Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Jajah: Cheap VOIP on your mobile

Somehow I have avoided using VOIP services such as Skype. The idea of installing software, using a mic and headset on your computer, it all seemed awkward. You see, I love my mobile. I love to walk around when I talk, can I can't ever stay in one place.

Enter today Jajah Mobile. These VOIP innovators are now developing a software plug in for mobile phones, and released it already for J2ME (Java) based and Sybmian phones. You can go to their website and see if it works yet for your phone.

Downloading the software enables you to use Jajah to bypass your carrier long distance, and enjoy free or highly discounted VOIP calling rates.

What's next? It's rumored that Jajah is developing a system to let you access its service directly from an IVR menu that you call the old fashioed way, freeing VOIP completely from the desktop.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

God, Google and Root.net

These guys downtown here in NYC continue to interest me. Not really because they sell mortgage leads on an exchange, but because of this interesting concept of "attention economy" they are developing, which basically says

1. Your attention is an asset, which you (should) own.
2. Your data relative to what you are currently and historically paying attention to on the internet is valuable to marketers.
3. In a market of the future, you can voluntarily release your attention data to marketers in return for some form of compensation.

So, I attached an "Attention Recorder" Firefox plug-in back in March. This plug-in allows me to save my own clickstream data, and have it stored with authorized third parties, such as Root. See above screenshot of my "Vault".

I am with them on 1 and 2. Looking at my Vault data on and off for the past 6 months, I'm not so sure anyone would want or be willing to pawn it off to marketers. It is a brutal reflection of what actually takes up my time and my attention every day, listing and organizing each search query I make, every site I visit, and how much time I spend there.

The reflection is so acurate and powerful, I'm not sure why one would make it public, let alone allow it to be used commercially.

To me, the attention asset only becomes palatable as an object to share or sell if one were able to modify, filter or otherwise dress up its content. As in reality, sharing the appropriate pieces with the appropriate audience.

My raw clickstream - only God, Google and Root.net knows.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Internet mortgage leads go local

Consumers are divided.

The internet remains the ideal venue for product research and due diligence when it comes to comparison shopping for mortgage loans or similar financial services.

Marketers know this. The lead generators wrap up the dominant meme of consumer online loan research, the brilliant "when banks compete you win" slogan of Lending Tree which conflates consumer due diligence with their business model of selling consumer data multiple times over.

LendingTree, Getsmart, Quinstreet, LowerMyBills, Nextag have been consistent top 10 online buyers of advertising, with 2 of these 5 appearing on the top 10 list of July 2006 published by Nielson/Netratings.

Pummeled with the mortgage sales pitch

Consumers have developed innate defenses to block out the endless pulse of spam emails, flash poster ads, and meaningless text link ads. Don't get me wrong, the marketing works. Consumers respond, as the lead aggregetor value proposition satisfies their need to research and compare mortgage rates. But these are tentative, almost anonymous responses. Phone #s are left intentionally inaccurate, "spam" email address used when responding.

Add to that, the practice of the credit bureaus of selling consumer contact information to mortgage lenders, each time a credit report is pulled. Known in the industry as the "Trigger" product, consumers who are in market get subsequently attacked via telemarketers and direct mail.

Using the Internet to enhance local relationships?

How about we look at the equation from the other direction; as if you were a traditional mortgage broker, who generated his business via in-person relationships and referrals.

You would fear the internet; the teasingly low rates advertised would cut into your margins, the consumer: previously empowered only with the yellow pages, now can pit against every lender in the country.

Small is the new big, local is the new national
The technology is there now to target local consumers with local solutions. Local internet consumers convert, knowing that an in-person meeting is even an option is a strong motivating element. In 2005 Seth Godin articulated the concept Small is the new big. Where old marketing addressed the needs of the median consumer, new marketing ideally reaches out to each consumer more individually, personally.

Consider California Mortgage comparisons like this.

Today we have geo-targeting, demographics, social networking, consumer generated content. Mix in a healthy dose of respect for the consumer's privacy and little guys have in their hands a big opportunity.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mortgage marketing, Lead Generation and Reg Z

SearchEngineWatch today published an article on SEM in regulated industries. Although it covered Pharma, Alcohol, etc. it did not go into Banking and Lending, specifically Mortgage Lending which is a world I live in every day - and also one very active in SEM.

Here are some introductory thoughts on SEM and Mortgage lending regulation:

You have been living under a rock if you have not seen the ubiquitous Get a $200,000 loan for $825! ads everywhere. Most of these ads are produced by lead generation companies such as Lowermybills, which currently are not agressively pursued by the regulators who closely watch all banks, mortgage banks and brokers. Who knows if this will last forever.

Truth in Lending and Regulation Z

Truth in Lending was enacted in 1968 (and simplified in 1980) as part of the Consumer Credit Protection Act. Congress was worried that customers could not accurately shop for credit due to the unregulated practices and lack of uniformity in advertising and disclosures. The Truth in Lending act required that all credit issuers who make 25 or more loans annually give certain uniform disclosures. The Federal Reserve Board issued Regulation Z to implement Truth in Lending.

What does it require in regards to SEM and advertising?

Reg Z requires lenders to disclose specific information under certain "trigger term" scenarios:

The trigger terms are:

1. the amount or percentage of any downpayment
2. the number of payments or period of repayment
3. the amount of any payment, and
4. the amount of any finance charge.

The use of any one of these terms requires the creditor to also disclose the following additional terms in the advertisement:

1. the amount or percentage of the downpayment
2. the terms of repayment, and
3. the annual percentage rate (APR), using that term.

Lenders and banks are under constant scrutiny and comply with this regulation by including the 3 required disclosures on the destination webpage.

Lead Vendors, being without consistent regulatory oversight, take a inconsistent approach. Lowermybills has extensive disclosures if you scroll to the bottom of its search landing page. Low.com and many others do not disclose.

Of course the whole idea of a lead vendor, advertising specific loan terms and appropriately disclosing is problematic.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg for my industry. The $200,000 loan for $850 a month ad is a disguised pitch for an Option ARM, a popular, controversial and powerful product.

BusinessWeek's Cover story Nightmare Mortgages calls for additional disclosure from mortgage lenders, holding the industry accountable for the numerous consumers who were never educated that the minimum payment option on their loan caused the additional principal to be tacked on to their loan balance.

But that was another discussion.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I googled on my phone for a trip to Mars and all I got was ads

Google is soft launching their mobile ads, I discovered today that my Adwords interface now has a new ad type called "mobile ads", see below

I know that Google has been doing this already in Japan, the coolest part about it is that you have the option do pay per call rather than pay per click (as most/many phones would not support this well, if at all).

Cool Stuff!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

And one more thing... the brouhaha at Apple

Big things are rumbling on the Apple Insider blog. According to this source, Apple will introduce iTunes Movies and "one more thing".

A later post Apple Cell Phone is ready to roll indicates that the much awaited iPhone - Apple's converence of its iPod with full cell phone functionality, is also nearing production.

I'm a huge iPod fan, and cell phone addict. I haven't been this excited about a gadget in a while!!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Nightmare Mortgages

Is the title of Businessweek's cover story.

Although a tad lurid, the article speaks to some of the hot buttons du jour of consumer finance

1. Softening (bursting) real estate bubble
2. Foreclosure
3. Rising cost of money

And some timeless ones

1. Dishonest lenders
2. Struggling, hard working americans

There is a lively debate in the readers comments section, worth reading. From my perspective, the irony hurts.

The option arm is a great product, which is easily sold in an unethical manner -- ie. where the customer is unclear that using the minimum payment will add principal to the loan balance.

With interest rates headed down again, the fixed rate is an easy choice - but the right one?

Consider it here:

OPTION ARM vs. FIXED Calculator

There are countless people who could benefit from this product, sold and used properly. Its appeal to the savvy will outlast the headlines.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The .mobi scam

The idea of a mobile web is one of the sexiest ideas to me. I imagine a supercharged IPOD like device that streams broadband, even when I'm hiking in Vermont.

But one of the biggest scams out there in my opinion is the .mobi TLD money grab. The one thing that isn't a part of my mobile web fantasy is the requirement of using a special TLD wherever I surf, with no guarantee that the .mobi site will mirror the content of the .com site. It's not just me. Tim Berners-Leeand many others agree.

To make matters worse, they have a 149 Page list of "Premium names" which they are holding off from the normal bidding landrush, and -- you guessed it -- holding an auctioning off.