Marketing dominates the real estate brokerage process. It is used to promote companies, generate leads, sell homes and swap referrals. Marketing is also what most agents think they are doing when they put properties in newspapers, postcards and even the web. Yet this isn’t really marketing. And real estate professionals need to learn how to do marketing, at least better than advertising, especially online.
Let’s start by making a critical distinction. Marketing and advertising are different. Placing a property in the newspaper or on the web is not marketing. Actually, it’s advertising. Writing clever classifieds that describe homes in terms of “BRs” and “BAs” and “FROGs” (family room over garage) is the worst form of advertising. Publishing a listing on a website as a laundry list of specifications, sizes, mortgage estimates and taxes is also advertising. It’s no different than the kind of advertising that catalogs use to sell products like tires or toasters. Most of this advertising is extraordinarily ineffective. That’s according to NAR’s most recent consumer study, where less than 5% of buyers found their next home in a newspaper and more than 88% of buyers said virtual tours were “somewhat to very useful.”
Marketing real estate is something completely different than advertising it. Especially when it’s online.
Marketing homes has little to do with the home’s specifications and more to do with the home’s opportunities. Almost every buyer will sacrifice some features in a property, as long as the overall opportunities match their desires. Many industries have long learned this: Electronics companies market the coolness opportunity of showing up to the gym with an iPod on your arm. Automobile companies have created a near-perfect association between cars and your emotions. That’s why they both focus on selling values - from fun to safe to family to sexy. Even when they list specs in advertising, their marketing approach revolves around people, not the product. So a print ad features a person wearing an iPod. An internet video features a person driving the automobile. When was the last time you saw a home on the web where people were actually living in the home?
That’s the flaw with internet advertising in real estate. Everybody’s focused on marketing the specifications. The assumption is that the house with a larger living room will outperform one with a smaller room. Yet nobody ever demonstrates people actually living in the living room. More ghastly are the homes advertised without furniture – as if the buyers are supposed to use their imagination. Marketing professionals know that a blank page – or just a product shot – is a very iffy strategy. Where real estate marketing has been reduced to advertising, then it all becomes a matter of whose stuff is bigger, better or snazzier. And that’s why most internet advertising is so dismally ineffective, because the consumer doesn’t buy stuff!
Home buyers may need some “stuff” such as a certain number of bedrooms for their children or a certain city for the schools. But their decision to buy the home is rarely about the actual stuff. Instead, it’s almost always emotional – a response not to the stuff, but to the value they would gain if they lived in the home. So homes are bought because they are near a lake where a buyer can sail their boat, or because they are a short walk into town featuring charming restaurants. Funny, most web listings rarely feature pictures of people sailing or a slow video walk along small-town storefronts. Just another photo of another toilet.
Even more mystifying is the placement of property promotions online. If it’s all advertising, then any home can be listed on any website. Listings appear on a smorgasbord of sites from local company to national aggregators to graphically challenged sites like Craigslist. It doesn’t matter if the site conveys the same kinds of values as the property for sale. Who knows if the site traffic represents potential buyers with those values/desires? Everything becomes so much text and photos. And it’s getting dumber and dumber all the time.
If it were marketing, properties would be selectively placed in targeted mediums online. An entry-level home whose values were frugality or growing-up would be placed on sites that target first time home buyers. Possibly such listings would not even appear on a website but on YouTube or iTunes. Doesn’t the research show that videos and podcasts are the driving interests of consumers in the first-time home-buyer demograpghic? Alternately, an upper-end city condominium offers maintenance-free, retirement enjoyment, local entertainment values. These are particularly attractive values to retirees. Should such properties remain buried in a list sorted by price? Why not create a value-specific micro site with a narrated guided video tour? Just like a walk through a museum, which we hear retirees sometimes do. If left to advertising then the home should be spam-plastered across the web. If marketed, the city-condo would leverage the buyer’s shopping habits – video and print – and offer a high-quality printable PDF online. Don’t believe it? Just ask the adjustable bed companies who use television to entice their prospects to download a high quality brochure from their website.
The real distinction between real estate advertising and marketing can be found on almost every broker’s website. If homes are considered commodities, then home specifications are used for search criteria. If, on the other hand, homes are considered opportunities to experience, then the site will feature tools to sort by lifestyle. The consumer’s values become searchable, not the product. When was the last time you saw a real estate site that could be focused by criteria like, I’m a new buyer, I’m a retiree, I’m a musician, I’m an equestrian, and so on? Nope; it’s all just stuff. And as every experienced agent knows, consumers do not buy stuff; they buy emotionally. That means they buy values. Until brokers start marketing each home’s values online, they’ll be at the mercy of the competing inventory, whose stuff may be more competitive than their stuff.