Helping homebuilders get past the past – and on to a better present
Just for a moment, hop in a Doc Brown Delorean and travel back in time to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1956.
You’re one of the estimated 60,000 participants in that year’s Parade of Homes – meaning you’re one of about every two or three residents of the city who are lining up to see what two-dozen homebuilders are featuring in their models. The Post-War building boom is in full swing, and fully decked-out models are priced at for four to five times of buyers’ annual incomes of around $5,600. The visitor-to-buyer ratio is roughly 530:1 for the models you tour.
Welcome to cutting edge real estate marketing in the 1950s. Things have changed a bit since then…
Now you’re back in the Delorean – and back in 2016. What’s changed in those 60 years? Somehow, nothing – and yet everything.
Savvy Buyers Drives Savvier Marketing
Essentially, the “buying mind” hasn’t evolved too dramatically in past half century.
The basic human motivators that have always driven homebuying decisions – the need for safety, belonging, esteem – are still very much at work today. Yesterday’s wicked-cool innovation (“Now with overhead garage doors!”) have simply been replaced with new ones (“Now with built-in Smart Home features!”).
What’s really changed is how, when and why homebuilders interact with buyers. Successful homebuilders today:
- Connect with buyers on those buyers’ own terms – on their preferred devices, at their leisure.
- Orchestrate pre-, during- and post-tour sales experiences. They seize individual moments to engage and impress.
- Do more with less. They multiply the effectiveness of their sales agents by letting technology assist where it can do the most good, particular when it comes to automating routine marketing tasks and improving buyers’ ability to get the information they want and need to make an informed decision.
How can homebuilders initiate the leap from piecemeal marketing based on brochures and bingo cards to fully integrated marketing and sales with digital tools? Three key steps point the way.
Step One: Think “Envy”
This one’s easy. Just think about a time when you saw a homebuilder apply a technology in sales or marketing that was so cool or inventive that it instantly made you envious. Kind of gnaws a little on the stomach, right?
Odds are, though, if you analyzed it all from a distance (where you’d feel a little less heartburn), you’d be able to pinpoint precisely what it was that made you envious. Maybe it was that builder’s ability to connect with customers through new channels. Or to maximize value from existing marketing assets. Or to manage leads in a way that dramatically improves closing ratios.
Whatever it was, it’s likely something to be admired, sure, but certainly not something to be feared. The tide has turned for digital marketing in real estate – what was considered unthinkable just a decade ago is now becoming more and more commonplace. Advanced technology tools can be put to work more quickly and affordably, and the central question is shifting from “I wonder if…?” to “When can we…?”.
Put simply, the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” is growing ever smaller, swinging open the digital-marketing door for homebuilders of all sizes.
Step Two: Think “Pain Relief”
When you know you need to amp up your digital marketing – but don’t know where to begin – start with pain relief. Think about which of the following frustrations you wish you could put to rest once and for all:
- Leads: You’re not grabbing enough of them – or, worse yet, you’re dropping the ones you thought you had firmly in hand. And filtering and managing leads isn’t as seamless or in-sync as you know it should be.
- Data: You don’t know what you don’t know. (In other words, you’re not tracking or collecting real-time data about contacts, leads, content or other variables that have a direct impact on your sales.)
- Product Presentation: You’re having a hard time “wowing!” the socks off of today’s savvy yet skeptical buyers, who arrive at your model home thinking they already know everything about your community (based solely on a quick scan through a handful of MLS listings).
- Mobile: You’re having a hard time going where your buyers go by securing – and keeping – a valuable piece of digital real estate on their mobile devices.
If you’re feeling frustrated by any or all of those, rest assured, you’re not alone. A decade ago, a Builder magazine feature article about technology adoption pointed out that large and small homebuilders alike were successfully using websites to attract buyers. And that’s great. But since then, most consumers have quickly leapfrogged through a “Web 2.0” world to happily embrace its rapidly emerging successor, the “Web 3.0” – a world where more devices are connected, searches are smarter and faster, and customized content arrives in more shapes and sizes than ever before (geek out here on a Web 3.0 primer).
Thankfully, homebuilders who feel suddenly behind their technology-equipped buyers can secure refuge in new applications and integrated platforms that make it easier than ever to embrace new sales and marketing technologies.
Step Three: Think “Integrated”
Let’s revisit the four principal frustrations, this time through a lens of alleviating those pains in a practical way:
Leads: Yes, you can use Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Excel as quasi-lead management tools. Or take a spin with off-the-shelf customer relationship management (CRM) software. You’ll likely find, though, that CRM systems that are specifically geared toward real estate are a better fit for the way your team works, since those tools “speak the language” of real estate and, generally, are built around the way your agents sell. When you’re sizing up options, look for a CRM that gives you the ability to:
- Manage leads (read more on that below)
- Manage inventory + marketing content (photos, maps, videos, etc. of your inventory that gets distributed on your website, through email campaigns, etc.)
- Manage marketing campaigns (emails, landing pages, social sharing options, etc.) inline (so you don’t have to keep hopping from one program to another to accomplish closely related tasks)
Data: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is a business dictate that’s come under fire in some circles (for instance, how do you measure an intangible but clearly valuable quality like “confidence”?), but there’s no doubting the value of data analytics. Whether you’re a data junkie or you’re a newcomer to marketing metrics, be sure to find a technology tool that lets you:
- Collect real-time data about contacts: Know precisely how you’re reaching out to your buyers and which touch points should get more – or less – energy and resources put behind them
- Collect real-time data about leads: Analyze how contacts get entered into your system and are nurtured over time by teams and individual agents
- Report key metrics: Get at-a-glance looks at what’s working today, and then get rich “drill-down” data to inform tomorrow’s planning
Product Presentation: While a majority of homebuyers start their home searches online, here’s a simple fact: The layout and design of a house is the single most important influence among prospects buying a new home. That means when buyers show up at your model or sales center – and they will – you’ve got them right where you want them. And it’s at those moments that you may find interactive touchscreens to be an effective, affordable marketing and sales ally by:
- Gathering leads: Interactive tools or tablets can be used to collect simple contact information from everyone who walks in the door
- Acting as a “force multiplier”: While a sales agent is tied up in a conversation with one would-be buyer, interactive touchscreens can be informing and engaging other prospects
- Helping you position your full inventory: Interactive tools can help broaden buyers’ horizons by presenting details about multiple lots and floor plans that might meet their needs
- Selling “the place”: Odds are, your community has features that buyers are looking to check off their lists before they even step back outside your model home or sales center, so you can spotlight neighborhood amenities, nearby shopping and recreation spots, school information, etc.
Mobile: We’ll let Digiday do the lead-in here: “The time spent by people on digital media is exploding right now, and according to both Forrester and comScore, it’s predominantly being driven by mobile apps.” So the fact that you need an app isn’t news, nor is the fact that you’d expect that app to have rudimentary features (like basic inventory information). To stay ahead of buyers who look to their mobile devices more and more – and have higher expectations of what they can do there – expect your mobile solution to deliver:
- Push notifications: Getting alerts about offers being made or new lots becoming available helps promote a sense of urgency
- Integration: Your buyers expect to see the same content (parcel maps, photos, videos, etc.) whether they’re looking at their mobile device or your website or sales center touchscreen
- Social Sharing: Your mobile tools should let buyers share what they like most about your community with their friends ([LINK: http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Millennials-Social-Media-Posts-Influence-Peers-Buy-New-Products/1010576] especially for Millennial buyers)
- Location-Based Marketing: With advanced location-marketing features (like beacons and connected apps), you can “ping” visitors with key information about community amenities and specific in-home features (like promoting how buyers can customize plans or finishes)
Independently, those features and functions would be useful to your team, no doubt. But if they were all integrated – if you could, for example, update information about a new, hot-selling floorplan and have it come to life across all your key digital marketing channels at once – then you’d be truly maximizing your marketing investment. (And in a spirit of full disclosure, that’s precisely the kind of platform we offer builders here at BrightDoor.)
Building Toward the Model Home of 2076
Depending on whose soothsaying skills you trust most, homes of the future will be green, vertical and/or some variations of glossy and glassy. So, too, then, will be the model homes that sell them, since the two are connected at the hip bone. And it’s hard to fathom just how much impact technologies we can’t even imagine in 2016 will have on the real estate sales and marketing process.
Until then, today’s homebuilders can take simple, practical steps to ensure their sales and marketing technology fits the increasingly tough demands of today’s homebuyers. They can consider how they want to engage and impress customers (think “envy”), analyze the gaps between where they are now and where they hope to be (think “pain relief”), and look for ways to tie together digital marketing tools in a way that lets them optimize every dollar they spend (think “integration”).