Adventures in real estate marketing

Real estate marketing is an interesting thing. It has different norms and boundaries than marketing in most other industries. What works in real estate is not necessarily what works in marketing as a whole. A home is not only one of the biggest purchase of one’s life, it is also one of the most emotional. The home itself may not be a brand onto itself. With few exceptions people don’t buy into a brand of home. Except in the case of new home construction few people buying a home are even aware of who the builder or architect was. The brand is more commonly the community or neighbourhood in which the home is situated. The brokerage is a brand, but interestingly the individual agent is normally the brand most home owners are sold on.
When I was in college I sold cars for a Ford dealership part time. Through networking, meticulous database keeping of customers and old fashion cold calling I was able to sell more cars than the full time guys and by my 6th month in I had broken the monthly sales record. I thought I was pretty smart, until I met a salesman from a sister dealership. His dealership was out of the way. It generated less foot traffic than the lot I was at. He sold more cars in a month than our entire bullpen of salesman combined. He was a tour de force. How did he do this? He did his best to provide customers with the car they actually wanted and he marketed himself the same way effective real estate agents did. Through these two innovations he generated a referral network that spanned the entirety of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.
The first radio commercial ever broadcast was for a New York realtor. The first advertising agency ever conceived was birthed by a realtor. The concept of finding the best way to market products and services to clients of any business was a side business spawned by a realtor who had found the magic touch of doing it for himself in real estate. A realtor’s ability to convince prospective clients of their professionalism, their integrity and, whether it’s selling a home or finding a home, their ability to get the job done is the single biggest indicator of success. The relationship between successful real estate agency and successful self-promotion aren’t symbiotic, they are one in the same. The roughly 120,000 real estate agents in Canada spent around $625 million dollars on advertising last year. That’s an average of $5200 dollars a year per realtor. When you look at it from that perspective $5200 doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but a mean cross section doesn’t provide a true story. In that average are realtors who have been at it for 20 years and are moving 2 houses a month. These people sunk a lot of money into advertising early in their career and can now coast on referrals and spend a large part of their now shrunken marketing budget on what I call “staying in touch marketing”.
That average equates to over $100,000 in 20 years of realty. If you are spending that kind of money you want to be sure you are getting people into homes they want and homes they won’t regret buying. You want to be sure that when they get your calendar and the Christmas card they aren’t thinking “that’s the guy who sold us this dump”. To be a real estate agent is to be a marketing agent. What you are marketing is your integrity and protecting that brand is vital.
Standing out in any market is key. No more so anywhere than in real estate. A realtor in the US named Cotty Lowry rented a billboard in his town. Within days someone vandalized it with the usual glasses and devil horns. He replaced the billboard and again within a few days the vandals struck. th place in the market. They were looking for something to make them stand out. The hot air balloon finally got the green light and wouldn’t you know it, within a few months Remax was sitting in first place in Denver. Clearly they had risen above the crowd. Arthur Bartlett, co founder of Century 21 came up with the idea of gold jackets. These were seen as tacky, even vulgar by his competitors. Bartlett started with one office in California in 1971 and when he died in 2009 there were 7700 century 21 offices world-wide.  I’m sure some his competitors were wishing they had the moxy to be a little tacky. Along with the fore mentioned red white and blue balloon the gold jacket stands as one of the most recognizable branding tools in the industry.
This pattern repeated itself several times and interestingly Cotty Lowry became a bit of a local celebrity. People would wait to see what the next cosmetic alterations would bring and his business flourished because of it. The story of the Remax balloon is a tale of throwing the spaghetti against the wall. Two agents from New Mexico went to the annual Remax conference with a picture of a hot air balloon and tried to sell it as the corporate logo. No one was interested. A hot air balloon has nothing to do with realty, after all. They tried to hook the idea over the next few years, but it was always a resounding “no”. Then Remax hired a marketing firm to poll their visibility in Denver, the organization’s home town. Remax discovered they sat in 8

I am sure for every devil horned billboard, hot air balloon and gold jacket hundreds of lead balloons have hit the ground, but in order to stand out you need to be innovative and daring. You have to see what sticks to the wall.  And once you do you need to be sure your product, you, is a well protected brand.


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