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07/21/2009 LendingTree: Rebranding vs. Change


LendingTree is in the news today. It's rebranded itself, with the help of Boston advertising firm Mullen. LendingTree, described as a mortgage Web site operator, saw its fortunes dip in our mortgage-backed melt down. But, with Mullen's help, it's rising again, with its call of "You to the rescue." And, of course, central to all of this are TV commercials with actors dressed up like super heroes.

Which raises the biggest question: How has LendingTree truly changed?

Lendingtree

Apparently the Web site changed. It's a good Web site with lots of financial tools that walks you step-by-step through different scenarios. And then leads you to apply. The site has a friendly design and is easy to use. So far so good.

LendingTree is on Twitter. Not that much on, to be honest, and they seem to talk mostly about the Web site, the TV commercials and the articles written about Mullen. Hmmm.

If consumers don't have as much trust in financial institutions because many of them have acted irresponsibly and perhaps criminally, is rebranding with a big TV campaign, a new Web site and a Twitter account enough? Should the tag line change from "You to the rescue" to "Ag Agency to the rescue?" http://twitter.com/lendingtree

Actually, it's not even the first time in the last few years LendingTree switched from it's old tag line "When banks compete, you win" in a new ad campaign. Back in September 2007, it saw the writing on the wall and started running ads about "smart borrowing."

Where I'm going with all of this is that the way LendingTree works or connects with its customers doesn't seem to have changed at all. The façade has changed. The "message" has changed. But what I can't see are any substantial operational or customer service changes, things that would tell a consumer that this financial institution is not one of the bad guys, that it doesn't say it's on your side, it proves it.

Tools are great and the ads are cute but what are they really doing to improve their customer engagement with personal connections? Not much, from what I can see. Not in social media and barely on its own site. For example, whereas financial institutions such as Bank of America make Live Chat a big part of their online experience, the chat on LendingTree is pretty hard to find. Something that simple sends a message.

With Mullen founder Edward Boches  so active on Twitter, I somehow expected a place like Mullen to lead with connections to real people and using the medium to build relationships. Maybe that's phase 2. Or maybe it's too difficult to pull off, so ads and a new Web site were the way to go.

Whether it increases trust in LendingTree is the big question. Hopefully, new TV ads won't be enough.

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