Personal Marketing

I was there in the 80s when the concept of Personal Marketing was born.  Re/Max had swept into the industry and turned the spotlight squarely on the the agent . . . the agent who did exactly what every other agent did, who had the same tools, the same program.  That was the problem:  how do you market something when what you have to market is exactly what everyone else has to market?  The answer was:  you don’t.  You don’t market what you do.  You market yourself.  You become your own brand.  And over time you create a belief that, while what you do isn’t all that different, who you are is.

Here:  think about cars for a minute.  Think about Dodge cars.  in the 80’s there was nothing at all spectacular, different or unique about Dodge cars.  That was pretty much true about all American made cars in the 80’s.  Now try to think like a Dodge dealer:  you’ve got the same product every other Dodge dealer has.  You have essentially the same financial deal with the manufacturer that every other Dodge dealer has.  You have the same pool of salespeople and service people to pull from, the same financing avenues. There is absolutely nothing unique or different about what you have to offer. How do you sell more Dodge automobiles than the other dealer across town?

Cal Worthington was up to that challenge.  He pretty much quit marketing Dodge cars and started marketing Cal Worthington.  He did crazy stuff:  did a commercial while wing-walking on a bi-plane, dressed up in a gorilla suit, made a pitch while skydiving, ate a bug, ‘stood on his head ’til his ears turned red,’ and so on.  Usually in his commercials, he’d introduce his dog Spot, who was never a dog at all.  It was a tiger once, a lizard, a Killer Whale, even a Hippopatamus.  I can still hear his jingle:  ‘Go See Cal! Go See Cal! Go See Cal!’   And people did go see Cal.  I’m not sure how many people trusted Cal or thought he was up to anything more than negotiating the best possible deal for his dealership.  But people wanted to go see that crazy guy . . . personal marketing works.

In the late 70’s The Personal Marketing Company was born and brought this concept to the real estate business.  It was the right idea at the right time. Agents who, like Cal, who had the same Dodge as the guy  across town, had the same tools, same procedures, same methods for making sales, were hungry for a new twist on marketing.  As Personal Marketing gained traction, we watched the real estate company logo on the For Sale sign shrink and shrink until it became the fine print at the bottom.  We saw the agent’s name and photo become larger and larger.

The Personal Marketing Company was largely about product.  They had all kinds of newsletters and postcards to sell to agents that would accommodate their individual branding.  But in the 80’s Hobbs and Herder showed up to teach people how to market themselves, and that’s when everything really shifted.

Remember a month ago or so?  I did a post about an amazing open house I encountered.  There were dozens of directionals, all with pink flourescent flags on top, all featuring the agent’s branding leading to the house.  Along the route there were companion bus benches.  It was impressive.  But while I was writing the piece, I wondered what company this person worked for.  It wasn’t clear on any of the signage.  The signs were pretty unique:  all pink and green, but the only name on them was . . . the agent’s.  So I went to her webiste and there it was, burried in the fine print at the bottom of the page:  she worked for Keller-Williams.  The message to the consumer is clear:  my company has nothing special to offer.  We’re just like everyone else.  But me?  I’m special.  You should be doing business with meeeeee.

Today, my buddy, Ken Kopcho sent me a video from the Tom Ferry Organization.  He’s promoting his ‘Success Summit’ coming up later in the year (How the heck did he end up with the same name for his annual meeting as ours?).  Here: check it out:

The ideas are good.  But it’s all about personal marketing, marketing who you are, not what you do.  It works and I approve for Realtors everywhere.

But Help-U-Sell people are not generic Realtors.  We really do have a unique system that works.  The consumer experience is completely different with Help-U-Sell.  In short:  we have something real to market.  We don’t have to create a fictionalized persona to grab the interest of consumers.  All we have to do is distribute the message that:  We Are Here, People Use Us, It Works, and They Save Money.

Somewhere close to one of Cal’s dealerships was a Honda dealer.  Who knows who the owner of that dealership was:  that’s not what they were marketing.  They were marketing a product that was different.  Their ads said:  We Are Here, People Buy Our Cars, They Don’t Break Down, They Get Great Mileage, and Our Customers Are Happy.

The Wall Street Journal lists the top 20 vehicles in order by unit sales.  For 2012, year to date, they show Dodge with one vehicle in the top 20:  the Ram Pick-up.  114, 630 have been sold so far this year.  Honda has three cars in the top 20:  Civic, Accord and CRV.  Total sales for those vehicles is 384, 736 units so far.  Love you, Cal, but guess who won the war….

The point is this:  Help-U-Sell people, yes:  do market yourself.  Be personable.  Be likeable.  But remember why people do business with you.  It’s not because of the gorilla suit you wore last Halloween.  It’s because you are unique, you have a program that works, your brand means something and the Help-U-Sell consumer experience is superior.  THAT’s something to market.


Using Zillow To Give Your Reputation A Boost

Hey! Check this out:

Here is an agent using Zillow Reviews (and she has plenty) on her Facebook Business Page. Pretty cool, huh?! Would you like to do this? It’s easy.

The first step is to get a bucket full of good reviews.  Go to Zillow and log in to your Agent account (of course, if you don’t have one of those, you’ll need to sign up, but it’s free).  Click on the down arrow next to ‘My Agent Hub’ and select your profile.  Just below your picture there, you’ll see a star and a link to ‘Request A Review.’  Click it.  Now, look below the form and click the link to ”Send Multiple Requests At Once’.  You’re now at a form where you can enter the email addresses of all your former clients!  Quick and easy.  I’d suggest you reword the actual request – what’s there is pretty formal.  But click the send button and give it a couple of days for results.

Those reviews will show up on Zillow and will be available there for everyone to see when they are trying to decide which agent to call.  Very powerful.  It gets even more powerful when you respond to the review, like Ken Kopcho did here:

(Great Job, Ken!)

Now, when you have your handful of great reviews, go back to Zillow, log in, Click the down arrow next to ‘My Agent Hub’ and select ‘Widgets/Facebook Apps.’  There you’ll find a link to ‘Real Estate Apps for Your Facebook Page,’ and the second one of those will put a new Tab on the front of your Facebook Business page, like this:

That new Tab will take your visitors to that wonderful page of reviews you saw in the first image. By the way, did you notice the other Facebook Apps Zillow has for you?  The Listings tab, Local Info tab and the Contact Form are all pretty cool and might also belong on your Facebook Business Page.

I learned this in about ten minutes on a Zillow Academy webinar this morning.  You really should check this out:  Zillow Academy.

So that’s it:  quick, easy and effective.  I’ve heard from so many of you that the Zillow Premiere Agent program produces LEADS, but I’ve also heard over and over that it is the agent with lots of wordy five star reviews that gets the call.  Now you can put some of that great power to work for you on Facebook!

Syndication Update

We had a good discussion about the whole syndication flap on yesterday’s Power Hour Rountable call.  Everyone agreed that the whole concept of the syndicators using our own data to attract leads they sell back to us was repugnant.  However, they saw it pretty much as something we did to ourselves (we being Realtors in general).  We failed to give consumers what Zillow, Trulia and others gave them, and today, that’s where consumers go to look for houses.

The group was quick to accept reality:  this is the way it is today.  Sellers expect to be seen on the syndication sites.  If you can’t give that to them, they will likely go elsewhere.  They don’t care what your syndication baggage is or how indignant you are about using your data to attract leads for other brokers.  They just expect to be there.  Plus there was general consensus that the aggregator sites work.  At one point in the call Ken Kopcho got on his mobile phone and counted:  31 leads from Zillow!

Speaking for the group, I’d say we agreed to go full bore into mining this rich source of leads,and nobody wants to stop syndicating.  However, there was agreement with what Kirk Eisele said in his comment:  consumers will go wherever their needs are best met, and this is not a closed case.  When someone comes along with a home search tool that out-Zillows Zillow, that’s where consumers will go.  There’s no reason why that can’t be us.  We own our own technology, aren’t dependent on outside vendors who have to please masses of clients, and can do whatever we want with our web presence.

Go back in time, oh, 7 years I guess.  had outrageous web traffic.  And it excreted leads, one after the other.  There was a good reason why we, at times, had better traffic than much larger organizations:  we embraced IDX and used it when most of the industry was afraid to give that information to consumers.  Consumers wanted to go to one website and look at all houses available for sale in the local market.  Using IDX to do that gave us a big leg-up on the competition.

But of course, in time the competition leveled the playing field by dropping their hysterical resistance to giving the public free access to information and adding IDX to their own sites.  We suffered a major blow when one large competitor went to our vendor and basically bought them out from under us.  We went from being the darling of Internet lead creation to . . . nowhere.  That’s why, today, we own our own tech.  We built it, it’s not available to anyone else and it does what we want it to do.

We have an opportunity today to take back some of what we gave up to the aggregators.  The shift will come when we give them everything they get from Zillow and MORE.  Today?  I have to run because I just got 5 new leads from my ad on Trulia.

News from the Short Sale Rumor Mill

Short Sales continue to be a huge part of our business, and while I hear little of the ‘I wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole’ attitude common a couple of years ago, they remain a challenge.  I consulted a team of experts about the current condition of this part of the business yesterday . . . ok:  I talked with Ken Kopcho and Maurine Grisso . . . and here’s what I learned:

Banks are getting easier to work with.  It’s as if they finally realized that, as remedies go, a foreclosure can cost them upward of $50,000 more to accomplish than a short sale.  It’s taken a long time, but they seem to be getting their processes organized so they can move more quickly in legitimate short sale situations.

Wachovia was the first to become more reasonable.  They have been easier to work with for months.  Recently Bank of America and Welles Fargo have followed suit.  Chase seems to remain ‘difficult,’ sometimes becoming non-communicative.

Bank of America’s Equator system – which was a bear when initially introduced – seems easier to navigate.  It is unclear whether this is the result of a system adjustment or the growing familiarity of broker-users.  (!)

While many short sale attempts don’t work out, there are things a broker can do to increase his or her conversion rates.

Spend time on legitimate short sale candidates only.  Remember:  being upside down by itself does not qualify a homeowner for a short sale; there has to be a real, legitimate hardship: loss of a job, medical expenses, lost income . . . something.

Don’t take short sale listings unless you think you can get it done.  Seems simple, I know, but Maurine – whose conversion rate on short sale listings is remarkable – says she walks away from almost as many as she takes.

Don’t forget about the non-short sale candidates who are still in trouble.  For example, Maurine is targeting homeowners who are 30-60-90 days late but who still have a little equity.  They may not be short sale candidates, but they probably do have a problem.  Plus:  they have some ‘skin in the game,’ something to lose if they don’t get the problem solved.  The broker becomes the solution.  (By the way:  if you don’t know how to find homeowners who are late on their mortgage payments, but who haven’t yet received a Notice of Default, ask me).

It’s January 2011, and real estate market indicators continue to improve slowly.  Pending home sales are rising — they’ve been doing so since October — and even new construction is showing a little life.  Meanwhile I hear that a lot of agents, faced with a fat Board Dues statement and nothing pending, are getting out of the biz.  That’s sad.  (But for the survivors, it’s good:  less competition.)  The sad part is: they’re probably getting out just when things are turning around.

This is a time to squeeze a little more, pay your Board Dues and get busy.  Hold open houses, find 4 or 5 legitimate new buyers to work with, get your blitz signs out and start reminding people you are here to help them save some money.  2011 will be a year of More.

This Generation and That One

I was talking to Ken Kopcho, a great Help-U-Sell broker, today about an email I’d sent him.  He hadn’t seen it yet.  ‘You know, I’m a mano a mano kinda guy,’ he said,  ‘I respond well to face to face meetings and conversation.’   I think he was ribbing me about sending an email rather than calling.  And he’s right:  I do resort to electronic communication probably more than I should.  Truth is, I can get 3 or 4 quick business-like text or email messages out in the time I can have one phone conversation.

‘There are people in this world,’ he continued,’who could be sitting at the desk directly across from me who would send me a text if they needed to tell me something!’  This ribbing was turning into a smack-down!

‘Come on, Ken,’ I finally answered, ‘It’s just different kinds of communication for different kinds of people and we should to be able to work with everyone.’

That’s when Ken got excited and started telling me about the sale he just made.  His buyers are a military family:  he’s  in Korea and she’s at home in Texas.  He’ll be stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Ken’s Santa Maria marketplace, so they have been looking at houses online.  They first found Ken on his office website after Googling ‘homes for sale’ in Santa Maria.  Then they found his listings again on Zillow and it was through Zillow that they made contact with him.  He was right back to them and they said (almost on cue), ‘Why, you’re the only broker who’s gotten back to us!’

Though they have been in touch over various listings, Ken has never met this family . . . and here’s the kicker: they are now under contract on a house they have never actually seen (except online).

There are lots of little lessons in this brief saga.  First, if we’re going to be successful, we’re going to have to be sensitive to the communication styles of the people with whom we work.  The shortest distance between your message and the person you want to get it is through their preferred mode of communication (not yours).  Though Ken is a more traditional guy, he was able to communicate so well  with this family electronically that he made a sale.

The story also puts me in mind of the great real estate generation gap.  The average REALTOR is 52 years old.  The average home buyer is 32 years old.  Those twenty years are measured mostly in terms of technology.  Our buyers are often more tech savvy than we are.  They are also impatient with anyone who isn’t up to speed with the new way of doing business.  Here’s where we (more mature) real estate professionals have to really hunker down and learn the new way.  I mean:  you may be the best horse and buggy salesperson in the world, but if most of the world wants a Model T Ford, and you don’t understand those new fangled things at all . . . you better get busy learning.

I talked with another broker a few weeks back who I think illustrates this dilemma.  Like me, he’s . . . um . . . mature.  He’s been in the business for 30 years.  His strength has always been the personal touch.  He gets to know his customers and does the searching for them, showing them only the homes that closely match their criteria.  His marketplace has become trendy and the upwardly mobile early 30s crowd is moving in.  His buyer lead conversion rate has been in decline for awhile and is now frustratingly low.  Truth is:  his style is probably turning off many of the buyers in his marketplace.  He needs a quick masters degree in working with the tech savvy buyer:  how to use Zillow, Trulia, Facebook, Listingbook, Sikku, and websiteSSS to empower consumers in the home search process.

I know that’s harder for some brokers than others, not because they are stupid, but because it’s not enjoyable for them.  They’d rather be meeting the people, showing property and solving problems mano a mano.  This is a perfect situation for a sharp young buyers agent to come in and handle that segment of the market.

Take it from one . . . . um . . . . mature real estate broker:  if electronic communication and marketing is not your thing, it’s probably a problem in your business.  One way or another, you’re going to have to deal with it, either by going back to school or hiring someone who already knows it.

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