Is Your Site Serving Salad Bars or $1 Menu Items?

Fast food restaurants are really smart. They spend millions of dollars researching and verifying how smart they are. These companies listened to their customers who wanted healthier options; and thus salad bars were added and creative names were developed to garner attention. Fast food executives sat back and waited for the financial verification of how smart they are. They also waited for nutrition bashers to finally sing their praises while they anticipated skyrocketing fast food sales.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Salad Bar

Restaurants discovered that there was a major chasm between “what I say” and “what I do” with their customers. Customers had demanded healthier options and the fast food industry responded, spending millions of dollars developing exactly what they wanted.

Whatever Makes You Happy

I was standing in line at McDonald’s and the parents behind me asked their daughter if she wanted to order a salad. “This is McDonald’s. I don’t want a salad.” The parents gave in, adopting a “whatever makes you happy (meal)” attitude.

Have It Your Way?

I remember, such a time long ago, stepping up to the order counter and taking the salad plunge. I had to study the new menu (I had memorized the old menu) to determine which healthy salad would become my new “burger.” I decided on the super nutritious healthy fruit salad. I silently congratulated myself on making such a great healthy eating choice.

I didn’t really flinch at the $3.49 price. Gosh, I would have spent that on the three hamburgers I normally ordered. I felt it was my own personal “one small step for man” moment; ordering a salad in a meat and potatoes fast food restaurant. I half expected to hear the opening music from the movie “2001 Space Odyssey” and I opened my wallet to pay.

The Grapes of Wrath

I sat down, peered into my tiny, clear plastic container, and immediately thought that the restaurant shouldn’t cut the green apples until they are served: and a tan patina had formed around the fleshy part of the apples. And, the grapes? Well, they were grapes, but I wonder if anyone had actually tasted a grape to make sure it was sweet and juicy. The grapes were just plain awful. At least the walnuts were good, though broken.

As I finished the salad in less than 10 bites, with a still hungry feeling, I glanced back up at the new menu to see if I should get another salad. I recall thinking, “How can salad cost more than a burger?” I opted to leave the restaurant a bit hungry, but full of the knowledge of what I would order next time… I always enjoy a good burger, or three.

The Two Percent Solution
McDonald’s did earn acclaim for adding healthy menu items. They even touted that they sold more than 400 million premium salads during the first two years. At first glance, that seems like a rousing success, until you consider that McDonald’s serves 23+ million people EACH day in the United States, which works out to about 17 billion customers during the same period. In short, just over two percent of their customers have ordered salads since they were added to the menu.
Burgers and Mortgages

So how do we apply all of this knowledge to a mortgage web site? First, you have to decide what potential customers are asking for, and what they really want.

You may think your customers want good ol’ fashioned customer service (they do). You may think your customers want someone to meet with them and hold their hand through the process (they do). You may think your customers want to have you know their name and say how nice their home is (they do).

Smart Mortgage Site Owners

Mortgage web site owners are as smart as any fast food executive.

The Washington Post quoted several fast food executives:

Denny Post, the Chief Concept Officer for Burger King said, “The gap between what [diners] say and what they do is just huge. Therein lies the challenge for business, because there is simply not enough behavior shift to build a business around.”

Richard Johnson, Ruby Tuesday’s Senior Vice President said, “The first Ruby Tuesday opened in 1972. In those days, the number one item people ordered when they went out was a hamburger and french fries. Today, the number one items people order when they go out are a hamburger, french fries and chicken tenders.”

Bill Whitman, McDonald’s company spokesman said “The most popular item on our menu continues to be the double cheeseburger, hands down.”

Why DiTech and eLoan Have Done so Well

A mortgage company knows that beyond customer service, beyond hand-holding, beyond everything else, the single most important factor is the interest rate. This explains why someone will ignore their local mortgage broker and select a company where their only interaction will be with a phone call with a company thousands of miles away.

If You Want Your Web Site to be More Successful

If you want your web site to be more successful, feature your best interest rates prominently, not only on your main page, but on each and every page.

Can Paris Hilton Help You Increase Your Business?

Just to cover all the bases, maybe it isn’t the interest rate that customers really want. Maybe we could take a lesson from the Carl’s Jr. fast food chain. They hypothesized that it really wasn’t the burger (or salad) that was making people select their food, but maybe the commercial which featured a sexy individual, in this case Paris Hilton, as she danced (oops, I mean enjoyed… oops, I mean ate) a spicy BBQ burger, while apparently working at a car wash.

So maybe one of your staff (male or female) could be filmed doing a sexy dance with the mortgage loan papers prominently featured (showing lots of low interest rate cleavage). This possibly could be what your customers want.

(Rod Aries and Robert Farris are co-founders of, a leading Internet marketing provider to corporate mortgage clients.)

Originally published March 2006.

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