“We have learned how to do a lot of things. We must try to relearn why.” – Flora Lewis
Bekah Carlson, founder of marketing firm, Carlson Integrated was our guest recently on our webinar. She called it the WHYS of Marketing, sharing some of her favorite observations and tips on commercial real estate marketing. The following are excerpts from the transcript.
I think sometimes there is so much conversation about the tactical methods of marketing that the overarching purpose gets a little obscured. In my research and even in my interactions with clients, there is a focus on do-ing but not a lot of the mentality behind it. When QuantumListing invited me to come to the show, it was the perfect opportunity to showcase what I believe are some of the motivating factors. Nothing here is shocking or earth-shattering, but it comes back to the fundamentals which I believe are exactly where any successful marketing program starts.
Also, these are not comprehensive, just some of my favorites. And if you have other motivating factors you’d like to share at the end, I’m sure we all would really appreciate it!
I was an avid band member in high school. I played the clarinet, the tenor saxophone, and the baritone saxophone. I was in regular band and jazz band. Additionally, I sang regularly with choirs throughout my youth and even throughout college easily performed. My musical career today consists of helping my kids with their sight reading of notes and occasionally performing a duet with my sister at family funerals. She is a thespian, performing in local theatre groups on an ongoing basis. I think she’s done over 25 shows in the past 10 years! She’s incredibly talented and has cultivated that talent over the years. That being said, the difference between our voices when we perform is noticeable. I am uncertain of the notes. She is confident. My voice shakes. Hers encompasses the room. In fact, her daughter now plays my old clarinet, which I hadn’t picked up for nearly 20 years. This is a perfect example of what you don’t use you tend to lose in life. You may be able to find some correlations with business as well.
Take a quick poll of your team and some people outside the firm – past clients, current clients, business relationships. What do they think you do or your business does in very general terms? Do they know more than the name of your company? Do they consider you a respected industry professional? If what they respond with doesn’t exactly mesh with your own business reality, you probably have a perception problem. By talking to people outside of your own organization, who know you, you can get some honest feedback about how your work is perceived by the market. You may not be able to track actual market share with statistics, but this doesn’t need to be an intense analysis or a formal process. You are just identifying where some of the disconnect may be. Does their perception mirror your reality?
Ask them further when the last time was that they heard about you. If they aren’t hearing about you or from you or seeing you on a regular basis, you will probably not be the first to come to mind when a need arises.
Every good deal and good businessperson get recognition sometimes. When we talk about “What you don’t use, you will lose”, it’s having the mindset that any goodwill generated by your community work, your recent closing, your industry expertise that is not done intentionally and with a plan may give you a boost in your online or market presence for a short period of time. But it will fade away. Also, any temporary interest in building a presence through networking, or several month attempt at social media, will only provide mixed results as your attention is taken elsewhere. You’re not getting the bang for the buck. Like any other aspect of business, Marketing takes intentionality and organization, and most importantly, consistency.
In education, there is something known as the summer slip. I don’t know about your kids, but mine love having the break of the summer. However, statistics show this actually impairs their education and forces teachers to start the school year off with a heavy focus on reviewing the prior year’s material. I’m sure there are other parents like me who buy workbooks and force their kids to do them or plan educational excursions while they’re out of school to help mitigate the summer slip.
The broader real estate market has the same issue… we forget. We forget people, we forget deals, we forget who to call when we have a hot listing. If you don’t make it on someone’s marketing list, they very well may not call you if you are off their radar for a period of months or your presence is inconsistent.
The first year we were in business, we worked with a number of established, smart brokers who sheepishly admitted to having golf ball boxes or shoe boxes of business cards from their networking over the years. We were able to aggregate contacts and create eblast programs for them to support their relationship development when they weren’t on the networking circuit. They rightfully wanted a holistic approach.
It’s time to do some of your own assessment. How have you structured your business to engage in ongoing, consistent marketing and business development? Are you developing processes and goals to ensure you are staying on track?
Sometimes we all get sidelined by our actions IN our business – doing deals, focusing on super-encompassing projects or clients, or get a little lazy – just punching a clock or taking summers off.
If you build it, will they come?
Remember Field of Dreams? The theory worked in the movie, but in reality I’m pretty sure the ballfield has fallen into obsolescence.
You may have the most amazing listing in the world. Best location, best price, best seller. Or better yet, you may have the most amazing BUYER in the world. They are rolling in cash and ready to buy anything you can drum up off-market. Which is awesome. But… we all know there are 2 sides to every transaction, and you still need the other side!
Look at your business model and if you are just expecting people to know that you are out there with great opportunities, you are limiting your chances of broader success. Unfortunately, people cannot give you business if they do not know about you or remember you.
The opposite it true as well - people are more apt to engage with you if they do remember you.
Which takes us into how we look at marketing.
How do you look at marketing? A lot of businesses lump it all together as a necessary but unwelcome expense, more aggravation than an opportunity. I’d encourage you to view your marketing activity, when done well, as an investment in your future deal flow and future business. If that’s a stretch for you, you can settle for it being a greens fee to be in the business in the first place. I spent most of my career as a marketing director at a firm where the COO discouraged the marketing spend, but the CEO regarded it as a greens fee. There’s no way we could have built credibility and industry presence without the vision and advocacy of the CEO.
There’s another, more accurate approach I’d like to share with you. This one is to segment your marketing into two specific categories: investment and expense. Now, I took this delineation from an Inc. magazine article by Samuel Edwards called How to see Marketing as an Investment not an Expense - and it makes a lot of sense to me.
Here’s what I mean: Some marketing is comprised of permanent or semi-permanent assets for you or the organization, and these have with compounding returns, meaning they may be one time spends but they have long term benefits. We put Branding, Website & SEO (search engine optimization), and PR, articles, and content marketing in this category, as well as social media. These all stick around and continue to drive identity, marketplace recognition and credibility, sometimes for years and years. Who doesn’t recognize the McDonalds logo? Or here in the Chicago area, we had the Empire carpet jingle that I can still sing – which means I still know the phone number to the business. I have worked on the same luncheon in Las Vegas during RECon for the past 15 years. Every Chicago attendee knows when and where it is, and who sponsors it. I get emails from people apologizing that they can’t come sometimes but begging to stay on the list. The event is associated with the brand, and even during the recession we kept it going – because we never wanted the industry to think that we had closed up shop when so many others were doing so. It communicated strength and longevity even in dark days. Building an Instagram or Facebook feed over time provides credibility and legitimacy to people who are just learning about you – and having a presence on more platforms enables you to have additional rankings on that first page of Google. These are some great examples of investment.
There are other marketing items, however, that can be viewed as temporary expenses - paid advertising, flyers, eblasts, listing platforms. While these hopefully bolster the ongoing brand, they are easier to correlate with a specific project or property, and you track your ROI (your return on investment) in these cases. You use the data you receive from these sources to drive your decisions.
I want to bring up a quick explanation of the Marketing Rule of 7 here. The Marketing Rule of 7 is not seven rules. The Marketing Rule of Seven is the concept that your prospective buyer needs to hear or see your marketing message at least seven times before they buy from you. It was coined near as I can tell in the early 1930s and over time has become a marketing standard. Modern supporters suggest it’s actually up to 77 times in our digital world, protagonists say it’s a bunch of baloney because marketers sometimes use it as an excuse to spam people. For me, it’s not a rule but the broader concept carries. When not taken to the extreme and causing crazy inundation with irrelevant content, creepy retargeting ads, or just plain old spam, the clear concept is really just to stay in front of your network with relevant, useful content which can be delivered in a variety of ways. After all, as consumers, isn’t that how we all want to be pursued?
I want to circle back on my first questions from this section. How have you structured your business to engage in ongoing, consistent marketing and business development? Are you developing processes and goals to ensure you are staying on track?
My business mantra this year has been to be brave. In fact, participating in this webinar is part of that bravery. This is my first experience presenting a webinar, and I was completely unsure of the process until Julia and David guided me. Based on client needs, we added and have grown a robust social media practice this year. On the real estate side, I have developed a property website, held an open house, and completed my own property photography for clients. While I am by no means holding myself as an example of perfection, I do want to share how this Yes to More changes business. Part of that has been my mindset, and without it I literally would not be here today.
Over the past couple of years, my kids’ school district has sent home information on what has been coined as a “growth mindset” vs a “fixed mindset”. Of course, the concept of mindset influencing behavior patterns is age-old – did anyone else grow up hearing Practice Makes Perfect? Even natural talent requires effort to cultivate excellence. The primary characteristic of a fixed mindset is a limit on talents – what someone is “good” at is finite and inherent. A growth mindset conversely expects that talents can be cultivated through hard work, development strategies, and input from others. This doesn’t mean that I have the capability at 5’1” to be a basketball star. It does mean that even though I went to school to study liberal arts, I was able to learn and come to love commercial real estate and business. And if I’d studied basketball, or practiced it with diligence and interest, different career doors could have been open to me in that field regardless of my height. When you apply a growth mindset to business, fixed perceptions of “I can’t” become self-imposed limits. I’m here to say you can. You can learn new tools and develop more competencies. You can learn to appreciate new methodologies and experiment with what works for you. I have seen people and companies do it time and time again, and it doesn’t just apply to new product types or areas of expertise (i.e. adding industrial to your thriving retail practice) – it also applies to oversight, management, and my favorite: marketing. You CAN grow in this area. A change in prioritization level for marketing your firm, yourself or your capabilities is the first step. Then you decide if you are learning new things yourself, building your internal team’s skills and letting them try new things, hiring an outsourced firm or any combination of the above.
While we’re saying yes, I wanted to bring up the conflict between past and present.
In my board experience, I have heard frequent laments over the way business “used to be” accomplished. And while I am delighted to hear the stories and recollections of our industry greats from what seems to have been a simpler time, it is also my role to gently guide them in some of the current elements of technology and marketing, and show them how current best practices build on their past experience. The best businesses today are a hybrid – we desperately need the wisdom, experience and successful sales tactics perfected over time, AND we also need to utilize the technological tools that have emerged if we want maximum exposure. Relationships are still key to success. But if we don’t take advantage of the opportunities to expand those relationships to a broader audience, with more consistency, through the use of technology, and if we don’t recognize that analytics and metrics can help hone our message and effectiveness, it is detrimental to our own businesses. One of my closest advisors on technology, by the way, is 74 years old. He is an active real estate broker, a continuing education instructor, and is uniquely positioned to leverage 50 years of experience into relevancy for today. He is our only client who has wanted to log onto his business eblast account and review the analytics himself. He is willing to learn about technology, and willing to learn technology. I want to be more like that, and I bet you do too. Orient your mindset toward the future – use those awesome skills you gleaned in the past, and let technology amplify them to catapult you into future success.
It has been interesting to me to watch how career progression impacts networking. There are those in sales who continue networking throughout their career, but the majority of people who I see actively circulating at events are the junior and mid-level professionals. Why is that? There seems to be either fatigue (and from experience I know this can certainly be the case!) or else a position someone attains that makes them less interested in developing new relationships and they prefer to focus on intimate golf outings within their network. Even if you are only picking the 3-4 events a year in your market that are crucial, don’t give up on cultivating in-person relationships through networking. Whether you are seeing tried and true friends from across the years or meeting new people, it benefits your business to be visible in your industry.
If you are not active in an industry organization, I encourage you to get involved. For me, this has been NICAR, the Northern Illinois Commercial Association of Realtors®. In addition to being a great unpaid, totally volunteer non-profit job (and yes, I mean a job – I work crazy hours for this organization), it’s become a way to keep my pulse on the market, to learn best practices, and to develop camaraderie with fellow real estate professionals. It is unbelievably rewarding. Several years ago I attended a couple of luncheons, and got a call from a member inviting me to join the board. Where would I be if I had said no?!?
I’m not suggesting overbooking yourself or saying Yes to everything – I’m suggesting that we all can prioritize our professional lives to say Yes to something.
This is a little bit of a play on words. When you say it one way, it means to be present in the market in an intentional fashion (showing up on feeds and social media, showing up in inboxes, showing up at events, etc). The other application of the phrase is to make sure you are actually showing up when people are looking for you by using SEO, or search engine optimization. Don’t make them go to the third page of Google! Your listings are probably on a couple of platforms, and I’m assuming one of those platforms is Quantum Listing. Your website hopefully has some back end framework that enables it to be catalogued and integrated into Google searches. I hope you have claimed your business listing on Google. One of the clear benefits of being on multiple platforms is that you are more likely to dominate the first page of Google. This applies to listing platforms, websites, and social media platform listings. One of the unexpected positive results of adding a couple of shopping centers to Alignable for a client was that those profiles rank higher on Google than even CoStar does. We just wanted the centers to be on a platform where small local businesses interact in their neighborhood market, which is exactly what Alignable does. Google did the rest.
How has online consumer behavior changed what “showing up” means? Well, while you cannot conduct a walkthrough online, many of the other parts of a real estate transaction can actually happen online. I have a client who just did a drone video for her residential listing. It was executed by a firm in Canada and for only $500 they were able to fly the drone, shoot the video, and provide three video versions of different lengths and sizing – landscape and square - with her logo branding included. The company isn’t even in our country and they could get it done. Who would hire an environmental firm, or recommend them to a client, without first checking their website to make sure they look professional and can complete the proposed scope of the project? We learn about them before we even ask.
According to McKinsey, in an article I have the link for later in the presentation, if you are interested in reading more, in 2015 already 50% of B2B purchases originated online. Those are business-to-business purchases. Companies buying from companies. We all know technology has changed consumer shopping behavior, but it was widely dismissed for years in commercial real estate. Ten years ago, I thought that a heavy online presence was agnostic at best, irrelevant at worst for our industry. Now I know that research debunks that premise, and the wide scale investment in commercial real estate-related technology over the past couple of years corroborates the research.
Consumers are people. People run companies. The changes in consumer buying trends directly impact our business processes and activities. This time, it is our perception that needs to change. We simply are not isolated from the disruption, no matter how much we may wish we were. But because commercial real estate is a relatively slow adopter, we have great opportunities to learn from consumer-facing business models to positively impact our own businesses and markets.
Presumably you’re here today because you already have an interest in technology adoption or marketing. Keep learning about other tactics, see what other companies are doing that you want to do and then go Nike on it – just do it.
If you engage in online advertising or have been around some of the new generation of marketing language, you probably know that eblasts and advertising analytics include two primary elements – impressions and clicks. Remember the “rule of 7” we talked about briefly in the Honest assessment of your business section? One benefit of your marketing spend on expenses (not investments, remember those are long term assets) is that in most cases you have an idea of the reach of what you are doing. The term “impressions” denotes incidents when your message is on someone else’s screen, with no other actions associated. The numbers are often outrageously large in comparison with the number of clicks, which is a situation I have had to explain to some of my clients. One of my favorite ways to explain it is this: imagine you put a print ad in the Wall Street Journal. The circulation number is what sold you on the ad – it had the opportunity to create that specific number of impressions on the market. Clicks, then, become a modern form of basic inquiry calls off the ad – or some of your friends just open all of your eblasts. My suggestion? Embrace and celebrate impressions, and follow up with the clicks. Be proactive and don’t wait for people to follow up with you. They forget! Stay in front of them! The key is to have relevant content so what passes by their faces on their screen actually sticks in their memory.
One of my clients completely changed my perspective on eblasts. He sends 4 per week – one for his mortgage business, and three for his radio show down in Miami. When I balked at adding a fifth one to the week for a charity event, he kindly reminded me that his audience doesn’t mind hearing from him. They haven’t unsubscribed. So we send an email to them every Monday at the same time, with four varying messages and attractive graphics, and he’s confident that they will call him when they need his services. So now when I talk to clients about their frequency and content of eblasts, I have a deeper perspective. EVERYONE has the opportunity to unfollow you, unsubscribe, or not return your emails or calls. No one resents hearing from you regularly. They are just waiting for it to be the right time that they need you.
I think you’re starting to see that showing up is not merely existing – it’s intentional. It’s the combination of hard work and visibility that enable your efforts to be maximized and your investment to achieve compounding returns. So take advantage of the resources that are available to you. Show up in searches, show up in your effort, show up in your market.
Keep using tools like Quantum Listing, engage help if and where you need it on the marketing side, and never give up on your ability to learn and grow.
I asked David and Julia if we still have a few minutes, if I could share a sneak peek into HOW we do marketing. This one’s not an acronym but may be helpful in your next steps.
First and foremost, I believe that all marketing starts with a calendar and a plan. You need both. Having a calendar ensures that you have your scheduling taken care of, even when you have a client in from out of state for a few days. The plan involves determining your voice and flow (what you say and how often you say it).
Second, get your resources lined up. Do you have an administrative staff person who is interested in social media and graphic design? Have him develop the content and imagery for the next month’s postings. Have you realized you need an actual SEO (search engine optimization) audit and improvements to be made? Is your eblast list populated by return email addresses because your network has moved around over the past couple of years? Make sure you have the people and the funding to take care of all of this.
Lastly, have fun. Don’t let the awkwardness of never really marketing before get in your way.