1000watt Blog

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Stop marketing and start solving problems

What if your best marketing is really just a well-crafted answer to a real life question?

Marcus Sheridan, founder of River Pools and Spas in Northern Virginia, asked himself the same question and ended up saving his company.

Sheridan wrote one article on his company’s blog in 2009 that simply answered the first question on everyone’s mind when thinking about buying one of his pools, “How much does a fiberglass pool really cost?” To this day, thanks to insight from Google Analytics, he’s been able to track a minimum of $1.7 million in sales to that single article.

Solving problems – answering questions – turns out to be a potentially lucrative marketing exercise.

You can do this on your own blog like Sheridan did. But why stop there? Why not answer real-life questions from living, breathing people? Sites like Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com and StreetAdvisor have spent millions collecting these questions for you, and feed them up daily on a silver platter.

It’s not quite inbound marketing, but pretty close.

Plus, real questions tend to be unique and more in-depth than general FAQ-style content you’d create on your blog, or serve up in a newsletter. But this is your moment to shine – to show that you know the ins and outs of your market and have seen all sorts of situations that enable you to answer with authority.

Sure, forums, Q&A sites and the like have been around a long time. Nowadays all the buzz goes to video, inbound marketing and content marketing. But we should stop a minute and think more on the approach because it’s not like every agent or brokerage company has mastered it and it’s still potentially powerful. This is how you build and retain credibility with consumers who’ve never worked with you before.

And like anything in life, it only works when done right.

When thinking about this blog post, I perused through a lot of Q&A on Trulia and Zillow and saw some good stuff and some bad stuff. First, the most common offenders:

Answers that do not answer the question:
Not to be harsh, but as a consumer my first thought is, who is this fool and why are they wasting my time?

Broken grammar and typos:
This matters probably more than you think. Think about it this way: You wouldn’t mail out a postcard that has a glaring typo in it. You wouldn’t make a sales call or listing presentation you hadn’t practiced. Polish matters online. I know that the casual environment of the web makes us all feel like it doesn’t, but it does. You have to see this exercise as marketing, not just engaging in a forum.

Incomplete profiles:
This one stumps me. Why bother participating in a platform with consumers if you’re not going to fully build out your presence? No one’s going to connect with the blue placeholder profile pic that claims your name when you don’t fill this stuff out.

Saying right off the bat to ask an agent:
That’s not an answer. While many circumstances in real estate do in fact benefit more from engaging with a professional, the person asking the question has first turned to the Internet to see if they can get some insight. If you must, mention what an agent could do to help at the end of your answer. This may even spark a phone call from said consumer.

Speaking as a group:
Some folks on these sites are operating as a team – as in their profile picture includes two people. This is just weird. People don’t like to be tag-teamed in this sort of setting. While “teams” are very common in real estate these days, a person can only speak for themselves in a conversation. They can represent the overall values of a group, sure. But who’s answering this question when it’s signed by two people? This is why you always see a single person giving their name and bio on a corporate Twitter account. It’s more authentic.

So, what works?

Concise answers written with clarity and void of jargon that directly address the question being asked. A non-salesy approach that is a genuine reflection of your unique value.

Sounds alot like the characteristics of great marketing copy.

The repurpose opportunity

Another way to do this right is to give your time investment more longevity. Take it to your blog. You’ve spent valuable time answering a question on another company’s site – now take your work and reshape it a bit into a piece of content – a piece of marketing – that works standalone on your own site.

Maybe that means reworking the question and answer a bit to appeal to more consumers or removing it from a Q&A format. Maybe it means going more in-depth. The point is you have a solid content asset that you can build on and archive on your own site for SEO and traffic.

This stuff works

We’ve heard from brokers who’ve landed crucial deals this way, and one in particular that I’ve spoken with has been able to trace a dozen deals back to one Q&A instance on one of the portal sites.

This is real stuff that is worth approaching strategically and tactically, just like the rest of your marketing.

I’d love to hear your experiences – good or bad – with online Q&A.

[I encourage you to read the full interview with Marcus Sheridan in the New York Times. He gives more specifics about his company’s numbers before and after his overhaul of marketing that anyone interested in content marketing should read. Again, it's nothing new, just done really well with analytics to prove exactly how it worked.]

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4 Responses to “Stop marketing and start solving problems”

  1. marc says:

    Many great observations, Jessica. I’ll add another: speed kills. If you run a 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds, you can dominate on the gridiron. Likewise, if an agent can respond to consumer questions within minutes rather than days, the consumer is far more likely to contact the agent.

    Recently, we released 2.0 of Real Estate Answers for Android — a mobile platform for real estate Q&A — replacing a “polling” mechanism with Google’s Cloud Messaging service. Now, when an agent posts a new answer, the consumer is notified within 1 to 3 seconds. Meaning, if the agent is paying attention and able to respond, their answer — containing a subtle marketing message — can be in front of the consumer in less than 2 minutes.

  2. Greg Fischer says:

    Jessica, thanks for the post. Your premise makes sense – solving problems and answering questions about housing for customers, prospective homebuyers and sellers, and even just the curious public has lots of merit to it. Professionals should use their knowledge for good.

    The experience in my market has been poor at best. Users ask half useful questions and agents use the platform to copy and paste ‘use a realtor’ and ‘call me’ boring sales pitches. I would hardly liken the opportunity to a pot of gold. The interface as it exists today is missing thoughtful questions, meaningful answers, and a platform improvement that could actually facilitate and encourage discussions of value between the public and the real estate community.

    Call me old fashioned, but the housing questions I think we need to be answering are the ones we care about the most, especially the ones that exist locally. We have neighborhoods going through redevelopment, major companies going through layoffs, and new parents trying to determine whether to be in a hood with excellent public schools or to spend a little less, and eat the cost of private schooling. Our friends and neighbors ask questions about property taxes every year and want to know if they’re responsible for cracks in their front sidewalk – or if the city is becuse of a water supply leak. Military transferees need to know if they can buy and sell a home in a matter of three years, or if it’d be smarter to rent during their tour here. This is what matters to us, our market, and the people we know. Not to say people on the interwebs don’t have real questions, just that we give and get more quality offline than we do on.

    I must say, the suggestions to participate on third party sites as a strategy itself is missing a crucial step to boosting its effectiveness. I don’t know if non-advertising agents get quite the same boost by participating on these online forums and by soliciting reviews for them as advertising agents do. Advertisers show up constantly across the portal platforms on zip code searches and property listing pages which encourages further investigation about them by front end users. Advertising, combined with active participation in the rest of the platform (in addition to the points you’ve raised) is something I think makes a lot of sense and is an actual strategy. I’m not as bullish on the non-advertising agents same participation as they may be overlooking other opportunities to do the same thing where they have more visibility and overall effectiveness.

    Anyway, you’re right – professionals should always take the opportunity to share their knowledge and help people who need it.

    • Jessica Swesey says:

      Greg – Everything you’ve said reinforces my take on Q&A. If the real questions that matter aren’t being asked, then the local real estate community has a prime opportunity to create this platform. This is why, in addition to Q&A on other sites, I feel that using your own site for this type of content could be tremendously valuable for building trust, juicing SEO, converting traffic and boosting overall business.

      Real estate is confusing to even the most savvy customers. That’s a prime opportunity to use supportive content to connect with them. The more you tell me, the more I’m going to feel comfortable that you know what you’re doing.

      And you’re right – quality matters. This is the part of online strategy that I think many overlook because it’s so easy to create content and share it with a billion people right now. You can’t just copy and paste or say, call me baby.

      Great comments – thanks for reading!