Email: It’s Alive and Well – and Reinventing Itself

By |August 12th, 2015|

Email MarketingIn an era when consumer marketing headlines are dominated by Snapchats and Instragrams, mobile apps and augmented realities, it’s no great wonder that tried-and-true tools like email marketing risk losing a bit of their luster. (Even the shiniest objects, after all, can dull over time.)

But for what it might lack in pure pop-culture magnetism, email more than makes up for in pure performance:

  • Nearly 70% of marketers find email a “very effective” channel (source)
  • Email campaigns still trump pretty much everything for cost effectiveness, delivering (pardon the pun) up to a whopping 4,300% return on investment (source)
  • Email generates three times the conversion rate than Facebook and Twitter (source)

In short, email marketing is a trusted tool. It delivers value. And it triggers action. So its premature death has been greatly exaggerated.

Today, successful email marketers in real estate have the basics down pat. They use email:

  • As a lead-nurturing tool rather than a mass-promotion channel
  • As an automation resource that simplifies and streamlines outreach to prospects
  • As a way to not just push specific pieces of inventory, but to build relationships and seed referrals
  • As an opportunity to harness the powerful influence that personalized marketing offers to help accelerate homebuyers through the conversion funnel

If you’ve already mastered those tasks, you’re probably seeing a healthy return on your email marketing efforts (perhaps even enjoying an open rate that’s higher than the national real estate average of just over 22%). And if you haven’t yet put those capabilities to work yet, here’s a quick rundown on each:

Lead Nurturing – The folks at HubSpot, who pretty much wrote the book on inbound marketing (seriously; the company’s founders published this way back in 2009), have a robust library of “how-to’s” and “why’s” around lead nurturing through email. To save you a little time, here’s the key takeaway: Since homebuyers visit up to as many a dozen homes (or more) before making a purchase decision, you have to keep leads warm. And that’s where content marketing takes hold.

So let’s say it’s your job to market and sell inventory in a fictional community we’ll call “Cypress Landing.” Your prospective homebuyers have at least half dozen other local “comp” neighborhoods that they’ll put yours up against. But if Cypress Landing is the community that’s sharing timely and relevant information – about new and planned nearby amenities, changing building or environmental regulations, interior design trends, financing deals and more – it’s the one that’s staying top-of-mind throughout the homebuying process. Yet that kind of coordinated effort takes time, which leads us naturally to…

Marketing Automation – “Marketing Automation” is one of those rare instances where industry jargon is actually descriptive and not pure gobbledygook. In simplest terms, Marketing Automation (“MA” for short) tools allow you instantly coordinate the most marketing activities with the fewest clicks.

At BrightDoor, we’re firm believers in the power of MA, because we’ve seen it work for so many of our clients.  A very simple automated email campaign might shape up in a workflow like this:

Offer eMail > Landing Page Visit > Content Download > Confirmation Email

So you prompt prospects to first connect with you (or stay connected with you) through useful content (more on that in a moment), you capture additional information to help you better understand your prospects’ interests (that’s where the landing page visit comes in), and you have a platform for both building affinity and measuring marketing success. Through your MA tool, you’ve made all that possible with far fewer steps than you might imagine; in essence, you set up a “script” and schedule, say “Action!” and then let it all play out.

The entire process – what happens when a prospect accepts or ignores your overture – all begins with that first email. That’s why picking the right MA software is so important – businesses using it report they’re increasing qualified leads by more than 400%. (Full disclosure: We’re partial to what our software brings to the table for real estate pros on this front, of course, especially now that we have built-in integration with MailChimp.)

Relationship-Building and Referral-Seeding – While the first email ever received was a short chunk of jibberish – something along the lines of “QWERTYIOP” – today’s email recipients are placing higher and higher demands on those who dare invite themselves directly to an inbox. And with 108+ billion new emails floating out there every day, having something valuable to share with homebuyers has never been more important.

Let’s go back to Cypress Landing, the fictional development you’re tasked with marketing. How do you figure out what content – delivered in which formats – will prove most beneficial? Using the options that are plotted below the “y” axis on this chart as a brainstorming tool might yield options like these:

  • A trend report on the uptick on the value of homes surrounding Cypress Landing (to help convince would-be buyers that their purchase in your community makes even more long-term financial sense)
  • An infographic illustrating the most preferred single-family home lot sizes or amenities (to help buyers see how Cypress Landing perfectly reflects those tastes)
  • A webinar that gives first-time homebuyers a checklist for identifying what separates well-built homes from shoddy (and shady) imposters (to help anxious, novice buyers gain a sense of confidence in their decision-making after touring Cypress Landing and competing communities)

Why focus on “y” (i.e., the content types appearing below the “y” axis)? Because with relationship-building tools, you’re looking to educate and gain trust – not to force the buyer into a quick sale. Yes, you can (and should) share sales-oriented emails around specific neighborhoods or individual properties. But you should also set aside time, energy and resources to create content that helps generate natural affinity to you among potential buyers. Otherwise, you risk being seen as an organization that’s spamming prospects with material that’s solely aligned with your interest, not theirs.

Your referral efforts can also get a boost through smart email marketing.

Thank you notes or gifts directly after the sale might be common practice, but what’s less-common – and potentially even more valuable – is post-sale content (about price trends, tax changes, outdoor living ideas, etc.) that your satisfied buyers might share within their own personal networks. So cleaving off post-sale buyers into their own email list and targeting content specifically to them can help fortify a base of allies that connect your brand with attributes like “helpful,” “knowledgeable” and “available.”

Personalized Marketing – The “adapt-or-die” nature of digital marketing suggests that even the most well-promoted, well-armed brands have no guarantee of success. (Remember Apple’s failed “Ping” social media platform? If not, rest assured you’re not alone.)

That’s why email marketing innovators have a strong motivation to introduce new capabilities that grab and hold readers’ attention. And that’s where personalization comes in: In a 2014 research study from eConsultancy and Adestra, respondents representing companies identified “better personalization” as the chief email task they can’t fix to their satisfaction, and agency respondents ranked it as their second-greatest pet peeve (right behind “segmentation”).

Next-gen email marketers are already looking to capitalize on these capabilities today that may be commonplace tomorrow:

  • Dynamic Content – Think of the old, “inserting-Bob’s-name-in-the-body-of-an-email-to-Bob” technique–on steroids (LOTS of them). You could use dynamic content to target emails, for example, based on behavior. If the Smith family visits the model home at both Cypress Landing and another one of your communities – and they register at both – you can tailor follow up emails to them based on that variable. For example, you might provide a comparison chart that lists some of the basics about both developments (comparing general stats on lot and home sizes, price ranges, etc.). If you see that the Smiths download an eGuide you created about sustainable development practices at Cypress Landing, you could send a follow-up email that reminds them why Cypress Landing is such an eco-smart homebuying choice. Or as your community is nearing its build-out phase, you could send emails embedded with a real-time “countdown clock” that imparts a sense of urgency to fence-sitters.
  • Social Integration – So you find out the Smiths are particularly excited about the local amenities – restaurants, movie theaters, the local performing arts center – that surround Cypress Landing. In your next email, you embed links to a live Twitter feed from each those establishments: the Smiths suddenly feel “in the know,” and you’ve given them another reason to believe that Cypress Landing is located in the heart of a dynamic, active area (a belief that, after the Smiths choose to follow some of those tweeters, is reinforced through their future tweets).
  • Automatic Image Downloads – In late 2013, Gmail introduced “automatic image downloading,” which ensures that images (photos, icons, etc.) you embed in your emails appear automatically in Gmail accounts without recipients having to manually “authorize” you as a sender of graphic-rich emails (meaning your homebuyers don’t see a little red “x” where a photo of your model home would otherwise appear). The net result of that new feature? As reported by Litmus, Gmail opens increased a whopping 73% in 2014 – not an unimportant statistic, when you figure Gmail enjoys a 16% market share among email clients (following only the Apple iPhone at 28%). The next natural evolutions will likely be better support for embedded video across all platforms, especially on mobile devices: as email marketing company ExactTarget explains,” …not only are mobile devices great environments for viewing, but often a preferred environment-likely from portability and ease of use [perspectives].” And with email viewing on mobile devices on the rise (check out #1, #3 and #5), you can see a clear trend developing.

Odds are, you’ll be hearing more and more about emerging email alternatives in the months and years ahead (see “Slack”). At BrightDoor, we think it’s a little pessimistic – and more than a bit unrealistic – that email will be completely replaced by 2020. Whether email goes the way of the digital dinosaur in five years or five times that number, today’s simple fact is this: email remains a powerful and increasingly adaptable tool that can put you in front of homebuyers day in and day out.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of six installments in our summer 2015 technology blog series. Be sure to keep an eye out for the next edition.