Waking up from the real estate marketing dream

Cleaning out the drawers last night I rummaged through a stack of real estate business cards. One in particular grabbed me. It featured, in big letters, the following statement:

I deliver dreams

I called the number on the card. It had a 404 area code and I got voice mail. Nevertheless, I ordered two dreams. One with onions and mushrooms. The other half pepperoni, half plain. Then I went to bed.

I woke up as expected.


My real estate prayer

It’s often said that God answers every prayer. When you don’t get what you pray for, you still receive God’s answer – it just happens to be “no.”

I’ll accept that from God. But not from the real estate industry, whose marketing pen continues to dip into a saccharine, vapid well from which it refuses rescue. My real estate prayer – that we begin treating this profession with a seriousness commensurate to its importance – must be answered in the affirmative.

The history of bad marketing we must escape to make this happen is long.

Dreams of yesteryear

An association with the feathered pillow-laden world of American homeownership dreams was created during the 40’s and 50’s when visionaries like William Levitt conjured a world of placid domesticity.

Dreams only last a few minutes. But it seems real estate marketing is eternal.

By the late 1970’s, for many, home ownership became a mocking fantasy. Mortgage rates went through the roof. But the dreamy fumes from real estate’s exhaust pipe lingered like late-night “Honeymooners” reruns.

They say if you hang on to something long enough it will cycle back into fashion. And sure enough, by the late 90’s, after long seasons of wakeful struggle, people began licking the brown tabs of the real estate marketing blotter. In pursuit of dreams we bought mansions worth 20x our yearly salaries, accepted mortgages with no principal payments, and bought stupid things with stupid money.

The dream of homeownership was alive and kickin’.

But all dreams end. And we’ve been in therapy for four years now trying to recover. Yet despite everything that’s happened, those driving real estate’s marketing bus are still at the wheel, cranking out dreamy copy for Ozzie and Harriet. It comes across in the form platitudinous ads, Websites that do injury to both owner and user and drawers full of business cards bearing silliness.

Too many in real estate continue to make empty promises fashioned from dreams that have lost their power to transport us.

Maybe you think that’s the best you can do.

You’re wrong.

I know you can do better.

Here’s how.

The truth

Across the brandosphere, marketers have been busy re-examining their brand promises and humanizing their written words. Some turn up the volume on their claims. Buick did this with their “The new class of world class” campaign. Some soften it as BMW has in moving from “The Ultimate Driving Machine” to a newer “Joy” campaign.

For Buick, the higher volume claim worked because it was matched by the aggression Buick placed into building a better product. A jaded public beset by generations of bad American engineering would be inclined to view Buick’s claims as unbelievable. Yet this move resonated because it drove attention to myriad improvements that made the claims real. Sales have increased – the result of a company investing in something people really cared about and wanted: a world class American car.

BMW toned their message down after considering that “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” while compelling when every day was a Studio 54 bash, might be off key for the times. “Ultimate” made BMW owners seem frivolous. Insensitive. Narcissistic. Boorish. Today required different aspirations. A different dream.

In comparison, real estate’s persistent attachment to selling “dreams” fails for two reasons: First, there’s usually no investment made to make the delivery of these dreams exhilarating. By what conveyance will the woman whose business card I mentioned above deliver dreams? Her father’s Oldsmobile of a prehistoric website powered by a feeble IDX feed? A “marketing plan” not worth the color ink used to print it?

Secondly, unlike the desire Americans have to own an excellent American automobile, I would argue that few of us desire Realtors who deliver dreams. Most of us are hungry for skill, integrity and brains.

Turn on

The most savvy real estate marketers have long since unhooked themselves from the helium tank of real estate rhetoric. They speak in a saner voice, more direct, less hyperbolic. Take MRealty. No marketing hype there. Just great technology and decision support content. Visit Pedal to Properties. Their slogan, “A new way to buy and sell properties” sounds fluffy at first blush but is directly linked to the very new way they are in fact doing things – a truth that has been meet with considerable local fascination.

And of course: Redfin. Here’s the marketing copy from their website:

Experienced Agents

If you like our site, you’re going to love our agents. Search online. Set up tours online. When you’re ready, our local, experienced agents will get you into homes and guide you every step of the way.

If I had my own brokerage, I’d pen something like “Davison Realty: Helping you make a better real estate decisions.” Granted, it’s not very sexy. But it’s something I’d know I could deliver upon and it’s something I believe people want and need.

Simple, truthful expressions of what you really do, what you really provide and what you can nail consistently are a wiser path toward building your brand.

Home ownership is still a wonderful thing. But let’s wake up from the marketing dream.