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The Breakaway Brokerage, Part 1: 6 must-do’s for 2013

It’s 2013. If you’re running a real estate brokerage, things are looking better than they have in a long time.

And if you’re a brokerage marketing VP or Technology director, you are likely facing the first year since 2007 when you can look forward and invest.

How do you maximize that opportunity?

At 1000watt, we’re working with clients right now to answer that question. It’s what we do. The answers are always, by necessity, different. But we’ve learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work in our years of doing this, and there are some notions that are applicable to most companies.

We want to share them with you here in a series of posts to kick off 2013. We’re calling them The Breakaway Brokerage.

I begin things below with some starting thoughts. Over the next three weeks, Joel, Jeff and Jessica will weigh-in with explorations of specific topics we believe will be important this year.

We hope you enjoy it.

——

2013 might be your make or break year.

If you’re a broker/owner, that might sound a little off. After all, the last five years were filled with days when you came close to breaking.

But that down market did something interesting: it had a chilling effect on budgets, staff and strategic thinking. All of them went into a down-market deep freeze.

You were hurting. But your competition was too. No one was able to break away.

With the thaw, many will. Smart investment and imaginative thinking will open up competitive advantages for those who pursue them with seriousness. We saw this begin in 2012. Many of our clients fall into this category, but in most markets there is usually one company quietly (for now) killing it.

How do you become that company? There’s a lot I don’t know, but here are six ideas that may start you down that path:

Forget your tech vendors

For many real estate companies, technology and marketing means vendors.

And – let’s be honest – many of them suck.

But they’re there – at the conferences, in your voicemail box, in your conversations with other brokers. They are the atomic material of your technology cosmos. They define your possibilities from the get-go. What you can do with “mobile”, for example, becomes bounded by the range of real estate vendors playing in that space.

This is a bad thing.

It’s limiting. And too often it leads to shoddy execution and unhappy partnerships.

So, in 2013, don’t let vendors drive your strategy. Formulate your strategy, then see what’s out there. Or, pretend that your current vendor doesn’t exist – at least for one good day of thinking and strategizing. Forget their limitations. Their pricing structure. Their product roadmap. Sure, you need to be practical, but don’t smother strategy with the blanket of dependency.

And look outside of real estate too. The companies not on the NAR Expo floor. Don’t assume that just because they wouldn’t recognize RETS from REO that they can’t bring something to the table.

Spend more money

I was on a conference call a few weeks ago and one person said, as if he were recognizing the inevitability of death: “We all know brokers want something for nothing. That’s never going to change.

Chortles of agreement in response.

Glib, yes… but there’s truth in there. I have found that many brokers have never become truly comfortable with spending on technology and digital marketing. I think that has something to do with this chronology:

In 1995 this stuff was a curiosity.
In 1999 it was free.
In 2001 the free stuff went away.
In 2005 everyone in real estate was too busy counting money.
In 2010 everyone in real estate was too busy conserving money.

As a result, the digital spend never found a solid place on the P&L. Certainly not one commensurate to its importance.

The origins of the “syndication war” are to be found here, too.

Many brokers still grind technology vendors like they’re negotiating for a couch at Levitz. The vendor gets a contract, but is left with nothing to invest in the product the broker will be counting on for years to come.

So, yes, I think spending more money with the right partners is in fact reasonable advice. You’ll get better service, more product innovation over time and, importantly, more leverage.

Find the right digital partners and treat them as if they are critical to your future. Because they are.

Forget the funnel, watch the plumbing

The funnel is an enduring metaphor for marketers. But as marketing becomes less linear – meaning channels are more permeable, with online and offline, brand and direct response increasingly interdependent – I have a different visual in my head.

Plumbing. The leaks, specifically.

IDX. SEM landing pages. Web forms. Email subject lines. Bus benches (I am serious). Syndicated listings descriptions. Your phone system greeting. Calls to action on your magazine ads.

These are the pipes and gaskets that deliver business to your business. And they leak a lot.

You drop $50,000 on Adwords but the pages to which you are driving clicks don’t flow consistently from your ad copy.

Drip.

You syndicate all your listings, but don’t wordsmith your property descriptions to highlight your agent and your brand.

Drip.

You create a gorgeous print ad for which the call to action is your home page URL.

Drip.

You get the idea. Take the time in the first quarter to get under the sink with a flashlight and tighten things up. It’ll pay.

Convert the ones you’re with

This is closely related to the item just above, but it has more strategic implications.

We see brokerage companies scramble to grow an audience on a new platform. In 2012 it was Pinterest, then Instagram.

This is not an unreasonable thing to do, but also not the first thing to do. It usually pays more, and more quickly, to convert those you are reaching through a channel you already have established.

Case in point: many brokerages we encounter have significant website traffic, but an abysmal conversion rate.

Your conversion rate (in this case) is the percentage of people hitting your website that do what you want them to do.

Think of it roughly like this:

Number of unique visitors / Number of leads = Conversion rate.

The average brokerage website will have a 2 to 4 percent conversion rate (yes, I know some of you do a lot better than that, but when we start with a company most are in this range). There’s lots of room for improvement in most cases.

Obsess on this metric. Conduct user tests. Run A/B tests. Track clicks. Tweak, scrub, optimize then do it again.

We do this stuff with clients a lot, and it’s immensely gratifying. Because it works.

So when you sit down for your next digital strategy meeting, it’s cool to talk about Google Plus, but look at what you already have first. The results will be more immediate, more measurable and will flow more clearly to the bottom line.

Banish the word “I” when talking about digital user experience

“When I listed my house…”

“When I used the Zillow iPhone app…”

“When I use my iPad…”

Statements like these will drive you into the digital ditch. How many meetings about marketing and technology have you seen go sideways with personal narratives?

You see, you – “I” –  are a freak. No offence. I am too. We are a strongly biased sample of one. And that’s not much use.

Focus on the data – the clicks, the bounces, the tests, the strong signals coming at you from the people that do matter: your users.

Achieve mobile competency

Mobile… You get it. It’s “big”. So is food and sunlight.

But you may be behind the 8 ball here.

Joel is going to wade into the details in his upcoming post, but I will throw this out there to get you thinking:

You already have a web audience. Probably 20-30 percent of that audience is hitting your site on a mobile device. I’d bet on that to double this year, with tablets leading the way.

Remember, this is the group of people you’re going to work on converting this year. So don’t fail on the first page load.

Does your site look as blurry as 5 a.m. on a Retina display? Do your font sizes and line heights make tapping dicey? Are you still making people fill out a lengthy form to register?

Take care of this stuff now. Then worry about improving your performance in the Apple App Store or in Google Play. Is this necessary at some point? Perhaps. Should you worry about this in the first three months of 2013? Probably not.

Get your mobile web house in order. Or if you already banged out an iPhone app back in 2010, circle back to your website. It’s likely where you’ll make the first point of contact, and that introduction to your brand could probably be a lot smoother.

A very good year

This is going to be a good year. But you’ve got to hustle, because while you need to rethink the basics, things outside of real estate are getting zanier. The PC is toast, people are using their smartphones to hitchhike and dogs have their own TV channels.

I wish you the best.

Stay tuned for more.


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13 Responses to “The Breakaway Brokerage, Part 1: 6 must-do’s for 2013”

  1. spring says:

    You guys rock! No one stays more ahead of the marketing technology curve than 1000 WATT. You guys really do FASCINATE your audience by making us WANT to rethink our marketing strategies.

  2. Greg Fischer says:

    Thanks for the push Brian. I enjoyed “forget the funnel, watch the plumbing”. I’ve heeded this advice, and we prepare to launch some very serious targeted campaigns in the next few weeks, designed from beginning to end with a consistent purpose. Looking forward to the other posts.

    • Kristin Ward says:

      I’d second the vendors not doing anything comment. Its hard finding the good ones sometimes.

  3. Kevin Trye says:

    We’re 56 yr old web developer who’s been at it since 1995, but only recently started working in the Realty market and have today quoted this article on my site. Yes, there are good and bad vendors out there. But the question I’m often asked is how can the average Joe know the difference until it’s too late? One place to start ‘weeding out’ the bad web developers is to test some of their client sites using http://www.sitebeam.net

  4. Michael Sosnowski says:

    Brian,

    Your comments on vendors in the RE space is right on target. Most create products that are dumbed down for the masses, and the result is something that will not really meet client expectations. How can local companies expect to compete against the national vultures without top-of-the-line product. The direction needs to be to create more yourself – and be VERY selective with those larger companies you do eventually partner with.