Real estate agents and brokers are faced with more choices — and more contradictory claims — than ever in how they distribute listings, connect with consumers and promote their brand. Real estate marketing used to be a pretty straightforward activity; now, it can consume big chunks of a realtor’s time, energy and money if not managed in a focused and sensible way.

I was asked recently to give a speech on how print media fit into a multi-channel real estate marketing program. Preparing my remarks, I realized that you couldn’t justify the inclusion of one marketing outlet over another in any program until you’d created a solid set of principles for the overall marketing program. And, with so much complexity and choice, those principles needed to be clear and simple.

In order to compete effectively and to leverage new tools efficiently, a realtor needs to apply three basic rules to their marketing program:

  • Distribute your listings everywhere on the internet, so that your properties are included in as many consumer searches as possible;
  • Invest in marketing outlets that let you stand out from the crowd and create tangible leads for your personal business;
  • Commit energy and focus on networking, particularly on digital platforms.

Applying these three rules make its much easier for realtors to decide how to take advantage of the  alternatives that are available to them and helps to drown out some of the noise generated by passionate advocates for specific solutions.

Each of the rules benefits from a little context.

Rule 1: Place your listings everywhere

The first rule is designed to take advantage of the way that consumers are using the Internet — as a limitless database of home-specific information.

While the “Internet” is a huge real estate space, it’s also a fragmented space. In February, for instance, there were more than 226 million searches on Google for “real estate.” More than 55 million consumers visited a real estate web site in February, according to Comscore/Media Metrix.

That activity, which is fairly consistent with prior months, came in a month when only 308,000 homes were sold.

So, while consumers are doing an incredible amount of research online every month about real estate, only a fraction of them are actual Buyers and Sellers.

three key priorities.pngFrom a marketing perspective, it’s difficult to find an affordable way to have a maximum impact by paying to promote enhanced internet listings. The first challenge is how many different sites consumers go to. You can’t find any one site that delivers the majority of the 55 million people who visited a real estate site. Realtor.com and Zillow are the two largest, with more than 6 million unique visitors, according to Comscore/Media Metrix. The third most visited site is MSN, at 5 million, and more than 11 sites have more than 1 million visitors each month.

In fact, the top 5 real estate sites have relatively little overlap in visitors.

This fragmentation means that a realtor has to focus on inclusion of their listings in every site, not over-relying on one or two sites.

Consumers expect to find listings in the leading web services. For a realtor who wants to be successful in working with consumers, internet presence is a baseline requirement.

This emphasis, however, can drive misdirected marketing investments, which leads to the second rule of realtor marketing.

In our research of home buyers and sellers at NCI, we’ve found that a visible commitment to advertising and marketing is a key decision driver for why consumers work with specific realtors.

75% of homes sellers said that an realtor’s ongoing advertising program was very or extremely important in their selection of a listing agent. In fact, 76% said marketing skills were one of the most important selection attributes. Home buyers reported high recall of agent advertising and that visibility was a primary driver of their selecting a specific agent to work with.

Rule 2:  Stand out from the crowd

When a realtor considers paid advertising, their focus needs to be on how visible their advertising investment makes them and how many measurable instances of business activity they will get from that investment.

Think about it: if 54 million people are searching real estate web site, but only 308,000 homes are sold in a month, that means that a lot of people are going to be looking at listings — and seeing a realtor’s personal information — without taking action. Being a frequent and visible presence in their search is going to benefit a realtor.

The challenge is how to find cost-effective and time-saving ways to become frequent and visible.

It doesn’t always mean trying to enhance your personal profile wherever real estate information appears. It means investing in a marketing platform that makes you stand out.

This was the point in my presentation that I highlighted the benefits of The Real Estate Book’s integrated media approach, combing print presence in a four-color catalog of homes with distribution of listing data to more than 40 web sites, including therealestatebook.com, with more than 1 million unique visitors a month.

The Real Estate Book makes a real estate agent stand out. We can demonstrate that the book is getting looked at by consumers. We can demonstrate that we drive phone calls, e-mails and web traffic to realtors. And, we can demonstrate that we do this at a reasonably cost in a format that takes very little time to execute.

The Real Estate Book isn’t the only way to stand out. Many realtors still use traditional signage at grocery stores, on benches or on billboards. The key is that these realtors understand that just having their listings appear in web searches doesn’t make them stand out enough to increase their share of their real estate market. (Of course, I do believe that The Real Estate Book is the BEST way to stand out in the local market!)

The explosion of home information on the Internet has not just changed the way that realtors need to think about marketing, it has also changed the way that they need to think about networking with consumers.

I’ve heard many agents bemoan the challenges of working with home sellers and buyers who have too much information from online sites and who think that they are experts.

The important thing for all of us to understand is that the consumer isn’t just get smarter, they are becoming more enthusiastic.

The National Association of Realtors has an interesting fact that shows that home buyers who rely exclusively on the internet for home information take twice as long to buy a home and visit three times as many homes as other home buyers.

This is the description of an enthusiast — they love to get deep into the topic, love to gather information and love to experience things.

Rule 3:  Network — in person & digitally

This expanding passion for home information creates a priceless opportunity for real estate agents to engage and excite potential buyers and sellers.

With the explosion of social media tools, this kind of enthusiast networking can shift onto digital platforms, like Facebook. This social networking activity is the core of the third rule of effective real estate marketing: increase your networking activity by leveraging digital tools.

Too many real estate agents believe that they can show their expertise by mailing out data about market trends and other real-estate topics. In fact, the best way to keep the interest of prospective buyers and sellers it to communicate your passion for real estate by sharing updates on social networks like Facebook that show you being active and engaged in the business of homes. These networks can share a new listing that you saw, or an interesting sale that occurred, or the reason why a new part of town has become so attractive. They are short, smart and informative updates. They help people who have connected with you through all your other marketing activity to see just how active a realtor you are.

re marketing balance.png

One of the key points of my speech was that the proper application of these three rules should balance effort, cost and return. The graphic above outlines the relative relationship of these three elements.

The broad distribution of your home listings should be very low cost and should go very wide. Marketing opportunities where you stand out and create business activity will require more cash investment and should have more measurable results. And your networking activities should be at the core of your marketing program; these will be of varying cost, depending on the approach you decide to take.

The component of the program that is more variable is the opportunities that make you stand out. A realtor can build a practice out of broad distribution of listings and very strong networking. Our experience shows us that there is a limit to how large that practice can be, because consumers maintain their bias towards working with realtors who are visible marketers, and any kind of high visibility requires some investment of cost.

Inevitably, when I make this last point, someone points to their blog and social media activity and says, “I am able to get a lot of visibility without spending money.”time is money.png

Time is Money. If you have the time and the talent to build visibility using social media tools and creating your own content, then you have been able to drive a sweat investment into a real asset. The reality is that most realtors don’t have the skills and disposition to do that kind of work. It’s important to the future of those realtors business that they can apply a set of principles to their marketing that makes them relevant, current and successful.