Mortgage Insurance Unlocks the Door to Home Ownership
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Mortgage Insurance Unlocks the Door to Home Ownership

Imagine a product that few people are aware or of, and those who do know about the product are anxiously awaiting the day they can get rid of it. That was the challenge faced by the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America.

Paul Holmes

 

Imagine a product that few people are aware or understand its value to them, and those who do know about the product are anxiously awaiting the day they can get rid of it. That was the challenge faced by the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA), which provide private mortgage insurance (PrivateMI) to homebuyers who do not have a 20 percent down payment. In December 1999, MICA, the trade association for the private mortgage industry, launched an integrated marketing communications campaign to establish and explain the value of PrivateMI to policymakers, opinion leaders and the public.

CHALLENGE:

Overcoming a negative image to establish the benefits of PrivateMI

Private mortgage insurance has helped millions of Americans buy homes sooner and for far less money down than the 20 percent down payment required by many lenders. However, the main perception that many consumers had about private mortgage insurance was not its value, but that it was difficult to cancel.  In June 1999, new federal legislation that made it easier for homeowners to cancel PrivateMI went into effect. Congress adopted this law because of complaints about confusion and difficulty in canceling the insurance. This legislation’s strongest proponent was a member of Congress who had difficulty canceling his private mortgage insurance. Because of that experience, this member pushed through a law on cancellation that left the strong impression in people's minds that PrivateMI companies were anti-consumer and that PrivateMI was difficult to cancel.

RESEARCH

An initial baseline media audit showed two negative mentions for every one positive mention in the press. MICA also conducted a message summit with its members to determine the key attributes of PrivateMI that distinguish it in the marketplace from other products. Core messages were tested in focus groups and the strongest responses came when people learned that 1) PrivateMI has helped millions of Americans become homeowners sooner, with less money down; and 2) that PrivateMI enables a homebuyer to purchase a home with as little as 3 percent down instead of the 20 percent required by many lenders.

OBJECTIVES: 

To communicate the value of PrivateMI among the general public, thereby impacting positive discussion of PrivateMI among potential homebuyers and improving MICA’s image

To assist in creating a favorable climate for PrivateMI on Capitol Hill 

STRATEGY

Based on its research findings, MICA decided on a strategy of values-based branding, or making the product a “hero.”  PrivateMI would be portrayed as something that would help you buy a home, get you in sooner, offer affordably and be there in good times and in bad.  MICA knew that if the message could be shifted from a lender focus to a consumer benefit, then these Americans would convey the message to their peers.  MICA, therefore, decided to focus its message on the benefit of getting into a home “sooner.” 

EXECUTION:

The fully-integrated marketing communications program used a variety of public relations, advertising and interactive tools to provide information about PrivateMI to the public:

A press packet and press release were prepared for the ad campaign launch

A series of informal meetings between industry CEOs and reporters in the various regions

Talking points were drafted for rapid response to any attacks on PrivateMI in the press

An op-ed was written by MICA’s executive vice president that explained how PrivateMI has helped millions of low- and moderate-income families buy homes sooner and for less money down

A quarterly newsletter – PrivateMI Perspective – was developed and distributed to more than 1,500 legislators, policymakers, housing organizations and media.

An information packet about PrivateMI was drawn up for legislators and their staffs

Print ads were placed in major newsweeklies and Washington, DC/Capitol Hill publications, supplemented by radio buys 

Website (www.privatemi.com) was revamped with five online calculators for consumers

Online information service (www.micanews.com) was set up for the press and policymakers

EVALUATION

The program’s success can be measured in quality as well as quantity. Realty Times recognized MICA for Best New Image:  “…MICA is vastly more visible, and as a result the use and importance of its product are more clearly understood.”

To communicate the value of PrivateMI to policymakers and opinion leaders and to create a positive climate on Capitol Hill to stave off negative legislative efforts

Almost 4,000 visits to the online information bureau in the first three months of www.micanews.com

Positive feedback from MICA’s lobbyists, who say the image campaign is mentioned during their appointments with Congressional staffers

To convince informed Americans about the value of PrivateMI so that they would convey MICA’s messages to their circle of influence, particularly first-time homebuyers

In an op-ed about the outreach campaign, MICA’s executive vice president, stated that she believes “the message is getting through. Phone calls to our office and emails via our Web site confirm that people want to learn more about PrivateMI and how it can help them become homeowners.”

More than 32,000 site visits to PrivateMI.com since the October relaunch, including almost 3,000 uses of the online calculators. 
Articles about PrivateMI have appeared in nearly 300 media outlets in more than 25 states with a readership of 20.2 million, including the LA Times, the Baltimore Sun, CNNfn and American Banker.

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