent published book is Web Metrics:
Proven Methods for Measuring Web site Success.
Mr. Sterne is the producer of the Emetrics Summit,