Why Content Marketing is Key
What is Content Marketing
Successful inbound marketing results in the creation of a brand and a community. Inbound marketing places the consumer at the center of the strategy, not the product. From this vantage point, companies focus on developing products that truly reflect what the consumer needs. In order to do this, brands need to establish themselves within the fabric of the community.
Think about this: How often are clients repeatedly using your website to search for homes? How much data about search behaviors can you get to really qualify leads well, as opposed to Zillow? Why then, do agents focus so much on promoting their own website and content on their website? Agents need to promote themselves and their brand where their clients are!
Besides significantly lower costs (pretty close to free these days), inbound marketing has several added advantages: blogging tools, social media, and content sharing platforms provide feedback that mailers and printed materials cannot.
I Write, Therefore I Am…Not
Simply having an online presence is not enough. Zillow reviews and profiles are dandy, and certainly buying and using lead acquisition tools are helpful and worthwhile, but they’re rarely helpful in differentiating yourself, which goes a longer way in actually converting that lead into a client. What’s great for the real estate industry is traditional marketing is still very active and successful; however, shifting those strategies to complementary efforts to inbound marketing is likely to yield more significant results over the long term.
A word of wisdom: Inbound marketing is a long game. It can take months to establish your brand, build your community, and see significant results. This is why I recommend, besides starting immediately, to continue to mix both traditional and inbound marketing strategies.
An additional note on written content: video is quickly becoming more valued than written content. Videos within listings are now expected, and agents that put together neighborhood walkthrough videos, interviews, and others can more easily and quickly showcase themselves, their talent, and their content (i.e their brand!).
How Does it Help my Brand?
Clients choose their relationship with an agent, not the brokerage or business entity in most cases. Today’s consumers are looking to agents for guidance and advice, so being viewed as a trusted resource before any interaction is critical — and a great way to differentiate yourself from peers.
Stacy Cohen, personal branding expert of award-winning branding firm Co-Communications, suggests a three-step action plan for agentsthat includes discovery, development, and delivery.
In the discovery phase, you need to identify expertise, achievements, skills and passion to answer, “Why choose me?” To do this, Cohen suggests identifying and segmenting your intended audience. Create a niche, whether it’s first time home buyers, luxury sales, west-side neighborhoods, or advanced knowledge of the mortgage process.
While “discovery” connotes an internal search, it’s actually about discovering the value-add you’re, to skip ahead momentarily, delivering to clients. A niche isn’t wording that helps you stand out, it’s an underserved area in which you’re an expert.
Below we’ll discuss in more detail in what ways that messages reaches prospects, leads, and clients.
The next step in the action plan is to convert your ideas and value propositions into creative, relevant, and cross-platform content. Once you’ve determined the demographics of your core audience (age, gender, profession, life-stage, etc.) and their pain points, it’s time to craft your brand as one that fits perfectly as their solution.
To do this, agents need a content marketing strategy. The keys to content marketing are being genuine in your content and delivering a consistent voice. Develop content with the understanding that it’s unlikely at first to deliver immediate results, and always think from the client perspective.
Sharing content in various forms is critical, whether that’s via Twitter, Facebook, your own blog, an eBook, email newsletter, YouTube video series, photos, speaking engagements, or community events.
How do you know which best channel to use and how often to post content? That’s where the delivery phase comes in.
The key to successful delivery, as mentioned above, is a multi-channel approach. There are seemingly endless opportunities to post content, so it’s important to understand where your customers hang out, and be relevant there. This is called the Customer Decision Journey, which attempts to optimize your brand ‘placement’ at various stages of the customer decision.
Think about your own experience buying something. You likely first come across it on TV, then you see a billboard, then your view the website and signup for the newsletter, then you read an online article and see a banner ad, finally you’re ready to purchase.
Where should you be for home buyers and sellers? Zillow? The local community? Absolutely. What blogs are home buyers reading? What stores are they searching in? Where can you place the most relevant content? If you specialize in fixer-uppers, writing blog posts about cheap but effective flooring options and emailing it alongside a sale at Home Depot could go a long way.
Think outside the box as well! If your clients are young, they probably, like me, enjoy free drinks. There are lots of opportunities to meet face-to-face, offer a free drink, and educate them on the process of buying or selling a home.
The Importance of Omnichannel Presence
Perhaps lost in all of this content marketing gameplanning is what agents and brokerages can do to more directly promote their brand. Successful content marketing doesn’t overlay advice and content with “so choose me!” — it’s not about explicit self-promotion.
Given the intense competition in the industry, thinking beyond content is critical to survival and growth. No matter how great the content is coming out of Barnes & Noble, I’ll continue to buy my books through Amazon because they’ve made it so easy. There are lots of lessons we can learn from the retail industry.
Among them is the interesting full-cycle we’re seeing with brick-and-mortar presences. Amazon took the retail world by storm with a cost-effective, online operation, that is now coming back to brick-and-mortar as an important channel to deliver it’s brand value to consumers. Similarly, the real estate industry underwent a herding to online presences with the introduction of Zillow, but the continued use of agents has far from disrupted their role, so a physical presence (whether in-person or via a banded and intelligently located office) can play an important role in meeting customers where they are in their customer decision journey.
While undoubtedly this will be done digitally across the web, the Forbes article points to a Harvard Business Review study that correlates the strength in someone’s buying decision with the number of channels that customer uses to interact with the brand.
Forbes concludes that even real estate agents should not overlook the power of an ‘in-store’ experience. Thinking about content marketing applications? How about hosting your drink-and-learn session at your office?
How can agents even better meld in-store with digital? Mobile.
Mobile — The Missing Channel
Keeping with the theme of “customer first” — how can brokerages deliver an even better brand experience to the modern consumer? With more homes now being viewed on Zillow by mobile devices than desktop, instead of crafting purely content that is accessible via mobile, why not provide your clients a mobile solution?
No, not giving out cell phones (although that’d be cool), but introducing a prospect or client to your branded mobile app. This is an advantage many of the national brokerages and subsequent franchises have developed in-house that have the advantage of keeping home buyers away from Zillow, offering a single means of communication, and offering a brand-completing solution. Keller Williams recently announced they’re all in.
This is why I’m excited about what we’re building at Homebloq in Chicago as a means to allow agents and brokers to meet their consumers firmly within their search habits.
The real estate industry has come so far from the days of printed listings and locked down MLS data. That information is no longer protected, and agents are no longer the sole source of information. The role of the agent is changing, and those that sit back and decide against embracing technologies that consumers use and demand risk becoming obsolete. The agents who find new ways to differentiate and offer clients new and exciting way to work together will not.
Content + So Much More = Repeats and Referrals
It all starts with an idea.
Who are you?
What are you offering?
What makes you unique?
Next, how can you most effectively provide value and build your audience so that they recognize what you’re delivering as genuine, authentic, and trustworthy? Over what mediums does that exist? And how are you then extending that brand beyond digital forms to meet consumers in more channels and provide them an experience and the tools they need to have the best consumer experience possible to gain that referral and repeat customer?
While the easy routes are certainly necessary, such as advertising on Zillow, sending mailers, and putting leads on drip campaigns (eek!), content marketing is ultimately more rewarding — and it’s not too late to start!