According to ad agency folklore, automotive company Clients rank at the bottom of the prestige scale. Automotive marketing rarely earns awards for creativity and budgets can plunge with the economy. Atop the hierarchy sit the coveted pharmaceutical empires with their virtually limitless marketing budgets, happily insulated against economic downturns. There always seems to be disposable income for drugs. Real estate, long the domain of pushy sales agents and fly by night builders, ranked barely above automotive on the prestige scale and its approach to marketing was mired in fluff. Ads commonly boasted, "We're #1!", "A Great Value!" and commanded, "Hurry, Hurry! Rates Are Low!" Fluffy advertorials echoed the same points, supported by pictures of the sales team.
"Who could read this stuff?" I thought when I began working with some of the country's largest home-builders. I could not understand why anyone would respond positively to this marketing approach and set out to help my builder and real estate company Clients increase sales - both short and long-term - by treating their customers and prospects like people who actually had brains and would use them. This approach worked well for targeting technical engineers and managers for packaging, material handling, chemical and pharmaceutical equipment companies - and delivered clear results in terms of leads, name brand awareness and other factors. Applying the same, high level of professionalism to real estate simply made sense.
The approach focused on providing homebuyers and sellers with the information they needed to make informed buying decisions. Once educated, they would, of course, buy homes from my Clients. News articles focused on the strength of school systems; proper home inspections; quality building materials; and lifestyle-driven trends in home design, all positioning Client companies as credible authorities on the subject. Rather than write fluffy quotes from sales executives that rarely affected the prospect, we used great care in devising useful, realistic quotes and attributed them to expert construction personnel. Not only did this add strength to the articles, but it also put the industry's unsung heroes into the limelight - the people who actually build the homes.
Copy was styled to read as news. Advertising went beyond price to add value to the homes while building the name brand awareness and recognition that helps keep companies afloat during market downturns. This approach delivered immediate response. Week after week, these news articles sent qualified buyers hunting for new homes. Cries of elation from Client companies such as, "They bought from the PR!" and "They heard of us from the PR!" became ordinary. One builder wanted to rerun the same article for several consecutive weeks after it sparked dozens of appointments.
But it didn't stop there. To ensure longer-term success, we targeted longer-term prospects, people who could soon be ready to buy homes. By securing frequent news coverage in the business, home & garden and other news sections, as well as in business and trade magazines, prospects were likely to recall the name when they entered the market for a home and, therefore, would likely consider buying from the Client companies before meeting with the competition.
Client companies who unleashed this PR juggernaut consistently enjoyed higher "traffic" - the number of prospects through their doors each week - than their competitors and often were better positioned to upsell higher profit products and design options.
To leverage the investment in PR and help close sales, we crusaded to extend its reach beyond the initial exposures in print, on TV and on radio by converting published PR into other materials. New home sales centers, for example, featured news clips on an easel near the front door. Reprints added heft and third-party support to pocket folders that previously held only floorplans. Articles were re-published as Web copy and direct mail newsletters. This extended play stimulated recall and recognition and provided the sales team with the credible tools they needed to close sales.
But if people were buying homes anyway and were even responding to less sophisticated marketing tactics, why bother working so hard to develop smart marketing tactics? Here’s the response given when asked this question during a presentation to Coldwell Banker agents::
In a hot market, you can attract a steady flow of prospects without much effort and probably sell-out every home available at a reasonable price and turn a profit. But since my approach adds value to your product and adds credibility to you as a sales counselor and to your company, prospects are willing to pay more for the same house. They trust you’re building with quality materials and that you’ll meet the move-in date. They agree to higher priced selections. Suddenly, your reasonable profit surges beyond expectations - and the word of mouth marketing helps pre-sell the next section.