Simplicity is the cornerstone of every good strategy, but in the search for simplicity people can sometimes miss the bigger picture and make a mistake that will hurt them in the long term.

Bernice Ross gives marketing guidelinesTake this column by Bernice Ross in Inman News today. She use NAR’s very good study of the behavior of consumers to set out some hard and fast recommendations for real estate agents in terms of how to spend their marketing dollars.

The punchline: Everyone is using the Internet, so don’t spend marketing dollars on anything but the Internet.

I just don’t think this is a good way to approach what is a really important issue for real estate agents.

The real insight isn’t where consumers are getting information about homes for sale and real estate agents in the market. We’ve known for a while that they turn to the Internet to see what inventory is available. We also know that they turn to as many other information sources as they can conveniently: broker web sites, community newspapers, real estate agent mailers, local home magazines like The Real Estate Book. Home purchases are driven by data, but they aren’t wholly scientific, and that’s why most buyers rely on agents to help them through the process, even if the agent DIDN’T identify the home that they are going to buy.

A Fragmented Consumer Market Online

So, what’s the real issue? As a real estate agent, how can I spend time and money to market myself in such a way that sellers will look at me and say, “This agent is working hard to sell my house”, and so buyers who don’t already have a relationship with an agent or a strong word-of-mouth reference will reach out to me because they bump into me frequently when they are searching for information about homes?

That’s the whole goal: use your marketing to drive more business.

Advertising on the Internet isn’t the way to make a big impact on buyers. Look at the chart: The top 21 real estate web sites had 38 million unique visitors in January. If you’re an agent and you want to make a big impact on your market, what do you do?

January web traffic

The networks are Yahoo, MSN and AOL, the big giants who eat monstrous amounts of traffic but have relatively ineffective marketing solutions for agents. Move gives you about 1/4 of the market — but as many of you know, enhancing your listings on Move doesn’t drive that many more leads than your normal listings. If you’re lucky to get with one of the big brokers, like ReMax, you can reach about 3% of your market.

Other is a big category, and has great reach, but its got a lot of names in it. Trulia, Zillow, Homegain, RealtyTrac, NCI: no one player can give you more than 6% reach into the market of people looking for homes online.

You might be feeling good that you’re taking advantage of the Internet, and you might have a favorite among the group, but even if you’re only spending $49 a month, you’re still not getting much impact.

Some Practical Things You Can Do

As the publisher of The Real Estate Book, I’ve obviously got a vested interest in integrated media: an easy and efficient combination of print and internet distribution of your listings and your personal brand at one cost and on one easy platform.

That’s the marketing pitch, and it’s true. We see top producers all around the country maintaining and increasing their advertising spending with us because they realize there is an opportunity to gain market share during these difficult times.

But I’m also aware that many agents can’t afford the out-of-pocket cost of integrated media.

So what do you do?

I’d suggest leverage your relationship with your broker and Realtor.com. Those are pretty easy ways to drive traffic to your listings.

Build up your personal web site and spend some money on search engine optimization. Think about it this way: would you ask a prospect to stop at another broker’s office to ask directions to get to yours?

Get involved in Social Media. Check out outfits like Domus Consulting, who can give you a crash course on how to create a powerful network of connections using simple social media tools that will cost relatively little, just your time and ingenuity.

When you can afford to get back to advertising, do it, and do it in a way that you’ll stand out in the market. After all, the purpose of advertising is to stand above the rest: how can you do it with an enhanced agent listing on a site that gets only 6% of the potential traffic in your market?