When I started this blog, the focus was on marketing, especially social media and blogging. Over time, it’s morphed into a real estate industry blog, because my work took me towards industry issues stuff. But I’m still fascinated by marketing, and I think I kinda know what I’m doing in that arena as well.
I mention this because yesterday, I put a tiny comment on Facebook and it turned into a fun thread about marketing in real estate, about the “Shiny Object Syndrome” and so on. Here it is:
My issue with the promotion of things like Facebook Live for real estate — as it is with most of the cool shiny new strategies being promoted for real estate agents — is that they’re divorced from the underlying reality of what is being promoted.
So over the years, I’ve done presentations on fundamentals of marketing, etc. and thought it might be useful — and if not useful, then at least fun for me — to write down a few thoughts on marketing.
Start With the Fundamentals: The 4 “P’s” of Marketing
I know this is probably unnecessary for anyone who has even read a book on marketing, but… one of the biggest problems in real estate marketing is that most people think Promotion is marketing and ignore the other three fundamental “P”s: Product, Price, and Place.
Chances are, with real estate brokerage services, Price is not a factor. While some “discount brokerages” will promote the fact that they will charge less, I’ve seen very few agents (actually… NO agent anywhere ever) promote themselves as “I’m cheaper than the other guy”.
So what exactly is the Product being promoted? In theory, it’s the service itself — “I’ll help you buy or sell this house and make your life easier or make you more money” or whatever. Except that in real estate, the service itself is extraordinarily difficult to differentiate and to promote.
For example, suppose you’re the best damn Realtor in a given area. You’ve been inside every single house in your neighborhood. You know the history of the neighborhood from when it was first built in 1979. You serve on the school board, you know the local city councilman, you know the Mayor, you know everything that’s going on. You know that when it rains, this side of the street will flood, while the other side will stay dry. You’re an expert negotiator and an amazing problem solver who can rescue a deal from crisis after crisis.
How do you actually promote those things? A new agent with zero experience can and does say the exact same things as you do:
I want to be your Real Estate Agent For Life! I will guide you through the selling and buying process with ease along with the highest level of expertise. I will provide you with the most competent real estate advice and take the stress out of the entire process. You’re not just another number to me, and my focus is on giving the highest level of customer service and to make each client feel like they’re my only client. I’m going to know you by name, you’ll be treated like family and I want you to be our client for life! My main goal is to provide you with such good service that you will refer your friends and family to me with confidence.
I copied that (then changed some things to protect the innocent) from the first agent website that popped up in a Google search. And if you found yourself yawning halfway through the copy, you’re not alone. Because every single agent website or brokerage website says pretty much the same thing. Client for life, highest level of expertise/service, you’ll be treated like family, blah blah blah.
There are ways to showcase your expertise and value, of course, and there are brokers and agents who do an excellent job at doing just that. But how? Just saying it and repeating it over and over again doesn’t make it so.
So how do you do it?
So Much Truth Here
I wish I could find where I found this graphic the first time around. If you know, please let me know so I can give proper credit.
Now, everyone wants the bottom right square: BRANDING. That’s the holy grail and objective of marketers everywhere. Companies spend tens of billions of dollars every year on branding, and marketers often have the difficult task of convincing the CEO and the Board that spending $100 million for naming rights to a football stadium will actually increase sales somewhere down the line, although they can’t measure it directly in any way, shape, or form.
Furthermore, establishing and then maintaining a brand is:
- Time consuming
- Requires commitment
- Takes enormous discipline
My personal take on brand is that it’s near impossible to fake it for long. If a company is actually a brutal cutthroat organization, it’s very, very hard to maintain a brand as soft, cuddly, and friendly. (Although, Disney has managed that for quite some time… so there is that.) It takes too much discipline to present a fake face to the world all the time, especially in the social media age.
The better way is to base the brand on what comes easy — this is often known as “Be Yourself” kind of a strategy.
Applied to real estate, that might go something like this:
- If you are a fun, outgoing, social person, then your brand should be fun, outgoing, and social.
- If you are analytical and numbers-driven, then your brand should be analytical and numbers-driven.
- If you are a take-no-prisoners negotiator who drives a hard bargain, then your brand should be just that.
The idea is simple: have your brand reflect who you are naturally, so it’s not so difficult to maintain that brand over time. The trouble with real estate brokers and agents is that they think their brand has to be this “caring, local expert, family, premium service, serious, suit-and-tie professional, blah, blah, blah” and so they put that forward (in cookie-cutter fashion with every other broker and agent in the world) without regard to who they are as individuals and as professionals.
An Aside: Bob’s Big Brokerage
A few years ago, I had the crazy idea of starting a brokerage around the brand that reflects a kernel of truth about so many real estate companies I’ve seen. It was going to be called “Bob’s Big Brokerage” and the brand was going to be “We’re all about the money“. Here’s the “About Us” for that company:
At Bob’s Big Brokerage, we’re all about the money. Other brokers and agents will lie to you and say they care about you, they want to treat you like family, and all that crap. Not us. We want to sell your house for as much money as possible, because we get paid on commission. When you make more money, we make more money. We know you don’t care about us, and frankly, we don’t care that much about you. We care about the commission check, and getting the deal done as quickly as possible with as little work as possible. But hey, ask yourself this: Do you really care if some real estate agent invites you over for dinner? Or do you care about how many dollars end up in your pocket?
Then I figured BBB could live up to that brand pretty easily.
- “Oh, you’re looking to buy a 4BR/3BA house on the golf course, but your budget is $200K? Get lost, sucker. We’re all about the money, and you can’t afford that shit.”
- “You think your run-down piece of crap ranch with cat piss smell is worth $375K? Get real. We’re all about the money, and you’re dreaming. We can get you $180K from a Chinese investor who doesn’t care about cat piss smell. Too low? Waste somebody else’s time, pal.”
- “Okay, so the offer is for $350K and we wanted $375K. You should take the offer though, because your carrying cost on the house is $5K a month, and it might be five months before we get another legit offer. Your time is literally money, and my time is money too. Let’s get this done, get you paid, and more importantly, get me paid.”
Funny thing is, friends of mine who aren’t in the industry I’ve told this half-joke to all said they’d work with that brokerage because they loved the honesty.
The Flipside of Be Yourself
The problem with the “Be Yourself” brand strategy is that it simply sucks for quite a lot of real estate agents because… the agent sucks. Fact is, we have a crisis of incompetence among the agent ranks in real estate. That’s not me being an asshole, by the way; that’s the official position of the National Association of REALTORS through the DANGER Report:
It’s hard to recommend a branding play based around “Be Yourself” when “yourself” is no good:
I want to be your agent for life! I’m a part-time REALTOR with two years of experience. I’m really a soccer mom with three kids dabbling in real estate, because my husband is a VP at the bank, but I need spending cash for shoes and handbags. I don’t know what I’m doing really, because I’ve only done two deals, and one was for my mom. I took all of those ethics classes but have forgotten all about it, and if we go into contract, I’m going to talk to my broker for every step of the process, because I don’t really know what I’m doing. But I’ll treat you like family!
That’s just not going to work, is it? What do you do then?
Well, this is where the other 3 P’s of Marketing would come into play. The first and most obvious answer is that you need to improve the Product — namely, yourself. If you are a part-timer who is untrained, unethical, and/or incompetent, then get trained, get ethical, and become competent whether that’s through repetitive training or through working on someone’s team or what-have-you. Improve the Product first, before you try to brand it. Because along the way, while you are improving the Product, all of those unique “Be Yourself” elements — like the fact that you’re funny, or you love soccer, or whatever — will start to become more and more of a differentiator.
The less obvious answer is that you could compete on price. “Hey, I’m inexperienced and don’t know what I’m doing, so I’ll list your house for $500 flat fee!” I know the industry looks down on that kind of price-cutting, but I don’t know why. How else is an inexperienced agent supposed to get experience competing with people who are simply more expert and better than she is? (I think brokerages should allow agents to do discounting as a business strategy, but that’s another topic altogether….)
On Shiny Objects….
I can go on and on, I suppose, about branding, about marketing, about promotion, and all that jazz, but I probably should address what inspired this post in the first place: Facebook Live and the other Shiny Objects in real estate promotions.
My issue with Facebook Live or Snapchat or whatever-fad-of-the-day might be in real estate is that they all strike me as the fourth P: “Place” or distribution mechanisms or media channels. To me, it only makes sense to talk about this P in context of the other three: Product, Price, and Promotion.
Some guru going on stage and telling real estate agents to use Facebook Live to market and promote themselves is… well, if not irresponsible, at the very least silly, without taking the other factors into consideration.
For example, when you’re using Facebook Live… what exactly are you doing? And who are you?
If you’re a celebrity, Facebook Live makes a ton of sense, because… well, you’re a goddamn celebrity. If J.J. Watt were to do a Facebook Live of him lifting weights, hundreds of thousands of people are going to watch that. If I were to do a Facebook Live of myself lifting weights, I’d be lucky to have three people watch it… and then only to make fun of me.
Instagram could be a wonderful way to promote your listings or yourself… if you looked like this:
That’s Paige Hathaway, with 3.2 million Instagram followers, who is a “fitness model” on Instagram. Yeah, if you look like that, Instagram or Facebook Live might be a wonderful channel for you… although how much attention your open house photos would get from interested buyers versus how much attention you would get and from whom… is… shall we say, debatable?
On the other hand, if you look like the average 58-yo REALTOR… I’m not sure Instagram is the optimal way to promote yourself or your properties.
It doesn’t have to be just looks. If you’re analytical, really in touch with what’s going on in your market, then yes, using Facebook Live to share your brilliant insight into pricing trends in your market (that goes way above and beyond reciting some facts from your local MLS, by the way, since every other agent can do that) could be extremely powerful. But if you’re not good with numbers, not good with playing an economist on TV, I don’t know that I would recommend that strategy for you.
Using video has been something marketing people have been pitching REALTORS now for a few years, citing all kinds of benefits. But sometimes, it crosses over into Shiny Object territory. How?
If you’re Leigh Brown, and you’re funny as shit, and naturally good on camera, by all means, use video until the cows come home:
But see, I don’t agree with the first thing that Leigh Brown says. If you’re ugly, and you want to do video, you’d better be funny as hell or be personable in some other way. Because Leigh Brown is not what you’d call ugly.
On the other hand, even if you’re good-looking, but you’re boring… think about skipping video. I don’t know who this guy is and have nothing against him, but… the irony is rich in this video:
This has been an issue in real estate marketing since 2008, when I launched Notorious. Back then, the rage was all about blogging. Real estate agents were being told to start blogs because of Google juice and local expertise display and blah blah blah. And by golly, thousands upon thousands of real estate agents started blogs and attended BlogWorld and hired web designers for their blogs and….
So back in 2008, I wrote this post called “In the Name of All That is Holy, You Should Stop Blogging“:
A bad blog is not an asset — it’s a liability. Someone who may have been your ideal client might look at your utterly crappy website or horrid blog and conclude that you are a major league idiot, even if you happen to be the most knowledgeable real estate professional in history. They don’t know you; if all they get to see of you is a terrible blog, then as far as they’re concerned, you’re a terrible agent. Period. End of story.
It would be a major step forward for such an agent to suspend blogging. Indefinitely. And try to scrub the Interwebs of all clues as to the existence of such a blog once upon a time.
So if you’re a bad writer, then you would be doing yourself a favor (as well as the rest of the industry) by stopping your blogging activities and doing something else that would show off your scintillating personality. Maybe that’s audio. Maybe that’s video. But if you can’t write, please, please do not blog.
In the eight years since that post, none of that has changed. In fact, in the decades since the development of radio and television, none of that hasn’t changed: “A face for radio” has been a saying since sometime in the 20’s. If you suck at writing, don’t write. If you suck on video, don’t do video. If you have trouble speaking, podcasting isn’t for you.
A lot of the cool new marketing techniques work for some people because of the other aspects of what/who/where/when — if you will, because of the other 3 P’s of marketing that are in alignment with using that particular channel/technique/app/whatever. What makes it a “Shiny Object” instead of a tactic worth pursuing is that alignment with the other aspects.
This just got real long, so I’ll end it here. If you want to talk more about marketing, let me know and maybe I’ll try to touch on the topic more often, instead of you know… industry-destroying, soul-devouring developments like what’s happening in Canada….
If there is a conclusion, I suppose it’s this: marketing isn’t promotion. Marketing is Product, Price, Promotion, and Place (Channel). The difference between an effective, innovative technique and Shiny Object is alignment with and in between those four P’s.
But in my humble opinion, the most important P of all is Product. If you suck, no amount of promotion or hide-the-ball bullshit is going to hold up for long. If you’re fantastic, you’ll find a way — even if it’s completely independent of you, because your clients can’t stop talking about you to their friends — to get that out to the world.