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

Mobile app ecosystem allows real estate brokerages to deliver excellent consumer experiences

Over the last year or so there’s been an ongoing and well-publicized debate between proponents and opponents of real estate property listing aggregators and whether brokerages have ceded too much “control” over the consumer relationship to these entities. In my mind this is a debate with no clear winner and no clear loser, as both sides make excellent and valid arguments. This wonkish debate can continue, but it’s time for brokerages to take action within the mobile environment.

It’s clear that some real estate property listing aggregators have done an excellent job with presenting real estate related information in a novel manner. Many of these aggregators are well-capitalized, have taken SCRUM software and product development to new levels, and continually evolve. These companies have done a really great job monetizing the consumer and agent experience within their brand environment. As such, these entities have seemingly taken ownership over brokerages’ property listings, the consumer experience, quick response times, and engaged and informative customer service. They are a seeming Juggernaut of continued market dominance.

Yes, these entities have garnered a significant piece of consumer mindshare since 2005. But this continued quasi-dominance will not continue forever. And to this point, brokerages need to stop focusing on and obsessing over what the property listing aggregators are doing. Brokerages need to look inward. Brokerages need to look to their core values and creativity as a brand and build on those values and that creativity. Last time I looked real estate brokerages still have the same opportunity as aggreagators to delight consumers with an exceedingly excellent experience, and continue to deliver on this experience, thus gaining customers for life. When brokerages consistently deliver on this value proposition, consumers “reward” them with their business and referrals. Real estate is a still a local, relationship-driven business.

I will concede the point that some property listing aggregators have brilliantly leveraged brokerages’ property listing assets and created compelling social+web+mobile presences. But brokerages have always had an opportunity to similarly deliver something unique, compelling, and useful to consumers. The Internet is the Great Leveler of the Playing Field. Given this, what should brokerages focus on now in their drive to deliver an excellent experience? Build another listings portal? Embrace Facebook as a primary advertising venue? Build a kick-a$$ mobile app? Here’s a proposed answer: brokerages should consider all of these tactics, but should focus on creating a series of mobile apps that leverage a rich database of property, demographic, lifestyle, neighborhood, and predictive information.

According to this Mashable article, mobile is the ascendant platform of choice for consumers. Thus, brokerages should focus now on leveraging this platform. Brokerages should define what is “broken” (with the consumer experience value chain) with mobile apps released by the various real estate listings aggregators. Similarly, brokerages should define what’s “right” with these apps. Disregard or “fix” what’s wrong, and make better what is right. In other words, “build a better mouse app.” ;-D Next, brokerages should analyze what Sawbuck Realty has done with its HomeSnap app, as this informs brokerages as to what makes a successful app. According to this Scobleizer interview, the HomeSnap app was the top real estate app on iTunes for a period of time. What makes the HomeSnap app so successful with consumers? Simplicity + Motivation. This is a concept proposed by Stanford University Professor BJ Fogg. The HomeSnap app is simple to use (take a photo and retrieve information about the home) combined with satiating a consumer’s curiosity—motivation—to “know” the details about a home (what was paid, what’s the history, etc), delivered in a manner that costs the consumer as little time as possible.

Simultaneously, brokerages should focus on building the richest database of home-related data thus created. This database would focus on compiling core up-to-date and ACCURATE property-related data, neighborhood-related data mashed up from several different data sources (like EveryBlock, NabeWise, StreetAdvisor, Walkscore, etc) and then normalized, combined with socialgraphics and demographics and psychographics (supplied by companies like Facebook, Acxiom, or Experian), and further enhanced by behavioral and predictive analytics. This database will power the mobile app ecosystem. This database could also power a website that’s very SEO-friendly and optimized for mobile, but the website is secondary to the mobile app. Sounds weird? Yes, to me too. But consumers are telling us with their purchase patterns and platform utilization patterns that mobile is precedent. Thus, brokerages need to play to this whim.

Finally, an integrated CRM would underlie this mobile app ecosystem for brokerages and agents to use. The key is for the mobile apps to tie directly to a CRM module so brokerages and agents have an opportunity to immediately respond to consumer inquiries. The mobile app ecosystem would promote collaborative CRM and drive consumer brand loyalty. And it is this latter point where the mobile app ecosystem has the ability to transcend—jump the chasm if you will—traditional modes of service delivery in the real estate industry. Brokerages are better able to control the overall experience via a mobile app. By allowing consumers to control their experience via personal settings (e.g., notification via text but not email, or notification via message pop-up but not text, etc), brokerages are tapping into the consumer DIY meme (i.e., having “control” over their brand experience). More importantly these behaviors not only inform brokerages as to how to segment their database for true one-to-one marketing opportunities but deliver an excellent service experience to the consumer when he or she decides to engage the brand. Integrate a mortgage services component and a transaction management and notification layer, and the experience gets richer. The consumer wins. The brokerage and its agents win.

Finally, what happens when a deal closes? A brokerage can give the consumer an option to continue the relationship across a variety of complimentary, meaningful, and informative channels such as refinancing opportunities or co-marketed offers with entities like Home Depot, Target, etc. If a brokerage has delivered an exceedingly excellent experience for a consumer through the entire home buying or selling process, that consumer has an incentive for the brokerage brand experience to continue. All delivered through the mobile app ecosystem.

The opportunity for brokerages is here just like it was in 2005 when the “age of the aggregators” dawned. And like then, brokerages can grab an opportunity now to deliver on consumer expectations.

Photo credit: w00kie

eLoyalty and customer relationship management and customer care management principles

This e-loyalty research paper helps clarify the roll of online customer service in creating customer loyalty (“e-loyalty”). The paper focuses on the Austrian mobile industry but the findings are applicable to many industries, including real estate.

Two broad categories frame customer loyalty: customers who become your repeat purchasers and customers who become promoters of your brand. Superior customer service across the pre-purchase, acquisition, and post-purchase stages of a typical transaction is the differentiator for brands.

The Internet consumer, more and more, is demanding personalized and targeted customer service. Data acquisition strategies, such as registration forms, tying information to a user’s social graph, etc, enable companies to perform this customization and targeting while supporting broader electronic Customer Relationship Management (eCRM) and electronic Customer Care Management (eCCM) strategies.

The researchers conducted a variety of online surveys, crunched the numbers and found that timely and personalized responses to customer complaints was a key influencer on whether a customer would switch mobile carriers. Extrapolating this to other industries one can posit that brands which leverage unified technology solutions to enable quicker and more informed customer service will undoubtably have a competitive advantage.

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.

Influence in the social web and social commerce

http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/11/02/altimeter-report-social-commerce-how-brands-are-generating-revenue-by-lcecere/
http://www.briansolis.com/2010/11/the-rise-of-the-social-consumer
http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/the-new-influentials.html
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.156.8795&rep=rep1&type=pdf
This article on social media New Influentialshttp://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/the-new-influentials.html raises an interesting question regarding “incluence” on the social web: what’s the core driver of influence in the social web when it comes to commerce, a person, her community, or both? The article profiles six individuals who have variously used YouTube, corporate resources, quasi-anarchist tactics, and curation to attract dedicated audiences to their brand (whether personal or corporate). Indeed, the question of “what constitutes influence in a social network” has captured the interest of researches, as is evidenced by the articles “A model of influence in a social network”http://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/49/65/60/PDF/td08.pdf and “Learning Influence Probabilities In Social Networks”http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.156.8795&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Similarly, Brian Solis has written an excellent post on the genesis of the social consumerhttp://www.briansolis.com/2010/11/the-rise-of-the-social-consumer. According to Solis:
When a brand does its job right, it creates an emotional connection. The affinity it engenders contributes to who we are as individuals and how others perceive us. In the social web, sharing our purchases and experiences serve as social objects which are essentially catalysts for sparking conversations. At the center of this discussion is the product. Experiences, impressions, and perceptions cast bridges that link us together. As the conversation unfolds, the hub connects the product to individuals who not only respond, but also consume, where information directly or indirectly influences behavior and opinion. This form of subconscious empowerment seemingly builds confidence according to some new research. As social capital factors into the equation, these conversations represent touchpoints where positive experiences take the shape of endorsements and ultimately c0ntribute to the overall branding process.
Solis’ sentiments are echoed by a recent Altimeter Reporthttp://www.slideshare.net/loracecere/rise-of-socialcommercefinal (also accessed her on Jeremiah Owyang’s bloghttp://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/11/02/altimeter-report-social-commerce-how-brands-are-generating-revenue-by-lcecere/:
<div style=”width:477px” id=”__ss_5637236″><strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/loracecere/rise-of-socialcommercefinal” title=”Rise of social_commerce_final”>Rise of social_commerce_final</a></strong><object id=”__sse5637236″ width=”477″ height=”510″><param name=”movie” value=”http://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/doc_player.swf?doc=riseofsocialcommercefinal-101101160620-phpapp02&stripped_title=rise-of-socialcommercefinal&userName=loracecere” /><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”/><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always”/><embed name=”__sse5637236″ src=”http://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/doc_player.swf?doc=riseofsocialcommercefinal-101101160620-phpapp02&stripped_title=rise-of-socialcommercefinal&userName=loracecere” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”477″ height=”510″></embed></object><div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”>View more <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/”>documents</a> from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/loracecere”>lora cecere</a>.</div></div>
Going back to the original question I posited, I’ll say “influence” is a combination of both a brand (personal or corporate) and respect and empowerment of one’s community, but community is the main driver. Solis describes how American Express empowers its community by facilitating conversations along with promoting commerce (and doesn’t this remind you of fundamental concepts discussed in the Cluetrain Manifestohttp://www.amazon.com/Cluetrain-Manifesto-End-Business-Usual/dp/0738204315, particularly chapter four?). But for an empassioned–and spending–community, American Express would not necessarily be influential. Thus, the core question of what defines influence hinges on how committed you are to your community, what value you bring to your community, and how well you are developing and fostering that community.

This article on social media New Influentials raises an interesting question regarding “influence” in the social web and in social commerce: what’s the core driver of influence?  A person? Her community? Or both? The article profiles six individuals who have variously used YouTube, corporate resources, quasi-anarchist tactics, and curating to attract and sustain dedicated communities. Indeed, the question of “what constitutes influence in a social network” has captured the interest of researches, as is evidenced by the articles “A model of influence in a social network” and “Learning Influence Probabilities In Social Networks“. Similarly, Brian Solis has written an excellent post on the genesis of the social consumer. According to Solis:

When a brand does its job right, it creates an emotional connection. The affinity it engenders contributes to who we are as individuals and how others perceive us. In the social web, sharing our purchases and experiences serve as social objects which are essentially catalysts for sparking conversations. At the center of this discussion is the product. Experiences, impressions, and perceptions cast bridges that link us together. As the conversation unfolds, the hub connects the product to individuals who not only respond, but also consume, where information directly or indirectly influences behavior and opinion. This form of subconscious empowerment seemingly builds confidence according to some new research. As social capital factors into the equation, these conversations represent touchpoints where positive experiences take the shape of endorsements and ultimately c0ntribute to the overall branding process.

Solis’ sentiments are echoed by a recent Altimeter Report (also accessed here on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog:

Going back to the original question I posited, I’ll say “influence” is a combination of brand (personal or corporate) and respect and empowerment of one’s community, but where community is the main driver. Solis describes how American Express empowers its community by facilitating conversations along with promoting commerce (and doesn’t this remind you of fundamental concepts discussed in the Cluetrain Manifesto, particularly chapter four?). But for an empassioned–and spending–community, American Express would not necessarily be influential. Thus, the core question of what defines “influence” hinges on how committed you are to your community, what value you bring to your community, and how well you are developing and fostering that community.

Influence of word of mouth on customer perception of service

This research paper focuses on the influence of word of mouth (WOM) on customers’ perception of service. It’s axiomatic that negative WOM can significantly impact brand reputation. Studying the effect of WOM on such perceptions, though, is another matter. And the research article delves into some interesting bits. First, customers’ perceived service value influences their revisit intention, which in turn influences positive or negative WOM. Second, gender influences WOM. The study points out that women trend more towards a relational aspect versus men who are more trial-and-error focused:

  • For female customers, relational service quality will have a stronger total influence on the WOM than core service quality.
  • For male customers, core service quality will have a stronger total influence on WOM than relational quality.
  • The total effect of relational quality on WOM will be stronger for female customers than the male.
  •  The total effect of core quality on WOM will be stronger for male than female.

The implications seem fairly obvious: focus on delivering superior relational and core experiences. The study suggests different methods of CRM (call scripts, greetings, etc) based on gender, especially where the CRM involves human-to-human interaction. In real estate, this could trickle down to agents’ initial interactions with cusomters too: for men, generally, get right to the point, whereas for women, generally, focus on establishing a relationship first and ease into the data as relationship-focused interactions mature.

New Facebook Home Page Useful for Real Estate Pros

Here’s an excellent article on the PR 2.0 blog about the new homepage design features Facebook will soon release. The article gives a reasoned analysis of the new Facebook feature-set as well as possible implications for brands, individuals, and services like Twitter and Friendfeed.

What could be considered the Wall 2.0 or quite simply, a personal or branded activity stream or timeline for people, public figures, and brands, the company is placing your in-network and external network activity at the front-and-center of your public profile for friends, associates, and followers to not only stay up to date with you[sic] aggregated Web activity, but also participate in the stream.

New Facebook Home Page
New Facebook Home Page

The new Facebook home page likely will have positive implications for real estate professionals. First, the new filter feature presumably allows you to separate your contacts into separate channels, monitor those channels, and more easily converse within those channels. This allows you to use Facebook as more of a social media multichannel marketing tool (i.e., by monitoring separate channels you can prioritize those channels and, thus, respond appropriately and in a timely manner as needed). Second, the real-time “stream” feature will give you an accurate pulse of your sphere’s goings on, which is useful in choosing which contact to engage immediately or at a later time (this feeds into the multichannel marketing nature of the filter feature). Finally, the “publisher” aspect of the new Facebook home page seems to give you a more useful–and engaging– way to update your sphere.

Web 2.0 Multichannel Marketing Considerations

Digital Trends is a big topic and this post really goes through a substantive analysis of Edleman’s recent predictions.

The digital train is tearing down the tracks and has no signs of slowing. Every industry is being reshaped by the expectation that everything should be digitized. Add digital hungry consumers with web devices, NetPCs, Kindles and smart gaming consoles and you’ve got a multichannel marketing and distribution train wreck.

Multichannel marketing considerations will certainly be primary this year as fragmented consumer relations with brands accelerate. Thus, firms like SAP have begun tracking social media interactions. Despite the inherent trackability problem presented by fragmented brand interactions with consumers, firms are either “in” or “out” of the social media space. And it seems evident to me that firms should be “in”, as this report on how telecoms use social media demonstrates; given this, here is a list of great tips list for creating content that spreads.

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.

Theatre of Cruelty in a Carnival of Real Estate

What’s the value of a real estate firm’s or agent’s service? What actions justify a firm’s or agent’s fees? I’m contemplating these questions as I re-read “The Theatre and Its Double” written by Antonin Artaud, and some of what he says in his writing has a certain philosophical resonance with respect to the current state of affairs in the real estate industry.

Artaud was an early 20th century French playwright. He challenged existing theatrical norms of his day to strip away historical groundings with respect to performance (which he generally thought were overproduced parodies of themselves) and show a more honest–transparent–personification of character, thought, or theme, where the actor is the ultimate provocateur of an honest dialogue with her audience, whilst producers and directors contentedly cling to the status quo. In Chapter 6, “No More Masterpieces”, Artaud states:

Far from blaming the public, we ought to blame the formal screen we interpose between ourselves and the public[.]

He continues at a more sublime level:

Enough of personal poems, benefitting those who create them much more than those who read them.

Theatre changed for the better after Artaud’s call to action. Similarly, it seems to me, the real estate industry is due for an Artaud-like challenge to existing norms with respect to representation, compensation, and professionalism. The run-up to 2009 was indeed a real spectacle, but the tent has fallen, the elephants have flattened the performance space, and the audience seems to have run away. Indeed, many have written about the current state of affairs.

But here are perhaps two of the the clearest calls to action to change the status quo–two honest evaluations of the state of affairs with respect to the relationship between real estate professional and consumer. Neither author engages in finger pointing, tries to push off responsibility, nor cringes from the challenge to ask hard questions and honestly answer these questions.

Rather, there is a recognition that the forum has changed, that same old lines fall on increasingly calloused consumer ears. Indeed, the authors’ challenges to the “old rules” of relationship and dialogue between real estate professional and consumer especially resonate when one of these authors had a consumer click through to his blog from the search “buyer’s real estate commission myth“. Clearly this consumer was seeking a different type of relationship with a real estate professional. And, with respect to the norm, this author’s blog post presented an honest–and transparent–alternative conversation. 

Thus begins a few hammer blows to the status quo.

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.

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.

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.

Swarm business / swarm creativity in real estate

Create value for the swarm. That is the overarching goal of a swarm business mindset. Swarm creativity embodies the passion that drives this goal, along with coolhunting as an adjunct exercise. Real estate, as an industry, seems well-poised to take advantage of swarm creativity.

Nicholas G. Carr, of the Economist.com explains the basics of swarm business:

To achieve this status, a swarm-business aspirant must follow three principles. First it must “gain power by giving it away”. For instance the MySpace social-networking site works by granting its users the ability to determine its rules and content. Second, the company must be seen to “share with the swarm”—IBM, for example, has backed Linux’s open-source software with cash and code. Finally, firms must “concentrate on the swarm, not on making money”.

HBS Working Knowledge elaborates on swarm creativity:

There are five essential elements to collaborative innovation networks: learning networks, sound ethical principles, trust and self-organization, making knowledge accessible to everyone, and internal honesty and transparency.

Following Carr’s lead, a real estate firm must first abandon its possessive brand centrality and opt for a more decentralized brand presence. This means consumers, employees, real estate agents, vendors, and management equally “own” the brand. This means, at the core, a firm must open itself up to transparency and honest consumer review; which really means consumer ratings of its website, agents, customer service and then using these ratings as forums–conduits–to engage these consumers as collaborative partners to create a better value proposition. Internally, a firm could create a collaborative swarm between agents, IT, marketing, and management to build on the collaborative concepts derived from the consumer-based swarm insights.

For ROI-minded owners and managers, a swarm exercise is likely a hard pill to swallow, let alone ever digest. This is because swarm creativity lends itself to indirect monetization strategies (as does most social media). This could also be related to the fact that real estate as an industry, at first glance, is not really engaged in new product development processes (swarm creativity naturally lends itself to new product development ideation).

What is the real estate product? A house. What is the service? Representing a buyer or seller while giving advice.

This description is a bit facetious, but the point is that real estate professionals should begin looking at their entire web presence–and service value proposition–as an ongoing product that constantly requires new strategies and ideas that evolves in line with consumer expectations. If 10 swarm exercises yield one new service enhancement strategy that increases customer loyalty and retention, arguably the swarm exercise is worth it; especially if this strategy enhances a full-service agent’s consumer value proposition. In this example, ROI would be indirectly realized: as consumer satisfication increases, referals increase, and competitors suffer a corresponding competitive disadvantage (assuming they are late adopters). By implementing a consumer swarm idea, a firm has rewarded the swarm: first by listening and second by acting on its advice. This, in turn, promotes further honesty and integrity within the swarm and, hopefully, within the firm itself; eventually driving higher ROI over the long-term as internal strategies become integrally aligned with near real-time consumer driven initiatives.

Real estate technology adoption principles

In 2004, Inman News profiled e-mortgage processes. In the ensuing years, paperless mortgage processes have improved but have yet to achieve wide agent adoption rates, as do many other real estate technology initiatives (e.g., real estate ecommerce centers). Could this be a classic example of the Technology Acceptance Model theories at work? ( Wiki definition 1, Wiki definition 2, research paper).

Many real estate firms have invested thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, in improving their technology offerings for their agents, only to see these technology investments gather dust as seasoned agents largely ignore–or at least fail to take full advantage of–such offerings in favor of their offline processes. The TAM predicts that a user’s perceived value of a technology resource affects this user’s adoption of this technology.

Assume that a brokerage wants to increase Internet ecommerce center participation and satisfaction rate amongst its agent base. This strategy makes good sense, as most real estate consumers begin their searches online, prefer the Internet experience, and eventually work with a real estate agent.

At its base level, a real estate ecommerce center answers mundane questions, finds out where a consumer is in the buying process, helps the consumer sift through much of the generic real estate information, helps the consumer refine search criteria, and then refers this consumer to a real estate agent. At this point, many brokerages would assume it’s the agent’s business to lose. But is it?

Many agents understand this basic qualification service. And this is where these types of services generally stop…basic. In other words, agents still are doing much of the work with an Internet client, in terms of driving towards a conversion, after this consumer is “handed off” to them. Yet from a brokerage’s perspective it’s doing a great service to its real estate agents by funding, staffing, and managing such a service. As such, there is a mutual perceived lack of usefulness on both parties (the agent thinking it’s less useful than it is, the brokerage thinking it’s more useful than it is).

From the standpoint of the agent, perceived usefulness would likely increase if the brokerage did more qualitative analysis prior to a hand off. For example, at varying points in the qualification process, call center personnel can round-out a client’s profile by either entering in data as they converse with a client, or refer clients to online tools that allow them to provide additional profile information. This data would extend beyond such basics as purchase time-line, preferred home type, newsletter selections, etc, and delve into lifestyle, preferred community attributes, etc.

Additionally, a brokerage could append basic demographic data to its pre-transaction consumer file by either using a reverse append service (Experian and Acxiom offer reverse append services that can attach a postal address to a valid email address) or by keying off the postal address the consumer registered with; regardless as to how a postal address is sourced, a brokerage would then be able to overlay zip code-derived lifestyle / life-stage and other demographic data. This would then allow consumers to choose home-types based on lifestyle (the brokerage’s listings database having been similarly overlaid with lifestyle / life-stage data, which enables this type of matching to occur).

These types of fundamental direct marketing techniques drive towards one goal: to hand the real estate agent a consumer who is well-informed and ready to act. Since the brokerage has tracked all phases of the communication leading up to a hand-off, the brokerage can deliver a profile-based client dossier to the agent who can then take this information and better perform his/her roll as a real estate trusted advisor (i.e., the agent can initially engage the consumer with a knowledge and insight gained as if he/she had actually interviewed the client in depth). Thus, the real estate agent focuses on his/her core competency, which in turn reinforces the usefulness of the brokerage’s ecommerce initiatives and further lowers barriers to adoption.

Profiling hedonic data in social networks

Continuing the discussion from the McKinsey interview of Cammie Dunaway, she states

[Yahoo!] is using behavioral data–really mining the wealth of transactional data we have about how people are spending their time online and trying to marry that data with attitudinal data…that’s where the most powerful insights can really come from.

Insights into what? It could be many things. Two of the most studied motivational data elements are utilitarian motivations and hedonic motivations. Utilitarian motivations center around goal-oriented behavior (e.g., I logged in to check my email, I checked my email, I logged out). Hedonic motivations are more social in nature (e.g,. I logged in to explore, to analyze, to decide, to eventually take action).

In real estate search, companies have typically focused on rewarding utilitarian behavior, often in a very reactionary manner. Consumer searches site > Consumer registers > Consumer selects home > Consumer is “passed off” to a real estate agent. Of course, the ultimate goal is to consummate a sale. And improving the “experience” of looking for a home on a real estate firm’s website could actually lead to more loyalty, referrals, and sales.

Nevertheless, overly focusing on “experience” at the expense of a goal can scuttle both consumer loyalty and ROI. Thus, balance lies in properly testing and deploying Web 2.0 assets that fulfill consumer goals while logically jibing with the product subject matter.

So how does mining attitudinal data fit this balanced approach or paradigm? Incenting consumers to add profile information that logically fits a goal is one idea. For example, if a real estate firm’s goal was to create a social network on their site targeted at tapping a suburban soccer mom demographic looking to buy a home, logical profile information may be zip code (current residence and desired residence), schools, sports, design preferences, and home type.

Zip code is important because the firm could relate this consumer to an agent who serves that zip code, where the agent serves as the social network ombudsman(woman) to answer questions and otherwise kick-start the group. Secondly, once a firm understands home type preferences and desired location, the firm can relate specific home information, community information and statistics, and other moms in the network to this person. The additional profile information constitutes community building information (e.g., relating moms who have children in similar sports). These steps help build a community and take the burden off the real estate firm to be all things to all consumers (if a mom has questions about how her child can join a traveling baseball team, she could ask the real estate agent, but more likely she’d ask the community). This way the firm’s “social asset” reinforces the firm’s local expertise, which allows for an eventual monetization of this consumer as she “graduates” through the process into ultimately looking at home types and eventually purchasing a home.

Through the tracking of profile data combined with the interaction of the consumer with the group (communications, postings, etc) combined with accessing utilities (e.g., widget downloads pertaining to design elements, video home tours, community data, statistics, etc), a firm could create an “engagement” index to validate whether their site is properly satiating consumers’ needs (Circuit City does this). The experience of this for the consumer is not so much having real estate listings and drip marketing pushed her way, but related data presented in a way that allows her to more deeply engage in the process and begin building a community before actually living in a community. Finally, in terms life-time value, this type of a social network could operate as a forum for a firm–and its real estate agents–to cultivate a valid and meaningful long-term relationship with consumers after they have actually bought a home (thus, closing the circle by adding transactional data with previously compiled attitudinal data).

ROI Conversations at Inman Connect

Notes from my presentation on ROI at the recent Inman Real Estate Connect conference:

Issue: What are the first steps real estate firms should take to get a handle on their data to enhance near-term and long-term ROI on this data?

  1. Since 80%+ of all originating real estate transactions begin on the Internet, firms should consider utilizing proven Internet analytics engines;
  2. Firms should create an existing consumer data warehouse that accepts data from whatever format and whatever source, normalizes this data, hygiene this data, to net down to a single record per consumer data set;
  3. Firms then should segment this data, overlay this data (e.g., with demographic or lifestage data), score and profile this data, and then model this data; this gives firms insight into their existing consumer data;
  4. This data warehouse then is used to drive marketing decisions pertaining to existing and emerging or new consumers.

VisiStat is a program to understand broad as well as locally-specific Internet use traffic that real estate firms can employ to make more informed decisions about how to manage their Internet resources, agent base, franchise locations, etc. The same can be said for Google Analytics, HitWise, etc.

But if we’re really focused on ROI, the key is consumer-specific data and the analysis of such. Accordingly, if one only looks at Internet based, or Internet derived traffic, it’s largely like looking at the top crust of an apple pie…the filling is where the substance is. And in the case of ROI that substance is a carefully constructed marketing database and marketing data warehouse where each consumer data record has been individually segmented, scored, and overlaid with demographic, psychographic, and lifestage data.