The incredibly smart, sometimes bearded, Gahlord Dewald has a post up on Inman (will go behind paywall in 24 hours) in which he counsels brokers and agents to “break free from cookie-cutter real estate” by paying more attention to categories of information and data:
Think your brand is different from your competition? Go look at the categories for real estate on your site then go look at the categories for real estate on your competition’s sites. See any difference?
This isn’t a case of tools not existing. Categories are an inherent function in every database-driven content management system out there.
But a quick tour of real estate sites will reveal that most of these systems have been set on autopilot to mimic the same categories that were used for real estate in — you guessed it — newspapers.
His recommendation is to rethink the categories for a real estate search website, perhaps to better “narrowcast” information to a specific segment of the audience. It’s an interesting approach, and one that I’ve recommended to others in a slightly different context via persona-based marketing, but… the post made me wonder about something.
Cookie Cutter Real Estate
Gahlord’s point appears to be that 21st century realtors, using 21st century Web tools, are using 19th century categories for properties invented in the Age of the Newspaper. That seems a fair assessment. So every website uses the same categories: “single family residence”, “condo”, “bed/bath/zip”, etc. Creating differentiation, then, from Gahlord’s standpoint appears to include different categories that might better reach a narrower, more qualified set of buyers.
Here’s the thing, though: to abuse Gahlord’s analogy some more… whatever the shape of the cookie cutter, if you’re cutting the same cookie dough, don’t you get the same cookie?
So you get a narrower, more qualified set of buyers, who find the property because the category is something like “starter homes for parents with only one child”. Great! They have now become your client. Is the service they receive from you different somehow?
A sugar cookie is a sugar cookie is a sugar cookie, whether it’s shaped like a star, a snowman, or whatever. When I bite into one vs. another, they all taste like a sugar cookie.
Narrowcast the content — great. I’ve bought in. Your content was properly narrowcast to the right audience — I’m a motivated, high-quality lead. I’ve called you. I’ve met with you. I’ve signed the representation agreement. Congratulations! Now what?
Do you do things faster than other realtors? If so, how? As your client, as opposed to the other guy’s client, what am I getting in terms of the actual service — you know, the thing I’m paying for? Are you cheaper than the other guy? If so, how? Do you know more about local zoning ordinances than the other guy? State real estate laws and regs? Financial impact of the purchase decision? What is the difference between you and the other guy, once I’m an actual client?
The more I look at real estate today, the more it seems to me that we have brokers and agents spending tons of time and energy around the shape of the cookie cutter, and precious little time and energy on the actual cookie.
The conversation almost always extends into, and centers around, the oft-misunderstood concept of “branding”. Numerous consultants (like me) are telling brokers and agents to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Stand out from the crowd! Be unique! The justification for almost all of social media marketing is that it will create a brand — personal brand or corporate brand — with which consumers can relate and engage.
Yet, very few people talk about the substance of the brand — the so-called “brand promise”. The guys at 1000watt do, and some others, but the vast array of vendors, consultants, coaches, and other #vendorwhores (thanks, Greg Swann!) mostly emphasize the surface. The cookie cutter gets all the attention; the cookie remains the same.
Here’s where I am right now: less cookie cutter, more cookie. I’d rather advise clients to decide whether they’re going to make chocolate chip cookies or oatmeal raisin cookies, and let the “branding” take care of itself. Who cares, ultimately, if the cookie is round like every other cookie — if my cookie actually tastes different, is different, than the other guy’s? I’d rather bet that the customer who likes my cookie will tell their friends about it, and focus on baking some great unique cookies.
Marketing Is More Than Promotion
Of course, I know Gahlord isn’t saying just keep on doing the exact same thing as everyone else, but dress it up differently with categories. But I just loved the analogy, so I’m inspired by his post.
The point remains, however. There are 4 P’s of Marketing. Product and Pricing are two of them. Promotion — what real estate professionals spend most of their time and energy thinking about — is only one aspect of Marketing.
The lack of differentiation in real estate, I would submit, has very little to do with how the story is told. It has a lot more to do with the story itself.
Less cookie cutter. More cookie. Less promotion. More product.