Brokers: 5 moves you can make now to improve your marketing

Here’s a situation we run into a lot lately:

A brokerage executive team knows their marketing costs too much, delivers to little, and won’t carry them through the challenges they face.

So they slash budgets, hunker down, and go on defense.

But there is no corresponding positive action. Sellers squirm. Managers and agents scream. A sense of powerlessness sets in.

It’s understandable — especially for companies without much financial ballast. But for firms with some wiggle room the times present an opportunity to make marketing moves that will deliver competitive advantages for years to come.

What those moves are for your company is something we cannot answer here. But here are a few things we often suggest to clients looking for a place to start:

Start thinking like a media company

You have content (listings). And you have intellectual assets (The market knowledge your executives, managers and agents possess).

Start broadcasting them.

Too often, a brokerage company’s value is locked behind a force field of tired advertising, ham-fisted “PR” and marketing that leaves little room for real engagement with homebuyers and sellers.

So make your marketing director your managing editor. Turn your conference room into a studio. Demand your IDX vendor make the search solution on your website more usable then tout the fact that you have “Market alerts via email” at every touchpoint.

This requires a major shift in how you approach marketing, and executing on an alternative vision like this is not simple. But it can be done – for a lot less than you think.

Perform a vendor audit

Costs for things like bandwidth and online storage have dropped precipitously in the past three years; coding is faster and cheaper; new applications for things from email newsletters to online slideshows pop up like daffodils in a perpetual spring.

The bottom line for you: You are likely paying more than you should for many marketing-related items. Go through your vendor list with a fine-toothed comb, research alternatives, and make changes where you can. You’ll save money on things you already do and find less costly replacements for the things you’ve cut. You will also come up with a ton of new ideas.

Our Real Estate 2.0 mind map is a good place to start investigating what’s out there.

Test (no, really, test!)

Testing is a core element of marketing most brokerages neglect. Now is the time to ingrain it into your culture. Here are two ways to get started:

1. Bring six consumers to your office. Put them in front of your company website. Have staff members look over their shoulders and engage them as they interact with it. The “ah-ha” moments will astound you. Usability and messaging will improve if you act on the feedback.

2. Employ powerful yet cheap analytics software to test your messaging online. Google Website Optimizer, which is free, allows you to test the content and design of your website by tracking user interactions and running A/B and multivariate testing. ClickTale costs just $99 per month and delivers heat maps and actual movies of user visits so you can literally see what’s working and not working.

This is not just about your website. The insights you gain about how users interact with your company online can improve your marketing across all channels.

Consider a 60-day website makeover

Maybe you can’t afford a major web platform upgrade this year (though now is a great time to do it). So consider a redesign – a cosmetic upgrade to the face your company presents to the world. The fact that the vast majority of brokerage websites are poorly designed is a blessing: It gives you an opportunity for easy differentiation.

A quality site design can be had for under $10,000. Considering that your website is no doubt your number one brand touchpoint, that’s a steal. Imagine what renovating all your offices would cost!

Take a look at or to get a sense for the freelance design market.

Differentiate with candor

Marketing is fundamentally about difference — communicating to the marketplace what you can do that no one else can or will.

This has always been a challenge in real estate. But here’s the paradox: Because real estate brokerage is so undifferentiated, it’s easy to break away from the pack. And the easiest way to do that right now is to speak candidly about the market — and your own weaknesses. You cannot talk your way – or your customers’ way – out of this market, but you can talk your way into a position of long-term credibility and trust.

Think about what you can say to the marketplace right now that no one else will; what you can share that your competitors will cling to; what you can extend that will make you queasy but comfort your customers.

How you do this is the easy part. All that stuff about blogs, about Twitter, about social networks? Here’s where it comes into play.

Rock and Roll!

Times are frightfully tough. We can’t deny that. But any positive marketing move you can make this year will have an outsized impact. Many of your competitors will be silenced and the marketplace is hungry for something – anything – that confounds their expectation of real estate as usual.