The biggest opportunity you totally forgot about

On March 7, I received an email from the loan officer I’d been dealing with for a mortgage refinance. The email had no subject line (strike one), but I recognized her name and opened it with much anticipation. Do we need to resubmit some paperwork? I wondered. Is there some news about our closing?

But there it was: a stock photo of a clock lying on a bed of grass reminding me to turn my clocks forward on Sunday.

You could hear the slow hiss of air coming out of the tire on that marketing machine.

The biggest marketing opportunity you totally forgot about

Unique open rates for email increased nearly 13% in the fourth quarter of 2012 from the previous year, revenue per email grew 8%, and bounce rates declined 28%, according to recent research from Experian Marketing Services.

The bottom line: People want to receive email. And when they get it, they respond.

To either ignore or abuse this proven marketing channel is naive at best. Now is the time to take it seriously and get it right. But let’s talk about it through a modern lens.

Email should be part of your mobile strategy

While a lot of brokers and agents think about how to approach mobile, I bet many are not thinking of email as a key part of this strategy. But they should, and here’s why:

Email open rates on mobile devices continue to surge and are on pace to surpass open rates on desktops by the end of this year. Most brands will likely see at least half of their emails opened on a mobile device by the end of the year.

How do you take advantage of this shift?

Well, for starters you have to develop an email marketing strategy. You may already have a database of addresses that you collect either through website registration or simple contact management. But what are you doing with it?

Secondly, to truly get the mobile email opportunity right you have to think about the unique qualities of mobile. Just as everyone is now looking to make their websites responsive to accommodate for all screen sizes, email templates are following the same route.

In fact, we just implemented a mobile optimized template for our email at 1000WATT . So if you’re the 1 in 2 people reading this on your smartphone right now, you’re appreciating the fact that you don’t have to expand, swipe around or squint to get to the end of this sentence (if you’re not signed up for our emails, do so at the bottom of this post).


Here’s the great thing about email that you’re not getting from social media right now: meaningful analytics and total control.

Not only do you control the design and copy of each email, but you have a clear view into what’s happening with each piece of content you distribute: who’s opening it, who’s reading it, who’s clicking through to your site.

Not to be a social media curmudgeon, but you don’t get any of that with Facebook today. Sure, Facebook offers analytics, but what do they really tell you? So 38 people saw your post about a listing, and three liked it. What does that mean? Are they even in the market to buy or sell a home?

You don’t know.

In fact, you have little control on Facebook or Twitter, period. You can’t control who of your followers even sees your post unless you pay the platform for the privilege. You don’t have a handy database you can segment and test against unless you are targeting paid ads – and even then, that database belongs to Facebook or Twitter, not you.

Let’s be honest: from a marketing standpoint, that stinks.

Getting the content and timing right

Maybe you are dabbling a bit already with email marketing here and there. But are you doing it right? If you are, you should be seeing leads and repeat business coming directly from your efforts.

Unfortunately, in my experience with real estate companies, it’s mostly dead wrong.

While it’s sort of a nice gesture to receive a Happy Birthday email or reminder about time changes, they have no context in the relationship with the real estate company or agent. I’ve also received plenty of market update emails, which is a great idea, but they’re mostly terribly written, make no sense to me as a consumer or come to me too frequently or at times when I don’t care.

Here are some thoughts on content:

For agents, say you mostly sell homes in four different neighborhoods or even ZIP codes. Why not segment your list by location and create a monthly or quarterly update email highlighting what sold, average sale price, list-to-sale price differences, etc.?

If done right, this is an email I would not only open and read each time I receive it, but something I would share with my neighborhood Yahoo group to spread the word.

Brokers could easily do this as well. The key is ensuring it’s relevant to the folks on your list. And list segmentation is how you address it.

But don’t forget about timing – the other key to getting email right.

A good example to look at when thinking about timing emails is Zillow’s “Weekend Shopper” email that alerts the recipient about open houses and available listings for the upcoming weekend. It’s simple, but smart because most people do most of their research and shopping on the weekends. Why not deliver it right to their inbox for them, based on the preferences and parameters they’ve already set up on your site?

For a little inspiration outside the industry, check out Dave Pell’s NextDraft email. I’ve been subscribed to this daily email for several months now, and while I can’t open it every day, it is an email that I am compelled to open frequently and I’d never even consider unsubscribing.

What is it about NextDraft? It has mojo. It’s well written. The subject lines are cheeky. It delivers content that is interesting and relevant to me.

Content, copy and design for getting email right is a whole separate blog post. There’s a reason an entire industry exists around this. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

If I had to sum up the formula for email marketing success in real estate, it would be:

  • Plan your content and write it well
  • Segment your list and make sure your content maps well to your recipient
  • Time it right
  • Design for mobile
  • Test and analyze

Email is not dead. The time is ripe. And the rewards are well worth the effort.