Brokers: Emerge from marketing hibernation with caution

We’ve worked with a lot of brokerage companies over the past two and a half years. We’ve done radio campaigns; we’ve done print creative; We’ve done complete re-brandings. Our work has been quite variable.

But in one area – Website and and digital marketing strategy – we see the same things over and over again. Or, to be more specific, we see the the same problems.

I thought I’d share just a few of these, in no particular order. Maybe you’ll find them useful in plotting your next move.

Problem #1: Shifting strategy without shifting people

A brokerage company moves 90% of their marketing spend online, but asks the same person who was doing print ads in Quark to drive that transition. The PR person accustomed to cranking out “____ is proud to announce the affiliation of _____” press releases is asked to manage the new blog. The receptionist who has been routing calls and making copies for agents is asked to man the live chat function on the new Website.

This usually blows up.

It’s hard to re-org. It’s hard to fire people. But the incongruities caused by asking people to do what they cannot do are worse than hard: They are destructive.

We always ask ton of questions like “who’s going to do that?” or “are you sure the intern can handle the e-newsletter copy?” early on. Getting the answers figured out is necessary to dodge this problem.

Problem #2: Not understanding the value of content

The medium can only be the message for a short time. Twitter, your blog, your facebook page, your video channel, your Website – these are simply containers for carrying your content – your voice – out to the market.

Finding that voice and modulating it to suit different media takes a content strategy. And every brokerage needs someone to drive it. Your marketing will be scattered and superficial without these things.

I have long believed that the “Marketing Director” position in a brokerage is today more aptly titled Managing Editor. In a time when creating media is more important than buying media, understanding this shift is imperative. Has your company created a matrix of all the content needed to be engaging at every touch point? Do you make sure to re-purpose content across channels? Do you know what that even means?

This of course applies to the most valuable content any broker has: Listings. Do you have a “Merchandizing Manager” in your company – someone tasked with presenting the right listings at the right time in the right places across all of your digital assets?

Discount content at your own risk.

Problem #3 Lack of technology vendor due diligence

This one is really a bummer. Too often, vendors take advantage of inexperience within a company to lock-in a 5-year auto-renewing piece of contractual nastiness. We have a particularly venomous impulse toward such vendors, but also recognize brokers are ultimately responsible for going into deals having done their homework.

This problem is more damaging now because we are amidst an incredible flowering of technology. Long-term contracts prevent you from picking a fresh bouquet.

Send vendor contracts to your lawyer. But also send them to someone – anyone – you know with experience working on the web to help you conduct some test of reasonableness on them. And by all means make sure you carve an out into your technology contracts, an escape hatch you can crawl through if you need to move in a new direction. This sounds really simple, but it’s frequently overlooked.

Awakening from hibernation

During the boom, many brokers did just fine without marketing focus and discipline. During the bust, many brokers decimated their marketing departments in order to survive.

Those who made it through are awakening from a long hibernation to find a changed world. Which is all very exciting. But step deliberately out of the darkness!