Tree.com Climbs to New Heights1 Nov, 2008 By: Thomas Haire Response
No Line Between Tree and Partners
Lebda points to Tree.com's agency and vendor partners when asked for a secret to the company's success, and a reason to believe that things will only improve as we look ahead into a tough economic market.
"We work with a roster of agencies, a lot of internal talent, freelancers and technology vendors," he says. "We probably do a lot more internally than most, but our partners are really locked in to what we want. Mullen has been our agency for 12 years on the media side. They buy all DRTV, radio and branded TV. And they've created amazing models to build on our success. They are predictive models, including forecasting and volume. They even input mortgage rates, housing prices and demographics to help us target the best areas for our advertising."
For its online work, the Tree.com team does all of its own buying, but works with a company called Efficient Frontier for its search technology needs. The company works with Equifax on direct mail and E-mail marketing. "We still design and develop in-house, and we also use a number of freelancers for creative," he says.
However, Lebda adds that, no matter the agency or vendor, complete transparency is crucial. "When they work best, the line between them and us doesn't exist," he contends. "Our vendors need to understand our business goals and work with a lot of transparency to achieve those goals. We want them to be brutally honest with us if we're not doing something right. We expect them to challenge us, to raise our game, to tell us where we're strong or weak. We're using them because they are supposed to be better than we are at what they do."
Looking forward, Tree.com's efforts to take the LendingTree model across all of their business lines is something that Lebda is looking forward to. At the same time, he's excited about current short-range plans as well.
"We've got some upcoming campaigns that are more interest-rate driven and more topical," he says. "Our offline marketing has moved to a higher mix of DR to brand, from pushing clear features and benefits to crafting a more targeted message about pricing, rates and more. However, we don't want to end up as just another low-rate dealer, so even the DR pieces have to include that taste of brand marketing."
The company's extended product offerings are also helping Tree.com become stronger online. "We've moved over the past few years to much more successful DR marketing online — performance networks, pay-per-click (PPC), pay-per-lead (PPL) models. We've put a lot of technology against that — measuring ad buys, testing and conversion. Recently, we've done a lot of toggling between two products: what we call our long-form product (traditional LendingTree) vs. our newer short-form product, called LendingTree QuickMatch. Each has different lenders, and the success measurement math is different. But it's made for an interesting lesson in how and where we use DR online."