Why brand communities matter to real estate brokerages

When a brokerage firm creates a targeted brand community within an existing social network (such as Facebook), it enables that firm to understand the psychological motivations of its targeted clientele that underpin brand loyalty and brand love. According to this research paper, Brand communities embedded in social networks, brand communities have three traditional characteristics: consciousness of kind, shared rituals and tradition, and moral responsibility.

 iPodCommunity_ThomasHawkPhoto

Consciousness of kind relates to social identity theory (see discussion below); essentially, members feel connected to each other (in-group) and separate from outsiders (out-group). The feeling of in-group belongingness creates an identity, individually as it relates to the group and for the group itself. Through shared rituals and traditions members create their own meaning of community experience. Shared histories, brand-related stories, core values, and a common language create cohesion and resonance. Moral responsibility centers around such activities as members coaching other members on the proper uses of the brand and integrating new members into the community.

There are three aspects of social identity: cognitive (noting similarities with members of the group and differences to members of other groups), evaluative (perception of group self-esteem), and affective (positive emotions towards other group members).

In the study, the researchers profiled the Canon Digital Photography Facebook group and Canon Camera Malaysia Facebook business page. The researchers found high degrees of feelings of belongingness and brand love; for example:

“… I am loyal to Canon though. They have been the leader for a very long time. Plus, if I switched to Nikon, I would have to leave this group.” And, “If you could choose [one Nikon and one Canon product] which would you go for—The 7d, because the other one is Nikon”

Further, the communities had a set of rituals, brand love stories, established jargon, self-policing activities, and gentle chiding on proper communicative decorum and etiquette; for example:

“What is SS?”—“Shutter Speed. Sorry about that.” And, “In all the time, I have never seen anyone in here displaying the attitude and ill manners that you have displayed in this series of posts. In spite of this, everyone has treated you with dignity and respect and done their best to answer your question. Please mend your way.”

Moreover, moral responsibility as it related to integrating new members, conducting product support activities, coaching on buying decisions, and technical discussions were prevalent; for example:

“Please, be SMART CONSUMERS […], don’t just rush go out buy 550D […]. You own it today or you own it next week, it’ll still be around.”

Finally, there was a high degree of social identity within the two communities; for example:

“Thank you all so much for this invaluable advice!! It is so nice to have a helpful group to pose questions to […]” And, “This forum has been amazingly helpful-worth being on Facebook for it.”

The managerial benefits of leveraging existing social networks to facilitate targeted brand communities are several:

  • Easy and low cost access to huge numbers of consumers.
  • Ability to build long-term relationships between and with groups of members.
  • Highly efficient customer-to-customer based information exchange and learning.
  • Brand insight and intel.

With respect to real estate, a brokerage firm could consider creating a brand community targeting millennials transitioning from renting to first-time home buying. This community would focus on the core services offered, the process, transactional issues, and lending and financing issues. This community could facilitate conversations around success stories, pitfalls, and testimonials. It could also include pictorial representations of new first-time happy home owners and operate as a go-to forum for continued engagement post-transaction. Of course, with any community, there will be negative and potentially legal issues raised, but this is nothing that a properly trained community manager cannot manage or take offline. An example of a vibrant brand community started by a brokerage is DreamTown’s Pride of Ownership community.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Luxury real estate marketing and branding tips

The most successful digital marketing brands create multidimensional personalized experiences.

According to this research paper Luxury Brands in the Digital Age, Exclusivity versus Ubiquity,  there are four dimensional factors to consider in digital luxury marketing: financial value, functional value, individual value, and social value. The authors cite Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry, and Viktor & Rolf as top digital luxury brands that embody these elements. A more in-depth analysis of this report is located here on my ekreckoning blog.

Photo credit: gounie

Opportunities in online lead capture and close

Here’s a short article from the Harvard Business Review on lead capture. The stats:

  • $12.5 billion in 2005 to $22.7 billion in 2009: The amount of advertising dollars spent generating leads
  • 2,241 U.S. companies: The number of companies measured in the study to test lead response time
  • 37% of the companies responded within one hour, 16% responded within one to 24 hours, 24% took more than 24 hours to respond, 23% never responded
  • 42 hours: The average response time by all companies measured
  • 7X: If you try to contact a potential customer (i.e., a “lead”) within one hour of receiving a query, you are nearly seven times as likely to qualify that customer as those individuals who wait two hours
  • 60X: By contacting a potential customer within one hour of a receiving a query, you are more than sixty times as likely to qualify that lead than individuals who wait 24 hours

Take-away: The fastest to respond wins the opportunity to serve a customer. Insight: Once you’re earned that opportunity, keep delighting that customer by remaining responsive.

Aligning real estate services to the Gaps Model of Service Quality theory

This research paper on the Gaps Model of Service Quality (GMSQ) serves as an excellent framework by which real estate brokerages could begin analyzing their service value. As compared to tangible goods, there is little focus on service excellence, service research, and service innovation, say the authors. They posit that the GMSQ (introduced in 1985) is a perfect model to foster service quality assurance and quality control as well as service innovation because of the inherent cross-functional elements and voice of customer perspectives a company must adhere to in applying the GMSQ.

The research article delves into the impact technology has had on service delivery. Companies like Amazon, eBay, and Zappos obviously have leveraged technology to deliver superior service. Similarly, technology has enabled many customers to serve themselves more effectively and efficiently while giving companies a global reach. But as the expectations of customers and the pace of technological innovations increase, firms will encounter obstacles to delivering a superior customer service experience.

The GMSQ explores the gap between a customer’s expectations, their perceptions, and the reality of what they experience. Technology profoundly affect these relationships. To illustrate this, the authors focus on personal photography. In the past, individuals took photos, passed film off to be processed by a service provider, and then shared printed photos amongst family and friends. Now many individuals take digital photos, download those photos to their computer or upload those photos to a photo-sharing site, and digitally share their photos, albums, etc. An individual engaged in this process is a co-producer with the technology service provider. Thus, technology fundamentally affects a customer’s expectations and perceived value of the service provided and the GMSQ offers a way to ensure that firms leverage technology to meet customers’ expectations.

There are four gaps in the GMSQ: Listening, Design and Standards, Service Performance, Communication.

Listening Gap
What is the difference between a customer’s expectations and a firm’s understanding of those expectations? That is the gap. In other words, a customer could have a different set of expectations than what a firm understands those to be. Thus, firms need to engage in active and passive listening. Active listening can take the form of surveys, polls, etc, and passive can take the form of web data analytics. Close the gap by: (1) engaging in customer research, (2) focus on building relationships over time by meeting customer needs (i.e., CRM and relational database marketing), (3) when there is a service failure actively solicit input from customers on what went wrong and rectify this failure.

Design and Standards Gap
Focus on developing systems that meet customer needs while setting standards to measure your service operational environment against customer expectations. Close this gap by: (1) engaging in services R&D, (2) conduct 365 degree service mapping or blueprinting (i.e., map the customer lifecycle through all points of engagement), (3) measure operations against CUSTOMER-DEFINED rather than company-defined standards.

Service Performance Gap
Even though a firm may have closed the listening and design and standards gaps, if employees or independent contractors lack motivation or lack proper training and support, customers’ needs could remain unmet. Close this gap by: (1) aligning HR policies and practices around delivering superior service (Zappos’ core values are a great example of this tenet); similarly you should consider employee reward practices as articulated in the book Drive, (2) clearly tell customers what’s expected of them (oftentimes customers have no clear understanding of what they’re to do), (3) ensure that technology designed to support employees’ core functionality maps back to the listening and design and standards gap analysis (a good book to read in this regard is Rework)

Communication Gap
If your communications do not actually reflect what’s delivered to customers, there’s a gap. Close this gap by: (1) employing integrated messaging strategies, (2) actively manage customer expectations over time as their needs change (e.g., integrate social media messaging options in your drip marketing messaging platform), (3) ensure that you have consistent messaging before, during, and after a transaction, and make sure this messaging aligns with and reinforces customers’ expectations.

Photo: malias

Twitter sentiment analysis and media influence

This study and this presentation are fascinating examples of what’s occurring in sentiment and message analysis. The first study focuses on a sampling of 9,664,952 tweets from 2008 and found that Twitter (surprise ;-D) is an excellent media for analyzing public sentiment on topics of national significance (e.g., the 2008 Presidential elections). The authors find that social, political, cultural, and economical issues have relatively short-lived effects on public mood, but that Twitter may “highly affect the dynamics of public sentiment.”

The presentation cited above gives an overview of the concept of media influence modeling to better predict audience opinion formation. The author cites as theoretical underpinnings: Agenda-setting theory, opinion leadership theory, social influence theory, co-orientation behavior, priming and framing theory, and information theory. What’s interesting about this presentation is the depth and sophistication going into analyzing message influence. The bibliography (page 13) is an excellent resource too.

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)

Leveraging data analytics for competitive advantage

Two articles recently caught my interest. The first article from the Financial Times, Smarter leaders are betting big on data (registration required) focuses on how companies use data analytics for business intelligence purposes. The best quote from this article:

Data is the new plastics

The second article from the Los Angeles Times, He’s start-ups’ best friend, profiled angel investor Ron Conway and his theories about investing in start-ups. The most telling quote from this article:

His current focus is “real-time data” companies that help people share what they’re doing instantly – using text, photos and video. “This sector is going to be huge,” he said.

As real-time data begins to inundate firms more and more by virtue of their forays into the social web and mobile world, data analytics offers a way for firms to utilize this data in novel ways to deliver more engaging and relevant experiences to their customers. For example, a firm could use data analytics in a predictive manner to dynamically deliver more relevant web pages based on consumers’ behavior throughout a firm’s website. Similarly, firms can use a service like Flowtown in conjunction with a service like First American Core Logic’s lead qualification services to gain insight into a registrant by combining their social persona with their transactional persona and then deliver relevant data and content based on this combined persona. Firms that begin to leverage data analytics will have distinct advantages over their competition in the near and long-term future.

Innovation and competitive differentiation using idea management systems

This research report delves into how Microsoft used a grassroots idea management system to encourage individuals who do not routinely participate in “formal” product development processes to contribute their ideas to new product development initiatives. Out of 1,491 users, 315 ideas were generated, 100 prototypes produced, with six ideas absorbed into product teams.

Microsoft approached this process in four phases: pose a challenging business problem (Microsoft posed challenges on Peer2Peer advertising, identity-based systems services, and social computing), foster community ideation, filter/refine the best ideas, and launch/integrate qualified ideas into designated product pathways. Once an idea is submitted, community participants had a chance to vote, comment, and extrapolate on those ideas. Not so surprising was the fact that development and sales/marketing personnel participated the most. Nevertheless, the researchers cited several instances where other types of participants valued the exercise because it allowed them to informally break out of their silos and contribute to an overall corporate goal.

Despite the success of the system, the researchers recommended several areas for Microsoft to improve:

  • Foster meaningful participation across the broader corporate community by offering incentives that would allow individuals to justify deviating from their normal job functions
  • Use business relevant criteria in the voting process, not “popularity” voting
  • Measure and appreciate outcomes beyond revenue (the authors cite improved workforce ideation skills, cross-functional cooperation and pollination of ideas, and breaking down silos)
  • Structure the idea submitting phase so that it cuts off at some point; some ideas that were submitted towards the end of the process were not seen or voted on
  • Great ideas center around challenge problems (i.e., focus ideas around business critical issues to resolve)
  • Have ideas meet some minimum threshold so as to weed out truly frivolous ideas
  • Encourage product developers to review relevant ideas in the system that previously had not been acted upon; this ameliorates the perception that the system is an “idea graveyard”
  • Clearly label each phase of the innovation system/process so it enables users to fully understand their contributions within each phase
  • Create a support system for users whose ideas were not selected but nevertheless want to further develop them; some people are simply passionate about their idea and are willing to spend their own time developing such, and the idea management system should have a template for them to follow

A idea management system can operate as a competitive advantage for firms. By internalizing and facilitating an idea groundswell not only are firms harnessing internal talent but they’re creating valuable intellectual property assets that can potentially deliver a huge competitive advantage.

Customer loyalty and online community development

What factors keep an online community happy, involved, and engaged? The authors of this study (.pdf) found four primary things influence these three factors:

  • Purpose: Clearly define the purpose and values of the community space with a well-articulated and succinct statement so people who join the community know what to expect, while internally defining your (i.e., corporate) goal of the community
  • Monitor: Before you can know how a community vibe ebbs and flows, you must monitor the community’s interactions, and “embrace” community leaders perhaps by elevating their status within the community
  • Feedback: Implement meaningful rating systems (the authors site a rating system that reflects users’ behavior as an example of a meaningful rating system, as opposed to a simple “top ten” type system)
  • Organization: Clearly guide new community members about where to go, what to do, how to get acquainted, etc, while cuing or gently nudging existing users with meaningful suggestions and topics on how the community can grow and evolve

Related post: Community crowdsourcing and innovation

List of social Web resources 09-19-2009

Social media monitoring
Here’s a great list of conversation monitoring tools. The article points out some very interesting and straight-forward tips; I especially like the tip on this social media monitoring wiki.

Search use up, email use down
The Online Publishers Association released a study showing that consumers are spending more and more time on search  and content centered sites while dropping their use of email and instant messaging.

Social network use by mobile device
This study by AdMod shows that social networking is the most used application of iPhone and smartphones users and that Facebook is the number one accessed social networking site.

Facebook and Twitter real time search is good for multichannel marketing strategies

Facebook’s recent purchase of FriendFeed is a multichannel marketing boon. Mashable detailed some threats Twitter may face with respect to the FriendFeed purchase while pointing out some threats to Google too. Regardless as to how the game (err war) plays out, as a marketer you’ve just been handed another delicious marketing tool to leverage. I’ve previously written about the potential power of Facebook and Twitter as multichannel marketing tools. The basic gist of the argument is illustrated by how Dell Computer leverages Facebook and Twitter.

A quick perusal of Dell’s Twitter and Facebook landing pages demonstrates multichannel marketing at it best: Dell has Facebook pages and Twitter handles for Dell Lounge, Dell Outlet, Dell Small Business, etc. The beauty of this from a multichannel marketing strategy is that a consumer “subscribes” to a particular channel (out of a choice of many) and self-selects which topic (i.e., channel) is most important to them knowing that Dell will centralize almost all of its communication to them about this particular topic via this channel. This works well for the real-time search features of Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s how this plays out on Facebook’s new real-time search feature for “dell lounge”:

Here’s how the same search plays out on search.Twitter.com:

Here’s a Facebook search result for “delloutlet“:

Here’s a Twitter search result for the same:

As a real estate marketer you could do something like Dell by setting up niche-specific Facebook Pages and separate, corresponding, Twitter handles (for example, focusing on foreclosure investment advice in your market niche). Anyone who fans your Facebook page or subscribes to the corresponding Twitter channel has an expectation of receiving targeted advice related to the topic you’ve identified. For example, in the case of foreclosure investment advice you could update/tweet about listings, market stats, your general thoughts, etc, while cross promoting both channels (for example, on Dell’s Twitter page you will notice they promote their Facebook pages). The synergies realized between both platforms will go a long way towards reinforcing your expertise and further position you as a trusted advisor.

Real estate multichannel marketing increasing ROI

Aligning website landing pages with targeted social media marketing channels will yield higher on-page conversions (as defined by increased showing appointments, chat requests, 1-800 number call-ins, etc). The challenge many real estate marketers face today is effectively managing the flow of social media traffic with an eye towards ROI. It’s a multichannel marketing issue, which starts with controlling user client and potential client expectations so to avoid the “mishmash syndrome”.

The mishmash syndrome occurs when all sources of traffic to your website converge without any clear indication from whence they’ve come combined with no clear indication as to what they’re to do once on the site. Confusion reigns, frustration mounts, bounces occur. In other words without controlling the expectations of the originating inbound users it’s very difficult to align on-page calls to action to users’ needs and expectations. In fact, your website may–at first glance–look something like this:

Confusing signage and message
Confusing signage and message

Controlling expectations could be as simple as clearly defining what types of information you’ll engage in on a specific social media platform. For example:

  • clearly indicate on your website to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn for specific information
  • set up a LinkedIn professional group or Facebook Page where you’ll focus your information and interaction around a specific topic like real estate investment advice in the age of REO
  • begin slowly migrating your Twitter updates to centralize around a cloud of topics or invite current followers to “subscribe” to a new Twitter handle that will focus exclusively on this “topic cloud”
  • start using targeted Facebook ads to drive traffic

By doing something like the above you’ll let your sphere opt-in to specific channels which thus frees you to narrowly focus on the specific themes or topics you’ve identified. Once you’ve begun engaging new or migrated followers via these defined channels you can begin tracking flows to your website and testing and optimizing the website to meet these users’ expectations.

For example, let’s assume you have a call to action on your website home page something like this: “Join our new Facebook page for real estate investment and REO advice” (as opposed to simply saying “Join us on Facebook”). As you begin to gain fans to this specific page you have a fairly high degree of confidence they’re there for a specific purpose and you could initially provide studies, market stats, reports, essentially any base level research and information regarding real estate investment and REO and ask for comments and feedback regarding these posts. This builds authority and credibility.

Once you’ve developed a healthy degree of dialogue (i.e., engagement) you can begin driving people back to your site for targeted activities, for example: “Just listed a sweet foreclosure investment property” with a link back to a landing detail page specifically targeted at this Facebook fan base and their Facebook friends, perhaps even with a welcome message like “Thanks for visiting us from Facebook, glad you’re here” (a simple script that recognizes the originating URL should do the trick nicely). And then knowing that this fan visitor is likely comfortable with “tech” perhaps your primary “contact me” call to action is a prominently displayed and colored button that says “Click this button to text me if you want to set up an appointment”, with a thank you message after the click like “Thanks for texting me, I’ll text you back shortly and we can set up an appointment. Make it a great day.”

These types of tactics go a long way to realizing a 1-to-1 dialogue. These tactics allow you to focus on a specific niche, target an engaged clientele, position you as an expert to this clientele, and close the loop in a manner that’s satisfactory to this clientele.

Related posts:
Clients are not cows
Responsiveness drives differentiation

List of social Web resources 07-13-2009

O’Reilly on underlying Web 2.0 concepts and its future application
Excellent O’Reilly web 2.0 summary and whitepaper on Web 2.0; really good discussion on the nexus between collective intelligence and the real time web and managing the content/data flows therefrom.

[T]he Web is the world – everything and everyone in the world casts an “information shadow,” an aura of data which, when captured and processed intelligently, offers extraordinary opportunity and mind bending implications.

How Twitter can improve its real time search relevancy
Cogent argument as to how Twitter can improve its real time search results. Author argues for an algorithm that considers trust, authority, and relevancy, as well as hitting on some of the collective intelligence concepts discussed in the O’Reilly Web 2.0 article mentioned above.

Social network usage between Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Twitter
Succinct analysis of a social network usage, showing cross-network usage and general demographic trends.

Real estate industry innovation…some considerations

What is innovation? How does one recognize it? Will I know it when I see it?

Wikipedia says:

The term innovation means a new way of doing something. It may refer to incremental, radical, and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations. A distinction is typically made between invention, an idea made manifest, and innovation, ideas applied successfully.

Here’s a Booz, Allen & Hamilton book review of “The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation” (Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, authors) that offers an interesting perspective:

The authors disapprove, for example, of the widespread American practice of benchmarking, in which companies keep a scorecard on their competitors’ business practices to stay a step or two ahead of them. This, the Japanese would say, leads to incremental improvement, not to true creativity or knowledge creation. In a Japanese company, knowledge is thought to be internally generated from basic principles laid out by top management, then improved on by brainstorming from within the ranks and finally some amount of feedback from external sources.

A U.S. use-case example of the above is the development of the 3M Post-it note:

The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company…gives its researchers time to play around in the lab and then to “socialize” knowledge by using the office as a beta-testing site. Co-workers were skeptical when one researcher passed around his innovation, little pads of sticky-backed yellow paper. But the Post-it was the future, and it worked.

This line of reasoning resonates throughout Rob Hahn’s post insurgent marketing: as the main brand players in an industry focus on carpet bombing their competitors, insurgent type marketers exploit weaknesses. Similarly, Seth Godin touches on this concept when he references “heretical marketing.” Finally, Matthew Ferrara hits on this concept too.

Innovation cannot be trained, but it can be fostered in terms of firms encouraging the development of creative knowledge environments (the 3M example above is illustrative of this). What are you doing to foster innovation in your firm?

Photo credit: IH (40)

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

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.

Engagement and consumer value propositions

Here’s another recent article on the changing consumer landscape regarding brand affinity and marketing. It parallels themes from my Crowds, Hives, Mobs, Swarms post.

The contemporary savvy consumer is seen as someone who combines areas of competency (particularly technological sophistication, network competency and marketing/advertising literacy) with empowerment (especially self-confidence and self-efficacy).

The paper points out that consumers are focused on value in their online interactions: value-for-time, value-for-attention, and value-for-access for their personal information. In searching for this value, consumers have become self confident in utilizing new technologies to filter and control brand-centric messaging. Additionally, consumers are by and large comfortable tinkering with new technologies on a trial and error basis as opposed to following a script or reading a manual, which has resulted in mega-brands like Google, iPhone, etc. As other brands attempt to match the success of these mega brands, ad spends are increasing in places like social networks as these brands go for consumer “engagement gold”. But there is a downside.

Organisations that serve consumers, employees and citizens in the world of person-centric commerce will be beneficiaries…but along the way there will be losers and casualties, including some businesses that over-estimate the desire of their consumers for engagement at the expense of offering basic value-for-money.

Accordingly, brands need to account for the differences among consumers and their attendant needs regarding value. These differences fall largely along generational lines, but even these lines are blurred as older consumers learn to adopt new technologies and adapt to novel ways of socializing and networking. In conclusion, the paper posits that despite a brand’s overt focus on highly customized, highly relevant, and highly emotional appeals, these efforts may not be enough to get these customers “involved” with the brand because the consumer landscape is too fragmentized and unstable.

Real estate website technology and engagement

This post on real estate brokerage future and this one on hyper-local targeting are two excellent discussions about the strategic decisions real estate brokers will face over the next few years, especially with the technology side of the equation. I will focus on two salient points from these posts: (1) the ascendancy of broker power relative to agents and agent teams; and (2) the “Human Touch”.

In the first post, the author essentially argues that “Big Brokerage” along with a constellation of boutique firms will emerge dominate over the next few years. Not only is this argument valid in my opinion, but follows the power law principle, which has been proven in many other social, scientific, and natural systems. Interestingly, the author also skims the surface on some historical trends too. Having just finished reading the Rise and Fall of Great Powers, I’m seeing a correlation in the real estate industry to what existed in the late 1600s through early 1800s in Europe, which saw “old” powers atrophy and “new” powers emerge. Many national firms are under distress and, thus, weakened competitively when confronted by attempts at marketshare gains made by rivals (i.e., analogous to the Hapsburg’s loss of power). What may emerge in the near term is a balkanized set of real estate brokerage fiefdoms (all following the power law principle within their own market) but no one true national “winner”. Over time these fiefdoms (or principalities) will begin competing along their borders too, where the brokerages that strategically deploy technology gain advantage (just like the principalities and states that adopted new forms of weaponry won their military campaigns during the afore-mentioned time period).

Which brings me to my second issue the, “Human Touch“. I’ve always argued that real estate is a participation sport. And technology should serve one principal service: get an arms-length positioned consumer in front of an agent as quickly as possible…but it’s the manner by which this occurs that separates effectiveness from mere happenstance.

Many agents despise Internet leads, and sometimes with good reason. Too many “leads” an agent receives are really a waste of time from the agent’s perspective (too many questions, too many meetings, too many emails, not enough transaction); this tends to breed resentment, bitterness, and non-effectiveness. Thus, smart brokerages employ a lead qualification layer operating under a managed care rubric that works with potential clients prior to handing them off to an agent (in my opinion agents by and large are “closers” not “nurture-ers” and their talents are not deployed optimally when called upon to nurture consumers). And it’s in the managed care environment where firms can make the most gains.

Let’s assume an ideal state of technology circumstances for a brokerage principality that wants to gain consumer mindshare (and, thus, marketshare). This brokerage’s website would consist of the following primary entry points for potential (and existing) clients (all very consumer-facing, focusing on consumers’ needs and points-of-view):

  • Tag clouds that demonstrate inventory density demarcated along neighborhood, price, zip code, lifestyle, and home-type attributes
  • Search clouds that demonstrate what consumers have been most interested in within the site
  • Lifestyle-oriented search (which I’ve written about previously)
  • Targeted site elements driven by a Site +1 engine (I have not seen this product work, but will give the company the benefit of the doubt and assume that it works as advertised) that presents relevant imagery, content, property type suggestions, and calls to action that meet the potential client’s assumed demographic/psychographic profile in a predictive sense
  • Map display that presents data in compelling ways (like search cloud data overlaid on a Google map)

Deploying such site elements not only meets consumers expectations at a high level by presenting them with features they are “familiar” with by virtue of visiting other types of websites more frequently than a real estate website, namely sites like Amazon and blogs (my previous post references a Universal McCann study stating that blogs have just as much reach as traditional media). But more importantly a Utopian site like the one I’ve described is geared towards four primary things: not wasting the consumer’s time, presenting them with multiple ways to access information, speaking relevantly to them immediately, and incenting them to contact a “human” as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This type of a site uses engagement-oriented features that compellingly reward a consumer’s time spent on the site by giving them information in a manner that mirrors a “human touch” while actually cross-promoting a “human touch”, rather than penalizing or irritating them with worn, tired, slow, and stale elements. Thus, consumers establish emotional and brand-centric bonds with the brokerage via its website. And when a consumer decides to “reach out” and contact the company, this consumer does so in a more informed and qualified manner, which allows the managed care department to not only engage this consumer at a higher level but transfer a more informed and content consumer to the agent. What’s happened is that “technology” has allowed the consumer–at her leisure–to satiate her information gathering needs in a highly effective and efficient manner, making the site more relevant and trustworthy with respect to her quest, allowed the managed care department to spend less time educating her, and focuses agents’ core competencies on “closing” and transaction management issues; which in the end reinforces the power law principle and propels the marketshare gains the firm seeks.

Obama Web 2.0 meets database marketing

Here are two salient take-aways from this great article detailing how Obama eviscerated previous fund-raising records

1) Strategically embrace Web 2.0 and facilitate consumer control over certain elements of an overall marketing plan

Supporters’ blogs and You Tube postings were also brought inside the campaign through the website, where the online team could help consolidate the energy and contacts generated by them.

2) Test, measure, refine, roll-out; keep what works, ditch what tanks; no “sacred cows”

[The new media team], meanwhile, was constantly testing different versions of its call-to-action pages, including requests for donations and voter registration. Did more people respond if it included video or text? Should the sign-up prompts be on the right column or in the center? Should they have a “learn more” button or direct sign-up? Once they discovered the most effective version, they replaced all the others with it. Among their lessons: Video can sometimes be a distraction rather than a help.

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.

Adding blog functionality to real estate websites

This Universal McCann study states that

  • Blogs are a mainstream media world-wide and as a collective rival any traditional media
  • The blogsphere is becoming increasingly participatory, now 184m bloggers world-wide

 

And as recently referred to in my previous post on the long tail, the New York Times discusses the power of blogs for real estate firms.

So why are many real estate brokerage web sites so un-blog-like? It seems to me that if consumers are familiar with blogs, frequently read and interact with blogs, brokerage sites ought to adopt “blog-like” functionality on their web sites so as to give consumers modes of “familiarity” when they visit (it’s probably safe to say that consumers interact with non-real estate sites on a much more frequent basis and, thus, their expectations for best-in-class web site experiences are set by these non-real estate sites).

For example, brokerages could create a popular search cloud. Similarly, firms could create a listings type cloud based on property type, location, lifestyle, time-on-market, foreclosure, and price. As demonstrated by Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” product recommendation success, consumers want to know what other consumers are doing and thinking. Thus, a search cloud lets consumers take a pulse of the market by quickly perusing the cloud. Second, a listings cloud quickly lets consumers see what type and how much inventory exists without having to perform a search to get this information.

One click into either cloud quickly sifts the database and returns a results set to the consumer, and from there he/she could further refine a search; thus, reinforcing that the firm’s website is functional, speedily returns results, and respects consumers’ time. Further, these two features would go a long way towards giving consumers something “familiar” while enhancing real estate website functionality and data accessibility. All of the above combines to increase marketing penetration and consumer loyalty.

Long tail search data

Despite the sentiments expressed by Google’s CEO about long tail search (see previous post), Bill Tancer of Hitwise presents an intriguing alternative view. Tancer shows that despite brand-centric search saturation in the head, the long tail presents a panoply of opportunities to online marketers willing to invest the strategic and tactical resources necessary to leverage such.

Top 100 Search Terms by Percentage of All Search Traffic

And, according to the New York Times real estate blogs offer consumers some of the best information available about real estate.

For brokers, blogs are, of course, a handy marketing tool: they’re economical, practical and easy to update. But for prospective buyers, a sophisticated blog — one with more than an agent’s plea, “check out my new listing” — can help potential buyers forge a connection to a faraway community, learn the landscape of an area and, ultimately, make informed purchasing decisions.

Since blogs are long tail feed machines, real estate professionals ought to embrace blogging as a viable online marketing channel.

Long-tail in a multi-channel strategy

McKinsey & Company Consulting interview of Google CEO discussing long-tail search viability.

This is a great video interview of Google’s CEO by McKinsey & Company Consulting. Read this definition of Zipf’s Law first, however, if you don’t know what Zipf’s law is. What’s especially intriguing is the interview segment that discusses the long-tail versus the head. Schmidt does not dismiss the long-tail as a search marketing strategy, but he does implicitly decry its value. My take-away from his comments, however, is that no single strategy is the marketing silver bullet; rather it’s a blending of marketing strategies that makes sense. Abandon the long-tail as a strategy? No. Augment your firm’s short-tail and primary brand promotion strategy with a concerted long-tail marketing strategy powered by blogs? Absolutely. This study leads credence to this augment, where it states that blogs have just as much reach as mainstream media.

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).

Facebook Engagement Advertising for Real Estate

Owyang delivers an excellent summary of Facebook’s new “Engagement Advertising” tool. This tool seems well-suited to real estate brands that want to showcase a particular niche or market they serve, particular the “Fan Style” ad targeting luxury verticals (it could also be interesting to allow the Facebook community to “gift” someone a $50,000,000 property to generate buzz on that property using the “Virtual Gifts Style” ad platform).

Mitigating bad press through viral marketing

Here is an excellent thesis on how public relations professionals can use viral marketing tactics powered by social media to mitigate bad press. The author states that viral public relations campaigns “are less overt and therefore better received” because consumers perceive they are in control. (p56) Viral marketing tactics allow professionals to listen, build relationships with customers, and hopefully build brand ambassadors.

Yet despite proffering evidence that viral marketing–if deployed strategically–can yield a high gain return in managing and preserving a firm’s reputation, the author points out that public relations professionals are loathe to abandon traditional methodologies. The author does point out some tactics, however, that public relations professionals can adopt from the advertising world: target marketing, integrated communications plans, deft handling and understanding of niche marketing principles, and embracing consumer control over and transmogrification of brand identity and meaning.

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.

Planning longtail media campaigns with Google AdPlanner

Google’s AdPlanner (need to register for the beta) has the potential to unleash the power of traditional demographic marketing analysis to long-tail search strategies. This is a great tool because it allows media planners to target niche sites in a highly effective manner while focusing on distinct consumer segments. For example, let’s say that I’m targeting cycling enthusiasts and want to know which niche sites appeal to a male demographic with a HHI between $100,000 and $125,000. By using Google AdPlanner I have good idea where to start: roadbikereview.com and cyclingnews.com (see screenshot below).

GoogleAdPlanner

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.

Wikia Search versus Google Search: Round 2

After a couple of months, I decided to give Wikia another test. The theme this time is “golf course homes”:

“golf course homes for sale columbus ohio” Google Wikia Winner is Google because it lists relevant, real estate oriented blogs with posts focusing on the specific search query.

“golf course homes sanibel florida” Google Wikia Winner is Wikia because there were more real estate firm sites returned than on Google.

“villas for sale on golf courses valencia spain” Google Wikia Winner is Google because Wikia’s results did not center exclusively on property for sale, while Google’s results did.

“finger lakes ny real estate for sale on golf course” Google Wikia Winner is Google because many search results returned focused exclusively on Finger Lakes real estate firms, whereas Wikia’s results were limited to six results with the first talking about the Sopranos.

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.

Expanding real estate sphere of influence online

This post on Transparent Real Estate offers a concise, easy-to-follow, tutorial on how to use Twitter and Friendfeed for real estate business development purposes. And this Owyang post further explores these concepts.

Taking Kitano’s and Owyang’s lead, your micro-memes would update your existing, new client, and prospective clients with your market knowledge, your insight, your new listings, etc. A network meme is useful because you can discern what’s important to your clients based on what they’re reading, posting, etc; it’s like taking a pulse, you may not know what makes a body tick or is ailing it, but the pulse helps you decide whether to further explore an issue. You can use macro memes to your advantage by looking at industry trends, topics, etc, and use such as fodder for your micro memes.

For example, let’s say you came across this article on FOX, you could write a micro meme to your network something like this

Just read FOXNews article http://tinyurl.com/5c5pe7 about home auctions & foreclosures & how they affect home prices. See analysis on [link to your blog]

What this does is reinforce to your network that you’re the expert. Second, it demonstrates leadership in that you are keeping them apprised of the market in terms of options. Third, you’re keeping yourself at the center of the equation showing no fear. Fourth, this reinforces that you’re a trusted advisor. Your blog is where you can demonstrate your market prowess.

Blog Sentiment and Traditional Media

eMarketer reports that a recent study on traditional media’s use of blogs shows that 57.7% of respondents–US journalists –use blogs to measure sentiment.

Identifying Expressions of Emotion in Text (core study found here, registration required) is an intriguing “blog sentiment” study that identified targeted, emotion-laden words–“seed words”–and retrieved 173 blog posts from the Web that contained such. What the researchers found was that you can algorithmically determine the “emotive pulse” of a blog, or individual blog entries.

Once a product is developed around this method, one practical application of this is that you could quickly cull blog posts that target a certain emotion pertaining to a brand so as to determine positive/neutral/negative sentiment relative to that brand. This is particularly useful for brands concerned about maintaining a “real time” knowledge base as to their status in the blogosphere; thus, enabling brand managers to anticipate/preempt potential public relations crises.

Managing Online Reputation on Search Engines

This post on the SEOMOZ.org site, is an excellent resource on tactics and considerations as it relates to managing your online reputation.

This post on the SEOMOZ.org site, is an excellent resource on tactics and considerations as it relates to managing your online reputation. I suggest reading the the SEOMOZ post before clicking on the additional resources listed below.

Wiki article

Interview with a person who specializes in online reputation management issues.

Two big take-aways from this article are use basic SEO tactic to systematically push negative comments of the first page of Google and respond and get involved immediately.

Blog Pay-Per-Click Advertising Opportunities

eMarketer issued a report that blogs are big business (or have the potential to be). According to the article, advertising opportunities abound for traditional advertisers in the blogosphere as the number of blogs grow and readership increases.

And this research paper from MicroSoft adCenterLabs discusses intriguing concepts in tracking blog information flows with an eye towards charging an appropriate fee for a PPC advertisement placed on a blog.

Classified Ads in the Trash

Epitaph of printed classified advertisements:

classifiedtrash2.jpg

classifiedadcut.JPG

And this commentary corroborates the physical evidence.

For newspapers, these are the end times, or something very much like them. Every week provides a new marker on the road to apocalypse: hundreds of layoffs in Los Angeles, circulation scandals in Dallas

… and …

The rise of the Craigslist model has devastated classified advertising in newspapers, once the only place in a city to sell a used car or list a job opening…why should you spend $100 putting something up for sale in the paper when you can post it on Craigslist for free? Why list a job for $200 when you can list it for $10?

The NYTimes also agrees. And apparently it’s profitable to give consumers–and advertisers–a simple and easy to access, use, and understand forum.

Accordingly, unless you’re really targeting a niche demographic, go with an online vertical advertising venue rather than traditional print classifieds; this saves you money over the long-term, allows you to target your audience more effectively, and measure the performance of your advertising spend.

Competitive Intelligence Using TouchGraph

TouchGraph is an excellent tool that gives you “visual insight” into a site’s external linking structure and relationships, which is a good starting point for website competitive analysis.  Let’s compare Redfin, Zillow, and REALTOR.com.

Redfin’s linking relationships

RedfineTouchGraph

Zillow’s linking relationships

ZillowTouchGraph

REALTOR.com’s linking relationships

RealtorToughGraph

The visual representation of these relationships allows you to quickly explore the link structure of the “affiliated” sites much faster than conducting such an analysis using Google or Yahoo tools. Thus, you can better assess your weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities in cultivating or disabling the same or similar relationships.

Storytelling in Web 2.0 marketing

Storytelling is one of the most important marketing concepts in our Web 2.0 world, argues this TrendWatching briefing paper. The key is helping consumers tell other consumers a version of the story that stays true to tenets of the brand.

As more brands (have to) go niche and therefore tell stories that aren’t known to the masses, and as experiences and non-consumption-related expenditures take over from physical (and more visible) status symbols, consumers will increasingly have to tell each other stories to achieve a status dividend from their purchases. Expect a shift from brands telling a story, to brands helping consumers tell status-yielding stories to other consumers.

The briefing paper argues that as niche marketing pressures increase, creating brands that are truly unique is a necessity; yet, these brands must increasingly rely on consumers to “market” the products (ala the Godin Purple Cow argument). Thus, experience marketing is a must have, with “status storytelling” acting as the catalyst, driving towards having consumers create and nurture status spheres:

  • Transient Spheres (consumers driven by experiences)
  • Online Spheres (social status as determined by who connects to whom)
  • Eco Sphere (i.e., praising Prius drivers while scorning SUV owners)
  • Giving Spheres (charitable giving)
  • Participative Sphere (participation is the new consumption

Other salient tidbits from the status storytelling paper are finding conversation starter icons (like t-shirt designs, weird pins, funky Kleenex boxes, etc) and “life caching” and “life casting” concepts (aligning your product with platforms like uStreamTV).

Here’s an example of ustream.tv, BJ Fogg’s Stanford class called “Psychology of Facebook.

Gender bias in e-Loyalty programs

An e-Marketer recent report shows that moms are a major power on the Internet.

eMarketer

Notice how FrontDoor.com leverages this fact. And this research article points out that women adopt e-Service loyalty programs at a higher rate if their enjoyment and perceived social presence of the site is high. Notably, the researchers point out that

In particular, online vendors that cater to females may experience more pronounced and positive impacts of conveying a sense of warmth and sociability on their websites.

Notice that on the FrontDoor.com site that “warmth” and “community” is high. Thus, I’d not be surprised if they have a high loyalty rate.

Launching a Web 2.0 campaign

How do you launch a Web 2.0 media campaign? You don’t. If you’re thinking of “launching” “campaigns” in the Web 2.0 media space, you’ve broken your legs out of the starting gate.

How does a corporate brand manager “launch” a Web 2.0 “campaign” to counter (or embrace) a consumer-generated product review like Dirt Devil vs Electrolux found via the “dirt devil mvp comparison to electrolux” Google search (clicking the page 1, position 1 result takes you to the video product review). Let me repeat this: for the search phrase “dirt devil mvp comparison to electrolux”, the first organic result on Google is a consumer-generated YouTube video. How does one forecast for this eventuality, and account for this within the deliberative, plodding, and corporate-controlled product development and roll-out plan? All the push-marketing tactics cannot totally devalue the kitschy product review from a real consumer who’s having a good time making a video. Will “I” trust the brand, or the consumer?

Here are some considerations while pondering the the concept that brands are no longer in control:

Step 1: Educate yourself on new ways of thinking about business (notice I did not suggest topics confined to “Web 2.0”, which is a simple moniker to encapsulate a new way of thinking about business). Here’s a list of books to read to get going: The Black Swan, The Art of the Start, The Four Hour Work Week, Competing on Analytics, Crossing the Chasm, The Innovator’s Dilemma. If you have other books to add, suggest them an I’ll start a formal book list.

Step 2: Step into the abyss. Yes…join a social network. I started with FaceBook. To follow the progress of building a community from the ground up on FaceBook, follow/join the Mighty Tour de Nez FaceBook Group I started about one of the country’s most exciting, innovative, and competitive cycling events. The key take-away with respect to the TDN is that even though this event has been going for over a decade, draws record crowds and record pro cyclists, building a community on the Web does not happen overnight. To see the power of an established Group, look at the Ironman FaceBook Group. Also, while you’re on FaceBook, add me as a friend and I’ll add you back.

Step 3: Go create a mission statement and have a good laugh.

Step 4: Trust yourself to make mistakes and not care that you’ve done so.

Semantic web optimization?

With social networking sites surpassing search engines in terms of popularity, will the marketing value of search engine optimization diminish over time? This article makes a great case that the usefulness of organic search for consumers may eventually wane.

Interesting question: when a social network community provides answers–as opposed to an algorithm–can anyone really “optimize” their website for social networks? In fact, in this context, one can argue that the concept of “optimization” is a legacy marketing principle more akin to “push” marketing concepts as opposed to “engagement” or “Web 2.0” marketing concepts.

Let’s consider this phrase “semantic social network”. Via Google, I get this result, and via Wikia Search I get this result; as of this post, I am awaiting help from my FaceBook community.

Obviously, Google and Wikia will return a faster result than the community, and arguably the time I am waiting for the community to respond to my request (if it responds) I can peruse the myriad results via the two search engines. What I am hoping for, though, is that the community will point me in a direction that’s more pointed and vetted via its collective consciousness.

SXSW: Marketing without marketing

Summary of Self Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing:

Panelists:

Tara Hunt www.horsepigcow.com
Chris Heuer www.theconversationgroup.com
Jeremiah Owyang www.web-strategist.com
Deborah Schultz www.deborahschultz.com
Hugh MacLeod www.gapingvoid.com
David Parmet www.marketingbeginsathome.com

Key take-aways:
Passion for people. Put passion into product.
Let go to gain more.
Social objects are the future marketing.
Technology changes, human behavior does not; nothing replaces listening, nothing.
A story without love is not worth telling

Hunt (horsepigcow.com): Way of looking at customers rather than product; process not not product (MY COMMENT: product is the message). Conversations are about marketing, customer service, product development. Dont be afraid, it’s an open opportunity. Art more than a science. Get out of the ivory tower, don’t push, weave (network weaving). Look for customers that love you. Put up a FAQ, marketing, customer service. Go local, keep it local, use global reach to distribute locally. Short term strategy: tell the story. Cultural DNA shift, tactics are great; we are in a relationship economy (exchange of free and sometimes exchange currency); marketing is now a mosaic or a puzzle…the payback is long time in coming.

Heuer (theconversationgroup.com): Idea of community (traditional marketing is now saying “Build me a community I want one tomorrow”; this is not the way to think of this). Interpersonal connections make the community, not the tool. Social media is not new marketing, it simply changes how we relate; i.e., company to customer relationship. Attitudinal shift, stop trying to sell, help me want to buy. Make the service the product when there is an expensive product to market and cannot give away for free (e.g., Audi has WiFi, cleaning services). Share knowledge and facilitate interpersonal communications. SHORT TERM: depends on the quality story; “the brands with the best storytellers win” (said by iProspect guy). How do we give an experience of our product away for free. You are giving away a connection, cultivate a feeling, get away from selling a message.

Owyang (Web-strategist.com): conducts research on this market; online community best practices, clear that companies that let go and let customers take charge have thriving communities, for example, grant private access to an brand “embassy”, let them (evangelists) have access to private data, advocates in the embassy go out and evangelize. HOW DID THEY SELECT THE PASSIONATE ADVOCATES? Blog roles, Technorati rankings, who’s talking most about product, can also use brand monitoring companies, buzz metrics, symphony, buzz logic; the main point is that you can find your “brand lovers”. While at Hitachi, created industry-wide Wiki, let anyone in the community to add to it; became starting points to searches for data storage devices; still in use today.

Schultz (deborahschultz.com) the more one gives away the more business one gets. Social capital is basically the value of the relationships and reputation. But how much do you give away without going broke? Traditional marketing aims to promote a generic spread of a message; whereas Hugh saw great opp in the market of bloggers and geek friends to promote wine; read book BLUE OCEAN STRATEGIES.

Macleod (gapingvoid.com): let them say what they want, no preconditions on reviews, gave out the product (wine) with no conditions aside from asking for FLIKR photos; contextual conversations around the wine (ie., product), create Kula, social object within this group; make social gestures, which beget social objects, which begets social markers (demarking the territory); iPhone is a social marker (i.e., SAMSUNG blackjack is not a marker); come “FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES” is not a marker (MY COMMENT: the tagline is a lie the first time a flight attendant is rude). What matters is not the iPhone but that we’re friends and that we have objects (iPhone) as a way for social communications; the object is our conversation binding; technology is only a facilitator of communications; go in Apple store, they’ve done lots of little things well; little things inform the big things. Create social objects that are cheap if you have an expensive product.

Parmet (marketingbeginsathome.com): It’s not the message, it’s not the logo, using such is missing the human, and missing the opp to service our fellow humans. “YOU DONT GO VIRAL; THE PRODUCT GOES VIRAL”. You’re not going through an intermediary, why not go to the customers themselves? Put it in the hands of the people who actually use it.

SXSW output

SXSW update: Since this is my first SXSW since 1990, I’ve had to re-orient myself to the pace and orgiastic creativity of the scene. Thus, no long posts on the relevancy of this year’s SXSW to the real estate industry until I’ve had a chance to digest properly. Nevertheless, here are the salient take-aways, as I see it:

10 Things We’ve Learned at 37signals: make tiny decisions, tiny decisions are easy to roll-back, easy to make forward progress. Break down problems to their “atomic” levels, which allows one to tackle a whole set of issues in a rational manner. Focus on non-consumers; that is, find the consumers that are not using a specific product but need the salient points of that product (why do I need MS Project, when BaseCamp works just fine, b/c I interested in quick iteration, team collaboration, and forward progress, not a status update using a GANTT chart).

The Science of Designing Interactions: Great conversation between an entrepreneur Ming Yeow Ng and Andreas Weigend, Stanford professor. Quote from Mr. Ng “Discovery is the new cocaine.” Brilliant. As social media hounds, many of us have a bit of Lewis & Clark in us. Discussion focused on how to set up metrics to gauge engagement and use metrics to determine what motivates behavior and how to motivate behavior. Glad I read Owyang here and here as well as Peterson here before this session. Here’s a quick search result from my site for more info.

Core Conversation: 10 Easy Ways To Piss Off A Blogger (And Other Mistakes Marketers Make): Go to Jonny Goldstein’s post on this session, he not only summarized the top 10, he adds relevancy.

Designing for Freedom: Anil Dash added great perspective that “freedom” in a vacuum is not “freedom”; sometimes constraints on user “freedom” actually promotes freedom (e.g., he analogized that the constraints of marriage freed him from the pressure to pursue women). My thoughts: Although the pace and iterative necessities dictated by Silicon Valley pressures force most early-stage companies to focus on product features over customer behavior analytics; it’s the analytics side of the equation that will really allow a company like Ning to create a better product than it already is.

Scoop the Story on Your Blog: This was the most interactive session I attended. What was a brilliant move by the panelists is that all five broke into separate groups and had hallway conversations, which delved deep into the many business applications of Utterz. Owyang challenged my group to focus on weaknesses of the product.

SEO 3.0: Optimizing Search & Social for 2008 and Beyond: For a competitor to beat Google, Google will have to 1) faceplant and 2) the product will have to be better than Google. Not likely to happen anytime soon. Google’s the search engine of choice in much of the world, except for China. Well-written content is the key over the next one to two years, as Google is beginning to “understand” contextual attributes in the penumbra of a site’s content. Online reputation management is important to focus on from a brand perspective (i.e., blogger digs and accolades, trademark infringement, etc).

Social media marketing campaign?

Contemplating a social media campaign? Don’t go about it in the “traditional” media planning sense. BuzzMarketing has a titillating thought on this concept. And this social media slide show gives an entertaining and educating primer on why traditional media planning will not work well in a social media context.