Nurturing a real estate brand in a post-print world

This line, in the middle of a very long and very good post by author and online media executive John Battelle, leaped out of my feed reader this morning:

"… more than 80 percent of the
advertising inventory on the Web today is sold for less than a $1 CPM. Compare
that to the average sold CPM in the magazine business or on television –
reports vary, but it’s anywhere from 6 to 40 times higher. That delta, to my
mind, has everything to do with engagement."

His larger point was that big brand advertisers continue to pay exorbitant amounts for print and television brand advertising because these media allow them to affect a consumer in a meaningful way, to build the brand by connecting with people. Online ads, on the other hand, even the splashiest display units on big media sites like Yahoo! or AOL, while dramatically cheaper and seductively measurable, fail to get inside the consumer’s head. The medium is not fertile breeding ground for brand love — at least not yet. 

So brands like  Louis Vuitton and BMW continue to play both sides of the fence, taking out the big spreads and prime-time spots while spending dollars online and making a few social plays. They connect to the heart, the head, and the conversation. 

But what’s a real estate brand to do? The efficacy of print ads were always dubious; Recently they have been largely tactical — a means to placate sellers or prop up a weak value proposition; now, with brokerage financials upside down, they are darn near out of the question. Well executed TV ads have always been beyond the reach of all but the biggest players in our industry.

There are exceptions. I expect that I will continue to see RE/MAX TV spots until the day I die, but they are more in the direct response vein, aimed at pulling leads into Local or niche players like Corcoran will continue to execute brand ads effectively, drawing upon the unique drama of their markets.

But for most part, print is over. TV is irrelevant. Whatever brand equity has accrued through these media is going to have to be built upon elsewhere.

But, to go back to Battelle’s point, online media — where brokers and franchisors are flocking in droves right now — offers little to brand builders. That thumbnail logo next to your listing on Trulia is your brand mark, but it’s not a means of brand building.

Where does that leave the real estate brand marketer?

Hmm … how about social media! That crazy, risky, gimmicky vulnerable place you never took seriously? Think about it: Fidelity to branding religion has always been tough in real estate. Keeping promises is not easy in a franchised, W-9-ed world. When’s the last time you were moved by one of those "Extraordinary homes, extraordinary results" type ads?

So for real estate, the imperative to throw the brand into the tumble of the conversation that is at the heart of the cluetrain ethos is quite strong. The real estate brands that will dominate their markets five years from now will be those that take down the forcefield of postcards, press releases and pablum standing between their brand and their marketplace and start connecting meaningfully, humanely.

Social media is not just a conference curiosity. It is not just the esoteric practice of a few hundred "bloggers". 

Chances are it’s the lifeblood of your brand.

Brian Boero