What real estate professionals can learn from Dominos Pizza

Domino’s Pizza owns the pizza conversation over its competitors, literally, with a continuous rollout of its progressive mobile app and web presence. Want to order a pizza via the in-car, voice-activated console of a Ford? No problem, go for it. Want to order a pizza via your mobile device via “Dom,” which is the Domino’s version of Siri. Done. You want to see the progress of your pizza order on Dominos.com, you’re all set. Listen to this NPR story, Domino’s Becomes A Tech Company That Happens To Make Pizza, for an excellent overview of Domino’s tech dominance.

Domino's Pizza order stats board
Domino’s Pizza order stats board

According to the NPR story, Domino’s has adopted a “Silicon Valley” approach to its technology deployment process. Essentially, Domino’s is in continuous rollout mode using agile development methodologies (for an overview of these methodologies, read Inspired by Marty Cagan). This process has allowed Domino’s to leap-frog its competition.

So how does this Domino’s story relate to real estate? Several entities in the real estate space have leveraged these software development methodologies to great gains; for example, Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin. And brokerages have amazing opportunities to do the same.

If a brokerage manages an in-house development staff, then it behooves this brokerage to send its key developers and managers to a Marty Cagan conference on agile processes, and then fundamentally change—if necessary—the way in which it manages this department. Moreover, this brokerage should consider creating a product manager layer within its org chart to further facilitate this internal product development process. Finally, this brokerage should consider creating internal mission teams like Spotify created.

These agile concepts are fundamental “Silicon Valley” like processes, where deployed properly can definitely create a culture of customer-centric internal product development and rollout. Alternatively, if a brokerage does not manage an internal development staff, then this brokerage should hold its development vendor accountable to delivering products and services in a manner that aligns with the agile approach. Otherwise, this brokerage is likely to be at a distinct competitive disadvantage in the marketplace in terms of technical capabilities and offerings.

8 Resources on Storytelling and Content Marketing Strategies and Tactics

Eight resources on storytelling and content marketing strategies and tactics:

  1. Altimeter Group “Content: The New Marketing Equation
  2. Wiki “Storytelling
  3. Extreme Content Marketing by Red Bull
  4. Gartner on Storytelling Marketing
  5. Barclay’s Storytelling Initiatives
  6. Five Tips for Storytelling Marketing
  7. Seven Tips on Integrating Storytelling Into Marketing Strategy 
  8. Hootsuite Advice on Storytelling

Creating and sustaining a culture of creativity within web-based services

This article from the International Journal of Design, gives a great overview of factors systems designers ought to account for when developing web-based services consumers use to create or co-develop products. As more services migrate to the “cloud”, user experience design is paramount to ensure customer satisfaction and loyalty.

As examples of creative-driven web services using “online configurator software”, the authors point to Timbuk2 and Chocri. It’s not an unreasonable premise that more and more of these types of web-service based companies will continue to proliferate, especially considering the future promise of social and mobile commerce. Thus, designing a user experience that’s satisfying is a key growth and loyalty building strategy for these types of brands. The authors point out nine factors that promote creativity (see Table 1 in the article):

  • Challenging work: Step-by-step instructions with increasing challenge
  • Autonomy: Tools that promote exploration
  • Community support: Chat rooms or galleries of recent work
  • Permission to take risks: Incorporating slogans that promote risk taking and having real-time help
  • Goal setting: Incorporating a progress bar
  • Positive effect: Use of positive images and colors
  • Mastery experience: Allow direct manipulation of tools
  • Sufficient resources: How-to sections and tutorials
  • Encouragement: Consistently reinforce that users are capable of completing the task; use images and verbiage

In each of the nine sections outlined above, the authors provide further research and practical examples. And the researchers make one final, valid point: be transparent. Clearly indicate copyright and other intellectual property policies and explain these policies in plain language that the average consumer will understand. Transparency promotes trust and loyalty.

Photo credit: Bitterjug

Location based services yield more accurate rankings than algorithms used by top review-ranking sites

It’s always fun to find cutting edge research that—when applied—has the potential to disrupt established business models. The subject matter of this research (.pdf download) has the potential to do just that: disrupt review-ranking services like Yelp and Zagat.

The researchers point out several negatives with these review-ranking services: they’re subject to expert bias, spoofing the system (i.e., marketers posting the reviews as opposed to genuine users), etc. As an alternative model the researchers developed a service called “SocialTelescope” which leverages location based services to track user interactions.

SocialTelescope used geo-tweets generated by Twitter users who also used services like Foursquare to discern popularity of locations. The basic premise is that the more check-ins a place has the more popular it is. Users are not taking any other action aside from checking-in to demonstrate their vote for a place.

Understandably, there’s also a qualitative issue to address: even though someone checked in they may still have hated the experience and, thus, a review site is more accurate (the premise being that a purposeful and explicit action taken by a user is more meaningful and accurate). However, the researchers tackled this issue by focusing on a inferred methodology:

 SocialTelescope does not consider all users to be the same, when computing popularity of a location. Instead, users are assigned a score based on their expertise on the search keyword. For a given search key- word, SocialTelescope assigns expertise scores to users as the number of times that user has visited any place that matches the search keyword. The intuition behind computing expertise is that, say, when ranking restaurants that serve seafood, people who visit lots of seafood restaurants can be considered seafood connoisseurs, and so their choices can be given a greater weight.

The researchers compared their results against the review-ranking sites and found that SocialTelescope was at least as accurate as these sites. The potential for disruption resides in the fact that a new company can now leverage location based services at a fairly low cost and return results that are just as accurate as their competitors. Thus, the barrier to entry in this space has been significantly lowered. I highly recommend everyone who is an analysis junkie to read the entire paper, as the researchers have done an excellent job describing their methodology and made great use of visuals.

Photo credit: TechCrunch

 

User participation in a QR quirky world

This video, The World Park Campaign, illustrates an excellent use of QR to not only drive a marketing result but reward users’ participation with something delightful. The focus of the campaign was an immersive marketing experience to drive wider participation and learning within a NYC park.

Similarly, read about what Bjork is doing to take participation with music to new levels. What Bjork has done is create a way to interact with her music via an app; for example:

Bjork fans with iPads or iPhones (there’s no Android version yet) can download a main app for Biophilia that’s free. You tap on it and open up to a black background with white, glowing starlike objects. Using your fingers to swipe and tap, the universe expands and turns, and bits of music and songs emerge.

Each song has its own star. You tap on it, and you can buy its app for $1.99 from the iTunes Store. Each one has essays about music and science, and each interacts with its song in a different way. Take “Thunderbolt,” whose arpeggiated bass line you can change by tapping on a lightning icon.

“You change the speed of the arpeggio, or the range,” Bjork says. “Basically, you’re like this crazy lightning bass player.

It’s the participation economy. Participatory media is the message (visit here for reference point).

Social media ROI, where’s the ROI in that?

What’s the ROI of conversing with someone while queued to buy a PEET’s coffee? What’s the ROI of engaging other parents and teachers at a monthly PTA meeting? What’s the ROI of swapping stories at a monthly book club meet-up? Common sense tells us these interactions are inherently unquantifiable, yet immensely important and powerful.

Now compare this line of thought to the recent Fortune.com article that digs into some reasons why Facebook–in its current iteration–may not be as valuable to marketers. Essentially, Fortune points out that despite the fact that 1 out of 8 minutes spent online is spent on Facebook, marketers are still trying to determine whether buying ads on Facebook is worth the investment given that Facebook ads perform half as well as banner ads. This said, certain firms like Virgin America have had positive experiences with Facebook and a social presence generally (could this success simply be that their service is stellar, and the promotion of this stellar experience hearkens back to Godin’s concepts around making something remarkable?)

So what about the conversation? Or “MONETIZING THE CONVERSATION”? Fortune cites a Razorfish Liminal study pointing out that customer “relationship” management (er, CRM), as a concept to interact with customers, is shifting:

It’s not enough anymore for marketers to have a top-down mentality, simply making sure they have a presence on multiple channels, but to understand what makes some customers still use an 800 number, while others reach out to brands on Facebook.

Here’s the problem: the above assumes your customers want a relationship with you. They don’t. Yes, they will engage with you, yet only if it is on their terms. The findings in “Liminal” demonstrate that, in the future, marketers will need to find ways to sustain those engagements over time, regardless of channel, whether they are traditional, emerging or new.

Wow. Customers don’t want a relationship with a brand? But want engagement? Multi-channel marketing strategies tied to understandable analytics that yield actionable business intelligence is a must, it seems. Enter Stage Right: Gahlord Dewald.

Three top sources discussing collaborative and collective innovation strategies and theories

As you head into 2011, here are three sources to get your innovation game plan together:

In the research paper, Collective Intelligence for Competitive Advantage: Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation, the author–a global transition manager at Nike Inc–conducts an exhaustive analysis of current research on the topic of leveraging crowdsourcing concepts and open innovation principles to deliver innovative products and services. The author makes the following recommendations:

Recommendation # 1 – Focus on creating an innovative organizational culture, in which experimentation and failure are supported and encouraged. Use the seven lessons of innovation by Koulopoulos (2009) as the guide.

Recommendation # 2 – Create a collective intelligence (CI) system by answering the four primary questions: Who is performing the task? Why are they doing it? What is being accomplished? How is it being done?

Recommendation # 3 – Focus on the utilization of an open innovation business model by developing a plan for and defining the primary tenets of the model, to include (a) value proposition, (b) market segmentation, (c) value chain, (d) revenue generation, and (e) competitive strategy.

Recommendation # 4 – Map out the four types of innovation: 1) Neutral, 2) Positive, 3) Negative, and 4) Open. An organization should operate in all 4 quadrants, but for market leadership open innovation is the most critical (Koulopoulos, 2009).

Recommendation # 5 – Understand how the CI system can be deployed into the value chain where internal and external knowledge is leveraged. Define how the CI system will integrate with the current value chain and which parts exist to support the system and which elements need to be developed.

In the paper, Organizing Innovation: Complementarities between Cross-Functional Teams (.pdf), researchers found that deploying cross-functional teams across new product/systems development processes yields positive gains for consumers and companies. The researchers also found that marketing departments are critical components of an innovative-driven cross-functional team because of the customer-centric views customarily espoused by such departments.

In the Harvard Business Review podcast, The Economics of Mass Collaboration (~ 15 min) the commentator, Don Tapscott, author of Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, discusses the concepts of how companies can harness mass collaboration to deliver innovative products and services.

Collaborative innovation, good ideas, and competitive differentiation

According to this Harvard Business Review podcast on collaborative innovation, the Internet dramatically drops collaboration and transaction costs thus enabling corporations to orchestrate capabilities more efficiently. Collaborative innovation can yield dramatic results in meaningful new product designs, service delivery models, and customer satisfaction; potentially yielding an endless supply of “good ideas”.

But where do good ideas come from? This video gives a succinct explanation of the basic genesis of good ideas:

Assuming good ideas require a certain period of gestation to manifest, collabortive innovation principles can collapse the time required to let great ideas blossom. MRIS recently took a bold step in collaborative innovation by incenting university students to use MRIS’ data resources to create novel, customer-driven products (in 2009 I suggested that MLS’ follow a similar model). The real estate industry is a perfect industry to employ collaborative innovation principles; it will be interesting to see what the crowd develops for MRIS.

Photo credit: jacreative

Related posts: Innovation and competitive differentiation using idea management systems and Sustainable innnovation and excellence in product development

Persuasive design principles and website user behavior

Motivation, ability, and triggers influence users’ website behavior, according to this research paper by Stanford researcher BJ Fogg. This is important if you’re targeting specific behavioral action (e.g., filling out a lead form). Before a user takes a desired action, she must be sufficiently motivated to perform the desired action, have the ability to do so, and be appropriately triggered to take action.

Fogg’s model is fairly easy to digest. For example, let’s say you want to drive more listing appointments (the target behavior), there is a trade-off between motivation and ability. In this scenario, a user’s motivation is somewhat variable (either they are interested in the property or not). Thus, as website designer you should concentrate on the “ability” side of the equation: do you make it a simple fill-in-your-email-address form, or do you make users fill out more detailed information prior to submitting their request? On this issue, Fogg concludes:

The implication for designers is clear: Increasing motivation is not always the solution. Often increasing ability (making the behavior simpler) is the path for increasing behavior performance.

Contemplating appropriate triggers is where it gets really interesting for website designers. According to Fogg, without an appropriate trigger, targeted behavior will not occur even if motivation and ability is high. There are three elements of a successful trigger: the trigger must be noticed, the trigger is associated with the targeted behavior, and the trigger occurs WHEN we are both motivated and able to perform the targeted behavior. Fogg argues that timing is THE critical element and is often missing:

In fact, this element is so important the ancient Greeks had a name for it: kairos – the opportune moment to persuade. As I see it, the opportune moment for behavior performance is any time motivation and ability put people above the behavior activation threshold.

Poorly-timed triggers (e.g., pop-ups) generally do not drive a user to take a targeted action and can even cause a negative emotion. Thus, Fogg argues that proper triggers will align with collaborative CRM concepts (which I earlier discussed), functioning mostly as “signals” or “facilitators”. I encourage you to read Fogg’s research paper (all 7 pages) as he further details the discreet elements under motivation, ability, and triggers that influence website behavior.

Photo credit: ell brown (off to Italy)

Using text analytics to increase customer engagement and loyalty

I love it when research/theory manifests in application/practicality. In 2007, I wrote about research being conducted on semantic analysis related to social media and blogs, and now there are companies using products stemming from this type of research.

Information Week covered text analytics, describing how JetBlue uses text analytics to understand customer sentiment from email messages, which informed the airline how to draft its customer bill of rights. And KMWorld discusses how the burgeoning field of “customer experience analysis” uses text analytics to increase customer engagement and loyalty.

Customers today aren’t just customers–they’re influencers and social networkers. Across the Web at any hour, they’re sharing observations about your company’s products and services, and those of your competitors…These new modes of customer behavior make it essential for companies to move beyond traditional ways of gathering, analyzing, and acting on customer information – Information Week

For a long time, text analytics was a technology in search of a business need. Now, thanks to social media, the need is there; the question is whether the technology can ramp up fast enough to be commercial – KMWorld

Where social media in real estate sometimes has the floor manners of a dog’s breakfast, it’ll become increasingly important for real estate firms to engage in text-sentiment analysis as part of their overall CRM and customer experience efforts. Here’s a list of companies that offer text-sentiment analysis services:

Photo credit: mnapoleon

Community crowdsourcing and innovation

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled calculator hobbyists who hack calculators to do weird (but ostensibly fun) things like making an Etch A Sketch, or a Tetris game, or synthesized music. The WSJ article also relates how a calculator company that was the target of some of these hacks sent cease and desist emails and letters to members of the calculator hack community for violations of intellectual property rights.

First, it’s understandable why the calculator company sought to protect its intellectual property. But there’s also an opportunity for the calculator company to foster a user community from this hack community, and the LEGO MINDSTORMS community offers an intriguing parable.

Product directors at LEGO MINDSTORMS first reacted negatively to a budding hobbyist community centered around their product, according to this MIT lecture, but have now embraced this community to drive product sales and innovation. Similarly, IBM has a developer community. And this research paper details how individuals update Google’s mapping system to make it more accurate, while this New York Times article discusses how a community of volunteer cartographers are logging details of neighorhoods.

Leveraging user-generated content

Razorfish points out keen ways to leverage user-generated content (UGC). In the midst of all this social media mania marketers can leverage UGC to gain insight and develop relationships. A poignant take-away from the Razorfish blog post: UGC is  not problematic in it’s own right, rather it’s filtering UGC to gain actionable intelligence that will make for meaningful engagement with customers and clients to build long-term relationships with them. Best quotes from the article:

The problem isn’t with UGC, it is with the filtering, sorting and prioritization and that’s where the technology, the semantic web and also the ability to filter through the lens of a social graph is going to make a big difference.

Leveraging user-generated content are the same ones that marketers and sales people have been preaching for decades: 1) build relationships, and 2) provide value that fills consumers’ needs/wants.

Companies (and individuals) have long espoused transparency, of course, but the economic and viral advantages of tapping and responding to user-generated content are nudging us into arenas of more authentic rather than staged transparency.

The future of UGC global rights management will lie in solutions that strike a perfect balance between the goals of the copyright holder and that of the user.

Photo credit: jelene

List of social Web resources 07-02-2009

Chris Brogan interview
Excellent interview with Chris Brogan on how he’d run an airline and implement some social web karma; great insights, well worth the 9:58 investment of your time. The interviewer, Shashank Nigam, CEO, SimpliFlying, asks some really good questions. My comment after listening to the interview: That was seriously cool.

Semantic Web
This post re-confirms to me that the semantic web (i.e., Web 3.0) is still a ways out from being widely deployed, yet absolutely filled with so much promise and visionary thinking.

Dunkin’ Donuts
Insightful post on how Dunkin’ Donuts uses the social web to extend its brand engagement. Dunkin’ Donuts’ recently released Dunkin’ Run app is a nice, simple deployment of a social app that has a built-in ROI component: buying doughnuts.

Vyoom
Interesting TechCrunch profile of Vyoom, which is a social networking site that gives you redeemable points for your participation. The more points you accumulate, the more stuff you can buy. Not sure whether this will work as a stand-alone application/concept, but could certainly see this applied in a rewards program under a major brand (e.g., Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program).

Twitter
Interesting ideas on why Gen Y may not “get” Twitter.

Consumer centric disruption

Thank you to Nic Brisbourne and his The Equity Kicker blog for (a) highlighting an intriguing video of UK journalists debating the veracity and viability of blogs and (b) pointing out an excellent presentation on the Customer Development Model. Both offer some tasty take-aways.

I find the debate curious. Universal McCann’s 2008 Wave 3 study points out (page 22) that 17.8 million people in the UK have read blogs; this 17.8 million represents 32.1% of the total 16-54 population (in comparison 60.3 million people in the US–33.2% of the total 16-54 population–have read blogs). It seems to me–based on the anecdotal comments of the UK journalists in the video–that UK traditional news media has metaphorically walled itself up and studies blog culture with a telescope, as opposed to latching on to the interesting facets of blogs that attract readers and then combining these facets with traditional journalistic norms and ethos (during the debate some very sound and rational points were made about the role “traditional” journalism has in terms of checks and balances, fact checking, etc). Nevertheless, some very powerful apps and news platforms could result by embracing social web norms. For example, why not take an EveryBlock approach (see Russian Hill) and combine that with traditional beat reporting on the more nuanced and interesting stories cited in the raw data feed. Indeed, one could use EveryBlock data to track patterns which could form the basis for an investigative reporting series.

A visit to slide number 27 of the Customer Development Model presentation offers a succinct and cogent illustration of a consumer-centric product/service development process. The key elements of the slide: Build, Measure, Learn integrated in the overall development life cycle. If I were able to question the UK journalist panel, I’d ask a couple of questions: Do you know of any UK news company to have empaneled a group of consumers that routinely gather their news from blog sites so as to find out why these consumers like these blogs and how they use the blog information in their daily lives? Do you know of any UK news company that has analyzed what apps or smart phone devices their consumers use on a daily basis and how they would like to have news integrated in similar ways on their devices? The answers to these questions begin the consumer-centric design journey.

Finally, this article makes a compelling case as to how certain facets of the Customer Development Model can be a disruptive factor in the real estate industry.

Reinvigorating MLS information

Let’s assume a situation where intellectual property and licensing issues are properly resolved and set with respect to granting outside developers access to MLS content and data.

If you’ve heard of an MLS (or a broker with a VOW) that has engaged a group of skilled programmers similar to what Washington D.C. did with its content and data, please let me know. Don’t you think something wonderful could happen with real estate search similar to what’s about to happen with bioinformatics?

Dialogue between bioinformaticists and semantic Web developers has been steadily increasing for a number of years now as widespread data integration problems have clearly begun to impede the progress of research.

This is not to say that challenges don’t exist,

[I]f you’re talking about traversing [information and data] computationally, then it’s much more challenging to make sure everything means the same thing and that the object that you’re getting to on the next path has the same persistence, quality, and structure that you’re expecting to operate on.

Nevertheless, the vision for a more collaborative and effective future is vibrant,

Ultimately, what the semantic Web community hopes to have are applications that will make the complexity of the technology as invisible as possible.

The real estate industry has an existing standardization body: RETS. It seems to me that an MLS (or broker VOW) could provide great value to its public and real estate industry stakeholders by adopting a RETS standard (thus, at some level, solving the data standardization issue raised above) while opening its data pantry to a group of developers, similar to what Washington D.C. did with its Apps for Democracy contest held last year (according to the Apps for Democracy website, the city realized a $2,300,000 value, not to mention the fact that the public now has some nifty tools),

The first-prize winner in the organization category was a site called D.C. Historic Tours, developed by Internet marketing company Boalt. The information about area attractions came from the city, but Boalt developers decided how to present it…The site uses Google Maps as the basis for enabling users to build their own walking tours of the city. It pulls information from Wikipedia, the Flickr photo-sharing service and a list of historic buildings.

Imagine a pool of widgets, desktop apps, apps for iPhone’s, Blackberries, etc, that slice and dice real estate content and data in novel ways. The public would obviously benefit by accessing real estate information in ways that are most meaningful to them. The content/data provider benefits by engaging the public at a deeper, more relevant, and effective manner. And real estate agents ultimately benefit because a more satisfied, more qualified, and more engaged buyer or seller equates to increased business opportunities.

Photo credits: ducks (SleepingBear), tightrope walker (tallkev)

List of social web resources 5-1-2009

Social media coolness
Henry Jenkins, Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities, has contributed to a seminal eight part series whitepaper on redefining theories underlying how information spreads across the globe. This series’ concepts are particularly important to brand management practices employing the social web as a strategic messaging tool.

This is an interesting research paper compiling a list of research about online communities. The article details the social, psychological, and emotional benefits people derive from online communities. The article relates these benefits to organizations and defines success metrics for online communities. This is one of the best research articles I’ve found in recent months concerning social web communities and organizations.

Here’s a short article describing how federal chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, is launching a new site, data.gov, which purportedly will allow for the development of more public-facing applications using raw data feeds from government sources. The article also discusses some very innovative uses of Washington D.C. government data that developers submitted for a contest called Applications For Democracy that Kundra directed while he was chief technology officer for Washington, D.C.

Responsiveness Drives Differentiation

Are your prospective clients having to act like abalone divers to interact with you? Abalone divers furbish themselves with an abalone iron to pry off abalones from submerged rocks. These divers are committed to their task, as abalone is considered a divine delicacy to some. But if prospective clients have to work like an abalone diver to communicate with and engage you, chances are they’ll dive elsewhere.

Concierge service is not a new topic, it still resonates. Let’s assume you have a robust lead acquisition strategy that runs the gamut from SEO, SEM, social media, targeted print ads, etc. Let’s assume too that this strategy yields a healthy inbound inquiry pipeline. Let’s also assume that–if you’re a brokerage–you have a decent eCommerce, relocation, and/or Internet lead management team that responds in a timely manner to these inquiries whether they’ve come in by email, telephone, or live chat. Finally, let’s assume that as an agent you get lead inquiries directly (from your blog, website, broker, etc) and/or leads are routed to you via a relocation or lead management team. What’s the average response time to these direct-to-agent or eCommerce-to-agent leads? If it’s over 15 minutes, I posit that is too long (for eCommerce-to-agent leads, I say response time should be under 5 minutes).

According to the 2008 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers:

  • 21% of home buyers say reputation is an important factor when choosing an agent, which is the second most important factor out of eight factors polled, the number one factor (at 29%) is agent honesty and trustworthiness
  • 93% of home buyers rate responsiveness as “very important” when considering agent skills
  • 84% of home buyers rate communication skills as “very important” when considering agents skills
  • 67% of all buyers interview only one agent in their search process

Do prospective clients visit the following types of sites more often than real estate websites: BassPro.com, Cabelas.com, Zappos.com, Craigslist.com, Geico.com? I’ll posit that your prospective clients are visiting these types of sites more often than any one real estate site. Thus, their customer service–their concierge service–expectations are being set by these entities. Where does your service level measure up related to these companies?

Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer who goes to BassPro.com and contacts their customer support staff and gets a response within one minute or less (especially if he/she used live chat). Would you say this consumer has a higher likelihood of being satisfied and that BassPro likely created a good vibe for its brand in the mind of that consumer? I’d say yes. Now what would happen if that consumer had to wait for 48 or 72 hours for a response to his/her question that common sense tells him/her should take only a couple of minutes? I’d say a bad vibe is created. Granted, if the customer is committed enough, he/she may try to pry a response out of BassPro by recontacting them. But the more he/she has to try and pry the customer service abalone shell off the rock, the less likely this customer will remain with BassPro. And if prospective clients have to pry a response out of you, the less likely they are to engage with you.

Prospective clients expect responsiveness. And their expectation for this responsiveness is being set OUTSIDE the real estate industry. Thus, it’s incumbent upon real estate professionals to step up to the client concierge service plate and respond as quickly as possible to inbound lead inquiries.

Where do you want your trustworthiness and reputation factors to be slotted in a prospective client’s mind: as uncaring and lazy because you don’t typically respond in a timely manner, or that you’re concerned about prospective clients’ needs and desires? Thus, meet 93% of home buyers’ expectations and set a standard to respond to inquiries in a timely manner. If 84% of home buyers consider communication skills as very important, how are you demonstrating your communication skills–as ignoring a prospective client’s requests, or by addressing him/her with alacrity and professionalism?

Don’t make prospective clients pry a response out of you. Remember that 67% of prospective clients contact and interview only one agent during their search process. Increase your odds of gaining a client’s trust and business by quickly responding to their inquiries.

Photo attribution: Abalone divers, Queue

Creativity Integrity and Brand Differentiation

Chris Brogan’s recent post challenges marketers to begin thinking of ways to use the social web to leverage traditional marketing expertise:

Marketers, are you paying attention to who’s spending how much and where when you read magazines, watch TV, or see billboards? Are you extrapolating out what it means to you, your business, etc?…If you’re in media, the stories are all around you. The model’s broken. Yep. The numbers are smaller. Yep. People aren’t as into paper. Yep. Ads online don’t make as much money as on paper. Sad, but yep.

Consider too this statement from Brian Solis:

While numbers indicate that Social Media Marketing may, for now, be recession proof, it is not idiot proof. Engaging in transparent conversations in social networks to build brand-centric communities is meaningless without intelligence, sincerity and a real world business acumen that can tie participation to important business metrics.

Assume a day in the not too distant future where 90% of your competitors have viable and cogent strategies for utilizing Facebook, Twitter, blogs, video, social CRM applications, etc. In this environment, where’s your edge? Where’s your competitive points of differentiation? How will your messages cut through the noise and fragmented media channels? I say it nets down to two main buckets: Creativity and Integrity.

Creativity

Calders 1968 Nenuphar In The Lincoln Gallery
Calder's 1968 Nenuphar In The Lincoln Gallery

@doverbey (aka Derek Overbey) is a creative person, a talented marketer and prolific–and effective–user of social media. This year he attended SXSW for the first time and knew he could meet people like @scobleizer, @gapingvoid, @guykawasaki (for those who’ve never attended a SXSW, that’s one of the hallmarks of the conference and its appeal…you can actually speak freely with many experts in a variety of disciplines…if you can get on their radar). @doverbey turned “could” into “did” by thinking creatively. Knowing that people like @guykawasaki would be hit from all sides and at any time of day for a chat-up, drinks, meeting requests, whatever, he knew that if he had any chance at wrangling a substantive and informative conversation from “stars” like @guykawasaki he’d have to have a “hook” and “angle”; in short, a creative and compelling reason to get these people to spend some time with him. His brainchild: “100interviews“. His methodology: a wordpress blog, some t-shirts, a flip video camera, and a targeted Twitter promotion prior to and during SXSW. His outcome? Visit his site. Here’s what Derek has to say about the experience:

When @morganb (Morgan Brown) and I decided to conduct some interviews at SXSW, I knew we had to have a hook. The thought on trying to do 100 interviews in 4 days had a nice ring to it and provided us with a platform to stand on as we went out and started to secure interview subjects. But I think the aspect that really pushed us over the top was using Twitter to promote and secure the interviewees. Once we secured a couple of bigger names like @guykawasaki, @chrisbrogan and @garyvee and started to tweet that info out, we had people literally coming to us asking if they could get involved. We leveraged the social aspect to do the work for us. Then when we were at the event, people felt like they were missing something if they were not involved because all their social media friends were participating. In closing, I would say this experience showed me the “true power” of social media outside of just connecting. It can really be leveraged as a additional marketing arm but must still have the good idea behind it.

Derek walked into a situation where many of the attendees were just as prolific users of social media as he is, and where many of these individuals perhaps had similar goals to his, but out of literally thousands of attendees he got substantive face-time with these thought-leaders, and captured telling interviews by using his marketing prowess and creative thinking to come-up with a compelling “hook” that was just different enough to make these thought-leaders stop, take notice, and contribute. And in the process he’s branded himself as a social media leader too.

The take-away: You can do the same with your brand by looking at what’s not been done in your vertical in terms of a promotional strategy and use social media to leverage this uniqueness. In a sea of banality what’s your concept that’s simple to execute, but has a “nice ring to it” that will create a buzz tsunami?

Integrity

Integrity
Integrity

Trent Reznor of NIN is a great artist. Whether you like or dislike his music, it’s unlikely you’d disagree that he’s been uncompromising in his art as well as his business acumen. Take 40 minutes out of your day and listen to this interview where Reznor’s answers to the DIGG community questions deliver keen insights into how he’s blended art and business into a strategy that not only propels his brands, but also keeps his core constituency front-and-center and conversant with these brands. What’s clear from the interview is that he’s confident in his own vision, and has been from the start. There’s a point in the interview where he describes how he strategically broke into the music business in the late 1980s by sitting back and really understanding what his unique value was to the music industry, aligning himself with the right label, and using then ground-breaking distribution models (e.g., MTV) to get his art heard. In essence, he looked at his core strengths and passions and leveraged such in the “alternative music” niche that existed at that time. Reznor focused on perfecting his art, stayed true to his vision, and created a truly unique sound which differentiated himself from the crowd of other bands. And once his audience “found” his music, he engaged this audience with ever-increasing diversity coupled with new technologies and distribution methods to increase this engagement (see his recently released iPhone app under his NIN brand for the most recent example of this.

The take-away: Understand your core values and define how you’ll make a difference and then have confidence in your brand, your vision. Keep an uncompromising adherence to these values as you deploy new services and utilize new technologies to spread your vision. And when a constituency embraces your brand, engage this constituency and demonstrate that you understand its core goals, wants, and needs by developing products and services that align with these core values while adhering to yours.

Photo credits: Creativity photo, Takomabibelot; Integrity photo, Jahat

Clients are not cows

Real estate marketing professionals interested in farming, cultivating, or harvesting customers should consider something new. Livestock management perhaps? How about genetic engineering of new hybrid corn? Better yet how about driving a combine or cultivator? It’s time to shed these agri-centric terms that are so often used in conjunction with traditional Customer (Client) Relationship Management (CRM) theories.

Potential and existing clients are neither livestock, corn, nor wheat. Clients are people who have families, passions, wants, desires, and needs. And they likely would not want to be managed, cultivated, harvested, or farmed. Instead they’d likely want a meaningful interaction with your brand where you treat them like a human rather than like an uninformed data element.

As a first step to embracing clients and potential clients as living and breathing HUMANS, rather than disembodied data nodes, firms ought to shed certain traditional labels of CRM as well as agri-centric terms in favor of human-centric labels. Use “client” rather than customer; clients seek professional advice, customers purchase products. As a real estate professional who’s positioning yourself as a trusted adviser and subject matter expert, aren’t you more interesting in engaging clients as opposed to just pushing products?  Similarly, use “engagement” and “conversation” rather than cultivate or nurture; engagement implies a recognition that your client has a role in the CRM process and conversation recognizes that you’re goal is to enlist the client in a dialogue, rather than having them passively remain rooted in your system like a seed and plant in a field until they’re harvested at maturation.

Words matter. And labels inform your conduct. If your CRM system focuses on the human touch, the people element, then your CRM operations become more focused and in tune with promoting engagement and brand partnership. Consumers want to trust your brand. Give them a reason to do so by acting like you trust them.

Photo credit zieak

Spreading Positive Brand Messages Using Social Media

Although many real estate brand managers have embraced social media and are pushing their executives and agents to start a blog, join Facebook and LinkedIn, etc, many are still reticent to step into the space. Questions like these are fairly common: “What if someone says something bad, or posts a rude comment, or is just really nasty on my public page?”, “How can I keep out the competition?”, and “How can I control what’s being said?”

These are relevant concerns and may stem in part from a generalized mistrust of consumers’ ability to “properly” “understand brand message”, or from feelings of insecurity in the worth and veracity of one’s brand. But sweating the minutia over message, taking a parens patriae like attitude towards the consumer, and adopting a defensive posturing towards one’s competition as a way to temporarily stave the social media tsunami actually play into the hands of any competitor who’s already joined the social media party.

Questions:

  • Do you believe in the transformative power of your brand?
  • Do you believe that your brand is better than your competition?
  • Do you believe in what you’ve built?

If the answers are no, then read these books as starting points to rejuvenate your brand: The Black Swan, Purple Cow, and The Art of the Start. If the answers are yes, then set your brand free with social media. Spreadabilty is the key, and one of the most efficient ways to accomplish this is via social media.

Spreading your message

If you believe in your brand, use the recently updated Facebook Page platform and Home page lifestreaming features to spread your message to your friends, core constituency, and clients. If you believe in your brand, use Twitter like Comcast does via its @comcastcares profile to engage customers and solve customer service related issues. If you believe in your brand, embrace the fact that maybe one of your competitors will “fan” your Facebook Page but then use this opportunity to overwhelm them with the greatness of your brand and use this platform as a subtle recruiting environment. If you believe in your brand, figure out creative and low cost buzz-worthy tactics to get a spotlight on your greatness (look at the buzz that @doverbey created at SXSW: he’s using a wordpress blog as a repository for 100 video interviews and promoting it via Twitter while attending SXSW…and now he’s in the SXSW buzz spotlight as a participant, rather than an attendee).

Social media is here to stay. And the longer you wait to begin using social media to spread your brand message, the the more opportunity your competitors have to spread theirs at the expense of yours.

Twitter Please Believe the Hype

Here’s an interview about Twitter with a friend of mine who owns a manufacturing plant in Northwest Chicago. Of course, I was evangelizing the incredible value, benefits, and just awesome coolness of Twitter, but he was a little skeptical…

I think Tom has good advice. It’s easy to get caught up in a Gartner hype cycle, becoming fascinated and enthralled with a technology and thinking it’s value resides simply in its sheer technical coolness. This said, I’m still convinced Twitter is one of the best applications a real estate firm and agent can use to build their personal brand as well as eventually drive transactions. UPDATE: Check out this NYTimes article on the power of Twitter.

In a similar vein I’m having much more meaningful conversations and interactions over Twitter than via telephone and email. I think it’s because Twitter forces you to think crisply and communicate with brevity, mirroring “live” conversations in a way. And in thinking again about ‘ol Notorious’ recent post, it’s this aspect of Twitter–and other social media applications in general–that make it (them) such huge brand-building tools.

Top down branding campaigns are typically forced on consumers like geese trapped in a foie gras factory, delivered in 15 second to 30 second snippets that really don’t change that much. Whereas social media relies on relationships that naturally evolve over time. And it’s this aspect of social media–its repartee–that allows a brand to develop a “personality” that a consumer can choose to befriend. Assuming a consumer remains engaged and interacting with a brand under these circumstances, it stands to reason that consumer affinity and loyalty with/to a brand would be higher than with/though traditional media campaigns.

Hyper-targeting enhanced listings

Trulia partnered with 1020 Placecast to provide targeted ad services.

Once users input a location they want to learn more about on Trulia, Placecast will access that data and apply it as a key component along with common demographic data points like psychographic information to provide more targeted ads.

This process makes sense especially at the zip code level (see previous posts on zip code optimization) because demo/psychographic differences exist between zip codes–even contiguous zip codes. Accordingly, if I’m looking in a zip code that trends more affluent, Trulia can now serve ads that appeal to an affluent consumer (Jaguar advertisement). Alternatively, if I’m searching in a zip code that trends more middle of the road, Trulia can now serve an ad that appeals to a bargain shopper (Toyota Corolla advertisement).

For real estate, I’d like to see a twist on this process: somehow also deduce from where a consumer searches so as to better deploy advertising resources with respect to select properties. For instance, let’s assume you’re a firm situated in a Utah ski resort community, and that you know based on previous dealings with out-of-market buyers that your to primary “feeder” markets are Chicago and Orlando, and that these primary markets are generally interested in purchasing luxury-oriented rental income properties.

It’d be a great service to be able choose which of your top properties to “enhance” that exist in a specific zip code and display the “enhanced” versions of these properties only when a consumer from either Chicago or Orlando conducts a search in the targeted zip code. Employing a scheme like this, one makes an ad buy based on a “known” marketing attribute (i.e., based on personal experience) along with hyper-targeting, which should translate into higher quality clicks to the “enhanced” properties and, thus, increase the potential ROI on those ad buys.

Reality mining in real estate services

As always I am grateful to Owyang to lend his insight and foresight. Here’s another excellent missive on the “Intelligent Web”. In summary, he posits that machines will begin extrapolating relationships and driving recommendations for connections from the juxtapositions and nexus between “our behaviors, context, and preferences”. Sounds a bit like the semantic web. Spinning through the comments on this post brought me to the Innovation Insight blog where Guy Hagen explores MIT research related to “reality mining”, which you can find more about on the MIT Web site. And this research paper out of UC DAVIS demonstrates how the MIT Reality Mining data set was utilized in tracking behaviour via mobile phones.

Imagine an iPhone application overlayed on a real estate firm’s listing data set, where the iPhone reports back over time thousands of user’s mobile browsing habits (i.e., driving around looking at homes for sale or rent). Having such data would allow firms to target advertising, Web site promotions, and give predictive insight over their competitors with respect to fluctuating markets (e.g., patterns will emerge over time that will tell a firm which neighborhoods, etc, are capturing consumer interest, thus enabling a firm to deploy marketing and agent resources towards these locations ahead of their competition).

Brand considerations in social media marketing

This paper argues that allowing consumers to “co-create” or “co-author” products–i.e., directly engaging and encouraging consumers to participate in new product development processes–taps vast wells of creativity while exploiting certain cost efficiencies in terms of labor. Similarly, this paper explores how Web 2.0 will fundamentally (has fundamentally) changed the manner by which companies must brand themselves. Gone is a command and control ethos. Emerging is an empowerment and transparency ethos:

  • engagement replaces interruption
  • diversity and self-expression replace conformism and unity
  • the media of the masses replace mass media
  • granular insights and rich data replaces generalisation
  • conversations in marketing replace control

As examples of this new paradigm, the paper points to Dove’s (note too the related contra-positive consumer-generated videos) and Nike’s strategic Web 2.0 marketing successes.

Zip+4 Targeting: Online Advertiser Demographic Segmentation

Assume you’re a brokerage firm with a wide distribution of properties over several zip codes. Aside from basic syndication to online aggregators, what’s another strategy to market your listings? One fee-based option that many aggregators offer is enhanced listings. Before you pay, however, ask them to prove their merit.

Assume you cover these two zip codes 28226 and 28104. According to Claritas, homes in these zip codes have very different consumer attributes (you’ll have to enter the zip codes yourself to get the results).

Armed with the demographic information, you should ask your online aggregator to give you a demographic break-down, at the zip+4 level, of it’s user audience on the search patterns and niche pages/sections of its site. For example, assume a consumer is searching an aggregator’s site in your coverage area (indicated by the consumer entering city name or 5-digit zip code as search criteria). Based on these entries, relevant properties are returned to the consumer. It’s at this moment aggregators give you an opportunity to have an enhanced listing display to this consumer.

Now it’s your turn to push back: ask for the historical demographic breakdown of the users who entered those search criteria: does the demographic base skew towards segment A (assume A is more likely to own an inexpensive American made car and have a household income below $50,000) or segment B (assume B is more likely to own an expensive foreign made car and belong to a country club)? Once you know, you will know which listings to enhance, while including appropriate imagery and content triggers that appeal to the lifestyle attributes of your targeted demographic segment.

For example, if the base skews towards segment B, perhaps you choose to only enhance listings that are 1) above $750,000, 2) close to a country club, and 3) have ample space for a boat.

Thus, you’re consolidating your advertising resources by focusing on high-gain marketing activities that give you a higher chance of getting a high quality click/lead. It’s a win for the advertiser too because they’re serving you better by giving you the opportunity to gain a high value click/lead (thus promoting retention of their services), while legitimately asking for a higher CPM or CPC for such.

Zip+4 Coding for Real Estate Listings

What does The Filter have to do with real estate search? (NOTE: I went through the The Filter Q&A and have to say it was eerily prescient).

What if there was a site where a consumer would 1) define the location where they want to live (via natural language, drop down, or map search), 2) answer a simple set of “lifestyle-oriented” questions, the answers to which would bump up against Claritas’ Prizm database and 3) where a real estate broker would have performed a similar zip+4 coding of their listings? When the consumer presses the “Go” button, the answers to the lifestyle questions would peg a PRIZM code to them (via session cookie or registration ID) that would relate to the same PRIZM code tagged to the properties and deliver only those matched properties to the consumer.

The benefit to the consumer is they’ve cut through gobs of listings that may not fit their lifestyle and found the ones that do. The benefit to the broker is they’ve delivered a high value service to the client. If the broker then had live chat, IM, or showing appointment booking features on each listing, there’s a higher chance of getting a conversation started and higher quality inquiry on the listing.
Right result, right time, right for the consumer.